Danielle Rennard, Staff Writer
The Great Lakes and their connecting channels not only make up the largest fresh surface water system on earth, but also have a huge impact on our lives. Although they seem to be powerful because of their size and roles in both our lives and the ecosystem, these lakes are very fragile. A significant problem that has emerged is the invasion of the Asian carp species. With this new threat to the water system, scientists are questioning what damage this invasive species can do on our most important waterways.
In the 1970s, Asian carp were imported to the United States and used in research ponds and fish farms. They eventually escaped and ended up in the Mississippi River system. This was when the problems began and the question arose: what will happen if the Asian carp become established in the Great Lakes? The senior fishery biologist with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and one of the authors of a new peer-reviewed risk assessment, John Dettmers, stated: “The risk of Asian carp establishing themselves and having measurable consequences to Great Lakes fish and aquatic communities is pretty high especially in Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie. A little bit less of a risk in Lake Ontario and a bit less risk than that in Lake Superior.” Biologists believe that three carp were placed into the lake intentionally. However, there is currently no evidence that there is a stable, reproducing population in Lake Erie. The alarming news is that because of the high quantity of plankton in the western part of Lake Erie, that would be the perfect environment for this species.
Regarding Lake Erie, Duane Chapman from the USGS (US Geological Survey), said: “That would be better habitat than just about any place in the Great Lakes for Asian carp growth. It also tends to be habitat for important fishes like walleye and yellow perch. That’s a little bit scary.” This is the main concern for environmentalists. With another consumer added to the food chain that feeds on plankton, there is the possibility that the Asian carp will outlive the native species. The National Wildlife Federation’s Andy Buchsbaum made a statement to- wards the government saying: “Specifically, we have to ask whether the president will order various government agencies to take the necessary measures to construct a permanent barrier to separate hydrologically the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins in Chicago.” The issue with physically plugging the canal would be the interference with industries and trading routes. Ships that carry imports and exports for industries would have to have alternative routes, which in some cases is impossible.
While there is a panic about this situation, Michael Borgstrom, President of Wendella Sightseeing, stated: “I just don’t know where the urgency is. I mean, they’re all over the country so… there’s other ways for them to get into the lakes as well.” Borgstrom has had boats on the Chicago River for over 75 years and believes that the true threat is humans taking the Asian carps and dropping them in the lake. Whether the issue is the Asian carp inhabiting the Great Lakes, or humans placing them there, it must be stopped soon. If not, the Great Lakes ecosystem might be overtaken by this invasive species and eventually destroyed.