Pam Thiel, USFWS, 608-783-8431
Roger Germann, Shedd Aquarium, 312-692-3265
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its federal, state and regional partners, including Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, will conduct annual search efforts in the Illinois Waterway near from the Chicago suburbs to Havana, Ill., for three species of invasive fish, as well as for lethal fish pathogens.
Members of the media are invited for a first-hand experience with the field crews on Wednesday, June 13, or Thursday, June 14. Contact Pam Thiel at 608-783-8431 by June 7 to secure space aboard a survey boat. Space is limited and will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.
During the “Carp Corral/Goby Roundup,” biologists will attempt to determine the relative abundance and upstream distribution of the bighead and silver carp—two types of Asian carp—and chart the downstream leading edge of the round goby.
Biologists will also collect tissue samples from captured fish to test for disease pathogens such as the non-native spring viremia of carp virus and the viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, which can be lethal to a number of native fish species.
Viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, is one of the most feared fish diseases in the world, and it has made its way into several Great Lakes. Biologists are concerned that VHS virus could spread via the Chicago waterway and other Great Lakes tributaries into the Mississippi and Ohio River basins.
Sampling will cover 180 miles, more than half the length of the Illinois Waterway, from Alsip downstream to Havana. Round goby are most abundant and likely to be seen at upstream sample sites while bighead and leaping silver carp are more common and likely to be encountered at a downstream area.
Interconnected man-made channels and natural rivers of the Illinois Waterway System in metropolitan Chicago provide a direct link for water-borne movement of non-native aquatic nuisance species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. Together these watersheds encompass parts of 30 states and two Canadian provinces.
The potential economic and environmental impacts of Asian carp, round goby, fish disease pathogens and other invasive species like zebra mussels are widespread and significant.
The “Carp Corral/Goby Roundup” surveillance effort is critical in determining whether Asian carp have moved upstream of an electrical barrier near Romeoville, Ill., toward Lake Michigan, and whether round goby have made their way farther downstream toward the Mississippi River.
“ Invasive Asian carp can upset the natural balance of aquatic ecosystems, and in addition, the silver carp can actually leap high out of the water and may collide with anglers, boaters, water skiers, or others who recreate on rivers, posing a serious safety hazard to all,” said Pam Thiel, project leader for the Service’s La Crosse, Wis., Fishery Resources Office and coordinator of the “Carp Corral/Goby Round Up.”
An electrical fish barrier near Romeoville in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal--designed to prevent and slow the spread of nonindigenous aquatic species--has been operational since 2002. This experimental prototype consists of a single array of 14 electrodes. One of the electrodes failed soon after installation. The 13 remaining electrodes are still functional but are wearing out due to corrosion.
Construction of a permanent barrier is complete just downstream from the prototype. University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute’s Dr. Phil Moy, co-chair of the Dispersal Barrier Advisory Panel, explained, “The new barrier has 46 electrodes, has the capability to operate at higher voltage to more effectively repel small fish, and has five- by five-inch steel bar electrodes with a design life of 20 years.”
The new barrier is currently being tested for vessel and mariner safety before being operated at full power. Biologists found a bighead carp 21 miles below the electrical barrier in 2002, about 50 miles from Lake Michigan, but to date no bighead or silver carp have been collected above the barrier. However, reproducing populations of bighead and silver carp have expanded into lower portions of the Illinois River to the Starved Rock Lock and Dam.
“ The Great Lakes fishery brings $4 billion to the region every year and approximately five million anglers fish the waters annually, and invasive species like Asian carp and round goby threaten the very future of this valuable resource,” said Marc Gaden, spokesman for the bi-national Great Lakes Fishery Commission. “We must do everything possible to halt these biological invasions. With the fate of both the Great Lakes and Mississippi River fisheries at risk, there are elevated concerns for the future.”
Native to large rivers of Asia, bighead and silver carp were brought to the United States in the early 1970s and began appearing in public waterways in the early 1980s. These species are plankton feeders, eating microscopic plants and animals, and can reach weights of more than 80 pounds. They compete for food with larval and juvenile fish, as well as adult paddlefish, gizzard shad, bigmouth buffalo and native mussels.
The round goby, a non-native fish from the Black and Caspian seas, was first discovered in North American waters in 1990 and has since spread to all the Great Lakes. Known for its aggressive feeding and defensive behavior, and prolific reproductive rate, the round goby is a threat to native fish and a nuisance to anglers.
The goby has been moving inland from Lake Michigan, toward the Mississippi River via the Illinois Waterway System since 1993. In 2004, the Illinois Natural History Survey collected a small round goby below the Peoria Lock and Dam, nearly 170 miles from Lake Michigan and half the distance to the Mississippi River.
In 2005 and 2006, the VHS virus caused massive fish kills in lakes Huron, St. Clair, Erie and Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. Thousands of economically valuable native fish have perished, including muskellunge, walleye, lake whitefish, and yellow perch, while others like Chinook salmon, smallmouth bass, and northern pike were diseased but did not die in large numbers.
Although this virus has not yet been detected in Lake Michigan or Lake Superior, it poses such a widespread serious threat to fishery resources and aquaculture in the Great Lakes Basin and beyond that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has restricted interstate shipments of live fish from states that border the Great Lakes, causing economic hardships to many here who depend on healthy fisheries for a livelihood.
Since 1871, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fisheries Program has played a vital role in conserving and managing native fish and other aquatic resources. For more information about the Fisheries Program, go to http://fishieres.fws.gov.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.