The Dangers Of Asian Carp In Great Lakes

A single Asian carp was found on the other side of barriers engineered to keep the fish from entering Lake Michigan. Guy Raz talks to Asian Carp Rapid Response Team member Duane Chapman about what damage the carp could cause.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Now, in Michigan, some officials are panicking because this week, an Asian carp was caught near Lake Michigan. And the species is so troublesome that it could threaten Michigan's $7 billion a year fishing industry.

The state's been trying to keep the carp from coming into its lakes for years, but somehow the fish managed to penetrate an underwater electric fence that connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River by a canal.

One of the folks charged with stopping the carp is Duane Chapman. He is with the U.S. Geological Survey, and he joins me from Missouri.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. DUANE CHAPMAN (Fish Biologist, U.S. Geological Survey; Asian Carp Rapid Response Team): Thank you.

RAZ: Can you explain why these fish were introduced to the United States? It happened in the early '70s, right?

Mr. CHAPMAN: That's correct.

RAZ: And why was that? Why were they brought here?

Mr. CHAPMAN: They were brought over to use as a food fish, as something to sell from a fish farm and also as something to control algae in both aquacultural situations and in sewage treatment lagoons. So they were brought over to be essentially environmental engineers, because they are. And this is just a natural expansion.

It wasn't believed that these fish could survive very well in the wild. So people didn't take a great deal of care to keep them from escaping. But obviously, they were wrong.

RAZ: Can you explain why the Asian carp is so destructive? What does it do?

Mr. CHAPMAN: The Asian carp feed on tiny, little animals and plants in the water. These are really the base of the food chain. And when you put carp in the water in large quantities like we have, then the native fishes that require those plankton go hungry.

RAZ: Knowing what you know about how fish respond, different species respond to Asian carp, which species do you think would be most affected?

Mr. CHAPMAN: Well, it's difficult to predict that in a situation like the Great Lakes because there isn't another Great Lakes that we can try this out on. It's an incredibly and extraordinarily complex and huge system.

However, it's not necessarily the case that those fish that are there will create a big population down the line. Because the number of them is very small, the chances of their establishment is low. Most invasions fail. And this one very likely will fail unless we let more fish in.

RAZ: You sound like you're not that alarmed by this. I'm wondering why you think officials in the state of Michigan are in a state of panic.

Mr. CHAPMAN: Oh, I do think it's a big deal. There will be dramatic undesirable effects if the carp invade the Great Lakes and reach high densities.

But there's a great deal of uncertainty as to what would happen, how long it would take and what species would be most affected. We don't know enough about these fish to know that we would absolutely be able to stop them.

But, yes, there are things we can do. And most likely we would be able to control the invasion if we put the effort into it.

RAZ: Just practically speaking, could these carp replace some of the fish that they currently harvest for food?

Mr. CHAPMAN: Well, the value of them is going to be much, much, much lower. And also, they don't - you won't catch them on a rod and reel because they're filter feeders, and they won't take a bait for the most part. So it would be a big hit if they did replace other fishers.

RAZ: How do they taste?

Mr. CHAPMAN: Oh, they taste excellent. Actually, I ate some last night. They're not as meaty as a swordfish, but they're good eating.

RAZ: Duane Chapman, I was watching some YouTube videos of these fish, and they jump, man. They jump out of water. And some fishermen talk about how they've been hit in the face.

Mr. CHAPMAN: Oh, certainly. Everybody that works with me has been hit by a carp. I got hit once when I was standing up. The fish came out of the water from behind me and I turned my head when I heard it jump and it hit me right above the teeth, and man, did it ever hit me hard.

RAZ: They know you're the enemy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHAPMAN: We do a lot of damage to Asian carps, I'll tell you that.

RAZ: That's Duane Chapman. He is a research fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He's also a member of the Asian Carp Rapid Response Team.

Duane Chapman, thanks so much.

Mr. CHAPMAN: Thank you.

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