For a few years now, the United States Army Corps of Engineers has been advocating to get rid of the Asian carp that are threatening the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. These fish are a threat to the native fish populations in North American waters, and the Army is doing all that they can to stop them.
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What Are Asian Carp and Where Do They Come From?
The carp is a family of fish that’s native to Europe and Asia, and within that family are Asian carp. Asian carp were imported into the United States in the 1970s to control the algae, weed, and parasite growth within ponds, canal systems, and sewage treatment.
Eventually, these carp began to escape from the confinement of their specific waters and ended up in the Mississippi River, as well as large rivers in Missouri and Illinois. They now make up almost 95% of the biomass in some areas and can be found in 12 states.
Currently, these fish are located in the Illinois River, which is connected to the Great Lakes, and the United States Army is concerned about the possible effects if the species invades these waters.
Why Are Asian Carp a Problem?
These carp are a dominating species of fish, meaning that they often cause serious damage to ecosystems because they overpower and out-compete other fish. Native fish populations often have sometimes irreversible harm happen to them when the Asian carp invasive species enters their waters.
According to USACE, these carp are capable of eating 20%-120% of their body weight every day. They’re known as voracious eaters, meaning that they eat microscopic organisms like plankton at an incredibly fast rate.
Asian carp eat from the bottom of the food chain, which is a large reason why they often out-compete the native fish population among the rivers and lakes they invade. Not only have they been causing problems for the native fish, but they’ve also caused some dangers to humans. There’ve been instances of Asian carp jumping into the air and onto boats, sometimes damaging property and causing injuries to humans.
The main reason it’s a concern that these fish will invade the Great Lakes, however, is because of the water’s $7 billion fishing industry.
If there’s an invasion of Asian carp, the Great Lakes resort and sport fishing industry could be threatened, as they will out-compete the native fish and reduce their population.
How Do Asian Carp Spread?
Asian carp are very capable of spreading their species out throughout North American waters. The species has the ability to jump over barriers, including low dams. In the Mississippi River, if there’s high water, it creates an open river condition, which happens as the dams open their gates. This allows the carp to move past what would be a barrier to other species.
Natural disasters like flooding can also cause these fish to spread, since flooding can cause the connection of bodies of water that don’t usually connect. Humans are also a reason for the carp spreading because of the release of live bait of young carp, which introduces this species into other bodies of water.
Releasing carp into a body of water can cause a huge problem simply because the adult carp often look for high and fast-moving waters to lay their eggs in. Asian carp lay thousands of eggs at a time, which makes their population grow and spread rapidly, leading to them dominating the waters and overrunning local fish populations.
Can You Eat Asian Carp?
While these carp are an invasive species and are endangering the ecosystems of the northern rivers in the United States, you may be wondering if you possibly ever catch one of these fish, can you eat it?
Well, these carp, or the Asian carp new name of Copi that’s being used in the restaurant industry, have a white, firm, mild flesh that many people look for when finding the right fish for a table affair. But keep in mind that they also have intramuscular bones, which many people often find unappetizing.
What’s Being Done About the Asian Carp Invasion?
In January of 2022, the United States Army Corps of Engineers created a plan of a “layered defense” that they’ll be implementing over the next several years to prevent the invasion of Asian carp into the Great Lakes.
The Biden Administration has awarded the Corps $225.8 million for partial design and construction of the Brandon Road Interbasin Project. This structure will hopefully drive away the Asian carp, prevent them from traveling to other bodies of water, and save other native fish populations.