Here are some possible solutions to the Asian Carp conundrum.
How do we stop voracious Asian carp species from migrating from the Mississippi River into the Great Lakes, disrupting food chains, and destroying the fishing economy of the Midwest region as we know it?
Unfortunately, there has yet to be a solution that balances effectiveness, affordability, and timeliness in the way we need.
With impending danger in mind, we looked at five potential Asian carp solutions that have been proposed or put into action so far.
View the slideshow and see which solution would be best.
1. Electric Barriers
For years now, electric barriers have been almost all that stands between the Asian carp of the Mississippi River and the wide open waters of the Great Lakes. The barriers are mostly situated in the waterways around Chicago - specifically the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal - and are jolting the water with enough electricity to reportedly stop a human heart.
The system is simple in concept: a series of steel electrodes are installed along the bottom of the canal and regularly send shockwaves of energy through the water. The goal is something akin to what an electric fence does for dogs, making it uncomfortable for carp to proceed to the Great Lakes with hopes that they will turn around, return to the Mississippi, and never attempt a journey down the waterway again. However, the fact that certain Asian carp species have been found in Lake Michigan proves that Asian carp - if determined enough - can fight through the electric current and make it to the waters beyond. In other words, electric barriers are a great first defense, but they aren't enough to stop the Asian carp threat on their own.
2. Chemical Treatments
When the United States Army Corps of Engineers proposed a list of potential Asian carp solution projects at the beginning of this year, an option involving chemical treatments was the least expensive of the bunch at $8 billion. Chemical methods have been proposed and implemented before in an effort to destroy or slow down the carp threat, but they have largely been ineffective. In the spring of 2010, various Illinois wildlife and environment organizations experimented with dumping a popular fish-killing poison called Rotenone into a controlled portion of the Chicago waterways. While the poison killed plenty of other fish, Asian carp species proved remarkably resilient to its impacts, leaving the experiment as a failure.
Of course, the use of a more powerful and toxic chemical treatment might be considered to kill the carp or disrupt their reproductive cycles. However, officials are understandably cautious about dumping deadly chemicals into a waterway that connects to both Lake Michigan and Lake Mississippi, meaning that chemical treatments aren't likely to gain a lot of traction in the war against Asian carp.
3. Physical Barriers
From dams to fences, all the way to proposals that would force the permanent closure of the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal, physical barriers are another compelling option on the list of potential Asian carp solutions. Understandably, the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois at the whole don't want to close the waterway. The canal, itself a manmade structure, was built as a means of diverting Chicago's sewage away from the Chicago River and Lake Michigan while still providing a shipping link between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes.
A decision to close down the river would force major reconsiderations of Chicago's sanitation processes and of Midwest shipping routes. It would also stand a chance of truly and dependably stopping the progress of carp from the Mississippi to Lake Michigan. However, in the U.S. Army Corps report from earlier this year, physical barrier solutions were largely found to be nonviable. The most expensive solution involving a physical separation of the two bodies of water would cost an estimated $18 billion and could take 25 years or more. Since most scientists agree that we don't have that long, physical separation of the waterways may be out of contention - even if it would likely be the most effective means of stopping the Asian carp invasion.
4. Genetic Experiments
Like with any other seemingly unsolvable riddle, the Asian carp problem has inspired a number of intriguing technological solutions. On one side of the conversation is the concept of introducing genetically altered or bioengineered carp specimens into the waterway. Scientists have discovered mutant or hybrid carp species that reproduce less quickly than others. Genetic engineers have also pointed toward the possibility of introducing mutations into carp populations that would, throughout several carp generations, gradually reduce the number of female fish in the water.
Fewer and fewer females would mean slower and slower reproductive cycles, which could eventually mean that carp wouldn't even be a major threat to the Great Lakes because they wouldn't be able to overwhelm the food chain.
Sure, a free-for-all fishing season on Chicago waterways might not be the most efficient means of eradicating the Asian carp problem, but it would be a heck of a lot of fun for Illinois anglers! A "harvesting" solution could take various forms. Basic bait casting would be one solution. Nets, cages, and other traps in the waterways would be another.
Some fishing enthusiasts even like the idea of spear fishing or bow fishing for carp as they leap out of the water. Studies have found that Asian carp are remarkably sensitive to sound, often leaping high into the air when spooked by a boat motor or a blast of music. Conservation departments could install sound systems on the Chicago waterways to produce high-pitched sounds and send carp leaping out of the water. Spear and bow fishermen could then fire away at the airborne targets, fishing without bag limit to reduce the threat of Asian carp. Unsurprisingly, we like this solution the most.