Invasive Asian Carp Are Closing in on Lake Erie

January 6, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Asian Carp leaping out of the water
Photo credit: LouisvilleUSACE/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

And they could overtake the lake according to a recent study.

According to a new study out of the University of Notre Dame, the invasive Asian carp, which have been spotted in watersheds close to the Great Lakes, would not find it hard to adapt if they made their way into Lake Erie.

Asian carp were first introduced to the United States in the 1970s in an effort to control algae growth in aquaculture and sewage treatment ponds.  The carp managed to escape into the Mississippi river during a flood a few years later — and their populations quickly spread.

However, according to the Ohio Environmental Council, there is no reason to believe that the invasive carp have made it into Lake Erie yet.  Governments have spent over $300 million to stop the spread, but it is only a matter of time.  

So why are these carp expected to be so destructive for Lake Erie?

According to the food-web models used by the researchers, some fish species could see a population increase because carp would act as both a food source and a competitor eliminator.  However, highly desired species of fish like walleye and rainbow trout are likely to see a sharp decline.

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So what solution is there once the Asian carp make it to Lake Erie?  Simple — eat it!  The carp are described as extremely delicious even though they are quite boney.  It is unlikely that they will be a popular substitute to crowd favourites, but we may not have a choice.

The invasion would, without a doubt, lead to an ecosystem shift in Lake Erie.  However, according to The Washington Post, it would not compare in magnitude to what happened in the Illinois River, where some areas are now 60 percent Asian carp.  

Asian carp grow extremely fast, eating up to 20 percent of their body weight each day — which could result in Asian carp making up 34 percent of the total fish weight in Erie.

“Model results suggest the most likely intensity is severe — who wants a third of the fish biomass in Lake Erie to be Asian carp? — but that possible outcomes include both stronger and weaker impacts,” study co-author David Lodge of the University of Notre Dame said in a press release.  “It is also important to remember that our research provides scenarios for impact only on the food web and only in Lake Erie itself. Impacts like jumping fish hitting people are not included, nor are any impacts in tributaries of Lake Erie that might suffer impacts like those in the Illinois River.”

The study did only look at one model, so the invasion could be either better or worse than researchers projected.  The team is now working on similar models for lakes Michigan, Ontario, and Huron.

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