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States, federal government spending $74 million this year on Asian carp control plan

by Tim Anderson ~ October 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
In the decades of battling invasive species and trying to mitigate their economic and ecological impacts, one point has become abundantly clear to Mike Weimer and other fish biologists. “Prevention is by far the most effective strategy,” he told legislators at this fall’s Great Lakes Legislative Caucus meeting in Buffalo, N.Y.
So ever since Asian carp appeared to be dangerously close to entering the lakes via the Chicago Area Waterway System, states and the federal government have been pouring millions of dollars into a wide range of prevention plans.
New electric fish barriers have been built. The movement and presence of Asian carp continues to be intensely monitored, in part through cutting-edge eDNA technologies. Commercial fishing operations (hired by the state of Illinois) have removed more than 3 million pounds of Asian carp.
As co-chair of the state-federal Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, Weimer is helping oversee these and many other prevention strategies. In 2015 alone, he told lawmakers, the committee will fund a total of 43 projects at a cost of $74 million. Its goal: Protect a Great Lakes fishery that has an estimated value of $7 billion.
Weimer, a senior fish biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the caucus that these various strategies appear to be helping control the spread of Asian carp. The most recent samples of eDNA found no positive findings of Asian carp above the fish barriers, for example, and adult populations of have declined in different parts of the Illinois River.
Meanwhile, some promising new technologies and methods may be on the horizon. To prevent the movement of all fish, scientists are testing the efficacy of using sound technologies or carbon dioxide bubble screens. Another idea is to employ a toxicant that specifically targets species of Asian carp.
“A lot of environment work still has to be done so you’re sure it’s not going to affect native populations,” Weimer said about these potential strategies.
For now, electric fish barriers are the primary method for keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Three barriers are already in place in the Chicago Area Waterway System, and a fourth will be installed by 2017. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also has launched an $8.2 million study to assess the viability of controlling the upstream movement of Asian carp at a single location: the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, Ill. The study itself could take up to 46 months, but new federal legislation would give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority to take immediate action.
Though the Chicago Area Waterway System remains the highest-priority pathway, Weimer noted that at least 18 other sites have been identified as places where invasive species could move between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes systems (see map). Of those 18, three have become immediate priorities for the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee: one in Indiana (Eagle Marsh) and two in Ohio, (Killbuck Creek and the Ohio and Erie Canal at Long Lake).
“We’re implementing new structures (berms, barriers and fencing) at those locations to essentially close them off,” Weimer told the caucus.