Asian carp threaten Michigan ecosystem, economy

Courtesy Photo /
Asian carp invasion

Courtesy Photo / Asian carp invasion

Molly Waite

The debate over the invasion of the Asian carp into the Great Lakes gained momentum in June when, for the first time, a single carp was found beyond the electric barriers constructed in the Illinois River to keep the species out of the Great Lakes.

Carl Ruetz, assistant professor at the Grand Valley State University ANNIS Water Resources Institute, said it is important to focus on stopping the carp from entering the Great Lakes and warm, shallow rivers such as the Grand River, where the carp population could grow extremely dense.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these fish pose a significant threat due to their extremely large size (some carp reaching as much as 100 pounds), rapid reproduction and massive appetites. The Asian carp could potentially destroy Great Lakes ecosystems and devastate Michigan’s multibillion-dollar fishing industry.

“It is unclear how the Asian carp will affect the Great Lakes ecosystem, but my personal view is that I don’t want to find out,” Ruetz said. “It’s much better to do everything we can to keep them out, because once an invasive species is established, it is virtually impossible to eliminate them. Prevention is the best method.”

Ruetz said the most effective way to stop Asian carp and other invasive species is to remove the pathways through which they enter the Great Lakes and large rivers in West Michigan. These pathways are mostly man-made channels constructed for the transportation of iron ore, coal and other goods, such as the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

In 2009, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox entered a lawsuit to close Chicago-area locks to prevent further invasion of Asian carp into the Great Lakes, which the U.S. Supreme Court denied in January. Cox has since launched an online petition at in hopes of ultimately presenting the petition to President Barak Obama, who currently opposes the closing of the Chicago locks.

“It is distressing that inaction on the part of a state with only a few miles of shoreline is threatening the economy and ecology of Michigan and every other state in the Great Lakes basin,” Cox said in a press release.

Despite setbacks, members of Congress have joined to sponsor legislation to determine how, in a timely manner, to create a permanent barrier to stop Asian carp, according to Fresh Water Future, a Great Lakes conservation organization.

Reutz said accurate information is one of the best tools for politicians and other people involved in policy-making.

“I have given presentations to policy-makers on the Asian carp issue,” Ruetz said. “We’re trying to provide information about the problem so that those with the ability to take action and make decisions can make more informed decisions.”

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