A Bighead Asian Carp has been found in Lake Calumet in Illinois. This is the first carp to be found beyond the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s electric barrier system. Shawn Allee has been covering this story for us and Rebecca Williams caught up with him:
The elusive Asian carp, not so elusive now.
This is The Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.
Two species of Asian carp have been moving east, closer and closer to the Great Lakes. There’s a system of electric barriers in a canal near Chicago that are supposed to be the last line of defense. But scientists have wondered whether these carp already swam past that barrier and are breeding in or very close to Lake Michigan. They got that hunch because last year they detected Asian carp DNA in rivers and streams connected to the lake. Now, their fears are confirmed. They found an Asian carp past Chicago’s electric barrier. Shawn Allee reports for us in Chicago and Shawn is here to bring us up to speed.
So where did they find this carp?
Shawn: They found a single 20-pound male Asian carp in Lake Calumet, that’s just west of Lake Michigan.
Why is this location important?
Shawn: Well, I talked to a scientist about that. His name is John Rogner and he’s with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He tells me that Lake Calumet is open and it connects to a small river that is also connected to Lake Michigan. And there’s more on this too:
“When you look at Lake Calumet it does appear to us to be ideal habitat. These fish prefer quiet waters in large river systems. You’ll find them in the backwaters and side channels and so Lake Calumet really fits that model to a tee.”
Shawn: But, here’s the thing Rebecca. Commercial fishermen found this Asian carp in Lake Calumet and federal scientists and contractors had already looked there for Asian carp so now they have to go back again.
So why does it matter if the carp is there?
Shawn: Well, these two species of Asian carp are voracious if they’re in the right kind of environment. Basically, they can overtake a food system. They breed so much and they eat so much that there is not enough food for other species of fish to eat. That sort of thing has already happened in the Illinois River system. That’s a river that goes between the Mississippi River in the west all the way to Lake Michigan in the east. And John Rogner tells me that they’re still trying to figure out if this Asian carp is the only one in Lake Calumet or if it’s got a lot of company in there. So they’re going to be using nets and poisons to find that out.
“What we’re trying to determine now is does this fish might represent an individual fish in the lake or might it be part of a larger population and that’s what our intensified sampling over the coming days and maybe even weeks is intended to tell us.”
Shawn: Rogner tells me that they’re going to be testing this particular fish’s DNA down in Springfield, Illinois to see if the fish grew up in the wild or if someone may have moved that fish from somewhere else and maybe just dropped it into Lake Calumet.
Okay, so what are they going to be doing next?
Shawn: They’re going to be going back over places that they have already looked because it’s obvious that they’ve missed at least one fish and they think that maybe they’ve missed some more. The other thing they’re going to be doing is studying whether this kind of carp could breathe in the lake, as Rogner mentioned before. But, one thing they will not be doing is this. They’re not going to be closing the locks that connect Lake Calumet and the rivers in that area to Lake Michigan.
Shawn: Well we got one answer from the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s the federal agency that runs the locks. Here’s Mike White:
“At this time we see no reason relative to the threat that’s been identified to take any step for permanent lock closure.”
Shawn: White says the real reason that they’re not really all that worried at this point is that there is just one live fish that they’ve found and it would be expensive to stop barge and boat traffic just for that.
But nobody knows for sure whether there are any Asian carp past the barrier.
Shawn: Not at this point.
Alright, thank you Shawn.
You’re welcome, Rebecca.
That’s The Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.