In the past few months, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) educators rocked out with new partners to raise awareness about the threat of Asian carp. Jumpin’ Jack, IISG’s costumed silver carp sensation, was on tour at several large public venues in Milwaukee, and Education Coordinator Terri Hallesy made an appearance at Water Palooza in Chicago.
Jumpin’ Jack’s stops in Milwaukee were part of IISG’s new partnership with the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corp (Great Lakes CCC). This group is focused on training and educating disadvantaged populations in the Greater Milwaukee region, including about environmental issues. The group introduced the bedazzled Jumpin’ Jack at a tailgate party before a Brewers-Cubs game and at the Milwaukee Harbor Festival.
At both events, the Great Lakes CCC brought visitors to their booth through the costumed character as well as with cuisine, demonstrating the value of cooking these fishes. Asian carp sliders were on the menu at the tailgate party and tacos at the harbor festival.
“We ran out well before the event was over, serving 350 Asian carp tacos,” said Chris Litzau, Great Lakes CCC president. While tacos were served, Jumpin Jack posed for photos and danced for the crowd.
Visitors to the booth also learned about the threat and impact of aquatic invasive species to Great Lakes and other waters. Asian carp are prevalent in the Illinois River, with an electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal deterring them from entering Lake Michigan. Researchers and resource managers are concerned that these large fish could have devastating impact on the Great Lakes food chain.
IISG Education Coordinator Terri Hallesy helps a Manierre Elementary School student stop Asian carp in their tracks.
Like its more-crowded namesake, Water Palooza is an outdoor event geared towards young people—but in this case, elementary school children. This one-day event is organized by the Water Environment Federation’s Student and Young Professionals Committee. This year it was held on September 29 at Manierre Elementary School in Chicago.
Free pencils at Water Palooza help make it a great day.
At Water Palooza, students take part in hands‐on activities that help them learn the value of water and encourage them to care about water in their world. This year, IISG joined in the festivities with a stuffed animal Asian carp, a Stop the Carp in Their Tracks beanbag tossing game, and other aquatic invasive species-related activities.
“By engaging students in interactive activities, they develop knowledge about aquatic invasive species issues and how they pose a threat to our water resources,” said Hallesy. “Water Palooza provides students with an opportunity to develop awareness, understanding, and a stewardship ethic about an important environmental issue, and learn how we can work together as agents for change.”
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.
Every spring, The Sun Foundation invites students, teachers, community leaders, and the general public to attend the Clean Water Celebration at the Peoria Civic Center. Through engaging hands-on activities and exhibits, this gathering encourages students and the public to learn how to improve water quality, to think critically and creatively about water conservation issues, and to protect and sustain our natural resources.
IISG educators, Terri Hallesy and Kirsten Walker, challenged students to tackle the issue of Asian carp invading new areas through IISG’s “Stop Asian Carp in Their Tracks” activity, a video about Asian carp in Illinois, and the website Nab the Aquatic Invader!
Presenters shared information about how this troublesome invader competes with native fish by eating lots of phytoplankton and zooplankton, the base of the food chain. Students learned how carp – which can weigh up to 60 pounds – become startled by boat motors and jump out of the water, smacking nearby boaters and anglers.
In small groups, students also discussed the location of Asian carp’s native habitat, how they arrived in the Midwest, and strategies to help reduce their populations. Students gained an understanding about the ways in which invasive species are introduced, the competitive advantages they have in their new ecosystems, and their huge impact on an area’s natural biodiversity.
As a result of these activities, students were equipped as agents for change to engage family and community members in understanding how they, too, can play an important role in stopping the spread of aquatic invaders.
Ever the uninvited guest, Jumpin’ Jack, was at it again. This time it was at a Halloween party in Urbana, Ill. Jack is an Asian carp — part of the aggressive, disruptive aquatic invasive species that infiltrated rivers in Illinois and Indiana decades ago. The festivities got ugly when Jumpin’ Jack barreled through a party game flapping his fins and overturning lawn chairs. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
Optimism was high at the International Conference Asian Carp in Peoria a week ago Friday. The goal of this event, sponsored by the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, was to bolster the economy of the region by networking and sharing ideas and information on marketing Asian carp. And many of the attendees were very interested in exploiting this fishery.
Natural resource managers and entrepreneurs have a similar goal at this point, which is to remove Asian carp from the Illinois River. This bodes well for the river’s future.
IISG was in the room to share outreach information about Asian carp to participants from as far away as China and South America. The audience also represented a variety of professions, including researchers, food service professionals, processors, investors, and more.
In recent years, several Midwest businesses have jumped into the carp market. Schafer Fisheries, for example, has developed new products, such as dog treats and liquid fertilizer, but also processes fillets. Asian carp species have a mild flavor, and the conference crowd was treated to a variety of inventive carp dishes, from spring rolls to chili, which were all delicious.
The “if you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em” mantra has reaped some rewards. Matt O’Hara, with Illinois Department of Natural Resources, reported that the three-year catch at Marsielles Pool along the Illinois River has steadily declined. The leading edge of Asian carp moving towards the Great Lakes has stayed miles away from this critical freshwater resource.
If the enthusiasm at the conference translates to successful businesses, at some point they will need to be prepared to diversify when carp species have been reduced to manageable levels. At that point, they may be able to shift to native fish, which, in fact, are more lucrative.
Peoria was also the host for the annual Asian carp bowfishing tournament on Saturday, and IISG was there to talk with participants about how to prevent the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species. Both events were rescheduled from July due to high waters earlier in the summer. As it turns out, flood waters are very good for spawning. It’s likely that we’ll see Asian carp numbers increase in the future because they had a good spawn this year.
In the Great Lakes region, the word “eDNA” is never far from “Asian carp.” And for good reason. The technology was originally applied by Notre Dame scientists in response to the federal government’s need to discover—and ultimately control—the spread of this voracious invader.
But in the six years since, environmental DNA has become a commonly used tool for detecting fish and other aquatic organisms. Biologists in the UK use it to locate crested newts, Kentucky scientists use eDNA to monitor salamanders, and a city in Washington state even plans to use the technology to track an invasive snail threatening salmon habitats. And scientists see even greater potential on the horizon.
Think of eDNA as forensic detective work. When a silver carp, salamander, or other aquatic animal shed skin cells, they leave behind traces of their DNA. Using the method developed at Notre Dame, scientists can run water samples through a fine-meshed filter, separate DNA from any other microscopic particles, and determine whether any of the genetic material matches the species they are looking for.
“The importance of the method lies in its ability to detect the presence of recluse species or ones with population levels that make catching them difficult,” said David Lodge, a Notre Dame biologist and director of the team that developed this forensic method.
Most of the testing done so far has focused on finding the genetic material of a single species. But Lodge, Notre Dame professor Michael Pfrender, and their team are working on an approach that would allow scientists to map the aquatic life of an entire habitat by sequencing all the genes in a water sample. Although it wouldn’t replace the more time-intensive field studies, this strategy could help natural resource managers know where to target conservation efforts. Lodge received funding to develop a metagenetics approach from the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation after early results of IISG-funded research revealed ways to strengthen eDNA sampling.
Despite its growing use, eDNA testing is not without controversy, especially when it comes to Asian carp. And the approach does have its limits. eDNA doesn’t tell scientists how many fish there are or whether they are alive or dead. The genetic material found in the water could also come from other sources. There could be feces from birds that fed on Asian carp elsewhere. And boaters and anglers could unknowingly be transporting DNA from one waterway to another.
Still, supporters say the technology has huge potential.
“Nothing is as sure as holding the fish in your hand,” Lodge said, “but the repeated findings and patterns of Asian carp eDNA make the alternative explanations for how the material got there less plausible.”
Earlier this month, officials in Michigan announced that genetic material from silver carp, a species of Asian carp, had been discovered in the Kalamazoo River around 20 miles upstream from where the river flows into Lake Michigan. It was the first time a positive sample of eDNA had been found that close to the lake.
The results drew national attention and had many concerned that it wouldn’t be long until the infamous invader entered the Great Lakes. Further testing, though, reveals that there is no evidence of Asian carp in the river, Lake Michigan, or any of the other Great Lakes.
“We are pleased these samples were negative, but that doesn’t mean our efforts to keep Michigan’s waters are over,” DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter said in a statement.
Asian carp were imported in the South several decades ago, where they served a utilitarian role on fish farms. But with no natural predator, the prodigious eaters and reproducers quickly escaped and began steadily invading the Mississippi River system.
Having arrived on the doorsteps of the Great Lakes, officials in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York and others are working diligently to organize a strategy for keeping the invasive swimmers out.
Environmentalists, ecologists and others say the carp could decimate food chains and habitats in the Great Lakes, diminishing biodiversity there and threatening a multibillion-dollar fishing industry.
The threat comes from the invaders ravenous diet and ability to out-compete native fish for food. In the Illinois River, they have already fundamentally changed the food web. From the Spring 2013 Helm:
Asian carp do more than compete for food. They actually force native fish to change their diets, feeding on species lower on the food chain than they natural would. In a healthy food web, filter-feeders, like gizzard shad and paddlefish, eat a variety of plankton species, ensuring that there is enough food to go around. But Asian car have all but wiped out the larger zooplankton in the Illinois River, pushing fish that have historically relied on that food source to turn to smaller zooplankton and phytoplankton for a meal. As the number of Asian carp in an area grows, more and more native fish are left competing for a smaller supply of plankton.
To learn more about Asian carp and efforts to prevent their spread, visit our Aquatic Invasive Species page. ***Photo courtesy of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee
When researchers and the media talk about Asian carp reaching the Great Lakes, they are typically referring to bighead and silver carp, the two voracious phytoplankton eaters that are wreaking havoc in places like the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. But the species most likely to establish in Lake Erie may actually be a third member of the Asian carp family: grass carp. From The Voice: “Grass carp are a different kind of fish and pose different kinds of risk than bighead and silver carp,” said Jeff Tyson, administrator of the Lake Erie Fisheries Program Administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Tyson addressed a meeting of environmental writers at Ohio State University’s Stone Lab in Lake Erie on Aug. 18. “We know we have some grass carp in the system. Grass carp impact the system through their impacts on structure and vegetation. They consume huge amounts of vegetation.”
Grass carp could put Lake Erie at risk “by damaging habitats and damaging fish in communities given the documented reproduction of grass carp in large rivers,” according to the Ohio Asian Carp Tactical Plan, 2014-2020. “Grass carp can also decimate submersed aquatic vegetation that is critical to migrating waterfowl and other water birds.” Read more. **Photo courtesy of Eric Engbretson, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bugwood.org.
Jumpin’ Jack, the silver carp sensation known for his glam look and high-flying stage tricks, will join Lady Quagga on tour of schools and public events starting this month.
Despite differences in their history and style, the two have been dubbed a ‘captivating duo’ by many critics. Several experts have also commended the “spokes-mussel” and “flying fish” for dedicating their tour to spreading the word about the risks of aquatic invasive species and how people can help prevent their spread.
Jumpin’ Jack, along with his cousin bighead carp, initially came to the U.S. in the 1970s to help control algae growth in aquaculture and municipal wastewater treatment plants. They soon moved to nearby lakes and rivers and are now a common sight on major rivers like the Illinois and Mississippi. Together, these Asian carp have knocked back plankton populations, crowded out native species, and seriously injured boaters.
In addition to traveling with Lady Quagga, Jumpin’ Jack is also booking independent appearances. Contact his manager, Terri Hallesy, for more information.
A physical barrier to stop Asian carp from making their way into Lake Michigan won’t be happening any time soon, but there are other ways to reduce the risks of these fish becoming established in the Great Lakes. From the latest issue of IISG’s The HELM:
The men behind a new fish processing plant in Illinois aren’t veterans of the fishing industry. They are a lawyer, alloy company owner, and restaurant builder who saw Asian carp jumping in the Mississippi River and thought, “There must be something we can do with these things.”
That thought became a reality this April when American Heartland Fish Products opened its doors in Grafton, IL, a small town near the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. The plant uses a unique production process to turn Asian carp into fish and bone meal and Omega 3 oils. The high-protein meals are primarily sold to animal feed producers. Their biggest seller, Omega 3 oil, is used for everything from cosmetics to dietary supplements.
“There is a demand for these products that never quits,” said Ben Allen, who co-owns American Heartland Fish Products with Gray Magee and Bryan Lebeau. “I have been involved in a lot of businesses, but never one where there is such a demand for the product.” Read more.