Journal article validates science that shows Asian carp on the verge of invading the Great Lakes

The cynical debate over whether Asian carp have breached an electric barrier designed to keep the menacing fish from invading Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes can now be put to rest.

An article in Wednesday’s online edition of Conservation Letters, a peer-reviewed journal produced by the Society for Conservation Biology, validated the use of environmental DNA, or e-DNA, to detect the presence of Asian carp in the Chicago Area Waterway System.

Using e-DNA, scientists from the University of Notre Dame and The Nature Conservancy discovered in 2009 that Asian carp had breached a fish barrier 30 miles south of Chicago.

Their findings proved that Asian carp, which were imported to commercial fish farms in the south in the 1960s and later escaped into the Mississippi River system, had gained unrestricted access to Lake Michigan via the Chicago Area Waterway System. The century-old artificial canal system links Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now studying how best to separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds. The Corps must accelerate that study to stop the flow of invasive species between two of North America’s freshwater ecosystems.

Only one live Asian carp has been found to date above the electric fish barrier in the Chicago canal system.

But the clock is ticking: Every time an Asian carp swims into Lake Michigan, the odds of the species establishing a breeding population improve.

Asian carp could pose grave threats to the $7 billion Great Lakes fishery and the region’s $16 billion recreational boating industry.

Now is the time for federal officials to do everything in their power to stop Asian carp in their tracks — before the fish colonize Lake Michigan and lay siege to the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Time is not on our side.