Asian Carp is a Man-Made Issue

by Jasmine Hunt 

Notre Dame’s environmental scientist Chris Jerde discusses invasive species with the Eco Youth Reporters. Photo by Kari Lydersen.

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation:

Asian carp was seen as a quick and easy solution to help clean up some fish farm ponds near the Mississippi River. But as they have made their way toward the Great Lakes, they created a whole different issue. The Asian carp has a giant appetite: It eats everything, which means that it changed the food chain and natural rhythm of the rivers and lakes.

Asian carp has been around for awhile. With large mouths and the ability to filter feed, the carp were originally brought from China to clean up the lakes that serve as fish farms in Arkansas. The Arkansas floods in the 1970s caused the fish farms to break open and the Asian carp got into the Mississippi River. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1970 and people were focused on improving the water quality. So people knew Asian carp could be a problem. Asian Carp are found all over the world and there are many in Canada’s water sheds. 

Americans don’t prefer the taste of Asian carp but Chinese people love the lightly-flavored white fish. In fact, Asian carp are often sold in Chinatown. There are several kinds of Asian carp including grass carp, silver carp and bighead carp.

Asian Carp don’t like the sound of motorboats, so they flip out of the water when a motorboat goes by and they can seriously injure people. There are many YouTube videos of people getting hit by Asian carp and also trying to catch them. The Illinois River is full of Asian carp and the river is connected to Lake Michigan by the Chicago River. That means Asian carp could get into Lake Michigan. Now Asian carp is one of about 185 invasive species such as Round Gobies and Zebra mussels which clog water sources and could change the Great Lakes’ main functions.

Chris Jerde is an environmental scientist trying to discover where exactly Asian carp are. He collects Environmental DNA, or eDNA, which can tell you if Asian carp has been in a waterway. What is eDNA? When a species resides in nature, it leaves behind traces of cells. Every living thing consists of DNA. But when a living thing occupies its environment, it leaves behind DNA, Jerde explained. When fish such as Asian Carp swim in local waters, they also leave behind traces of cells, which become known as eDNA.

As Jerde showed us at the Notre Dame Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility, extracting eDNA from water is just like preparing coffee by filtering out the solids.

Jerde said running one sample can take three hours. Along with the Environmental Protection Agency, they have taken about 3,000 samples across the Great Lakes.

Jerde works outdoors and in the lab much of the time and he ends up wearing casual dress in front of formally dressed scientists.

Jerde prefers working in the lab to dealing with the media but he realizes that dealing with reporters is part of his job because he is an expert on a highly controversial and prominent topic.

Jerde’s tests are extremely important because they can reveal whether Asian carp have gotten into the Great Lakes. There is an electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that was meant to keep them out of Lake Michigan. That’s crucial because if Asian carp get established in the Great Lakes, they could reduce the food supply for all the other species, thereby affecting the whole water system.

Asian carp and other fish can be counted by electro-fishing, where you put an electric shock in the water that stuns the fish temporarily. But that method is not as effective as eDNA testing. In the next five years, Jerde hopes his test can be used for all species of fish. You can find various species in one water sample.

In their native areas, Asian carp are part of an ecological balance. But in the U.S. and Canada where they are invasive, they don’t really benefit anyone.

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by a student in our Eco Youth Reporters program, conducted in conjunction with award-winning journalist Kari Lydersen and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. The Eco Youth Reporters program is generously funded by the McCormick Foundation: – See more at: http://wethepeoplemedia.org/uyijp/chasing-the-blue-whale-of-freshwater/#sthash.Et8BIcbD.dpuf
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