Ottawa commits $17M to stop Asian carp invasion

The federal government will allocate $17.5 million over the next five years to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield announced Monday.
Ottawa wil focus its Asian carp strategy on four key areas: prevention, early warning, rapid response and management and control. (Associated Press)

Ottawa will make a significant investment to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of Asian carp, a large invasive fish that could jeopardize the food supply of native species if it enters Canadian waters from the U.S.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield announced Monday that $17.5 million will be allocated over the next five years to four key activities: prevention, early warning, rapid response and management and control.

"This is a huge increase in spending. It’s a lot of money from Canadian perspective," said Hugh MacIsaac, professor and director of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. "It exceeds what we spend on sea lampreys."

Authorities on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border have been worried about several kinds of Asian carp that have been making their way up the Mississippi River system to the Great Lakes for several decades.

"The Great Lakes are important to the economic and cultural make-up of Canadians who live and work on these waters," Ashfield, who is the member of Parliament for Fredericton, said in a news release.  "These lakes support both recreational and commercial fisheries and a way of life for our people.

 "Our efforts to date have prevented Asian carp from establishing in the Great Lakes system, and we will continue to do what is necessary to keep them from taking over this valuable watershed."

MacIsaac said invasive species cost Canada and the U.S. a combined $500 billion in losses each year.

"It’s a positive step to see Canada and the U.S. integrate their efforts to deal with aquatic invaders," MacIsaac said. "It’s warranted to spend money to keep these out of the Great Lakes."

As part of prevention activities, emphasis will be placed on initiatives to educate people about the danger of this invasive species and ways to prevent people from bringing Asian carp into Canadian waters. 

The federal government will also work with U.S. authorities to develop an extensive early-warning and monitoring system to alert officials of any potential problems, along with rapid response protocols for both countries in the event of signs that the carp are spreading.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced earlier this year that the U.S. will spend $50 million in 2012 to prevent further incursions of Asian carp into the Great Lakes.

U.S. authorities have installed several underwater electric barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a man-made waterway connecting Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River Basin, in an effort to prevent Asian carp from entering the lake.

"We have to separate the Mississippi drainage from the Chicago drainage," MacIsaac said.

MacIsaac said the Mississippi drainage from Chicago was created by men 110 years ago in order to drain the city's sewage into the river. It no longer serves that purpose and, instead, serves as a conduit for the carp to enter the Great Lakes.

But in past years, signs of two kinds of Asian carp, bighead and silver carp, have been detected beyond the barriers ,and bighead carp were also found in Lake Erie.

Bighead carp, which can reach a mass of 27 kilograms — the weight of an average eight-year-old child — and silver carp, which can grow to almost double that size, are the two kinds of Asian carp that pose the biggest threats to the Great Lakes.

Both fish vacuum up huge amounts of plankton, the tiny organisms that form the foundation of the Great Lakes food chain, and threaten to starve native species, like lake trout and walleye, that feed on the plankton as small fry.

They also have two other qualities that could help them out-compete native fish: they grow quickly and are prolific breeders.

"They could compete with a lot of the native fish we use for sport fishing and commercial fishing. These combined fisheries are worth billions of dollars to the Great Lake communities," MacIsaac said. "You don’t want to mess things up anymore than they already are by allowing these into the system that may reduce the number of other types of fishes."

Tighter enforcement of transport rules

The government said Monday it will work with enforcement agencies to ensure compliance with regulations relating to the transport of Asian carp in order to manage and control the threat of the species entering Canadian waters.

Ontario has already made it illegal to posses live invasive species, including bighead, silver, grass and black carp. In 2011, an Ontario court handed down the province's biggest fine yet for violating that law. It fined a Markham, Ont., owner of a fish-importing business $50,000 for possessing almost 2,000 kilograms of live bighead and grass carp that were seized on the Canada-U.S. border in Windsor, Ont.

"The Great Lakes is the largest freshwater system in the world and represents one of Canada's most valuable assets," Ashfield said. "We are committed to working with our American counterparts to continue to protect the Great Lakes basin. Together, these measures will go a long way toward our ultimate goal of stopping Asian carp from entering and becoming established in the Great Lakes."