Asian Carp


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Asian carp, an invasive species, are swimming toward our Great Lakes. Asian carp, including bighead and silver carp, were imported by catfish farmers in the 1970s to remove algae and other nutrients out of their ponds. During large floods in the early 1990s, many of the catfish farm ponds overflowed their banks, and Asian carp were released into local waterways connected to the Mississippi River.

What's the big deal?

Bighead and silver carp are well suited for our climate. They consume vast amounts of food, reproduce quickly and are wiping out native fish where they thrive. In Illinois, the Asian carp population has doubled every year since they swam into the Illinois River. Silver carp can jump 10 feet high, resulting in numerous injuries to boaters and other recreational users. If these invasive fish become established, our $7 billion regional fishing industry would be at risk along with our family past times and recreational enjoyment of our favorite lakes and rivers because:

- Invasive species are one of the greatest sources of ecological and economic damage to the Great Lakes;

- Three varieties of Asian carp, including silver, black, and bighead carp, have moved up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to a point 40 miles from Lake Michigan; and

- Asian carp are voracious eaters and reproduce so rapidly they take over many waterways,   driving out other kinds of fish, including prized sport fish.

What needs to be done?

Over 100 years ago, the Mississippi River and Great Lakes ecosystems were connected by a man-made canal.  Now, many scientists and experts believe that the only way to keep Asian carp and other invasive species from traveling between these two waterways is to construct physical barriers and restore the naturally occurring divide that once kept their waters apart. 


Right now a number of actions are underway in the short term to keep invasive carp out of the Great Lakes, the most important of which is the operation of an electric barrier outside Chicago in the canal, now known as the Chicago Area Waterway System. Although this electric barrier appears to be effective for now, it failed for 15 minutes during May 2012 and needs to be shut down periodically for maintenance. It does not keep out small fish, including baby Asian carp, or fry, that are under 4-inches. 

Creating physical barriers and restoring the natural divide is the most effective way to keep the invasive carp out of the Great Lakes and their connected waters. Additionally, these barriers would prevent the movement of many other invasive species. To accomplish this, Congress must authorize the work and funding, which would be conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative and the Great Lakes Commission completed a report entitled “Restoring the Natural Divide” on January 31, 2012 that establishes the feasibility of physical separation of the two waterways in the Chicago area that would also maintain or enhance water quality, flood control, and transportation in the system.  This report highlights that creating physical barriers and restoring the natural divide is possible and outlines feasible options to do so.


Right now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a multiyear, comprehensive study authorized by Congress called “Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study” (GLMRIS) that examines  locations where invasive carp could cross from the Mississippi River waterway into the Great Lakes waterway. Though many options are being considered, there is only one solution, physical barriers, which would most effectively stop the Asian carp.

Freshwater Future