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Research: Asian Carp Could Devastate Lake Erie Food Web

Two species of Asian carp could become abundant in Lake Erie and threaten the food web in all of the Great Lakes. (Todd Davis, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Flickr)
Two species of Asian carp could become abundant in Lake Erie and threaten the food web in all of the Great Lakes. (Todd Davis, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Flickr)
January 14, 2016

LANSING, Mich. – As state and federal leaders work to address the threat of Asian carp entering the Great Lakes, new research predicts the voracious eaters could devastate Lake Erie's food web.

Ed Rutherford, a University of Michigan researcher and a biologist with the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, was on the study team that found that two species of Asian carp could become quite abundant in Lake Erie, eventually comprising one-third of all fish species.

Other Great Lakes would face similar peril.

Rutherford explains that Asian carp eat plankton, the base of the food web, which he says is troubling.

"The concern is that they will out-compete native fishes for this food so that the growth and survival of young fish will decline and which will mean a decline in the adult populations of very important species," he explains.

There have been numerous efforts to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes, including federal funding for monitoring and proposals to build barriers.

In its recently passed federal funding bill, Congress approved $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which works to combat invasive species along with other protection measures.

Marc Smith, policy director at the National Wildlife Federation, says a spawning population of the species was identified in a waterway that could flood into the Maumee River, which flows to Lake Erie.

And because river systems are the arteries of the Great Lakes, he explains Asian carp use rivers to spawn and move about.

"Over time they can come in through Michigan into Lake Erie, that's what the scientists are saying that they could potentially come in and find the shallow portions of our Great Lakes, like Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, Green Bay and utilize those areas to really do very well," he stresses.

Meanwhile, the study team is now researching models to examine possible economic impacts of their food web findings.


Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI