Posted on August 23, 2010 (updated: August 23, 2010)

Voracious fish on the doorstep of Canadian waters

TORONTO – With the discovery in Illinois last Tuesday of Asian Carp beyond the electric barriers designed to prevent their migration, Canadian environmental groups are requesting the US government to take stronger action to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes and devastating Canadian fishing sectors and the environment.

Ecojustice, on behalf of Canadian and Great Lakes members of Waterkeeper Alliance, Great Lakes United, and Environmental Defence Canada, has requested formal action by the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the US Clean Water Act to require all relevant states and interstate agencies to consider Canadian interests and take proactive steps in keeping the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

“This is a huge problem that can only be addressed by preventing these fish from entering the Great Lakes,” says Ecojustice staff lawyer Hugh Wilkins. “Canadian concerns need to be voiced and considered by US decision-makers so that our interests are taken into account when deciding how to address the carp threat.”

Several decades ago, Asian carp species were imported to fish farms in the southern U.S. Over time, fish escaped and prospered in the Mississippi River basin. They threaten to enter Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, an artificial connection between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins.

Asian carp are voracious eaters and grow to immense sizes – up to 100 pounds. They are also prolific. Over the past decade, they have steadily migrated northward, devastating natural habitats and destroying the aquatic food chain to the detriment of indigenous fish populations. Both U.S. and Canadian authorities warn that if the carp enter the Great Lakes, commercial and sport fisheries may be wiped out.

The carp have now migrated to the edge of Lake Michigan. Last Tuesday, a bighead carp was found beyond the canal’s shipping locks and electric barriers – separated from the Great Lakes by only 6 miles of unobstructed river.

“This artificial canal system linking two of North America’s largest watersheds provides a pathway for Asian carp to take hold in Canada,” says Georgian Baykeeper Mary Muter. “We must ensure that there is hydrological separation between the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes basin to prevent the carp from establishing themselves in our waters.”

“Greater transparency and Canadian input into the emergency planning currently being undertaken to stop an Asian carp invasion is needed,” says Mike Layton of Environmental Defence. “We’ve seen the damage that zebra mussels and sea lamprey have wreaked. The destruction that the Asian carp could inflict may rival these two invaders.”

“We are on the brink of one of the greatest environmental tragedies to the Great Lakes in decades,” says Derek Stack of Great Lakes United. “The United States and Canada need to work together to stop the Asian carp while there is still time. Canadians are echoing the call for hydrological separation and U.S. authorities must listen, before it is too late.”

Experts state that these very large carp may destroy Canadian wetlands and the fish spawning and nursery habitat they provide. Given the propensity of Asian carp to prosper in colder waters the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has warned that they could expand throughout the Great Lakes basin, into major tributaries, and even into northern Canada, if they are not stopped.


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