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Study: Walleye, trout will be hardest hit by Asian carp

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Walleye, prized for their taste and the sheer fun of hauling in a fish that can reach 20 pounds, would be among the most heavily affected in Lake Erie should invasive Asian carp establish themselves there.

Projections for other native species in the lake, however, are not quite as dire, according to researchers at the University of Michigan. In fact, some species may increase due to the presence of the voracious bighead and silver carp.

The Great Lakes have been under increasing threat from Asian carp in recent years as the invasive species has worked its way north through the Mississippi River system. The carp, which can quickly alter the food chain in ecosystems where it sets up a reproducing population, is seen as a major threat to the region’s fishing and water recreation industries.

In a new study published last week, University of Michigan researcher Hyong Zhang identified walleye, rainbow trout, gizzard shad and emerald shiners as species that would be hardest hit by the arrival of Asian carp. In those instances, the carp would greatly reduce the traditional food sources of the native species.

Other species, such as smallmouth bass, could see as much as a 16 percent increase in its Lake Erie population. The fish-eating bass may find their food options increased with the arrival of Asian carp, according to UM projections.

Ultimately, Asian carp could account for as much as 34 percent of the overall fish weight in Lake Erie.

“Fortunately, the percentage would not be as high as it is today in the Illinois River, where Asian carp have caused large changes in the ecosystem and have affected human use of the river,” Zhang said in a press release.

Her research is a collaboration with other scientists at institutions such as the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor — an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is the latest project on a subject that has produced varying predictions for Lake Erie over the years. Previous studies have forecast much more drastic impacts from Asian carp.

“We don't know how these two Asian carp species are going to do in Lake Erie, so we have to incorporate that uncertainty into our model projections,” said Doran Mason, a research ecologist at GLERL. “It's like using computer models to predict a hurricane's path and intensity and including the margin of error in the forecast.”

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