The aggressive Asian carp has reached the Great Lakes despite a government attempt to keep them out, according to a scientific report released Thursday.
Researchers now believe the destructive species, which has been steadily moving northward for about 40 years, are now in southern Lake Michigan, putting at risk a sensitive ecosystems and a $7 billion fishing industry.
The adaptable foreign fish outcompetes native fish species for food and habitat.
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"The most plausible explanation is still that there are some carp out there," Christopher Jerde of the University of Notre Dame, the report's lead author, told The Associated Press. "We can be cautiously optimistic . . . that we’re not at the point where they’ll start reproducing, spreading further and doing serious damage."
The findings dispute government scientists who argue that recent findings of Asian carp DNA in lakes and other waterways near the Great Lakes could have been a result of other sources, such as excrement from birds that fed on carp in distant rivers.
The scientific paper is comprised of findings by Jerde and other scientists from Notre Dame, The Nature Conservancy, and Central Michigan University. It involved two years of searching the Great Lakes basin for Asian carp, the AP reported.
"I would say there’s at least some evidence for Asian carp being present in southern Lake Michigan," Jerde said. "The question is how many."
The species is known to be incredibly prolific and can reach a weight of up to 100 pounds by gorging on plankton.
In addition to their size and the risk they pose for native fish, Asian carp are also known for their jumping abilities. They are easily frightened by the sound of underwater motors which cause them to jump out of the water. They have been known to land in passing boats.
According to the researchers, laboratory analysis of the Chicago Area Waterway System has turned up 58 positive hits for bighead or silver carp, which are types of domesticated Asian carp.
The Chicago Area Waterway System consists of a network of rivers and canals that link directly to Lake Michigan and western Lake Erie.
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Initially imported into the U.S. in the 1970s to filter pond water in Arkansas fish farms, Asian carp managed to escape and, according to the National Wildlife Federation, presently represent more than 97 percent of the biomass in portions of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.
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