Economy / Politics

A Fishy Situation: Asian Carp and U.S. Infrastructure

For those of you who consider yourselves the fishing type, imagine going bass fishing with your son in one of the many beautiful rivers in the Midwest. As you cast the line, a large silver fish jumps out of the water and smacks you in the face, only to be followed by a dozen more jumping fish. Hopefully one of those fish will land in your boat because in 20-30 years that may be the only fish you will be able to catch. These fish are known best as Asian Carp.

The Asian Carp was originally brought to the United States by scientists from the Fish and Wildlife Department in the 1970’s in order to help clean fish farms in Arkansas and throughout the Ozarks. The species did the intended job extraordinarily well. However, the Asian Carp are practically reproduction professionals and quickly became overpopulated in the fish farms. It did not take long before flooding occurred and this foreign species escaped their controlled holding areas and began spreading throughout the Mississippi River system.

The Asian Carp present a complicated problem because they breed at an incredibly fast rate, practically consume all natural food sources thus starving the indigenous fish population, and have no known natural predators. These conditions create a scenario in which it is particularly hard to deal with the invasive species. Invasive species in general are incredibly hard to extract in the first place, let alone those species without any predators and which reproduce at rapid rates. However, the Asian Carp pose a much larger issue. Currently, these fish are at the threshold of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are the source of 90% of America’s fresh water and, if invaded by this fish, a $7 Billion a year fishing industry will be compromised, resulting in the loss of many jobs as well as a way of life for many Americans.

What is the current solution to the problem? In recent years, solutions have varied from hosting “Redneck Fishing Tournaments,” building massive net barriers, and President Obama has even officially named a “Carp Czar” to deal with the problem. However, no plan that has been proposed so far has proven successful. The U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers (USACE) has jurisdiction over the waterways in the region and is the lead in formulating a solution. The USACE has drafted proposals to block the Mississippi River with large fishing nets, create electrical boundaries that would act as an electric fence, and build a large wall barrier. However, all of these plans would take years to complete and cost millions of dollars. Furthermore, these proposals only contain the fish and do not attack the problem at the core.

One of the real culprits of the issue is what could be classified as a form of blowback. Over 100 years ago, the S.S. Canal was built, connecting the Chicago River to the Mississippi River as a way to decrease the amount of standing sewage in the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. When the Canal was built, it reversed the flow of the Chicago River as well as created a pathway for invasive species. The real culprit is the outdated and crumbling infrastructure system in America.

In 2013, America scored a D+ in infrastructure according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The ASCE estimates that the U.S. will have to invest $3.6 Trillion by 2020 to restore and advance our infrastructure system. The infrastructure problem is clearly evident in situations such as the S.S. Canal. The current controversy with the Asian Carp is America’s own doing. One popular solution to defend the Great Lakes from the Asian Carp invasion is to remove the S.S. Canal. By doing so, it would ultimately stop the flow of Asian Carp to the Great Lakes, as well as help restore two distinct ecosystems to their original nature.

However, as previously stated, blocking the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River only helps contain the issue and does not solve the problem at the core. Other officials from organizations such as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and others orchestrated another plan named “Operation Pelican.” Essentially, the plan is to commit “carpicide” or, in other words, to poison the fish. Operation Pelican was performed along a 2.5 mile stretch of the Illinois River using the chemical Rotenone, a highly toxic botanic pesticide commonly used by wildlife services to manage and eradicate fish.

However, Operation Pelican resulted in empty nets and was a failed attempt. The agencies plan to continue experimenting with other chemicals in order to eradicate the Asian Carp. However, in the meantime, the U.S. needs to create other solutions to contain and combat the issue. The Asian Carp are actually seen as a desirable fish outside of the U.S. and sell for a worthwhile price. If a market were to grow in the U.S. for these fish, it would help create a competitive fishing market aimed at harvesting the species. Should law makers help by creating a bill that will give incentive and encourage this market? It’s time to eat some fish, America.

For more information, visit the following:

Vice News-
National Wildlife Federation-
Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee-