A threat to the invaluable fishing zone that is Lake Michigan looms, one that could completely reshape, if not outright destroy the sustainability of the lake’s ecosystem and its nutrient cycle. This threat has come in the shape of a large, natively Asian fish with bizarrely positioned eyeballs.
There are four primary species of carp that have been identified as particular threats to the fisheries in the central United States, the grass, black, silver, and bighead carp. They were first established in great numbers in the Mississippi River. They have since moved into the river’s tributaries, and have made their way right up to the mouth of Lake Michigan in Chicago.
The fish can grow to tremendous sizes, over sixty pounds, and can easily explode in numbers once they establish a proper niche in a fishery. The fish startle easily, and have developed a reputation up and down the Mississippi for leaping out of the water at passing boats, often striking boaters, with sometimes hilarious results (see: YouTube).
They’re filter feeders, gobbling up the floating nutrients in the water like algae, and as such squeeze out the smaller species quite easily, the same smaller species that mostly feed the larger natural North American species. Because they’re filter feeders, they’re difficult to catch by normal angling methods.
Invasive fish species have devastating impacts. Much of South Florida’s ecosystem is still reeling from exotic species that escaped from fish stores and the Miami Sea Aquarium during Hurricane Andrew. Also coastal Louisiana was impacted by escaped Japanese fighting fish after Hurricane Katrina. Clearly nobody wants to see these Asian Carp lay similar waste to Lake Michigan.
Rep. Dave Camp from the 4th district of Michigan and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan introduced legislation to the state government to contain this impending catastrophe. It gives the Army Corps of Engineers the ability to contain the fish by a number of means, including some particularly desperate ones if need be, like poisoning them. They’ve already placed an underwater electric barrier to repel the fish, but carp DNA detected beyond the barrier within the lock that separates the river from the lake in 2009 showed that some had made their way in.
In June 2010, a fisherman tasked with surveying the fish populations caught a 19-pound Asian carp near the shore of lake Michigan. Whatever the outcome of the situation, things are certainly set to change in the waters around Chicago.