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How Asian Carp can do billions of dollars of damage

Posted by mandyf on February 18, 2012

Asian carp don’t sound all that scary on the surface, they’re just fish, and what threat does a fish pose to the everyday life of a human? How can a fish, or a hundred, or even a few thousand potentially cost a local economy $7 billion in a year? How can a fish do a million dollars in damage much less billions? The answer is far simpler than the questions – the Asian carp is not an ordinary fish, at least in regards to the areas it is taking over.

 To gain a little perspective, imagine a 4 foot long fish that weighs 100 pounds swimming around in Lake Michigan for instance. Does that seem out of place? It should, because it was never meant to be there. Now imagine a few thousand of those – or even just 1,000 let’s say – and they are eating 40% of their body weight every single day. That would amount to 40,000 pounds of consumption every day. That’s 280,000 pounds per week and about 1.2 million pounds per month. Imagine the impact of a predator like that taking over a new area? The result any way you slice it is devastation. That isn’t sensationalistic theory, that is a proved truth.

Many years ago, more than anyone can actually remember, Asian Carp were introduced to the Mississippi River by someone who intentionally released them there. At least that is the most popular theory because there is no other explanation for why they were found around mid-river and nowhere else when first spotted. If it was migratory, there were have been evidence of that. Over the last few decades, the carp have been slowly making their way north leaving destruction behind them.

Efforts have been made to slow progress. Electronic barriers, electric net fishing, and a few weird ideas people figured were worth a shot because nothing else worked. For awhile a popular idea was that the carp would make their way to a lake eventually and die off slowly because they don’t like breeding in calm waters. As it turns out they did make their way to some small lakes, they hung around near where river inlets keep the water active, and they continued to breed.

The fear for nearly twenty years is that Asian Carp would make their way to the Great Lakes eventually – and now they have. The Army Corp of Engineers erected electronic barriers to try to stop them. It worked to a degree, but not entirely as was evidenced by the recent haul of a live 20lb Bighead Asian Carp found in Lake Calumet which is only 6 miles from Lake Michigan.

While some are taking the approach of saying it’s just one fish, the problem is that in truth it likely is not just one fish. Asian Carp like many other fish like to travel in schools. They are not loners of the underwater world, they are communal. The carp that was caught was also sexually mature which is another bad sign. It also means that the electronic barriers are not working – or there aren’t enough of them. No matter how much electro-fishing and netting is done, the carp keep coming.

 There are many people that have monitored the movement of Asian Carp for years that continue to maintain that the only way to permanently end the problem is to cut the Great Lakes off from the Mississippi River. That is not a new idea either, the Supreme Court has twice denied requests to do so citing concerns that the ecological balance may be thrown off among others that right now make no sense. Letting the carp through to the Great Lakes will definitely ruin the ecological balance.

Of course there are people that are less impressed and think finding a live Asian Carp is no big deal. Unlock Our Jobs which is a Chicago Industry coalition has stated closing the locks to the Mississippi River will definitely have a negative impact on jobs, and until Asian Carp do take over one of the Great Lakes there is no proof anything bad will happen. That is exactly the simpleminded thought that allowed the problem to proliferate.

Nobody thought the Asian Carp was a big deal for decades. Then bit by bit their numbers grew. As their numbers grew and more were mature they wiped out larger numbers of fish they encountered. The more they wiped out the bigger they grew. The bigger they grew the bolder they got. By the time anyone took it seriously it was no longer a matter of eradicating them, it was just trying to slow them down – like trying to stop a bulldozer with a sock puppet.

Should Asian Carp gain a foothold in the Great Lakes, that is the end of an industry. Sport fishing won’t die off in  a year or five, or even ten. It will noticeably slow down in that period, but it won’t die off that fast. Estimates point that within twenty years, a $7 billion sport fishing industry that is still growing will decline, and may project to being a billion dollar industry – maybe. Using inflation adjusted figures, possibly. Worse than that, it is theorized and logical that people that went to the Great Lakes to indulge their hobby won’t be looking for other U.S. destinations to spend that money – they will head north and spend their money in Canada where the fishing is still good. What is really right or wrong at this point as a course of action is anyone’s guess, but doing nothing certainly isn’t it. That plan didn’t work before, and it will not work again.

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One Response to “How Asian Carp can do billions of dollars of damage”

  1. sallykwitt said

    Wow, never heard of this before!

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