COLUMBUS – As state and federal leaders work to address the threat of Asian carp entering Lake Erie, new research predicts the voracious eaters could devastate the food web.
Fisheries biologist Ed Rutherford at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory was on the study team that found that two species of Asian carp could become quite abundant in Lake Erie, eventually comprising one-third of all fish species. Rutherford said Asian carp eat plankton, the base of the food web, which he said is troubling.
“The concern is that they will out-compete native fishes for this food,” he said, “so that the growth and survival of young fish will decline and which will mean a decline in the adult populations of very important species.”
There have been numerous efforts to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes, including federal funding for monitoring and proposals to build barriers. In its recently passed federal funding bill, Congress approved $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which works to combat invasive species along with other protection measures.
Lake Erie is an ideal habitat for Asian carp, said Marc Smith, National Wildlife Federation policy director, and a spawning population of the species was identified in a waterway that could flood into the Maumee River, which flows to the lake. He said he feels that the findings of the research confirm the urgency in protecting iconic species such as rainbow trout and walleye from an invasion.
“They actually double down the need to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes,” he said. “This is walleye country. Walleye is not only a benefit for commercial and sport fishermen, but a huge cultural identity for Lake Erie.”
Meanwhile, the study team now is researching models to examine possible economic impacts of their food web findings.
The study is online at tandfonline.com.