Asian carp: Time to panic?

Asian carp

Fishermen found a bighead carp in Lake Calumet, well past the electric barrier designed to stop invasive fish. Photo: Peter Haugen

Past dispatches on the onward march of Asian carp into the Great Lakes have always come with panic-curbing caveats that the worst nightmares of those depending on the $7 billion Great Lakes fishery had not yet come true.

Even after biologists discovered Asian carp DNA past the fish-shocking barrier in November and a poisoned carp below it in December, officials stressed that no surveys had exposed live fish on the wrong side of the barrier.

Now commercial fishermen have pulled a live, 20-pound bighead carp from Lake Calumet, 30 miles past the barrier and six unimpeded miles away from Lake Michigan. This once again begs the question:

Can we panic now?

“The answer is no,” said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office.

By all indications, not enough Asian carp are in the canal system to establish a breeding population there or in Lake Michigan, he said. “As long as that’s true, we do have that time.”

The Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council is also calling for level heads.

“Don’t ever panic,” said council president Dan Thomas. “You never panic under stress because then you lose control of rationality and strategic thinking.”

Not everyone is even convinced that the carp living in Lake Calumet swam past the barrier to get there. It may have had some human help, said Gerald Smith, curator emeritus of fishes at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology.

“Somebody – fishermen, mischievous teenagers, whatever – is releasing these things because they’re so readily available in the Illinois River right there,” Smith said. Carp discovered in several Chicago-area ponds were likely planted there by humans, he said.

Biologists will test the captive carp’s DNA to determine where it came from, said Thomas.

“If it’s a natural fish that evolved through growth and movement from the Mississippi, there’s cause for concern,” he said. “There could be others.”

Natural or not, Buchsbaum said finding a live fish underscores the need for urgent action on a physical barrier between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan basins.

But urgent action is hard to come by.

The Army Corps of Engineers say they need three years to study the feasibility of a barrier before they can build it, Buchsbaum said.

“That’s just much, much too long,” he said. “We need them to finish the study and get working on putting the barrier in.”

The fishing council’s Thomas is also frustrated with the Corps’ plodding bureaucracy. But he’s just plain had it with Congress, particularly politicians who have postured on closing the locks in Chicago but have let bills die that would bolster ship ballast water regulations against invasive species.

“I can’t begin to tell you how angry I am with them,” he said. “When you take an oath before God that you will do something, and then you violate that oath, God should have struck you dead right on the spot.”

One thought on “Asian carp: Time to panic?

  1. There is a clear difference between being
    panicked and taking swift, decisive action in a crisis. It appears that many
    who are now in a position to take decisive action on the Asian carp threat are
    under-reacting, possibly to avoid the appearance of being


    Must we really wait to act until a
    foreseeable threat becomes an unmitigated disaster? The current disaster in the
    Gulf of Mexico should make clear that reasonable efforts to avert a crisis, beforehand
    are far superior to having to clean up after a disastrous event has


    Now is the time to take swift action to
    close the man-made canal that is putting the entire Great Lakes system in
    jeopardy – not to wait until the Asian carp have actually invaded the system. I
    am willing to bet that after an Asian carp infestation is well under way, these
    same folks will ruefully shake their heads, wring their hands, and ask “why
    wasn’t action taken, back when we had a chance to prevent this?”


    Alas, the world’s greatest repository of
    fresh water is in the hands of the same folks who would kick the can down the
    road on offshore oil drilling, arguing "it’s not a disaster yet,
    so why worry
    ?" Anyone who is not a "ditto-head" disciple will
    realize that approach is never sensible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *