Search for Invasive Fish and Lethal Fish Disease Resumes in the Illinois Waterway

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Silver Asian CarpNew Transmitter Technology Allows Real-time Tracking of Asian Carp Movements

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its federal, state and regional partners, including Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, will resume annual search efforts in the Illinois Waterway from the Chicago suburbs to near Havana, Ill., for three species of invasive fish, as well as for lethal fish pathogens.

Members of the media are invited for a first-hand experience with the field crews on Wednesday, June 18, or Thursday, June 19. Contact Pam Thiel at 608-783-8431 by June 12 to secure space aboard a survey boat. Space is limited and will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.

During the 13th annual “Carp Corral/Goby Roundup,” biologists will estimate the relative abundance and upstream distribution of bighead carp and silver carp—two types of Asian carps—and chart the downstream range of the round goby.

This year the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) will also be working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand an existing monitoring study of Asian carp movements to an upstream portion of the Illinois Waterway. Bighead and silver carp captured here will be implanted with ultrasonic transmitter tags and then released in order to detect the proximity of these fish to the Aquatic Nuisance Species Dispersal Barrier in Romeoville. The USACE will use information from this tagging study to develop a long-term monitoring plan that will evaluate the effectiveness of the electric barrier.

Interconnected man-made channels and natural rivers of the Illinois Waterway System in metropolitan Chicago provide a direct link for water-borne movement of non-native aquatic nuisance species between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. Together these watersheds encompass parts of 31 states and four Canadian provinces.

Sampling will cover nearly 200 miles, more than half the length of the Illinois Waterway, from Alsip downstream to Havana. Round goby are most abundant and likely to be seen at upstream sample sites like Alsip and Lockport while bighead and leaping silver carp are more common and likely to be encountered at a downstream area like LaSalle-Peru, Morris or Havana.

Biologists will also collect tissue samples from captured fish to test for disease pathogens such as the non-native spring viremia of carp virus and the viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, which can be lethal to a number of native fish species.

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, is one of the most feared fish diseases in the world, and has made its way into Lake Michigan. The virus was recently found (May 2008) in the southern basin of this lake for the first time where it killed thousands of round goby that later washed up along the Milwaukee shoreline, less than 100 miles from the Illinois Waterway. Biologists are now more concerned than ever before that the VHS virus could spread from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi and Ohio River basins via the Illinois Waterway.

The potential economic and environmental impacts of Asian carp, round goby, fish disease pathogens and other invasive species like zebra mussels are widespread and significant.

The “Carp Corral/Goby Roundup” surveillance effort is critical in determining whether Asian carp have moved upstream of an electrical barrier near Romeoville, Ill., toward Lake Michigan, and whether round goby have made their way farther downstream toward the Mississippi River.

“Invasive Asian carp can upset the natural balance of aquatic ecosystems, and in addition, the silver carp can actually leap high out of the water and may collide with anglers, boaters, water skiers, or others who recreate on rivers, posing a serious safety hazard to all,” said Pam Thiel, project leader for the Service’s La Crosse, Wis., National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office and coordinator of the “Carp Corral/Goby Round Up.”

An electrical fish barrier near Romeoville in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal–designed to prevent and slow the spread of nonindigenous aquatic species–has been operational since 2002. This experimental prototype consists of a single array of 14 electrodes. One of the electrodes failed soon after installation. The 13 remaining electrodes are still functional but are wearing out due to corrosion.

Construction of a permanent barrier is complete just downstream from the prototype. University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute’s Dr. Phil Moy, co-chair of the Dispersal Barrier Advisory Panel, explained, “The new barrier has 46 electrodes, has the capability to operate at higher voltage to more effectively repel small fish, and has five- by five-inch steel bar electrodes with a design life of 20 years.” It is hoped that the new barrier will become fully operational later in 2008.

Biologists found one bighead carp 15 miles below the electrical barrier in 2007, about 50 miles from Lake Michigan. To date no bighead or silver carp have been collected above the barrier. However, reproducing populations of bighead and silver carp have expanded from lower portions of the Illinois River to as far upstream as the Starved Rock Lock and Dam near Utica.

“The Great Lakes fishery brings $4 billion to the region every year and approximately five million anglers fish the waters annually, and invasive species like Asian carp and round goby threaten the very future of this valuable resource,” said Marc Gaden, spokesman for the bi-national Great Lakes Fishery Commission. “We must do everything possible to halt these biological invasions. With the fate of both the Great Lakes and Mississippi River fisheries at risk, there are elevated concerns for the future.”

Native to large rivers of Asia, bighead and silver carp were brought to the United States in the early 1970s and began appearing in public waterways in the early 1980s. These species feed on plankton (microscopic plants and animals), consuming three to five times their body weight per day and can reach weights of more than 80 pounds. A 92-pound bighead carp was recently captured in the Illinois River while bow-fishing. Asian carps compete for food with larval and juvenile fish, as well as adult paddlefish, gizzard shad, bigmouth buffalo and native mussels.

The round goby, a non-native fish from the Black and Caspian Seas in Eurasia, was first discovered in North American waters in 1990 and has since spread to all the Great Lakes. Known for its aggressive feeding and defensive behavior, and prolific reproductive rate, the round goby is a threat to native fish and a nuisance to anglers.

The goby has been moving inland from Lake Michigan, toward the Mississippi River via the Illinois Waterway System since 1993. In 2004, the Illinois Natural History Survey collected a small round goby below the Peoria Lock and Dam, nearly 170 miles from Lake Michigan and half the distance to the Mississippi River.

In 2005 and 2006, the VHS virus caused massive fish kills in lakes Huron, St. Clair, Erie and Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. Thousands of economically valuable native fish have perished, including muskellunge, walleye, lake whitefish, and yellow perch, while others like Chinook salmon, smallmouth bass, and northern pike were diseased but did not die in large numbers. In 2007, the VHS virus was detected at several sites in northern Lake Michigan and was responsible just weeks ago for the death of thousands of round goby in southern portions of the lake near Milwaukee.

Because this virus poses such a widespread serious threat to fishery resources and aquaculture in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has restricted interstate shipments of live fish from states that border the Great Lakes, causing economic hardships to many here who depend on healthy fisheries for a livelihood.

Since 1871, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Fisheries Program has played a vital role in conserving and managing native fish and other aquatic resources. For more information about the Fisheries Program, go to

Shedd Aquarium’s Great Lakes conservation initiative Listen to Your Lakes is dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes, the connected waterways and their nearly 11,000 miles of shoreline from growing threats. From beach sweeps to blogs, Shedd continues to offer diverse opportunities for the public to learn more about and get involved in Great Lakes conservation.

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