Dec. 4, 2009— -- Among a bevy of tens of thousands of dead fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discovered a single Asian Carp in an Illinois canal that leads to Lake Michigan, the largest body of fresh water in the world. Environmental officials began the largest fish kill in Illinois state history on Wednesday night, trying to keep Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes.
Scientist fear the large and voracious Asian Carp, which can eat the equivalent of 40 percent of their body weigh every day, could damage the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. The carp are also dangerous to fisherman because they can grow to 4 feet long and weigh 100 pounds, and are known for the ability to leap up to 8 feet out of the water as motor boats speed by, injuring fisherman.
The lone carp discovered just above a lock and dam in Lockport and was a 22-inch specimen, officials said.
Hoping to keep Lake Michigan safe from the fish, officials in Illinois dumped more than 20,000 gallons of a toxic chemical called rotenone into a stretch of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Lockport, Ill. Rotenone kills fish by disrupting their ability to metabolize oxygen. Officials said they had no choice but to act.
"We are all very concerned about the threat Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes," said Stacey Solano, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Officials had feared carp could be closing in on Lake Michigan, and that's why they poisoned a 5.7-mile channel south of Chicago to keep the ailen species from passing an electric barrier that would normally hold them back. That barrier, construted by The Army Corps of Engineers in 2002 to protect the waters, was shut down for maintenance.
Environmental organizations say the carp need to be kept from crowding other species out of the Great Lakes. The fish, which make up the largest percentage of biomass in some Midwest rivers, have traveled along the Mississippi for nearly two decades. Some conservation groups say all Illinois locks and gateways leading to Lake Michigan ought to be closed.
Asian Carp Threaten Great Lakes
"If we want our kids and grandkids to know anything remotely like the Great Lakes we have today, we have to stop the carp. The carp will change the lakes permanently," said Jen Nalbone, director of invasion for Great Lakes United. Her group says Asian carp have had a devastating effect on the Mississippi -- and must be stopped from doing the same thing to the Great Lakes.
There is concern that the carp could decimate the $7 billion sport fishing industry and the $10 billion recreational boating industry in the Great Lakes.
"The calm that we are accustomed to and enjoy on the Great Lakes just might not be there," said F. Ned Dikmen, publisher of Great Lakes Boating magazine. "I've seen (the carp) get agitated with boaters and they jump on boats. I've seen people break their jaws. I've seen some real damaging side effects of this fish."
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Lt. Gov. John Cherry sent a letter to state Attorney General Mike Cox, urging him to pursue every legal means to battle the fish. "The Great Lakes' ecosystem is at risk and because of the importance of the Great Lakes to Michigan's economy," they wrote.
The governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, downplayed word Michigan might take legal action. "She commissioned her attorney general to look at everything," Quinn told the Chicago Sun Times. "We're all working together."
Nalbone said 80 percent of the fish by weight in the Mississippi basin are Asian carp -- and that's dangerous, not only because of the risk to boaters but also because the carp push out native species. "They harmed the Mississippi waterway and we have every reason to expect they will harm the Great Lakes watershed as well," she said. "It will change the lakes the way Zebra mussels changed the lake."
Zebra mussels are black and white-striped mollusks believed to have caused millions of dollars of damage in the Great Lakes region by getting into facilities that use raw surface water. The mussels clog water intake pipes, wells and screen systems.
200,000 Pounds of Fish
Nalbone says a permanent hydrologic separation is needed between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi basin where the carp live. "We need to re-establish the natural watershed barrier between the Mississippi basin and the Great Lakes. We are working to push federal agencies to take every needed action to prevent the carp from getting into the lake."
An extensive cleanup operation involving hundreds of people from state and federal agencies continued Friday as officials collected and disposed of roughly 200,000 pounds of dead fish. The fish are be taken to an area landfill.
The fish were to be removed by large cranes and barges and then put into dump trucks to be disposed of, Solano said, before clean up began.
Before the fish kill started, The Illinois Department of Resources tried to locate sport fish from the canal so they would not be harmed by the rotenone. The cost of the entire operation could be as much as $2 million.