Can we hold the Asian carp invasion at bay?

By MPP Toby Barrett

As 2014 winds down, it looks like our Great Lakes have managed to keep Asian carp at bay for another year.

With the list of invasive species, now established in the Great Lakes reaching 185 some people aren’t taking the threat of Asian carp seriously, assuming it to be another addition to the list. Make no mistake, Asian carp would change the Great Lakes forever. Reaching 100 pounds in size and breeding as many as three times per year, Asian carp often become the dominant biomass. Asian carp don’t consume native species, but feed on the plankton at the base of the food chain that fish like perch, walleye and bass live off. On top of this, the silver jumping carp are an impediment for boaters.

Last winter I testified at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearings on the report looking at options for the Chicago Area Waterways that join Lake Michigan to the Asian carp-infested Mississippi River basin. The report looked at a number of options to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, and invasive species in the Great Lakes out of the Mississippi.

Many people are calling for physical separation, which means rebuilding a physical barrier between the two watersheds. I favour ecological separation, where technology keeps the fish from travelling between the two basins. Some of the options use electricity, water cannons, chemicals and modified locks.

There has been some progress in keeping these behemoths fish at bay.

The provincial government has reintroduced its Invasive Species Act. If passed, Ontario would be the only province with invasive species legislation. While I applaud the government for bringing the legislation forward, it is lacking in some quarters. I have been calling for any Asian carp coming into Toronto for food – which is a $5 million per year business –first be gutted and have their heads removed. Yet, it isn’t in the bill. The law requires any Asian carp for food is to be dead, but there have been several charges laid because the fish weren’t dead. All it would take is one of the trucks transporting Asian carp into Ontario to get into an accident, and an accidental spill for Armageddon to start.

One of my personal concerns has been Eagle Marsh, a wetland in Indiana that sits on the continental divide where the waters flowing to Lake Erie are one wetland from those flowing west to the Mississippi. A fence was all that separated the waters, but thankfully construction of a berm started this summer to separate the two watersheds.

Earlier this summer, MP Diane Finley announced federal funding to open an Asian carp lab at the Centre for Inland Waterways in Burlington. When the grass carp were found in the Grand River, it had to be sent to the United States to confirm it was sterile, which took days. Time could be of the essence if Asian carp were found in Canadian waters and the lab will allow speedier testing and response, if necessary.

This summer contracted commercial fishing took place below the Chicago barrier and 2.6 million pounds of Asian carp was removed. Further downstream, another three million pounds was removed by fishing.

Most commercial fishing for Asian carp ends up in fish meal. I hope that doesn’t become the future of Lake Erie’s commercial and recreational fishery.