The introduction and proliferation of non-native Asian carp throughout the Great Lakes and their adverse impacts on waterfowl and wetland ecosystems
Background and Current Strategy
The five Great Lakes are under threat from a number of non-native fish species commonly referred to as Asian carp. These include the silver, bighead, grass and black carp. Asian carp pose a serious threat to waterfowl and wetlands within the Great Lakes region if they establish breeding populations in the lakes. The grass and black species of Asian carp would directly impact waterfowl habitat, and the silver carp pose a potential indirect impact to outdoor recreational activities and people who hunt, fish or recreate in boats. The appetite of the non-native carp is voracious; grass carp daily eat their body weight in submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) which is important as food for waterfowl and a basic energy source for the Great Lakes food web. Black carp feed on mollusks and snails. Non-native silver carp pose a threat to recreation enthusiasts because they have a tendency to jump out of the water at the sound of a boat motor.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin study (GLMRIS) is currently underway outlining recommendations for preventing the spread of non-native carp into the Great Lakes ecosystem, with a final report expected December 2013. On the Canadian side, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources have developed a coordinated strategic response plan including monitoring for Asian carp. The long term actions required are dependent upon research findings, but will most likely include a combination of barriers to each entry vector and the full-ecological separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins in the Chicago Area Waterway System and other potential areas. Ecological separation is outlined as the best option in the long-term to prevent Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species (AIS) from entering the Great Lakes. This assessment is based on a report, "Restoring the Natural Divide, Separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins in the Chicago Area Waterway System," released by the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. Other strategies to prevent interbasin transfer of AIS include improved laws and enforcement to prevent live transport and other contamination actions.
Importance to Waterfowl Conservation
Non-native grass carp and black carp feed on foods critical to waterfowl (SAV and snails). This competition could reduce the availability of food to waterfowl in high priority breeding and migratory habitats in the Great Lakes watershed of both countries. Carp foraging behavior also leads to the re-suspension of sediments that can negatively impact water quality and SAV abundance. The jumping of the silver carp also poses a threat to waterfowlers and other outdoor recreationists due to the potential for injury. In order to ensure full skies of waterfowl for today, tomorrow and forever; waterfowl need good wetland habitat, good water quality and suitable food sources to survive and the Asian carp could negatively impact DU's objectives in the Great Lakes.
The containment of non-native Asian carp species from establishing breeding populations in the Great Lakes watershed is critical to protecting important breeding and migratory habitats along the Great Lakes. Depletion of food resources for migratory waterfowl could impact breeding success and overwintering survival of waterfowl across much of North America. Preventing non-native Asian carp from establishing breeding populations will also help prevent a significant adverse impact on the Great Lakes entire food chain, species diversity and ecological sustainability. The best long-term solution would be to ecologically separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins utilizing barriers and other means at points of entry to the Great Lakes to prevent interbasin transfers of invasive species.
Ducks Unlimited's Past Actions and Involvement in this and Related Issues
DU and DUC have had limited engagement on this issue with both governmental and non-governmental organizations at regional, state, provincial and federal levels within the Great Lakes basin. DU is a member of the Healing Our Waters coalition, which has advocated on behalf of the health of the Great Lakes at specific events and meetings, further educating legislators, partner organizations and others of the potential impact of an Asian carp proliferation. DU has also been monitoring the progress of the GLMRIS and encouraging the USACOE to ensure the results of the study are available as soon as possible and outline definitive actions. Informally, at the federal level, DU has engaged in Washington, D.C. with other Great Lakes stakeholders to illustrate the gravity of this situation. DU has assisted in coordinated letters to Congress, more specifically members of the Great Lakes states' delegations, on behalf of both members and other individuals such as Great Lakes state governors, mayors, business owners, recreationist enthusiasts, etc., encouraging them to act and prevent non-native Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. Furthermore, DU has helped garner broad (non-DU) grassroots support for various actions including action alert sending, letter sending, phone calls, testifying, etc., to ensure concerns are heard at the federal level. On the Ontario side most of the initiatives have been undertaken by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
Recommended Actions and Timeline
Short term (1-6 months)
- Ducks Unlimited Inc. and Ducks Unlimited Canada should prepare an internal and external briefing paper to educate staff, legislators, members, partner organizations and others regarding the need for full ecological separation of the two waterways as well as barriers at other points of entry.
- Develop a targeted municipal/ state/provincial/federal advocacy strategy aimed at specific elected officials at the three levels of government along with key messaging
- Ducks Unlimited should encourage USACOE to engage in regular discussions with stakeholders during their research process and to provide recommendations by their December 2013 deadline. DU should submit our recommendations on the study based on the best available science.
Midterm (6 months – 2 years)
- Dependent upon the recommendations outlined in the GLMRIS study, Ducks Unlimited Inc. and Ducks Unlimited Canada should educate legislators, members, partner organizations, the waterfowling community and others regarding the need for full ecological separation of the two waterways as well as implementation of barriers at other points of entry.
- Advise key Canadian parliamentarians in the Great Lakes region on DUC and DUI's position on this issue and request their support in obtaining a permanent solution.
Long term (2 years or longer)
- Dependent upon actions taken upon results of GLMRIS and other completed studies, Ducks Unlimited Inc. and Ducks Unlimited Canada should offer assistance and education to ensure stakeholders and funding measures are in place and available to implement the recommended preventative actions as well as move forward to the full ecological separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basin waterways. DUI and DUC actions will be dependent on available funding and staff.
Strategic Approach to Achieving Desired Outcome
- DU should continue to monitor the progress of the USACOE study. DU should work with the grassroots and grasstops networks to influence elected officials to encourage the USACOE to stay within their timeline and offer options and development of strategic plans to prevent the spread of Asian carp from all current and future entry vectors. DU should do this in conjunction with the Great Lakes Commission, Great Lakes states stakeholders, Healing Our Waters coalition, as well as other key partners in the basin, including DUC.
- DU should work with legislators and aides as well as be in close communication with USACOE and other federal agencies involved in non-native species research efforts outlining the importance of this issue to the economic vitality of the region, native wildlife and other important factors, especially as the study winds down and next steps are decided.
- DU should strategically work with their grassroots network and with media to generate buzz encouraging Congress to maintain funding for the GLRI and other key programs to ensure full implementation of the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework and recommendations of the GLMRIS study.
- Any actions by DU or DUC should be coordinated and jointly communicated with other organizations and partners for maximizing impacts.
Read associated news release »