What We Do to Stop Asian Carp

Asian carp photo by T. Lawrence, Great Lakes Fishery Trust

The National Wildlife Federation is a leader in the effort to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

First imported into the United States in the 1960s and 1970s for use in southern aquaculture facilities and retention ponds, species like bighead and silver carp escaped during flooding and have wrecked the fisheries of the Mississippi River watershed where they have taken over. As filter feeders, they consume the base of the aquatic food chain, starving out and outcompeting native fish species. Additionally, silver carp become a safety hazard to boaters and anglers on waters they inhabit, leaping feet out of the air and weighing up to forty pounds.

Recent studies have predicted that they could thrive in Lake Michigan and Lake Erie if they become established, where they could spread to connected inland rivers and lakes, as well, jeopardizing the Great Lakes $7 billion annual sport-fishing economy and the freshwater ecosystems of the Great Lakes region.

The National Wildlife Federation works to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes by:

  • Working with and organizing partners to raise awareness of the threat posed by Asian carp and making their control and prevention a priority for decision-makers at all levels.
  • Advocating for funding to build the infrastructure and implement the projects necessary to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, including as part of the Healing Our Waters – Save Our Great Lakes coalition and advocating for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
  • Serving on the Chicago Area Waterways System Advisory Committee, providing input and support on solutions to reduce the pathways through which Asian carp could invade the Great Lakes.

In recent years, successful projects have closed pathways in Minnesota and Indiana. The closure of the St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in Minnesota closed a connection between the Mississippi River watershed and the Great Lakes watershed, and the construction of the Eagle Marsh berm in Indiana closed a connection point between the Maumee River – which flows into Lake Erie – and the Wabash River. However, work on one of the most critical locations for keeping Asian carp out of Lake Michigan is stalled on the release of a draft plan outlining options for improving defenses at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois. This location below the confluence of the Des Plaines and Illinois Rivers could prevent Asian carp from advancing further into the Chicago Area Waterways System, which connects to Lake Michigan at multiple points.

Asian Carp

Though a series of electric barriers are operated within the system to deter the transfer of invasive species between the watersheds, in 2009 Asian carp eDNA (biological traces of the existence of a species) was found on the Lake Michigan side of the barriers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed in 2015 that juvenile Asian carp can be pulled through the barriers by passing barges.

The US Army Corps of Engineers identified Brandon Road Lock and Dam as a critical chokepoint in its 2014 report on options to stop Asian carp, and they were authorized by Congress in 2015 to begin a study on improving defenses at that location. The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee – made up of governmental agencies from the Great Lakes region – prioritized Brandon Road Lock and Dam in its 2015 and 2016 action plans, and the US Army Corps of Engineers’ draft plan outlining options was expected to be released in February 2017, but unexpectedly delayed by the Trump administration.

Our current priority is advocating for the release of the draft study on options for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, because until that study is released, work cannot move forward. The Asian carp aren’t waiting on the study, neither can we!

Related Resources
What Scientists are Really Saying about Asian carp in the Great Lakes 

Research indicates that Asian carp could survive in the Great Lakes.

Asian Carp Factsheet 

How and why NWF is fighting to keep Asian carp from taking hold in the Great Lakes.

National Wildlife Magazine 

Carp Attack: Five things you need to know about the fish that might destroy the Great Lakes

Great Lakes Restoration

What NWF is doing to protect and restore the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth.

Great Lakes Regional Center

The NWF Great Lakes Regional Center is at the heart of the fight to protect the Great Lakes.

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Asian Carp Invasion

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was authorized by Congress on November 1, 2007 to study how to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.