Asian Carp’s Threat

Asian Carp’s Threat

Asian Carp and Other Great Lakes Issues

Updated September 2017

Current Situation

Asian carp, a highly destructive invasive species introduced in the United States for aquaculture purposes in the 1970s, is now an imminent threat to Great Lakes fisheries. Having moved from the south-central U.S. northward along the Mississippi River, two species of Asian carp—bighead and silver—may soon penetrate the Great Lakes through the Chicago Area Waterway System. Asian carp populations have the potential to expand rapidly and change the entire composition of the Great Lakes ecosystem. This would significantly harm the $7 billion annual sportfishing economy in the Great Lakes region and tens of thousands of related jobs.

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) supports legislation to stave off economic and environmental consequences of aquatic invaders and continues to monitor and support such efforts in 2017. Specifically, ASA supports bills to fund Great Lakes fisheries research, water quality protection and invasive species monitoring, as well as recreational opportunities. These include the Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act of 2016 (S. 2569 and H.R. 4595), a reauthorization of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million per year (H.R.223) and a bill to reauthorize the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act (GLFWRA) of 2016 (H.R. 5765) to extend the program through 2021. These include provisions that would help stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

Our Position

ASA has had a longstanding role at the forefront of the battle against aquatic invasive species. ASA has been a strong and vocal advocate for legislation and funding for federal agencies’ activities to manage invaders, including the Asian carp. ASA has advocated for appropriations for the electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary Canal since it was proposed and has supported all efforts to prevent the threat that Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Issue Background

Asian carp escaped into the Mississippi River from southern aquaculture facilities in the early 1990s when the facilities were flooded. Steadily, the carp made its way northward, becoming the most abundant species in many areas of the Mississippi. Asian carp are voracious feeders and quickly out-compete the forage base of valuable sport fish such as walleye, trout and salmon, creating the potential for large-scale ecosystem devastation. Asian carp—which can reach up to 100 pounds—are also known for an unusual behavior:  they fully leap out of the water, often injuring anglers and boaters.

The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. Currently, the only barrier to prevent carp from entering Lake Michigan is an electric barrier along the canal. Recently, however, an Asian carp was found beyond the electric barrier—just six miles from Lake Michigan—and Asian carp DNA has been collected in Lake Erie, suggesting that they may have already entered the Great Lakes system.

A physical barrier—in the form of an “aquatic nuisance species” lock at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam as a control point for passage to Lake Michigan—was suggested and has the support of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Opponents of this strategy claim that the lock would hinder shipping routes.

In December 2010, President Obama signed the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act (S. 1421) into law. Sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and George Voinovich (R-OH), this legislation listed the bighead carp as an invasive species under the Lacey Act, prohibiting the interstate transportation or importation of live bighead carp without a permit.

In July 2012, President Obama signed the Stop Invasive Species Act (S. 2317 and H.R. 4406) into law. Sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.), this legislation required the Army Corps of Engineers, within 18 months, to prepare an action plan to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes.

In July 2014, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, with the help of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, released a major, peer-reviewed study assessing the potential risk of Asian carp to the Great Lakes. The study concluded that a small number of Asian carp can establish a population, and if Asian carp become established in the Great Lakes, their impact would be severe. Suitable habitat exists in all five Great Lakes, though Lakes Erie and Ontario, and many large and small bays throughout the system, would be particularly hard hit.  For more information on this study, click here.

In more recent years, several bills were introduced to fund Great Lakes fisheries research, water quality and invasive species monitoring and recreational opportunities. These include the Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act of 2016 (S. 2569 and H.R. 4595), a reauthorization of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million per year (H.R.223) and a bill to reauthorize the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act (GLFWRA) of 2016 (H.R. 5765) to extend the program through 2021. ASA supported all of these bills.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission offers the following five priorities to protect and improve valuable Great Lakes resources (as of March 2017):

  1. Provide full funding for sea lamprey control, Asian carp management, and prevention of other invasive species: The Great Lakes are under assault from invasive species, costing the region billions in economic losses and harming the ecosystem. Sea lamprey control, carried out by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, is a tremendous success, saving more than 100 million pounds of fish per year. Invasive Asian carp threaten the lakes and strong, sustained actions are needed to prevent their introduction and spread.

ACTION: Provide full funding for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (through “International Fisheries Commissions,” State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill); support successful monitoring and control efforts under the Asian Carp Action Plan; provide funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to complete the Brandon Road project as quickly as practicable; and strengthen federal programs to prevent the introduction of new invasive species.

  1. Enhance funding for key infrastructure and habitat programs through the Army Corps of Engineers: The Army Corps of Engineers is authorized through section 506 of the Water Resources Development Act (called the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Program, or GLFER) to undertake measures to improve and protect the fishery and environment. Examples of projects include dam removal, dam reconstruction, invasive species control, habitat recovery, fish reef creation, and terrestrial habitat and wetland recovery. Projects funded under this program require a non-federal cost share.

ACTION: Support full funding for GLFER (through “Construction General,” Energy and Water Appropriations bill) and request the Administration include GLFER funding in the federal budget.

  1. Pass the Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act (GLFRAA): The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducts biological assessments that serve as the foundation for fishery management decisions made by federal, state and tribal agencies. The USGS’ work is essential but, because of a governance nuance for freshwater, the function has operated without an explicit authorization. The GLFRAA will provide long-overdue authority; funding will ensure uninterrupted delivery of basin-wide biological assessments and monitoring, support the deployment of new technologies for better fishery management and improve the multi-billion dollar Great Lakes fishery.

ACTION: Pass the GLFRAA and consider including this legislation as part of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

  1. Support initiatives to promote “aquatic connectivity” and fish passage infrastructure and technology: One of the greatest fishery management challenges of our time is to allow desirable fish past barriers (e.g., dams) while blocking undesirable species like the sea lamprey. The GLFC has launched a “selective fish passage” project that will test and evaluate the best infrastructure and technologies to “sort” fish based on whether they should be passed. Such infrastructure and technology would be applicable to many regions of the world and has garnered tremendous interest.

ACTION: Support funding for the testing and evaluation of this smart fish passage infrastructure and technology; funding currently occurs through the GLRI with support from multiple agencies.

  1. Bring “Mass Marking of Fish” to the Great Lakes region: Fishery managers who stock fish need to get stocking decisions correct—they need to know whether fish are reproducing in the wild or whether hatchery fish account for the population. To make that determination, every stocked fish needs to be marked and tagged so that when a fish is caught, its origin can be known. Not all stocked fish are marked and tagged, though the technology exists to do so; such technology is used as a matter of course in the Pacific Northwest. All federal, state and tribal jurisdictions of the Great Lakes basin agree that this technology should be used in the Great Lakes basin.

ACTION: Provide funding for the purchase and operation of mass marking equipment for the Great Lakes through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (through “FWS, Hatchery Operations and Population Assessment & Cooperative Management,” Interior Appropriations bill). Request the Administration include funding for Great Lakes mass marking in the federal budget.