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Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi River system for years after escaping from fish farms and wastewater treatment ponds in the southern U.S.They’re knocking on the door of the Great Lakes, and a number of people are concerned about what could happen if carp become established in the region.In this five-part series, we’ll take a look at what officials are trying to do to keep the fish out, what might happen if carp get in, and why some people want to turn carp into a business opportunity.

Study shows Asian carp eggs could survive in tougher conditions than previously thought

Kate Gardiner
Creative Commons
Asian carp can grow to weigh up to 100 pounds.

Wildlife managers could have a harder time controlling spawning Asian carp, if they escape into the Lake Michigan from Chicago-area shipping canals. That's according to a report released by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Elizabeth Murphy is a hydrologist with the USGS. She co-authored the study.

Murphy says new data shows fertilized Asian carp eggs can incubate in waterways that are only 16 miles long. That’s a lot less than the 62 miles scientists thought the drifting eggs needed.

“That was a big surprise. If you’d asked me… I would’ve said ‘no I don’t think something could spawn and then hatch in that length of river.’ But it looks now from our study that it could,” Murphy said.

Murphy says the asian carp eggs could also survive in slower moving conditions than previously thought. Colder temperatures of rivers that empty into the Great Lakes would be a factor in the eggs’ survival. But Murphy says the research shows the eggs could survive given the right conditions.

She couldn’t say exactly how many rivers in the Great Lakes region could serve as spawning grounds for Asian Carp if they escape Chicago-area waterways. But she says it’s likely ten times the number experts had previously predicted.

She says it’s bad news for those responsible for making decisions about Asian Carp.

“They’re just going to have a lot more rivers where spawning can take place and it’s going to be a lot harder to control,” Murphy said.

“The U.S. Geological Survey is a science agency. So we put the science out there and we hope it helps people make more informed decisions in the future,” Murphy said.

Experts worry the carp could potentially out-compete native fish for food and threaten the lakes' $7 billion fishing industry and ecosystem.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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