Berkley Conservation Institute

Asian Carp Threat to the Great Lakes

Berkley Conservation Institute

Anglers are interested in the potential threat that Asian carp from the Mississippi River system have to the highly valuable fisheries of the Great Lakes. In this paper, we summarize the problem, the threat and the solution.

Asian carp were introduced into catfish culture operations in the State of Arkansas in the 1980's to help eliminate a parasite that was damaging the commercial catfish product. Through flooding, the carp were able to escape from the catfish ponds and invade the lower Mississippi river. Throughout the late 1990's and early 2000's Asian carp have expanded their range and their ecological dominance in the Mississippi and Ohio River systems to the detriment of native species of fish.

Now, the Asian carp have expanded their range to the point of potentially migrating through the Chicago Ship Canal into Lake Michigan and potentially the rest of the Great Lakes. If Asian carp were successful in establishing populations in the Great Lakes and exhibited the same kind of ecological dominance experienced in the Mississippi River system, they could threaten the recreational fisheries of the Great Lakes which contribute $8 billion annually to the US and Canadian economies.

The only way to ensure that Great Lakes fisheries are protected with a high degree of security would be to block the Chicago Ship Canal with earth, forcing the unloading and reloading of barge commerce on each side of the block. This is highly controversial and is being resisted by the State of Illinois and the barging/shipping interests. This topic is the subject of a lawsuit between the State of Michigan and some other States advocating the forced closure of the canal and the State of Illinois and the US Army Corps of Engineers which are resisting such action at this time. The Canadian Government, both Provincial and Federal has also expressed concern for the threat to their fisheries. The Great Lakes are co-managed by multiple States, Tribes and the Federal governments of the United States and Canada. This management is coordinated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (

The Federal Government has appointed a former State Fish and Wildlife employee to serve as "Carp Czar" to facilitate collaborative solutions to the problem. Efforts to block the passage of fish with electrical barriers and fish poisons have been unsuccessful to date, with some evidence that Asian carp have already successfully passed the barriers and have entered the canal above the barrier.

Anglers can become involved by insisting that their state and federal elected officials become aware and active in this issue.

For more information, check out:

Jim Martin - Conservation Director