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October 24, 2013

WILLIAMS: Horror flick on the lake

It sounds like a horror movie – Invasion of the Asian Carp – and really, it is a bit of a horror story. Hundred-pound, 4-feet-long flying fish that smash into, or even jump into, boats. As is so often the case, the Asian carp invasion stemmed from the Law of Unintended Consequences. They were brought here deliberately, meant to stay safely in their ponds as cleaner fish. But some of them escaped and they’ve been moving north via the Mississippi ever since, infesting rivers as they go, including our own Wabash River. Can’t you almost hear suspenseful music playing in the background?

The problem with Asian carp is that they eat plankton at an astonishing rate, as much as 40 percent of their body weight every day, thus crowding out native species of fish that we like better. They are also prolific breeders. Fishermen have reported seeing a three/quarter mile stretch of the Wabash River crowded with spawning Asian carp from bank to bank.

Reuben Goforth, assistant professor of aquatic community ecology at Purdue University has been studying Asian carp in the Wabash River and even he is spooked by what he calls the carps’ “Jurassic Park” ability to adapt. He says that his team has discovered that the gills on some species of carp are changing, so that they are stronger. “They are not tied to specific water levels like we thought they were,” Goforth states. “They are not tied to spawning at a particular time of year like we thought they were. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Governments are trying to react. The federal government considers the carp such a threat that President Obama named a “Carp Czar”. Illinois built an electric barrier to try to keep the carp from entering Lake Michigan. Commercial fishermen have been hired by the government to remove 1,000 tons of Asian carp from the Illinois River. Researchers are trying to discover a carp-specific toxin though they say it would only be effective in a small area. Authorities are even considering reversing the flow of the Chicago River.

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