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Asian carp set to invade Great Lakes

From the National Desk
Published 7/12/2002 10:07 AM

CHICAGO, July 12 (UPI) -- Scientists say a huge plankton-chomping fish dubbed the "undersea lawn mower" is poised to enter the Great Lakes, threatening the sport-fishing industry.
The Asian carp, also known as koi, may be within 25 miles of Lake Michigan in the Illinois River and is near the Quad Cities area on the Mississippi, the Canadian-American International Joint Commission reports. The fish, a member of the minnow family, escaped from Arkansas fish farms as a result of flooding in the 1990s and has been swimming upstream at 40 to 50 miles a year. The fish was introduced in Arkansas in the 1970s to help clean water and keep algae blooms under control.

The commission suggests maintaining funding for an electrical barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Romeoville, originally erected to keep the round goby out of Lake Michigan, and building a second permanent barrier as a backup a quarter-mile away. Money to maintain the original barrier was stripped from the federal budget for 2003.

"This issue is one that we take seriously," Charles Barclay, a spokesman for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs for the U.S. State Department, told Friday's Chicago Tribune. Barclay said the bureau had received a letter from the commission outlining the problem and "we're studying the letter."

The carp can grow as long as four feet, weigh 100 pounds and eat voraciously, leaving little for other species such as paddlefish and other filter feeders. It also can jump 15 feet into the air and there is at least one report of the fish breaking an angler's nose.

The catch of two species of Asian carp -- bighead and silver -- by Illinois anglers has grown to more than 5.5 tons annually, from 1,300 pounds between 1988 and 1992.

"The cost of dealing with it now will be far less than the damage and trying to deal with it later," said Dennis Schornack, U.S. chairman of the International Joint Commission.

The commission estimates a full-scale invasion could cost billions. The situation easily could rival problems with sea lamprey, which wiped out the native lake trout population in the 1950s, and zebra mussels, which are clogging water intake pipes and pumps and decimating the native clam population.

Asian carp thrive in cold water and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Supervisor John Rogner told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, "We have no reason to believe temperature would limit them at all."

"Their migration has reached a critical stage," Schornack said. "We really run the threat of potentially turning the Great Lakes into a carp pond."

Copyright © 2002 United Press International



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