Asian Carp Threaten Our Environment

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Asian Carp

THAD COOK HAD BEEN WORKING as a biologist on the Illinois River, a few hours south of Chicago, for nearly a decade when his boat began to fall apart. The depth finder busted first, followed by the radio, the generator, and finally the fuel tank.

He wondered if this was related to the stories he’d been hearing from downriver. Weird tales of boats with no drivers, spinning wildly in the water. Men hauled ashore with lacerations. Anglers covered in blood.

Then it hit him: a 25-pounder, right in the gut. “It was like a cannonball,” he says. A few weeks later, he was struck again. Then again and again. Now just about every time he and his colleagues with the Illinois Natural History Survey go out on the water, they get pummeled. “Like we’re in a cage match with these things,” he says.

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Asian Carp have been cultivated in aquaculture in China for over 1,000 years and are the most important fish worldwide in terms of total aquaculture production.  Asian Carp have been a popular food fish in Asia.  It is said to taste like cod and is very low in mercury.  To make the fish more appealing to American consumers, the fish have been renamed silverfin or Kentucky tuna on menus. 

These large filter feeding fish can weigh up to 110 pounds. They have low set eyes below the mouth and large upturned mouths without whisker-like tactile organs. They eat huge amounts of planktonic algae and compete for food with native species that rely on plankton for food.  This includes mussels, larval fishes and some adult fish.  This competition for food could result in fewer smaller sport fish.  They were imported to the United States in the 1970’s to help rn commercial ponds and escaped aquaculture ponds into the Mississippi River during 1990 flooding.

Some Asian Carp can jump up to 10 feet out of the water and are notorious for being easily frightened by sounds of water craft.  They can jump into boats and injure boaters, personal watercraft operators and water skiers. Numerous boaters have been severely injured by collisions with fish including cuts from fins, black eyes, broken bones, back injuries and concussions.

They are well-established in the Mississippi River basin, including tributaries of the United States. They have been captured in the watershed from Louisiana to South Dakota, Minnesota and Ohio.

The EPA is also concerned about the possibility of Asian Carp migrating to the Great Lakes.  In 2002 the US Army Corp of Engineers completed an electric fish barrier in the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal (navigable aquatic link between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River).  By 2009 Asian Carp genetic material was detected beyond the barrier.  In 2010 a 19 lb. Asian Carp was ground near the shore of Lake Michigan in Lake Calumet.

These fish are thought to be highly detrimental to the environment in parts of the United States.

How you can help?

Drain lake or river water from live wells and bilges before leaving any body of water.

Never use wild-caught baitfish in waters other than where they came from.

Don’t move live fish from one location to another.

Learn the features that distinguish young Asian Carp from Gizzard Shad and other minnows, carry an Asian Watch Card (obtained from local DNR) in your tackle box.

If you think you’ve caught an Asian Carp, take a picture of the fish laid out flat, include nose and tail, or put the fish on ice and bring to your local DNR Office or contact them.


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