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Asian carp could pose real threat to Great Lakes ecosystem

Gino Geruntino
Dave White, of New York Sea Grant, displays an accurately sized replica of an Asian carp.

The threat of Asian Carp entering the Great Lakes has been talked about for years. While the potential of the invasive species on the lakes has not been fully determined, environmentalists are concerned the fish could hurt the lakes' ecosystem.

Dave White, with New York Sea Grant, says big head and silver carp have been detected very close to the Great Lakes, so the risk of a flood introducing them into the lakes is always present.

"If you had the 100 or 500 year flood, and we've all heard a lot about the 100 and 500 year flood recently, there's concern that if there is one of those significant water events, that actually through that flooding the carp could get from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi drainage basin up into the Great Lakes drainage basin through that," White said.

But if the fish do get into the Great Lakes, it will take time before they become widespread.

"If it gets into Lake Michigan, it will take quite a period of time to get here," White said. "But once it's in Lake Michigan, as they say the genie is out of the bottle. It's not going to be able to be stopped essentially, coming throughout the entire Great Lakes area, which then, in our case, is also connected to bodies of water within the canal system, the Finger Lakes. You can begin to use other invasives and how they have spread as an example of how Asian carp could spread into the area."

Big head and silver carp were originally brought into the U.S. intentionally for use in controlled catfish farm ponds, but flooding accidentally introduced them to the Mississippi River system.

White says Asian carp in the Great Lakes could impact boating and recreational visitors, who may need to change their patterns because of the presence of the fish. When excited, Asian carp will jump and could cause physical damage to boaters, waterskiers and docks. The carp could also effect fisherman who target the Great Lakes' native fish. There is a silver lining, though. White says there is a market for Asian carp.

"Because the word carp has a negative connotation to a lot of folks, my good friends and colleagues in Kentucky have been looking to rename it the Kentucky tuna," White said. "Unfortunately, they've been told by the FDA they can't do that, because tuna is a classified species in and of itself. But, again, what they're saying is if you said here's a can of Asian carp, a lot of people would go I don't think so. Whereas if it's given another name and people give it a chance to taste, they might find that they actually like it."

In some taste tests, White says people liked the taste of Asian carp more than some types of tuna.