Setting the Record Straight: Myths About Asian Carp
We recognize a lot of misconceptions exist about this issue. To set the record straight, here are some of the most commonly misunderstood considerations about what we can and cannot do to prevent Asian carp from destroying Lake Michigan and other Great Lakes as we know them.
Here are the facts every citizen should know:
Myth: Allowing Asian carp in the Great Lakes would provide a good food source.
FACT: This is one of the most prevalent misconceptions. Some Great Lakes residents believe that if Asian carp enter the Great Lakes, we could just eat our way out of the problem. We can’t. Their bone structure makes them extremely difficult to fillet and eat, and they are generally distasteful. And even if they were a valued food source, they would multiply way faster than we could catch them.
You should also know the demand for Asian carp for human consumption is low and therefore markets have not been developed for Asian carp. The development of human consumption markets is not economically viable right now because of the low demand, which limits this as an option for effectively reducing the populations. Human consumption has led to few, if any, population eradications of invasive species, and it is unlikely commercial fishing alone would address the Asian carp issue. Specifically, approximately 80 percent of invasive carp populations would require removal on an annual basis to have an impact on the population – and commercial fishing hasn’t proven that effective.
Eating them is not a solution.
Myth: Asian carp in the Great Lakes would have value as a viable animal food or fertilizer.
FACT: While Asian carp are viable options for animal consumption or fertilizer, it comes at a great cost to the environment and would negatively impact the economics of water-based tourism and commercial and recreational fishing. Animal food and fertilizer companies can continue to implement their business models using traditional sources.
Here’s the bottom line: If Asian carp enter the Great Lakes, they would overrun the ecosystem by consuming all the food that other species rely on to survive and would devastate the region’s $7 billion fishing industry. Asian carp consume massive amounts of phytoplankton and zooplankton – as much as 40 percent or more of their body weight each day. This is the same food source many native fish and other aquatic life rely on. Species such as walleye, whitefish and yellow perch, for example, would become distressed, starve and die. Asian carp can grow up to 100 pounds and would completely undo the Great Lakes food “web,” similar to a computer virus wiping out an entire network.
Myth: It’s too late. They are already here.
FACT: There is currently no evidence of established populations of bighead, silver, or black invasive carp in the Great Lakes. Positive eDNA detections have occurred, but their extremely low frequency is more indicative of a contamination source of carp DNA and not live fish. One would expect a greater proportion of positive eDNA samples in the Great Lakes if bighead and silver carp were already established. The current population front is roughly 45 miles from Lake Michigan. Therefore, eggs traveling and birds transporting fish are very low risks. These risks would obviously be elevated if more adults made their way upstream, which emphasizes the need to act! Specifically, invasive carp eggs need to develop while drifting downstream, and that would mean that eggs would actually be moving away from the Great Lakes. In addition, successful reproduction hasn’t been documented within 60 miles of Lake Michigan.
It’s most critical that all citizens around the Great Lakes understand it’s not too late to stop Asian carp from infiltrating the Great Lakes! A broad, bipartisan consensus of mayors and elected officials from Chicago to Canada, in addition to thousands of Great Lakes residents, agree: The cost of doing nothing is not acceptable. The Great Lakes not only provide fresh drinking water for 35 million people, they support over $40 billion in annual economic activity in thriving industries from commercial and recreational fishing, to boating, hunting and wildlife observation.
Myth: Can’t we just pay people to catch Asian carp or eliminate them with another invasive species?
FACT: The overwhelming majority of experts agree this problem cannot be fixed by bounties, shotgun hunting or introducing other predatory species. It’s simple math: Asian carp females reproduce rapidly, as they carry up to 2 million eggs. Logistically, there are not enough bounty hunters who are willing and available to harvest Asian carp quickly enough or in sufficient volumes to eradicate the threat, short of creating a new naval patrol fleet that would forever alter our way of life in the Great Lakes region.
Myth: Illinois will get stuck with paying the entire cost for the security upgrades necessary to block Asian carp from the Great Lakes.
FACT: Government leaders from Michigan, Ohio, Ontario and Wisconsin have formed the new Great Lakes Basin Partnership to Block Asian Carp and announced they stand ready to begin implementing security upgrades immediately backed with financial and strategic support. Chicago leaders, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, recently announced that the city also backs the Army Corps plan to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp. They are calling on all other states – including Illinois – and provinces bordering the Great Lakes to add their support.
According to a Jan. 31, 2018, report by The Associated Press:
- The interstate partnership has been established to help cover costs of operating a system proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would attempt to block the carps' path toward Lake Michigan with a $275 million suite of new security upgrades, including an electric barrier, noisemakers and water jets.
- The multistate coalition could remove one obstacle by providing funds required to supplement federal outlays. Specifically, the Corps wants partners outside the federal government to pay about $8 million a year for operation and maintenance once the system is up and running.
- Coalition members would share those costs for five years while seeking other long-term sources. States in the region that have yet to sign on are Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania, plus the province of Quebec. But those on board represent more than 90 percent of the Great Lakes' surface area.
- The amount contributed by each state would depend on how much of the Great Lakes they contain:
- Michigan, with more than 40 percent of the surface area, would pay the most, followed by Ontario, which has 36 percent. Wisconsin has roughly 10 percent and Ohio about 4 percent.
- Those that would pay less than 2 percent are Illinois (1.66 percent), Pennsylvania (.79 percent), Indiana (.25 percent) and Quebec (less than 1 percent).
Myth: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Tentatively Selected plan will slow shipping on the Illinois River.
FACT: While it’s true slowdowns could occur during construction and general maintenance of the barriers at Brandon Road Lock & Dam, the Corps has concluded its plan will have negligible long-term impact on shipping along the Illinois River.
Myth: Nature will fix the problem. The Great Lakes are too cold for Asian carp to survive.
FACT: Wrong. Numerous scientific studies have documented the habitats needed for Asian carp to survive and they overlap with habitats (temperature included) in the Great Lakes. In fact, published risk assessments indicate Asian carp are a high-risk species to the Great Lakes and list the ability of Asian carp to survive in the Great Lakes as one reason for that high risk. Lake Superior might be the exception, but Asian carp could survive and thrive in all other Great Lakes. This is particularly true when you include the productive bays and drowned river mouths (e.g., Saginaw Bay, Green Bay, Lake Macatawa, Muskegon Lake, etc.).
Myth: It’s only a matter of time before Asian carp enter the Great Lakes because of birds dropping them in the water or through some other unforeseen activity, and there’s really nothing we can do to stop it from happening.
FACT: It’s simply not feasible that feeding birds could dump Asian carp into the Great Lakes because they’d have to carry their prey at least 45 miles, which is the distance from the currently established populations in the Illinois River. There is widespread consensus that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Tentatively Selected Plan is the most cost-effective and logistically feasible way to block Asian carp migration.
This much is certain: Doing nothing will eventually lead to widespread devastation throughout the Great Lakes region.