By MPP Toby Barrett
Our Great Lakes are facing challenges – we see the impact of low water and high phosphorus levels, and, more recently, have become aware of the potential devastating impact stemming from the threat of an Asian carp invasion.
The overwhelming concern with Asian carp – bighead carp and the jumping silver carp – is the threat they pose as they compete with native fish for food; fish like ciscos and perch, which in turn are food for lake trout and pickerel. These native species support a multi-billion dollar sport and commercial fishery.
Asian carp have no natural predators, and have explosive reproductive capacity. Consuming a quarter of their body weight each day, Asian carp monopolize the food source of many other fish and aquatic life forms.
There are several possible routes for Asian carp to reach the Great Lakes. One is the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal which connects the Mississippi River system with Lake Michigan. While an electrical barrier is in place, carp DNA has been detected beyond the barrier. Another is Eagle Marsh, a 716-acre tract southwest of Fort Wayne, Indiana. This presents a short-cut directly into Lake Erie.
The Port Dover Harbour Museum recently hosted a talk by David Frew of Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, on the potential Asian carp/Eagle Marsh link to the Great Lakes
As David Frew explained, concerns remain despite $200,000 being spent on a 10-foot-high, 1,177-foot-long chain-link fence bisecting Eagle Marsh to stop Asian carp. Many have cast a skeptical eye as fence-openings allow the free flow of water, as well as fish eggs. The fence does not prevent seagulls from eating carp eggs, flying over the fence, and depositing eggs on the other side.
Of concern locally, according to a Geological Survey review, is the fact that Lake Erie stands to suffer the most devastating impact from an Asian carp invasion.
Jeff Reuter, Director of Ohio Sea Grant, noted recently in the Toledo Blade, “if the carp get in, there’s no doubt that in Lake Erie we will have more carp that the other four great lakes combined.” The article went on to warn: “It would be a disaster of biblical proportion.”
Five bighead carp have been individually collected between 1995 and 2003 in western Lake Erie – although a reproducing population does not exist.
There’s ongoing concern Asian carp could also access the Great Lakes through live bait, or through retail transport of live Asian carp, resulting in accidental or intentional release into the Great Lakes watershed. Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources proposes the gutting of imported carp to make sure they’re dead. On January 7th, MNR posted an Asian carp evisceration discussion paper on the Environmental Registry. Comments are strongly supportive of only allowing eviscerated Asian carp into Ontario.
Over the years, Ontario, Quebec and the eight Great Lakes states have cooperated to tackle problems. In 1972, the U.S. and Canada signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, in part, to stop the spread of invasive species by developing and implementing early detection and rapid response initiatives.
The cost of this invader in the Great Lakes is too great to ignore – proposed environmental legislation for the Great Lakes doesn’t seem designed to head off the threat. An aggressive initiative is needed –working with the U.S. – to address the pending Asian carp invasion.