Carp Committee Releases 2013 Monitoring and Response Plan, While Carp Continue to Advance Towards Lake Michigan


Photo by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Today the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC), a collaboration among federal, state and local agencies and other stakeholders focused on addressing the threat of Asian carp to the Great Lakes, released its 2013 Monitoring and Response Plan for Asian Carp in the Upper Illinois River and Chicago Area Waterway System.

While we applaud the expansions of the program, we have serious concerns with one of the proposed changes: removing eDNA testing as a trigger for response actions.

The ACRCC’s yearly plan maps out the monitoring, sampling and response activities that will be taken by members of the Committee. The plan notes several highlights for this year:

-       removal of eDNA testing as a trigger for response actions, while retaining eDNA as a monitoring and surveillance tool;

-       reduction of monitoring above the barrier and increased monitoring below the barrier;

-       increased monitoring and surveillance activities at the barrier to better characterize fish and barrier effectiveness;

-       expansion of the Des Plaines River monitoring project; and

-       increased law enforcement surveillance and inspections of fish haulers, fish production facilities, and fish markets.

Why do we care so much about the first item on this list? Environmental DNA is just that – DNA found in the environment. Scientists and government agencies use eDNA to help determine whether carp are present in certain water bodies. There has been much debate about the utility of eDNA in surveillance activities for carp, given that positive hits have occurred without finding live carp themselves. But while the ACRCC has concluded that sources other than live carp may be generating the hits, other scientists – including those who pioneered the tool – continue to believe that live carp are still the most plausible source of the eDNA, and note that at least some carp have likely found their way into the Great Lakes. We agree with these scientists that eDNA is an important tool and that positive hits should be taken seriously, resulting in response actions to fully protect against the advance of Asian carp.

The need for such aggressive monitoring and response has never been greater. With the Army Corps of Engineers still over 7 months away from completing its watered-down “feasibility study” of options for preventing movement of Asian carp and other invasive species between the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes, the carp are not slowing down in their advancement on Lake Michigan. Hundreds of the aggressive and voracious fish have been pulled from the Rock Run Rookery in the first few months of 2013. The Rookery is immediately adjacent to the Des Plaines River and only about 15 miles south of the electrical barrier, which currently acts as the only impediment between the carp and Lake Michigan.

In mid-February, Will County Forest Preserve District commissioners agreed to let the Illinois Department of Natural Resources begin harvesting carp from the Rookery. And with the help of commercial fishermen, IDNR has pulled about 11,000 pounds of carp out as of early May. This is in addition to the approximately 1.5 million pounds of carp removed from portions of the Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers between Ottawa and Joliet, with the bulk pulled from further south towards Morris.

A new study out of Purdue University also shows that carp may be able to survive and establish themselves in a wider range of river habitats than previously thought. 

Some folks want us to believe that the threat isn’t pressing because the closest spawning population of carp is located about 60 miles south of the barrier. However, the troubling number of carp taken from the Rookery to date, and new evidence on the hardiness of carp, show that the threat to the Great Lakes continues to be very real – and advancing quickly.

In light of this threat, the Corps needs to finish its study on schedule and include sufficient analysis to guide a decision by Congress. Congress, in turn, needs to ready itself to make a choice upon receiving the Corps’ report and move immediately into implementation. NRDC and our colleagues, as well as Congress itself in MAP-21 passed last summer, have all recognized hydrologic separation as the leading candidate for such prevention. While efforts to assemble joint task forces among the federal agencies are admirable, such as in an amendment to a bill recently introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, what we need is decisive leadership providing a clear vision of the solution that will prevent carp from getting into the Great Lakes. Other key actors – including the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the City of Chicago – cannot sit idly by waiting for someone else to take the lead, especially if the Corps and Congress fall down on the job. Because the carp aren’t waiting for us to get our act together.

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