WPSU

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh, Carp!

When we started planning this trip, we weren’t sure we'd make it all the way around the Great Loop.  The issue wasn’t the seaworthiness of our boat. It was, “Will the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal be closed on account of Asian carp by the time we get there?”  

Now we are less than a week from transiting the canal, so here’s the carp report. 

These big bad fish have been all over the news, but in case you missed the story, here are the salient points:
  • ·      “Asian carp” is a collective term for a couple of species
  • ·      These fish are not native to the United States
  • ·      Back in the 1970s they escaped from fish farms (where they were introduced as a kind of clean-up crew) to the Mississippi River where . . . 
  • ·      They like it just fine.  They've bred like proverbial bunnies and spread north up the river
  • ·      They hoover up microscopic plankton (the foundation of the food web), leaving native species to starve
  • ·      Electric barriers have already been put in place downstream of the canal, to keep them from the lakes. But a carp was found this summer on the wrong side of the barrier
  • AND in case you are not sure why anyone should care, it's not just that invasive species screw up ecosystems but . . .
  • ·      If the carp get into the Great Lakes, they could really screw up the fishing. 

Great Lakes fishing—commercial and recreational--is routinely described as a 7-billion-dollar industry.  Five states bordering the Great Lakes—Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and our own Pennsylvania—are calling for “separation.”  They have sued to force closure of two shipping lock--and to have more electric barriers installed--to keep carp out of the lakes. 

On the other hand, since we are talking money, closing the locks affects commercial shipping of such commodities as steel and oil . . . so there's a significant economic impact to separation, as well as to invasion.

Meanwhile, some scientists aren’t sure the carp CAN survive in the lakes. They say the clear waters might not be the right habitat. The fish might get to the lakes but not multiply the way they have in rivers.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has jumped into the fray to say, Hey! all these other states shouldn’t be pointing a finger at Chicago or the state of Illinois and slinging lawsuits around, they should blame the federal government, because 30 years ago it allowed the carp to be imported from Asia to the United States. Now there’s a helpful talking point.

Just this past Monday, a judge heard arguments on the case and scheduled more hearings for early September.

It’s all a mess, ain’t it? Ironically, Lake Michigan USED to BE completely separated from the Mississippi.  But about 100 years ago, Chicago’s leaders decided a good way to get rid of pesky sewage was to reverse the flow of a river and send the stuff downstream to the Mississippi instead of dumping it in the lake.

What will come of the lawsuit?  I'm not going to predict.   Jurassic Park was a corny movie with a lot of pseudo science but there's one line that was completely truthful and that sums up the biology of all this:  "Life will find a way."  Genetic engineers swore resistance to the pesticide Round-up would be confined to crop plants but that gene jumped right into weeds. We can install barriers and legislate separation but there are a lot of factors in the living world we can't control. I hate to be a pessimist but I do think, whatever our leaders do, it’s still likely those fish will make it to the lakes. No technology is failsafe, as we so recently learned from the Gulf oil spill. 

I also agree there's not enough data to predict what will happen once the fish show up in the lakes. Based on past history, most invasive species do pretty bad things to ecosystems. If the threat to recreational fishing gets people exercised, that's probably a good, educational thing.  No one's all that exercised currently over  house sparrows or  purple loosestrife, and look what havoc they've wrought. 

Meanwhile, these invasive fish are feisty. Silver carp, one of the species in question, can grow pretty big, and they like to jump out of the water.   They tend to jump into boats, and hit boaters, who compare the experience to being hit by a flying bowling ball.  Just today, a kayaker had to drop out of a big race after being concussed by a flying fish.

The crew of the Dragonfly will be following the Asian carp situation with great interest as we move downstream.  To answer your question, it looks like we WILL make it through the locks on the Ship and Sanitary canal.  And after that, we’re making a new safety rule on the boat:  PFDs AND bike helmets to be worn on the stern deck at all times.

8 comments:

  1. What you have to do is get yourselves a couple of hard hats and baseball bats... ...

    I watched a program on these fish a while ago and from what I remember, the noise from boat motors irritates them and makes jump. If you run your electric motor, you might not annoy them quite as much and they might avoid you.

    Either that or you'll be set for food for the rest of your trip! Tow a freezer behind you.

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  2. Wow, yet another advantage to solar-powered travel!

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  3. It is amazing what we humans can do to ourselves. Even if we can create some way to contain them to where they are, there will most likely be someone who thinks it will be a good idea to move the carp into the lakes and the other precautions are useless.

    The Ebro river, one of the main rivers in Spain, has very little native fish due to a man from Germany introducing a number of non native fish into it because he wanted to be able to catch bigger game fish. The problem of the non-native species was compounded by the construction of hydroelectric dams which made for an environment less suited for the native species that liked a running river.

    Wow, that turned out to be a longer comment than I initially intended. We constantly deal with unintended consequences as well as misguided intentional consequences.

    Glad to hear you're getting through.

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  4. Sounds like a real case of Carpe Diem!

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  5. Hi,

    I just found your blog today.

    My sister and I completed the Great Loop last summer in a 16' aluminum skiff, sleeping on board in a 4x5' tent. Limited resources forced us to hurry our trip, but the summer we spent on the loop will never be forgotten.

    I'm excited to follow your travel. We'll be reading the blog. Also, I would like to add you to the Blog Roll on our website: travelboater.com

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  6. A link to the article about the kayaker who had to drop out of the race:
    http://msn.foxsports.com/other/story/flying-fish-KOs-kayaker-082610

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  7. Hey, Travelboater, we heard about your trip, congratulations! Glad to cross-link the blogs

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  8. Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words -- this one said it all!
    http://connect.in.com/silver-asian-carp/photos-1-1-1-9176111a1e3642713a111878a8c61715.html

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