Bighead, silver, grass and black carp — the invasive varieties of Asian carp — have had ecologists fretting since their presence in the Mississippi River was found after they escaped from southern fish farms in early 1970s. These fish are inexhaustible eaters that can bump native fishes out of the running for food and living space. According to information on the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC) website
, the most prolific type of carp is the grass carp, and bighead is second. The former wreaks havoc on the vegetation needed as food, protection or hatcheries by native fish species while the latter feasts mostly on "already rare snails, mussels, and other invertebrates," competing against the fish and waterfowl in that area.
Several groups, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service, are working to control and contain the invasive species, and efforts are being made to keep the bighead and silver carp out of the Great Lakes as they travel up the Chicago Ship and Sanitary canal. Although there have not been any physical signs of either type of carp in Lake Michigan, a new method of DNA collection has found evidence of Asian carp DNA, also called Environmental or eDNA, within the lake water.
Using the tools
Although several scientists agree that eDNA collection can be an easier way to determine the presence of the carp in waterways than trying to catch live ones, the fact that this method of data collection does not decipher whether the DNA came from a live fish or a dead one makes it hard to accurately determine the threat of the findings.
A new, refined method of eDNA collection may be soon be utilized, however at the time being this process is a tool for ecologists to work with when deciding what actions to take in containing and controlling the fish. In a report posted on the ACRCC
, researches ran 2,232 samples on the Lake Michigan side of an electric barrier set up by the U.S. Corps of Engineering in the Chicago canal and the results yielded only 60 positive traces of bighead or silver carp. Even though traces of carp have been found, it cannot prove where the eDNA came from, be it from "a dead fish or whether water containing Asian Carp DNA may have been transported from other sources."
Although the electric wall has proven to be an effective barrier against migrating carp, the Corps has decided to ramp up the voltage from 2 volts per inch to 2.3 volts per inch in order to better protect the lake as the carp population continues to rise. This increase in voltage has been deemed still safe for all boat traffic.
In the past, Asian carp have gotten a bad rap. They have been described as a nuisance, ugly, boney and hard to filet. But recently in Illinois, a campaign to serve up the fish has been implemented to try and solve two major issues: the growing population of the carp and the high number of people going hungry.
Several chefs are finding ways to best serve the cheap source of protein, either as processed meat or as boneless filets. Either way, the high protein fish provide hungry people with adequate sustenance, and can be purchased at a small price. In a Voice of America video
on the issue of eating Asian carp, chef Tim Creehan explained that most oceanic fish cost about $6 per pound whole while Asian carp run for about 12 to 20 cents per pound whole. In a time when the economy is hurting, being able to provide food for those who need it at a substanially lower cost is inarguably beneficial, both in terms of combating hunger and making an impact on the Asian Carp population.