On Outdoors: 20-pound Asian carp caught near Chicago, fear of species reaching Great Lakes increases

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Wildlife officials in Illinois reported last week that a 20-pound bighead Asian carp has been caught just 6 miles from Lake Michigan. The fish was caught in Lake Calumet, beyond an electric barrier designed to keep the species out of the Great Lakes.

According to Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) officials, the catch marks the first time an Asian carp has been found beyond the Calumet River electric barrier.

Wildlife officials have been fighting the species from entering the Great Lakes for several years, as Asian carp pose serious threats to the ecosystem. Asian carp are voracious eaters and can quickly change the scope of the Great Lakes’ underwater landscape. Able to eat their body weight in a day, Asian carp feed so rapidly they could legitimately starve out populations of trout, whitefish and other commercially beneficial fish, DNR officials said.

Asian carp are also skittish fish and are known to soar out of the water when startled. Several anglers have reported being injured by random carp darting through the air.

This week’s catch has re-raised several red flags with state wildlife and health departments, placing the option of closing vital Mississippi River tributary shipping docks in Chicago back on the table.

In January, a lawsuit that would have closed the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was denied, keeping the locks open to avoid economic devastation to the shipping, farming and fishing industries in the Great Lakes region.

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said June 24 that the recent capture should not be a deciding factor to shut down shipping lanes.

“We will continue to support fish suppression activities by modifying existing structures, such as locks, as requested by other agencies to support this common goal,” Col. Vincent Quarles said. “At this time, there is no intention to close the locks.”

Earlier this month, a kill census was conducted in the Calumet River that resulted in more than 100,000 pounds of dead fish. No Asian carp were found.

The lawsuit that has kept locks open was filed by the state of Michigan against Illinois in December 2009. The suit, which Minnesota and several Great Lakes environmental groups backed, was thrown out by the Supreme Court a month later.

Meantime, officials say the existence of a few fish does not indicate efforts to keep the species out of the Great Lakes have failed, and that there is no evidence Asian carp are breaching barriers in large numbers.

According to claims, there are dozens of possibilities as to how Asian carp can find their way into the Great Lakes.

“According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are 21 pathways through which Asian carp could have been introduced north of the barrier—including recent heavy rainfall and human transport,” Mark Biel, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, said. “In fact, the U.S. EPA is currently studying the collected specimen in an attempt to determine its source.”

Biel added that decisions to close shipping lanes based on the discovery of one Asian carp would be unwarranted without additional facts.

Outdoors news and photos can be sent directly to Jim Hagerty at jim.hagerty@rockrivertimes.com. Glossies and hard-copy press kits can be mailed or delivered to The Rock River Times’ office at 128 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101. Jim can be reached at (815) 964-9767.

From the June 30-July 6, 2010 issue

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