Fish Fence Failure: Invasive Asian Carp Swimming Headlong into Great Lakes

Aggressive action needed after Army Corps barrier fails to stave off fish invaders

CHICAGO (November 20, 2009) – State and Federal agencies admitted today that tests show invasive Asian carp have evaded an electrical barrier intended to prevent the fish from gaining access to Lake Michigan, and eventually the entire Great Lakes ecosystem. Scientists and government regulators all agree that the invasive fish pose a dire threat to the Lakes because of their size and voracious appetites. The two invasive species (bighead and silver carp) can grow over four feet long and 100 pounds and quickly take over habitat upon arrival. In the Illinois River, they now make up 90% of the life forms present in some stretches of the river.

Following is a statementfrom Henry Henderson, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Program (and a former Commissioner of the Environment for the City of Chicago):

“Today’s announcement that Asian carp have gotten past the electric fish fence is sobering, but predictable. The responsible federal and state agencies have known about this problem for 13 years, but have utterly failed to act with the urgency that this threat requires. The prospect of 100 pound fish off of Oak Street Beach and leaping out at boaters in the Great Lakes should spur action that should have been undertaken years ago. We have seen how zebra and quagga mussels have literally transformed Lake Michigan, and I fear that the Asian carp could do far worse to the ecosystem.

“The Army Corps of Engineers needs to stop reacting to events, and get ahead of this problem with real solutions. Physical barriers in the waterways need to be put in place quickly, along with a clear plan to move aggressively toward closing off the Chicago Diversion and returning the ecological barriers that used to protect the Great Lakes from these threats. The only thing aggressive about the virtual fish fence has been its multi-million dollar price tag.

“The 19th Century thinking that gave us the Chicago Diversion no longer holds true or meets our needs. We can close those waterways to prevent the arrival of more carp and still protect commerce, but that involves far bigger thinking than we have had so far.”

More information on solutions to this issue can be found on NRDC’s Switchboard blog at: