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Environment
WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Asian Carp Could Survive In Lake Michigan, Study Finds

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Lloyd DeGrane
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for the Alliance for the Great Lakes
The bighead is one of two carp people worry might find its way into Lake Michigan.

The potential impact of Asian carp on the Great Lakes has many people on edge. A new study draws attention to the threat Asian carp could pose to the Great Lakes.

While concern persists that the invasive fish could move from the Mississippi River Basin into Lake Michigan, questions remain whether the fish would find enough food to survive.

A recent study from the University of Michigan counters that perspective. Lead author Peter Alsip says it demonstrates that Asian carp could survive and grow in large areas of Lake Michigan.

Alsip is an ecological modeling data analyst. He says earlier studies didn’t consider the wide range of diets the opportunistic feeder could survive on, including fecal pellets from countless quagga and zebra mussels.

In his study, he simulates that wider range of food along with water temperatures from a 3D model of Lake Michigan to evaluate the potential growth rate of adult Asian carp throughout the lake.

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Credit Peter Alsip
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Habitat suitability maps for bighead carp in Lake Michigan under three feeding scenarios. The study shows that when carp feed throughout the water column (surface to bottom of the lake) on the broadest possible diet, Lake Michigan contains suitable habitat at certain times of year. Colored areas indicate suitable habitat. Gray areas indicate unsuitable habitat.

“I think the main point that this research demonstrates is that the risk of establishment may be actually greater than we acknowledged in previous studies when we’re considering the possibility that carp can feed on multiple types of prey throughout the water column,” Alsip says.

In the 1970s, bighead and silver carp (types of Asian carp collectively known as bigheaded BHC) were imported to the southern United States. They were brought here to control algae in reservoirs and sewage treatment lagoons. Carp then escaped and quickly spread, making their home throughout the Mississippi River Basin, including the Illinois River.

In July, the region’s eight U.S. governors and two Canadian premiers endorsed a plan that would install carp defenses at a lock and dam in Illinois. It's about 40 miles from Lake Michigan.

“I think [the study] in general reinforces the importance of investing in prevention,” Alsip says.

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