Asian carp town hall meeting in Muskegon

May 13, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension, in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, will present an overview on the Asian carp threat to the Great Lakes at a town hall meeting Friday morning in Muskegon.

The meeting, which will be attended by State Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, is intended to gather feedback on public reaction to various options the government could take should an Asian carp invasion become a reality.

The Muskegon meeting, which runs 9-11 a.m. May 20 at the GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute on Shoreline Drive in downtown Muskegon, is one of four open meetings being held across the state, with members of the Michigan House Natural Resources, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation Committee in attendance.

“Many people in Michigan have a lot at risk if Asian carp take hold in the Great Lakes, from residents enjoying a day at the beach or holding a fishing pole to business and industries that rely on the diversity of the resource for their livelihood,” said committee chair Frank Foster, R-Pellston. “It’s important that we listen to all those concerns and ideas to develop the most effective approach to protecting the lakes.”

Dan O’Keefe, southwest district extension educator with Michigan Sea Grant/MSU Extension, will go over the biology of the silver and bighead carp, the two most feared of the four invasive carp species that are threatening the Great Lakes.

O’Keefe said the DNR will take part in the meeting with a plan that lays out several options for dealing with an Asian carp invasion. O’Keefe said he had no specifics on those options but that the DNR also will go over the relative costs and drawbacks of each.

The audience will be provided with electronic keypads that enable them to respond to the various options, with state officials recording that feedback for further consideration.

O’Keefe said he would expect the town hall meeting to be of interest to individuals representing charter boat companies, sport fishing guides, bait and tackle dealers, bait wholesalers, and the boating industry in general, along with shoreline tourism industry representatives.

Almost all of the publicity thus far regarding an Asian carp impact on the Great Lakes food web and subsequent potential impact on the fisheries is focused ultimately on the Great Lakes multi-billion dollar sport fishing industry, “but it’s really hard to make solid predictions on what would play out ecologically,” said O’Keefe.

“Boaters, I think, are another big area of impact,” he said. “Anyone in the marinas or boating industries has a lot to lose, regardless of whether these fish actually impact native fish,” because of the silver carp. “The silver carp is the jumper,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but the very places that are probably most habitable by silver carp are the same places where we have highest densities of boats.”

Those places have slow-moving waters rich in nutrients and are connected to large rivers, he said.

Would Spring Lake be one of those areas? “Precisely,” said O’Keefe.

Silver carp have been the subject of news reports filmed on southern Illinois rivers because of their tendency to jump out of the water as boats pass near them. O’Keefe noted the silver carp can jump eight feet above the water. Some people aboard powerboats in heavily infested rivers have been seriously injured when struck by “flying” silver carp, which can weigh 10 pounds or more.

Much of the current debate about Asian carp hinges on whether or not they are already in Lake Michigan. They are known to be in the shipping canals near Chicago that link Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.

“We know we’ve caught a live bighead carp now on the wrong side of electric barriers” installed by the Army Corps of Engineers in a canal that empties into Lake Calumet, said O’Keefe.

“We have the DNA evidence showing that both bighead and silver carp have been in the area above the barriers,” he added.

He said it is possible these fish could show up in Michigan waters “any time now,” and he added that scientists assume the drowned river mouths are a more likely habitat for Asian carp than deep waters offshore.

If some of the fish do make it into Lake Michigan, the key issue then is whether or not an Asian carp population can become established, said O’Keefe. Bighead carp were known to be in Lake Erie in the mid-1990s, but none have been seen there since. “Apparently, they got introduced and they didn’t get established,” said O’Keefe.

But he added that does not mean they will never become established. “Any given year is a roll of the dice,” he said. “The more fish you have in the system, the greater the likelihood” that a breeding population will become established.

The most important thing that can be done now is to prevent them from getting into the Great Lakes, he said, and there is a great deal of activity and scientific studies underway aimed at that goal.

Countermeasures that have been tried already include poisoning a section of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal two years ago with rotenone. The Army Corps of Engineers had to temporarily take down one of its electric carp barriers at that area for maintenance, which led to the use of rotenone, which is fatal to all fish, not just Asian carp.

The focus of the town hall meetings is the local perspective: “What is Michigan prepared to do is the question we are posing here and exploring,” said O’Keefe.

“We know the important front to fight on is not necessarily in our backyard at this point, but that could change really quickly.”

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