Asian carp found near Lake Michigan got past barriers

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the live Asian carp found in a Chicago waterway near Lake Michigan in June likely originated in the Illinois or Mississippi River, suggesting it got past the barriers meant to block it from reaching the Great Lakes.

The fish’s capture caused alarm, as it was found well beyond the network of electric barriers 37 miles southwest of Chicago that are designed to stop the progression of Asian carp, which have infested Mississippi River waterways.

Silver carp are among four types of Asian carp, an invasive species that could disrupt aquatic food chains and the $7 billion fishing industry in the five freshwater lakes.

The results of a necropsy released Friday indicate the adult male silver carp was 4 years old and in the area of the Calumet River for a few weeks to a few months before being caught in the Little Calumet River on June 22.

The necropsy did not reveal how the silver carp got beyond the electric barriers, so the agency cannot rule out any human role in the fish being brought to the location, said Kaitlin Steiger-Meister, a spokeswoman for the Midwest Region of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The analysis also could not determine the silver carp’s exact swimming route, if swimming was how it got to the site in Little Calumet River, she said.

The necropsy and analysis of the silver carp was performed by Southern Illinois University, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“While we were disappointed to find an Asian carp close to Lake Michigan, we are pleased that we had a successful plan in place that found and removed it so quickly,” said Kevin Irons, program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Aquatic Nuisance Species program manager.

“We will continue to work with our partners to ensure we have the resources we need to maintain the effectiveness of our monitoring plan.”

The capture of the silver carp just below the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam was followed by two weeks of intense fishing across more than 13 miles of the Calumet River, Little Calumet River and Calumet Harbor.

No additional bighead or silver carps were sighted or caught, according to the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee.

The silver carp caught in June was the second time a live Asian carp was found beyond the barrier network in eight years of tracking the species there. The first capture was a bighead carp discovered in Chicago’s Lake Calumet in 2010.

“After more than eight years working in the Illinois Waterway, we’re not backing down,” said Charlie Wooley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest deputy regional director. “We are going to continue to hold the line against these aquatic invaders.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this month released a report on a $275 million plan to strengthen defenses against the Asian carp at the Brandon Road lock and dam near Joliet, Illinois.

The tentative measures include installing a new electric barrier to repel or stun the destructive fish and underwater speakers generating “complex noise” to deter them from traveling beyond the lock and dam there.

State and federal lawmakers in Michigan have been urging the Army Corps to take action on the recommended measures.

“This is the first time that a live silver carp has been found this close to Lake Michigan,” said Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who co-chairs the Senate Great Lakes Task Force.

“Time is of the essence to both implement a permanent solution and take immediate steps to stop Asian carp from reaching our Great Lakes.”