Great Lakes Commission recommends spending up to $9.5 billion to fend off Asian carp
The advance of exotic Asian carp toward the Great Lakes continues to draw attention and prompt concerns, as an invasion of the Great Lakes basin could create an ecological and economic disaster for the region. As such, the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative released strategies at the end of January on how to prevent an Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes by modernizing the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS).
Keeping the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes is considered a crucial step in making sure they don’t end up in Michigan’s inland waterways.
“Physically separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds is the best long-term solution for preventing the movement of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species, and our report demonstrates that it can be done,” said Tim Eder, executive director of the Great Lakes Commission.
Concerns about Asian carp invading Lake Michigan grew in 2010 when the first live Asian carp, a Bighead carp, was caught beyond electric barriers in Illinois’ Lake Calumet, just six miles from Lake Michigan.
Asian carp, first imported to control algae in fish farms along the Mississippi River, escaped during a flood event in the 1990s. Since then, the carp have moved quickly up the Mississippi River and into the Illinois River, the Des Plaines River, the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and the Calumet-Sag Channel.
Asian carp can weigh up to 100 pounds, grow to a length of more than 4 feet, and, on average, eat up to 20 percent of their body weight in food each day. They are also extremely prolific and therefore pose a major economic concern as they would outcompete other Great Lakes fish species. Michigan’s fishing industry is estimated to bring in about $7 billion each year.
Should the Asian carp get into the state’s inland lakes, especially in an area like Oakland County, their impact on the inland lakes’ ecosystems could be devastating, as well.
“When it comes to the spread of Asian carp, we are very concerned about inland waters. (Asian carp) can spread from the Great Lakes (into inland waters) just by moving naturally up the waterway. And we know that Asian carp do very well in small inland waters. While a spawning population may not be produced in such waters, if a number of them occupy the inland lake, it could disrupt that system’s food web,” said Tammy Newcomb, a research program manager in the state Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Fisheries Division.
A recent report from the Great Lakes Commission, which is available at www.glc.org/caws, details three Mississippi River and Great Lakes watershed separation alternatives. They include a single down-river barrier between the confluence of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal-Sag Channel and the Lockport Lock; a mid-system alternative of four barriers on CAWS branches between Lockport and Lake Michigan; and a near-lake alternative of up to five barriers closest to the lakeshore.
According to the report, the total cost of one of these projects varies between $3.2 billion and $9.5 billion, depending on the improvements needed to address water quality, flood prevention, and transportation. The construction of the barriers themselves could cost as much as $109 million.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who by statute serves on the Great Lakes Commission, praised the speed with which the study was conducted.
“Asian carp are knocking at the front door of the Great Lakes, so we simply do not have until 2015 to complete a study. We need to get started separating these two bodies of water as soon as possible,” Schuette stated in a press release. “The Great Lakes Commission accomplished in months what the Army Corps (of Engineers) hasn’t been able to do in years. With thousands of jobs and a spectacular ecological resource at stake, we can no longer afford to wait for the federal government.”
The DNR recently received good news in the fight against Asian carp, as new test results were negative for environmental DNA (eDNA) from either Bighead or silver carp in waters located in southwest Michigan.
eDNA is a genetics tool developed by researchers at Notre Dame and the Nature Conservancy which detects the presence or absence of species-specific DNA in an aquatic environment, such as the cells shed by Asian carp through their feces, urine, mucus, and gills.
Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 5 last year, researchers from Notre Dame and the Nature Conservancy collected 74 water samples from the Galien River, in addition to 122 samples from the St. Joseph and Paw Paw rivers, each located in southwest Michigan.
All samples were negative for Asian carp DNA.
“This is great news for Michigan, but by no means should we relax our stance on Asian carp and the threat they pose to the Great Lakes Basin,” said Office of the Great Lakes Director Patricia Birkholz. “An ecological separation of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes remains imperative to our goal of keeping this invasive species out of Michigan waters.”
“Just because we have good news doesn’t mean we should relax our position at all,” said DNR Spokesperson Mary Dettloff.
The team at Notre Dame will continue to collect and analyze over 400 water samples from Michigan waters. Samples will be taken from the Grand, Raisin, Belle, Black and Pere Marquette rivers to monitor for the presence of Asian carp DNA.