Holy Carp!

Keeping perspective

Ashley Yarus

Earlier this week, four grass carp were found in the Sandusky River, right here in Northern Ohio. The U.S. Geological Survey has confirmed that these carp were bred in the Sandusky River, the first confirmation that a species of Asian carp is now living and breeding in the Great Lakes watershed. Since Asian carp are an invasive species, and a rather detrimental one at that, these findings are a bleak omen for the future health of the Great Lakes, and especially Lake Erie.
Asian carp were brought to the US in the 1960’s to control algae and unwanted plants in controlled areas. Four species of Asian carp—bighead, silver, grass and black—escaped into the wild and have become established in the Mississippi River Basin as well as areas of the Midwest. While the Mississippi River Basin has been dealing with an established Asian carp population for a few decades now, the Great Lakes have yet to be impacted by this species.

Bighead and silver carp are prolific breeders and consume large quantities of plankton. By impacting the microscopic diversity of an aquatic system, established carp seriously disrupt the food chain of a water body. The introduction of carp could have a butterfly effect wherein their increased population and associated consumption blossoms into a full-scale destabilization of the fishing industry at work in the Great Lakes. This industry has an approximate value of $7 billion. On an environmental level, the introduction of an invasive species most likely correlates to a loss of habitat and spawning space for native species.

Now, if you’ve read all of this information, you may be questioning its relevance to you. Well, here it is: The Sandusky River is a tributary to Lake Erie and if the Sandusky has grass carp, Lake Erie may be on its way to a carp issue, which is a problem not easily fixed. In fact, the proliferation of carp into the Great Lakes is such a pressing concern that the Obama administration has spent around $200 million to keep carp out of the Great Lakes. You may note that this is quite a large sum of money to prevent the spread of some fish, but the ramifications of Asian carp in the Great Lakes is beyond prediction. One can never to too cautious about invasive species.

Here in Cleveland, we may not value Lake Erie all that much. The water is cold. Its size brings us weather that is alarmingly horrible, things like thunder hail for instance. Its toxicity is a bit questionable since the Cuyahoga River—which caught on fire and sparked nationwide outrage just a few decades ago—happens to feed the lake. Mostly, industry marrs its lakefront and it is not the most beautiful thing to behold.

No matter these flaws, Lake Erie is a resource worth protecting and its health is impacted much more by our treatment than we realize. I’m sure there are motions at work to beautify Cleveland’s lakefront, but I think now is a time where we focus on the aquatic health of our lake. At a time like this, when we are aware of an imminent threat, we must move to protect our resources. With the consequences unknown, the stakes have never been higher.

Ashley Yarus is a second-year student studying chemical engineering.