CHICAGO, IL - The journey for the Asian Carp from it's native China to the doorstep of Western New York, has taken decades. They were imported by Arkansas catfish farmers in 1973. They wanted them to keep their ponds clean. But floods in the early 90's released the invaders into the Mississippi River system, putting the carp on a slow but inexorable trek towards the Great Lakes.
Currently, the fish have worked their way up the Illinois River into the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal, and are poised to enter Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes, including Lake Erie. Erie is the most at risk of the Great Lakes, due to it's shallow waters and huge Plankton blooms. The tiny plankton are one of the carp's main food sources, and it's abundance makes Erie a perfect home.
Although the canal and Lake Michigan remain the main entryway to Erie, there is another potential entrance a few hundred miles to the south in Indiana.
Eagle Marsh lies on a floodplain between the Little River in Indiana and the Maumee River in Ohio. The Little is a tributary of the Wabash River, which has had Asian Carp since the 90's. One good flood could complete the connection between the two rivers, and once in the Maumee, it's a direct run to the western basin of Lake Erie. Eagle Marsh suffered a flood in 2003 that could have been enough to complete the link.Both Ohio and Indiana are making plans now to stop the invaders advance.
The effects of such an invasion could be devastating to both the environment and the economy. The carp could out compete native species of sportfish, devastating a recreation that contributes almost a billion dollars a year to communities along the lake.
Although the invasion of Lake Erie is still years from becoming reality, the time is now for action to be taken to stop them. Public education is key to understanding the problem and helping to stem the tide.