Asian carp called a 'threat' to Wabash River

by Ron Wilkins, Journal and Courier

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asian carpAsian carp thrives in the Mississippi River basin, including the Wabash and Ohio rivers, but in its native rivers and streams in China, it struggles to survive.

“It’s a grand irony,” Reuben Goforth, an aquatic ecologist and professor of forestry and natural resources. Goforth spoke on July 16 as Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller made a stop in Lafayette to call attention to an invasive species that threatens native fish in the Wabash River and poses a hazard to boaters.

In Asia, carp numbers have dwindled because of a loss of habitat and overharvesting, Goforth said. But here, the carp are too big for natural predators, are not harvested in great numbers and are undesirable for food — in Asia they are considered a delicacy.

“This is an environmental threat,” Zoeller said, “and we’re going to need to address it through whatever means government can bring. ... There may be some things the public can do to help us in the future.”

Zoeller said he is using his vacation time to travel the Wabash and raise awareness of the Asian carp issue. He said his expenses are being paid from private funds, not with taxpayer dollars. He plans to conclude his trip south along the river today in Vincennes and New Harmony.

The carp eat plankton typically consumed by small native fish. The small native fish, in turn, become food for larger fish, Goforth said. But Asian carp, which grow quickly and have voracious appetites, consume too much of the plankton, cutting into the food chain of native fish, reducing their numbers.

Asian carp pose a hazard for boaters, too. When agitated by boat motors, the carp often leap from the water and can strike boaters or even water skiers.

Ideally, invasive species such as the Asian carp would be eradicated, but it appears the species is here to stay. One challenges is keeping the carp from reaching the Great Lakes, where they would wreak havoc on the ecosystem.

So far, no one has perfected a way to significantly reduce the numbers of carp, Goforth said, although they still are looking at various methods to control the population — from disrupting spawning sites to harvesting the fish.

“I would say at this point in time, eradication is very unlikely,” Goforth said. “I think we can control them. I think we can get them down to lower numbers. But with regards to purging them from the Mississippi River basin, I think it would be real long shot.”