Invasive black carp getting closer to Great Lakes

A black carp is captured by a United States Geological Survey scientist. Adults can reach 3 ft. in length.

Species has established itself in Mississippi River

MICHIGAN—News that black carp are spreading through the US Midwest and are threatening Illinois waterways is not good, especially if they become established in the Mississippi River, says a representative of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC).

“The good news is that they are not near the Great Lakes, but the fact that they have a toehold in the Mississippi River is not good news; when they are established it just makes it just more difficult to eradicate them,” said Marc Gaden, deputy executive secretary of the GLFC.
“The black carp have been known to be in the Mississippi River basin, but a recent study release is the most comprehensive study showing that they are present and establishing on their own,” said Mr. Gaden. “It confirms what we have long suspected, that black carp are in the Mississippi River. Before that there was a suspicion of this, and they were seen in small numbers.”

The Illinois Radio Network reported earlier this month that black carp can grow quickly and reach more than three feet long. A fisherman once caught a 115-pound black carp near East Cape Girardeau, Illinois, near the Illinois-Missouri border. The fish was then sent to Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale for study.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources believes black carp have moved up the Illinois River as far as central Illinois.

“When an invasive species becomes established, eradication can be difficult, but it can also be challenging to collect robust information during the onset and early stages when abundance is typically low,” said Gregory Whitledge, a professor with the Centre for Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences at SIU and the lead author of the study. “This research includes the largest sample size and is the most robust analysis of wild black carp in the Mississippi River basin, helping inform those making decisions to curtail further expansion.”

Black carp have been observed in several locations, but exact species abundance and distribution isn’t currently known because the probability of catching them in the large rivers they inhabit is low.

“While prior studies have indicated that wild black carp might be established in parts of the Mississippi River basin, this is the most comprehensive study and the first research to provide strong evidence that they are present and sustaining on their own,” Patrick Kroboth, a research fish biologist with the United States Geological Survey and co-author on the study told the Illinois Radio Network.

“Any confirmation that the black carp are established is a cause for concern,” said Mr. Gaden. “We know that grass carp are not established, so we have been removing as many as possible in Lakes Erie and Huron. It is important to make sure they don’t become established because it then becomes harder to eradicate them. Establishment is more important than confirming carp are in a river body. We suspected that the black carp had been present but this study confirmed that they are established.” He pointed out the black carp are one of four different species of carp that are of concern.

Mr. Gaden said an Omnibus Appropriation Bill was passed by the US government for $1 million going to GLFC for prevention of grass carp into the Great Lakes. “We’ve been working for the past three four years with the University of Toledo, the US and Canada to remove carp from Lake Erie and Lake Huron.”

“The announcement that black carp are established in the Mississippi River is not good news,” said Mr. Gaden. “It presents one more problem point in dealing with this very troublesome invasive species. On the other hand, it is good news they are not in the Great Lakes,” said Mr. Gaden. “Grass carp are in the Great Lakes but are not established.”

A silver carp was removed from Lake Calumet in August, triggering a closer search for the species in the area. Lake Calumet is only seven miles from Lake Michigan. If the invasive carp enter the Great Lakes, they have the ability to dominate the food chain and cause major disruptions to the ecosystem.