Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Case of Overkill?

Credit: A bighead carp, like one found after a poisoning project this week. U.S. Geological Survey.

The following is an example of what can happen when man steps in to solve a problem.

Panic has set in around the Great Lakes area. Invasive Asian carp are supposedly poised waiting to launch a scaly attack on the lakes. Don’t get me wrong – the Great Lakes are a treasure for both Canada and United States. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth.

Wikipedia tells us:

Recreational boating and tourism are major industries on the Great Lakes. A few small cruise ships operate on the Great Lakes including a couple of sailing ships. Sport fishing, commercial fishing, and Native American fishing represent a US $4 billion a year industry with salmon, whitefish, smelt, lake trout, and walleye being major catches. In addition, all kinds of water sports can be found on the lakes. Unusually for inland waters, the Great Lakes proved the possibility of surfing, particularly in winter due to the effect of strong storms and waves.

At least it’s easy to see why the Asian carp struck such fear into the hearts and wallets of those associated with the lakes. These carp move in, eat everything in sight (including native fish), reproduce like mad, and eventually take over the entire lake. They can grow up to 4’ long and weigh 100 pounds. These fish could kill off the entire fishing industry; and, possibly the recreational boating and tourism industries as well.

This problem all began in the early 1990s when several aquaculture facilities on the Mississippi River flooded. During that flood, two species of Asian carp – the silver and bighead variety – escaped into the river and began their journey northward.

As a result of this great escape, they have become the most abundant fish in some areas of the Mississippi causing incredible hardship to the people who depend on the river for a living. The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes; and, according to eye witness reports, the carp have been spotted in the canal a scant 40 miles from Lake Michigan.

There is an electrical barrier that separates the canal from Lake Michigan designed to repel any invasive species from entering the lake through the use of a non-lethal jolt. The barrier was installed in 2002 and recently required maintenance.

In order to prevent any carp from entering the lake during the time the electrical gate needed to be turned off, authorities (in their wisdom) decided to dump 2,000 gallons of rotenone into the 6 miles of canal near Chicago to poison the water.

They killed an estimated 100 tons of fish – that’s 200,000 pounds of fish which had to be land filled. They poisoned 6 miles of a canal that will take years to return to the ecosystem it maintained previous to the poisoning. As for the carp – they found one, single carp in the entire 6 miles of poisoned waterway. Must have been an advance scout doing some intelligence gathering.

"The last thing the National Wildlife Federation wants to see is dead fish, even in a sewer canal," said Andy Buchsbaum, Great Lakes Regional Executive Director for the group, billed as the nation's largest wildlife conservation organization. "But in this case, the Illinois (Department of Natural Resources) showed strong leadership and commitment in doing a very difficult job. Without the agency's successful handling of this operation, the Great Lakes would be devastated by these monster carp."

Buchsbaum goes on to say that finding even one Asian carp near the electric fence is cause for concern and "shows that we must now wage an all out war to keep these invaders out of the Great Lakes."

Environmentalists and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said the locks should be closed while the scope of the problem is established.

"This is an immediate threat to the Great Lakes, to our sport and commercial fishery, and as such it requires some emergency actions appropriate to the level of that threat," said Ken DeBeaussaert, director of Michigan's Office of the Great Lakes. "Closing the locks to prevent the possible spread of the Asian carp into the Great Lakes is an appropriate response on an emergency basis."

Video about closing locks to prevent Asian carp from reaching the lake.

Via TreeHugger, Great Lakes Echo, Great Lakes Fishery Commission and MSNBC.

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