The White House announced Thursday the strategies - some new and some old - wildlife officials will use this year to defend the Great Lakes from an invasion of Asian carp.
Officials fear the carp could threaten the Great Lakes’ $7 billion fishing industry should the species become established in the world’s largest freshwater lake system. The Asian carp - a catch-all term for several types of carp - are a distant relative of the goldfish but are voracious eaters that can grow to as much as 100 pounds.
“This strategy builds on the unprecedented and effective plan that we’ve been implementing since 2010 to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes while we develop a long-term solution,” said John Goss, the Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Charlie M. Wooley, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy regional director for the Midwest area, said adult populations of Asian carp, already established in the Mississippi River system, are 55 miles from Lake Michigan, with reproducing colonies of carp 150 miles from the lake.
This year, officials are beginning to test the water in the Great Lakes for traces of carp DNA in areas with warm, shallow water that is welcome habitat to carp, such as the western side of Lake Erie, the Detroit River area and the southern part of Lake Michigan.
“We’re not resting on our laurels,” Mr. Wooley said.
The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee has organized a coalition of federal and state agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard, to keep the species out. Some of their weapons will include DNA sampling, water guns, electric barriers - and fish scents.
Leon Carl, Midwest regional executive of the U.S. Geological Survey, said that when the presence of carp is indicated by the samples, the government might steer Asian carp toward nets by employing pheromones, chemicals produced by an animal to signal others of the species, particularly for food or sex.
“You can go to Home Depot and buy one for gypsy moths. It’s quite effective,” he said.
Mr. Carl said that if the tests for the presence of carp turn up positive, female carp pheromones could be introduced to attract the male carp and get a much bigger haul than if fishermen drag nets in the area hoping to capture what might be a few fish.
The program to monitor the carp, stop their movement and cull them is a stopgap building toward an eventual long-term solution the coalition is looking for. One such solution could be to close off the connection between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River, but that’s a daunting task and one opposed by Chicago civic leaders.
For example, Col. Jack Drolet, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ deputy commander for the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, noted there are 18 different openings to the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes.