Over the past century the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins have been devastated economically and ecologically by the establishment of aquatic invasive species. In the Mississippi River basin, the most extensive damage has been attributed to the presence of large populations of Asian carp. These invasive species have developed large, self‐sustaining populations because of their ability to outcompete native fish for food and habitat, which in turn impacts the balance of the ecosystem. The term “Asian carp” collectively refers to multiple species, but for our purposes Big Head and Silver carps are of the greatest immediate concern because they have established populations in the Mississippi River and have expanded their range to the Great Lakes region.
The importation and breeding of Asian carp in the United States began in the late 1960s. Because of their voracious consumption habits, they were initially considered a beneficial species to quickly and efficiently clean aquaculture ponds and sewage treatment lagoons. Attitudes toward the fish changed throughout the 1990s as the Mississippi River flooding allowed the carp to escape their ponds and enter the River system. The carp soon migrated and colonized throughout the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois River systems. Asian carp have taken over these rivers. They can grow to an average of four feet and weigh up to 100 pounds. Asian carp can consume up to 40 percent of their body weight per day, outcompeting native species.
The Great Lakes provide valuable ecological and economic benefits to the 33 million Americans and Canadians who live in the basin, including transportation for raw materials and finished goods, freshwater for industries, drinking water for communities, recreational opportunities for both residents and tourists, and a dynamic ecosystem supporting diverse communities of plants and animals. Economic analyses have found that the annual benefit from the Great Lakes recreational boating industry and commercial sport, and tribal fisheries exceeds $16.4 billion. With no natural predators, the Asian carp could devastate the Great Lakes' multibillion dollar fishing industry. In addition to the economic and ecological threats Asian carp pose to Great Lakes fisheries, Asian carp also pose an actual physical threat to boaters. The silver species of Asian carp can leap out of the water creating a hazard for boaters, fisherman, and other recreational watercraft users as the fish crash into boats, injure people and damage equipment.
Environmental Law | Natural Resources Law | State and Local Government Law
Katherine Storch & Nick Schroeck, Asian Carp, Chicago Canal Litigation, and the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Inter‐Basin Study, 29 Mich. Env. L. J. 12 (2011).