New nets employed in fight against Lake Michigan’s Asian carp

Sammy Caiola, Reporter

When it comes to Asian carp invasion, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources does not take chances.

For decades, Asian carp have posed a major threat to Lake Michigan’s ecosystem. Now, the IDNR has teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others in the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC) to keep the species far away from the Great Lakes.

After a recent committee study about carp environmental DNA readings, IDNR is going even further to ensure the lake remains carp-free by purchasing new nets for commercial fishermen.

There are no Asian carp currently in Lake Michigan, said Kevin Irons, IDNR’s aquaculture and aquatic nuisance species program manager. IDNR keeps a close eye on the carp population with a new method called eDNA, which detects potential carp presence by analyzing shed cells, slime and urine in water samples.

“The threat to the Great Lakes is extremely important,” said Charles Wooley, deputy regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. “We’ve very concerned.” 

But that could all change if carp make it through the electric barrier on the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. The structure, which was erected in 2002 by the Army Corps of Engineers, repels carp backward from Lake Michigan.

In an effort to keep the lake clean, IDNR recently placed orders for brand new fishing nets, which will be distributed to visiting commercial fishermen who may be carrying carp residue beyond the barrier. IDNR often invites commercial fishermen into Lake Michigan so they can catch invasive species, Irons said. But their net residue may be causing inaccurate eDNA tests and ultimately reducing the IDNR’s ability to combat carp invasion.

The new nets will be distributed to fishermen before they cross the electric barrier and are guaranteed to be carp free, Irons said. IDNR is also discussing new methods of cleaning and bleaching fishing boats to reduce the presence of carp slime. Irons cites collaboration with the ACRCC as a huge factor in the ongoing fight against carp.

“It’s amazing how much we’re doing,” he said. “It’s really the next step in natural resource management. In a time where we really need to be fiscally responsible, this is a way we can get the job done.”

These carp, which originated in China and come in four varieties, were initially brought to America by the U.S. government to clean catfish environments, Irons said. But when the carp escaped their enclosures and swam up nearby rivers they began to pose a threat to Great Lake environments, which rely on plankton to maintain their salmon and bass populations.

Carp invasion is a real but often disregarded topic in environmentalism, said Mark Silberg, the vice president of sustainability for the Associated Student Government, who has studied the issue.

“The Asian carp issue seems, to most people, to be irrelevant and a waste of our efforts,” he said. “But it is important we keep a close eye on this.”