Invasive Fish Fry

Army Corps of Engineers hopes to keep non-native Asian carp from invading Great Lakes region with $9 million electric barrier
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Army Corps of Engineers hopes to keep non-native Asian carp from invading Great Lakes region with $9 million electric barrier

Ever since imported Asian carps escaped their containment ponds in Arkansas three decades ago, they've been steadily moving north and wreaking havoc on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers by trashing ecosystems, muddying the water, and endangering boaters. But the Army Corps of Engineers has a $9 million plan to keep these aquatic jerks from getting into Lake Michigan: Activate an underwater electric barrier to shock the fish away.

The electrified barrier—which can repel the gigantic invasive species (adults can reach 100 pounds) by firing powerful electric shocks into the water—has been complete for nearly three years and resides in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a man-made link between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan. Officials have delayed in activating the device because of concerns about dangers to people who fall overboard or to barges carrying flammable materials.

But after $1 million worth of additional tests and improvements, the Corps is ready to the throw the switch. They have to: Asian carp have made their way to within 15 miles of the barrier, which is located only 45 miles from Lake Michigan itself.

$9 million might seem like a lot of change to zap some fish, but it's a bargain compared to the damage Asian carps could cause. Experts estimate that if he voracious, fast-reproducing Asian carps make it to the Great Lakes, they could soon destabilize the food chain and dominate, threatening the area's $7-billion-dollar fishery industry.

Even more disturbing: When Asian carp are frightened, say by the sound of a boat motor, they often breach the surface and leap several feet into the air. The EPA reports "injuries include cuts from fins, black eyes, broken bones, back injuries, and concussions" resulting from carp-boater collisions.

Can you imagine a 100-lb. fish smacking you in face at high speed? That's bound to ruin your jet-ski afternoon.

—Ted Alvarez

Carp barrier might be activated this month (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)