By now, you have probably heard about Asian carp.
For those of you not familiar with them, Asian carp are the fish that jump out of the water and even land in boats.
I had thought of them as an odd invasive species confined somewhere to the South.
Strange fish, crazy behavior, funny online videos.
No big deal, right?
Next time you are online, try searching “Asian carp” on YouTube.
You will soon see that a serious problem lies behind the eccentric bow hunting and high-flying action caught on camera.
When large numbers of these carp take over a waterway and churn it to froth, the situation appears much less comical.
Something is wrong.
Three species of Asian carp, the bighead, silver, and black, caused quite a stir when they invaded the Mississippi, Illinois, and Missouri River systems. They continue to spread northward to this day, even threatening the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi River.
Asian carp damage ecosystems because they reproduce in abundance and compete with native species for food.
Eating like Pac-Man on Red Bull, these fish skyrocket in weight, reaching 30 pounds or more. Some even tip the scales at 100 pounds.
Besides causing ecological harm, invasive carp species impact boaters, property and the economy.
Just imagine a big silver carp leaping 10 feet out of the water and walloping you in the head as you zip down the river on water skis.
While Asian carp have been found in the La Crosse area, Ron Benjamin of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said that we cannot draw definite conclusions about their impact on our area just yet.
“Depending if you are an optimist or a pessimist, there are various scenarios,” Benjamin said.
Agencies, including the DNR, continue to conduct studies in order to better understand the situation and prepare for possible scenarios.
Long before our present-day problems with the species, Asian carp were imported to the southern United States as helpers.
Because Asian carp eat algae and other microorganisms, they were used to clean wastewater treatment facilities and other ponds.
Subsequent flooding allowed the fish to escape their confines and enter the southern part of the Mississippi River.
They have been traveling north ever since.
A number of agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Natural Resources, are combining efforts to control Asian carp through the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee.
This group aims to halt the spread of Asian carp by developing possible solutions to the problem.
An electronic barrier is one solution that would prevent these nuisance fish from moving upstream.
Electronic barriers work like a stun gun. Fish attempting to swim upstream through a barrier would encounter the charge and experience muscle stiffness.
Unable to fight the current, the fish would then wash back downstream.
Currently, the Corps of Engineers and Minnesota DNR are studying fish behavior around locks and dams in preparation for installing an electronic barrier at one of the locks.
A similar structure has already been placed in the Chicago ship canal to protect the Great Lakes.
Construction plans for an electronic barrier are on hold, however, as the Corps and DNR await official authorization from Congress. They may also try to proceed at the state level if federal support dwindles.
Native predator species provide a glimmer of hope as well.
Bass and other large fish willingly feed on juvenile Asian carp, thus impacting the population. Pelicans and eagles do the same.
However, Asian carp upend the predator-prey relationship due to their numbers. Not only do they produce huge numbers of offspring, but those offspring outgrow their would-be predators in a short time.
Other possible strategies for reducing or eradicating the carp include physical removal, expanding commercial harvesting regulations, releasing sterile Asian carp to reduce reproductive success, and other biological control methods like introducing diseases or parasites.
All of these strategies are under discussion and study by various agencies and organizations under the national Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force.
For now, we must wait and see until more information is available and a responsible, sustainable control plan is developed.
Then, implementation can begin. At this point, we need more time and more damage control.
“Taking actions now to stall the movement of fish upstream will allow scientists more time to come up with ways to deal with or eradicate this nuisance species,” said Corps of Engineers biologist Elliott Stefanik.
With proper study and action planning in place, we can hope for the best.