Supreme Court ruling spurs debate

How to stop the advancement of Asian carp is a contested matter.

by Raghav Mehta

A ravenous, non-indigenous fish has infested Midwestern waterways, leaving some fish and wildlife experts concerned. Described as âÄúaquatic vacuum cleaners,âÄù the Asian carp has the potential to eat up to 20 percent of its weight in plankton and other food sources. A recent lawsuit, brought forth by Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, called for the Federal government to close down Chicago-area locks to prevent the advancement of Asian carp into the Great Lakes region. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the lawsuit, claiming that closing the locks would cause financial harm to shipping industries that utilize the waterway for transportation. The carp has a significant impact on water ecosystems by consuming the plankton, which fish depend on for survival. It can consume and reproduce at high rates, out-compete native fish species and deplete the base of the water ecosystem. âÄúThey eat voraciously,âÄù said Bruce Vondracek, University of Minnesota fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology professor. Luke Skinner, supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Invasive Species Program, said that increased competition among native fish species results in âÄúfewer and small sport fish.âÄù The reduction in fish would have adverse affects on the commercial fishing industry. Charles Wooley, deputy regional director for the Midwest Region of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said, âÄúthere has been some [genetic] evidence that there are Asian carp close to some areas in southern Lake Michigan.âÄù In collaboration with the charitable organization The Nature Conservancy, professors at the University of Notre Dame gathered environmental DNA evidence suggesting there had been Asian carp just miles away from the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The carp, which has no natural predators, surpassed an electric barrier in order to reach the location. DNA evidence points to a carp presence, but no one has actually seen or physically captured any live Asian carp in the area, Wooley said. While most of the carp have been spotted in the Illinois River, Skinner said carp sightings in Minnesota have occurred as far north in the Mississippi River as Winona. âÄúTheyâÄôre knocking at the door,âÄù Skinner said. The carp can also sense boats in the water, which causes them to leap into the air. âÄúThey can actually hit people in boats and cause injury,âÄù Vondracek said. âÄúIâÄôve seen them jump as high as six feet into the air.âÄù While the federal government hasnâÄôt taken any steps to address the growing concerns, regional organizations have considered options. âÄúWe want to have a research program in place that will allow us to develop some kind of poison that will kill just Asian carp,âÄù Wooley said. âÄúItâÄôs a couple years out into the future.âÄù