By Jim Hamrick
You’ve seen the news reports and videos about the Asian carp invading the Great Lakes, threatening Michigan’s six billion dollar fishing industry and the state’s recreation opportunities.
Imported into the southern United States to help control weeds in ponds and lakes of the catfish farming industry, large numbers of these fish escaped into southern river systems following high water from floods and hurricanes, eventually making their way to the Mississippi River. Populations grew and they began their trip to northern waters and are now at the doorstep of the Great Lakes.
The last line of defense is the commercial waterway at Chicago. Currently, nets and an electric barrier are holding them back, but for how long, no one can say. Construction of a permanent barrier could hold them back for years, but politicians have been slow to react.
Once these fish establish a breeding population, their numbers quickly expand to become the dominant species in any given body of water. This can have a negative impact on native species and, in many cases, a total loss of popular angler favorites. The Asian Carp eat grass, plankton, small snails and insects, depleting food of mid-size fish. The jumping silver carp has become a danger to recreational boaters. Several Illinois boaters have been injured or killed.
Mark Tonello, a Michigan DNR biologist from the Cadillac region, addressed the March meeting of the Battle Creek Steel Headers. He said the concern for an invasion of Lake Michigan is the first three warm southern rivers, St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, and Muskegon. These fish prefer to live in a river habitat rather than big open expanses of lakes.
Drowned river mouth lakes like Lake Macatawa and Muskegon Lake could prove to be highly desirable to these fish. They provide a perfect environment for breeding and their fertile aquatics could sustain enormous populations. The jumping silver carp could restrict recreational boating sports.
Loss of cover and food sources could decimate forage fish populations. Predator fish such as walleye, pike, and bass would soon follow. No one can know how salmon and steelhead would fair if this invasion succeeds.
The populations grow so quickly that predators cannot eat enough to make inroads in their numbers. Salmon feed in the open lakes and the carp are river dwellers.
The next step in preventing this invasion rests with voters and politicians. With the election season near, those who cherish our beautiful waters need to speak up now. If these invaders infect the Great Lakes, it is only a matter of time until they are in our inland rivers and lakes. Make sure you know who your local representatives are and let them know this is a top concern. Representative Fred Upton should have information on the current political situation.
There is no way to know when the invasion will show up in our waters. Asian carp DNA has been discovered in water samples, but so far no fish or carcasses have been found in Lake Michigan. This invasion needs to be halted at all costs.
Michigan waters are a treasure to all of us and need to be protected.