Stopping Asian Carp in the Great Lakes

[2016] Asian carp, Asian carp, Asian carp...if only they could be fished away. The threat to the Great Lakes is very real, and the ways to prevent them from establishing seem very difficult to grasp in terms of effectiveness and actual feasibility of execution. The good news is that there is general agreement that more measures need to be taken. However, agreement on which measures and how they will be implemented are fraught with costly repercussions, and exacerbated by the stress of time running out as Asian Carp findings seem to get more numerous in and around the Great Lakes Basin. To date, there is no established population in the Great Lakes of Asian Carp; and a lot of credit needs to be given to the many organizations who are the front line of prevention.

It's not only our Great Lakes Basin at risk..

GLMRIS study Map

The other surprising piece to this story is the under reported threat of invasive species travelling from the Great Lakes and infesting the Mississippi River Basin. The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) developed the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) with the objective of finding options to prevent inter-basin transfer of "aquatic nuisance species" (ANS) or aquatic invasive species.

The study focused on preventing 13 of some 254 ANS species - 3 of which could transfer to the Great Lakes and include Scud , Silver Carp, and Bighead Carp ; and 10 which posed a risk for the Mississippi River Basin.

Aquatic invasives or ANS harm ecosystems, reduce native biodiversity and quantity, effect water quality, threaten the economy, and can create social disruption. Because of the devastating impact of Asian carp on neighbouring watersheds, there is much incentive for so many stakeholders to come together and work out preventative solutions for Asian carp in particular.

Asian carp in abundance in nearby watersheds..

Coming up the the Illinios River

" It has been estimated that the three lower reaches of the Illinois River (the first 231 miles of the Illinois Waterway, up to Starved Rock Lock and Dam about 100 miles from Lake Michigan) contained approximately 3.1 million pounds of Asian carp, of which Silver Carp make up about 90 % of the population density of which Bighead Carp make up 70 % of the biomass.11"

While projections on their impact to the Great Lakes vary from little impact to complete devastation, there is plenty of evidence of their destructive nature in the Mississippi and Ohio river basins near to the Great Lakes, where they have created havoc in expanding their numbers and causing concern with their increasing range. 9 Havana, along the Illinois River is an example. In the early '90s, the first Asian carp was caught in the area. Now, Asian carp comprise 60% of the fish severely limiting recreational boating and activities, as noted in this WGNtv article and video.

It's scary to think that only 20 fertile Asian carp are needed to establish a population in the Great Lakes, according to University of Waterloo ecology professor Kim Cuddington. 6

Read more about environmental impacts
Economic costs
Find out more about Hongyan Zhang's study on Lake Erie

Dresden Island Pool
Leading Edge of adult Asian carp population

What about all those reports of Asian carp findings in the Great Lakes?

There have been findings of Asian carp in the Great Lakes and even as far-flung as Lake Ontario . However, these findings have been relatively isolated catches; meaning that there is that there is no evidence of a breeding or established population of the high risk Bighead carp or Silver carp. (Read here about the 4 different species of Asian Carp).

However, Asian carp are close, and all entry points and Great Lakes are of great concern and need to be prioritized. Entry to Lake Michigan via the Chicago Area Waterways (CAWS) System and the Illinois River have been assessed as the largest risk to a Great Lakes invasion. Within this system (CAWS), the adult population front of Bighead and Silver carp is 55 miles, and two locks away from Lake Michigan according to officials in 2014,11. Propitiously, this "overall leading edge" has not changed since 2006 and does not include spawning activity that happens further downstream in the Illinois river. Officials can never be complacent though - Silver Carp larvae were mapped further north on the Illinois River in June 2015 then ever before.

While Lake Michigan is the most vulnerable entry point, other studies point to Lake Erie

A recent study suggests Lake Erie1 is the most threatened ecosystem due to a higher variety of fish species verses the other Great Lakes. It is argued by some and very hotly debated that with less plankton, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior are less likely to support larger volumes of Asian carp. In addition to walleye, Lake Erie faces losses that include rainbow trout, gizzard shad and emerald shiners. Alarmingly, officials have found evidence of Grass Carp reproduction in Lake Erie. While this type of Asian carp is thought to be less destructive than Bighead or Silver Carp because they eat plants instead of plankton, they are still voracious eaters who can harm wetlands and alter the environment for other fish.

Georgian Bay Forever believes that Asian carp are a significant threat to all the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay. Understanding the state of the struggle, and the complexities, and recognizing the species and its dangers are all important to helping prevent Asian carp from establishing in the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay. We have summarized some of the key measures below:

5 current Asian carp prevention measures

Updated: February 29, 2016

1. Electrical Barriers - Prevention for Lake Michigan in the Illinois River
The primary current defence structures against Asian carp are electro-magnetic fields north of the Lockport Lock and Jam in the Chicago Area Waterways (CAWS) about 40 km south of Chicago. Engineered by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), these barriers will be managed by them in the future.

    How do electrical barriers work?
    Efficacy, and the eDNA monitoring tool
    Re-allocation of resources - downstream of the electrical barriers
2. Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC)

Oversees the efforts of numerous stakeholders from federal, state/provincial, and local agencies and private organizations to prevent Asian carp from establishing in the Great Lakes. The ACRCC and the annual 'Framework' strategies it develops started in 2009 to establish short, long term, multi-level, and progressive approaches to Asian carp prevention beyond exclusive reliance on electrical barriers.

In June 2015, it published the "Asian Carp Strategy Framework" which provides a comprehensive summary of all the major work being done on controlling Asian carp. Bighead and Silver Carp are the focus, with the 2015 framework including Grass and Black Carp for the first time.

[update May 6] The ARCC just released the 2016 Asian Carp Control Action Plan. GBF will take sometime to review it, but here is their summary with a PDF of their Action Plan.

Canada joins, read about our involvement
3. Earthen Berm - Prevention for Lake Erie , the Eagle Marsh project 2015

In Indiana, a 2 mile earthen berm was erected across a floodway near Fort Wayne in order to prevent the connection of the two basins (the Great Lakes and the Mississippi watershed) during times of high precipitation or spring melt.

Specifically, at Eagle Marsh, the Wabash River a tributary of the Mississippi basin could connect with the Maumee River, which enters Lake Erie at Toledo, Ohio. The berm replaced a temporary movable chain link fence and also aims to prevent flood damage to properties between the two basins.

Watch a great video in an article from Voice of America, discussing the Indiana berm in detail.

4. Preventing people from bringing Asian Carp to the Great Lakes.

    It is illegal to transport, sell, or possess live Asian Carp in Ontario and the Great Lakes US States21. Ontario strengthened its ability to prevent aquatic invasive species with the passing of Bill 37 in October, the Invasive Species Act 2015 which prohibited import and possession of significant-threat species (the regulations are to follow). While experts think that there is less from this potential introduction then from the CAWS; it still is very critical to stop.
    Possible loopholes

5. Other organizations are making a difference - driving awareness, monitoring or driving consensus

Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH)
United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
The Great Lakes and St.Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSL)
Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

The above is far from a complete list - there are certainly more organizations fiercely involved in the current prevention of Asian carp into the Great Lakes - and there are more strategies and tactics deployed by the organizations listed. Some of these are listed below, for continued reading. If you would like to email us about further efforts on Asian carp prevention measures, please email Communications.

What is CAWS? - Chicago Area Waterway System

The CAWS is a 128 mile system of mostly man made waterways comprised of canals and river channels in northeastern Illinois and northwestern Indiana. It grew to service a growing Chicago. In the early 1900's, sewage needed to moved away from Chicago by reversing the flow of the Chicago and Calumet Rivers into Lake Michigan toward the Mississippi via the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal.

It is the only permanent hydrologic link between the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes basin.

CAWS has purposes beyond sanitation, including being the only navigable inland link for shipping and recreation between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes . To give you an idea of the vessel traffic, two major locks within the CAWS, the Chicago Lock and the Thomas J. O'Brien Lock & Dam handled more than 50,000 watercrafts in 2008.

CAWS is thought be be the greatest risk for the transfer of Asian carp to the Great Lakes through its 5 aquatic pathways between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River Basin:

    1. Wilmette Pumping Station, IL
    2. Chicago River Controlling Works, IL
    3. Calumet Harbor, IL
    4. Indiana Harbor, IN
    5. Burns Small Boat Harbor, IN

What’s an invasive species?

Every non-indigenous plant is not necessarily an invasive species, although you should always be aware of what you are planting or bringing in. Accidental non-indigenous species can have the potential to demolish native species and ecosystems, as they have no natural predators.

Invasive species have the ability to spread to new areas, be a threat to the broader economy, environment, and society. Asian carp and invasive Phragmites are examples of invasive species that are a big threat to the Great Lakes.

The Invasive Species Centre outlines their impact this way "These nonnative plants and animals not only threaten to transform the wildlife, woodlands and waterways that Canadians depend on, they cost this country billions of dollars in losses to forestry, agriculture, fisheries and other industries affected by their impact."

5 Interim Initiatives Under Consideration or Underway or Under Consideration

Updated: February 29, 2016

Many view the current electrical barriers operation in CAWS as insufficient to prevent the invasion of Asian carp; especially from entering into Lake Michigan from CAWs (Chicago Area Waterways). In 2007, Congress authorized USACE to provide options to prevent Asian carp and other aquatic invaders from transferring basins (the Great Lakes and Mississippi). The USACE report, GLMRIS for short, provided 8 options, 4 of which involve complete hyrdological separation of the basins. While the debate about hydrological separation continues, some of the technology and processes in GLMRIS are being tested in the meantime. The biggest spend, and great opportunity for stopping Asian carp getting to the Great Lakes seems to be around the Brandon Road Study.

1. Single One Way Control Point to prevent ANS from getting into Lake Michigan. If the Brandon Road Study is successful, the risk of Silver carp and Bighead carp would be substantially reduced. However, timing is a concern for some.
More details
Anticipated Outcomes

2. Engineers and researchers are testing non-structural repelling or control measures such as high pressure water (sound cannons), experimenting with pheromones, CO2 bubble screens and other experiments. These methods on their own are not likely to be fool-proof, but strengthen the control effort when used with other methods.

The USGS (United States Geological Survey) combines tools and knowledge to aid in detection and prevention.They test various attractants and how they work in order to effectively add to control efforts.
Carbon Dioxide
Chemical attractants, and working to make them more selective
Disrupting Early Life
3. A 3rd Permanent electrical barrier in work in CAWS upstream of Barrier IIa and 11B near Lockport – complete in 2017. This barrier is to replace a temporary barrier that exists.

4. Development of risk assessment models to help decision makers on potential risks for species and locations.

There is much research going on to understand and help stop Asian carp from the Great Lakes.
Here are some examples where Canada is contributing:
5. USACE working towards solutions on other pathways of medium risk

  • Little Killbuck Creek Pathway - The GLMRIS Aquatic Pathway assessment report (USACE) rated this connection medium risk for Silver Carp, Bighead Carp, and Black Carp (as well as other nuisance species transfer between basins). Closure options were developed for Sept 30, 2015, which have gone on for evaluation with the OHIO DNR.

  • Ohio-Erie Canal Pathway - The GLMRIS Aquatic Pathway assessment report (USACE) rated this connection medium risk for Silver Carp, Bighead Carp, and Black Carp (as well as other nuisance species transfer between basins) as a medium risk. The OHIO DNR is working with USACE on closure options which were to be completed in September 2015. These plans would then be discussed with affected parties.

    The above points provide more actions, but again is far from a complete list on interim measures. There are also bigger, up to 25 years away solutions discussed below. If you would like to email us about further efforts on Asian carp prevention measures, please email Communications.

  • What is GLMRIS?

    GLMRIS stands for the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study; which was conducted by USACE (United States Army Corps of Engineers) by authorization of Congress in 2007. The point of the study was to provide a range of options and technology to prevent aquatic nuisance species (ANS) from transferring between the Great Lakes Basin and the Mississippi River Basins via aquatic pathways. The study notes that prevention is the best to defence to reducing the risk of ANS establishing in either basin. The study was released in 2014.
  • In 2012, Congress modified the focus of the study to 5 pathways in the Chicago Area Waterways(CAWS), as they were determined to be the most likely entry point for ANS.
  • USACE narrowed a list of 254 ANS species to 13 that posed the greatest risk. 3 for the Great Lakes (Scud, Bighead Carp, Silver Carp), and 10 that pose a risk to the Mississippi River Basin)
  • The study produced 8 alternatives ranging from do nothing and maintain the status quo to complete separation of the basins; from non-structural options to development of new structures. Costs ranged from 68 million to about over 18 billion USD before annual costs. Time to implement ran up to 25 years for some alternatives.
  • It also explores the impacts to to "uses and users" of CAWS, as well as some ways to minimize the negative impacts of the options in order to reduce risks of flooding, natural resources, water quality, and navigation.
    • Here is a short summary from GLMRIS of the options:
      1. Do nothing - Continue with current efforts and spend levels(i.e., the electric barriers, monitoring etc.)
      Modifications and changes to current CAWs system
      2. Nonstructural control technologies (i.e., education, monitoring, herbicides, ballast water management)
      3. Specialized lock, lock channel, electric barriers and ANS treatment plants at two mid-system locations in the CAWS.
      4. CAWS buffer zone using the same technologies as number 3, preventing downstream passage from Lake Michigan at five points and preventing upstream passage at a single point at Brandon Road Lock and Dam.
      Hydrological separation
      5. Material barricades separating the basins at 4 locations along the lakefront of Lake Michigan.
      6. Material barricades separating the basins at 2 mid-system locations .
      7. Material barricades at 4 mid-system locations, leaving the Cal-Sag channel open.
      8. A hybrid of technology and material barricades at 4 mid-system locations, leaving the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal open.

    Hydrological Separation

    Updated: February 29, 2016

    While there is general understanding that eventual separation of the two watersheds is the best solution to stop ANS, there are also concerns about the potential impacts of what happens when the hydrological link is broken.

    The hydrological separation of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basin could cost $18 billion USD, outside of annual costs. It means radically altering the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), which is the only navigable connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Basin.

    On the other hand, CAWS has been determined as the most likely source for invasive species movement; and fighting invasive species costs billions of dollars annually. According to studies cited on, there is a $7 billion annual 'invisible tax' for aquatic invasives in the Great Lakes alone that is caused by reduced production of resources16. The socio-economic impacts of an established Asian carp population in the Great Lakes for Canada (excluding Lake Michigan) are estimated at 390 billion over 50 years, according to Department of Fisheries and Oceans.14. It is not surprising that many believe prevention is more affordable than continually paying for managing them when they are established.

    Who is opposing it and why?

    The biggest opponents are commercial shipping, which send about 15 million tonnes of commodities through the waterways every year. Hydrological separation could cost the commercial cargo industry between $210 million and $250 million (U.S.) annually, according to a Star article22. It could also take about 25 years to complete.

    Consider this example: the Indiana port of Burns Harbor says it derives $1.9 billion from two-way barge traffic up and down the waterway system. That would take a financial hit, but there are also environmental factors to consider. One barge load is equal to the weight load of 70 trucks. Multiply that by the 30 to 40 barges that travel through Indiana each day, and the resulting 210 to 280 additional trucks needed to do the job would lead to significantly increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

    For a perspective on the state of hydrological separation, Georgian Bay Forever has asked the Executive Director, David Ullrich of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative to provide GBF with a status update on this issue from the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) Advisory Committee, whose members have met since 2014. The Committee includes representatives from 30 public and private stakeholders that benefit from and have responsibilities related to the CAWS, as well as regional stakeholder groups representing commercial, recreational, and environmental interests.

    They reached consensus on a letter sent to President Obama in January 2016. Essentially, the CAWS Advisory Group urged for expedited work on an aquatic invasive species lock or system that would provide protection comparable to full physical separation in the long-term.

    According to Ullrich, many stakeholders still maintain that full physical separation should be the solution, and all recognize it is the most effective way to stop the movement of invasive species in both directions. Others argue that this approach would interfere too much with transportation. The Advisory Committee will continue meeting in the coming year to keep the mid and long term solution process moving and to address other issues that arise.

    For the full update on the CAWS Advisory Committee written by David Ullrich, and the CAWs Advisory 2015 letters to president Obama, please visit this link.

    The other perspective as previously stated, CAWS has been determined as the most likely source for invasive species movement; and fighting invasive species costs billions of dollars annually. According to studies cited on, there is a $7 billion annual 'invisible tax' for aquatic invasives in the Great Lakes alone that is caused by reduced production of resources16. GBF has cited several other sources in this article about the high costs of controlling invasives.

    It is not surprising that many believe prevention is more affordable than continually paying for managing them when they are established.

    If you would like to email us with any information on Asian carp, please reach out to communications.

    Great read- Summary of GLMRIS

    A summary of USACE's options for 2 way prevention of aquatic nuisance species between the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes Basin.4 options involve complete hyrologic separation.
    GLMRIS study, The Great Lakes

    Some helpful definitions: Hydrologic separation- use of physical barriers placed in waterways to block aquatic connections between basins. Buffer zone- an ANS-treated area of waterway created between upstream and downstream control technologies.

    Sources and acknowledgements:

    Thank-you to all the sources and references in this post

    Note - I try to bring together information to help understand Asian carp. I do use sources to provide information and visuals. I do my very best to attribute properly and try very hard to get it right. If I have made an inadvertent mistake around recognizing someone’s work or misinterpreting the work, please let me know via email at communications and I will correct.

  • . Further great information, and great pictures and representations can be found there.
  • A source for purpose and finds was Becky Cudmore, from Fisheries and Oceans Canada/Pêches et Océans Canada.
  • Invasive carp.
  • A source for findings:
    < Here is a great video and article from Voice of America, discussing theIndiana berm in detail.
  • WGNtv article and videoThis Illinois town has more Asian carp than any place else on earth. Posted 9:30 PM, October 13, 2014, by Nancy Loo and Pam Grimes, Updated at 07:23am, October 14, 2014
  • be 9)
  • Numbered References
    1 call. Asian carp could forge threat, January 09, 2016 in Science. Retrieved February 29, 2016 at "
    2 Michigan Daily. Impact of Asian carp on Great Lakes could be overestimated. Megan Doyle. Friday, January 8, 2016 - 1:19am . Retrieved February 29, 2016 at
    3 Michigan Daily. Impact of Asian carp on Great Lakes could be overestimated. Megan Doyle. Friday, January 8, 2016 - 1:19am . Retrieved February 29, 2016 at

    4 Chicago Tribune Electric barriers stop big Asian carp, tests show March 25, 2011|By Katherine Skiba. Retrieved February 29, 2016 at
    5 Chicago Area Waterways. . Retrieved February 29, 2016 at
    6 of Waterloo. Waterloo stories.When invasive Asian carp look for love in all the right places. By Victoria Van Cappellen . Retrieved February 29, 2016 at
    Yahoo News. Study says Asian carp eventually could make up one-third of combined fish weight in Lake Erie John Flesher, The Associated Press, The Canadian Press. January 4, 2016. Retrieved February 29, 2016 at"
    8 Frequently asked Questions. what is eDNA, and how is USACE using it? John Flesher, The Associated Press, The Canadian Press. January 4, 2016. Retrieved February 29, 2016 at
    10Page 3 of the Asian Carp Strategy Control Framework 2015 shows the massive distribution growth of Bighead and Silver Carp from 1990 to 2010 in the Mississippi River and Ohio Basins.
    11Page 5-6 of the Asian Carp Strategy Control Framework 2015
    12 Page 14
    15 October 12, 2015.
    18 Sweetnam, David. Keeping the critters out. Georgian Bay Forever, Spring 2012 newsletter issue. Page 5
    19 Sweetnam, David. Keeping the critters out. Georgian Bay Forever, Spring 2012 newsletter issue. Page 5
    20ASian Carp. COntrol Strategy Framework, June 2015 June 2015 Page 14. Retrieved March 21, 2016
    21 Retrieved March 21, 2016 at
    22Aulakh, Raveena. “Meet Canada’s Asian carp detective.” Sept 28, 2015. Retrieved from