Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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While second fish barrier sits, third one is planned

Chicago – The gargantuan Asian carp likely will have a second
electric barrier to Lake Michigan this spring, a move that will
mark significant progress in a years-long project dogged by
countless delays and criticisms.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Chuck Shea said
barrier IIA is expected to go online around the end of April, but
the project is far from over with a third barrier in the works and
efforts under way to investigate other avenues the invasive fish
could use to get into the Great Lakes.

“We have definitely had some challenges we have had to work on,”
Shea said of the project’s delays. “Being able to run it at one
volt … we know it is effective for the majority of the fish. It
doesn’t mean we are done, but it is definitely a big positive step
forward.”

The carp originally were imported to Arkansas from Asia in the
1970s to control water quality in fish farms and sewage treatment
facilities, but quickly escaped into the wild. Since then, the carp
have spread throughout the Mississippi River basin, from Louisiana
to South Dakota and Ohio and currently are about 13 miles from the
barrier near Romeoville.

Weighing in at up to 100 pounds, the carp compete with native
species.

A plankton-eating fish, they have been know to cause serious
injuries to boaters because they leap up to 10 feet out of the
water when startled by boat motors.

Barrier IIA will be the second electric barrier on the Chicago
Sanitary and Ship Canal set up to prevent both Asian carp species –
the bighead and silver carp – as well as future nuisance fish from
invading Lake Michigan. It will supplement a deteriorating barrier
installed between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin
in 2002.

After nearly three years of setbacks and recent political
pressures, Army Corps officials planned to have IIA running by the
end of January, but corrosion found in tanks used to cool the
barrier’s electric components pushed that deadline back to spring,
Shea said.

Now, with the repairs ongoing, Army Corps and other officials
are aiming to finalize plans for a third electric barrier known as
IIB. Funding also has come through for this summer to test
different voltage levels and determine the lowest possible
threshold to keep the fish at bay. Both the original barrier and
IIA will operate at one volt until those tests are complete,
officials said.

“There was one independent study that indicated that the smaller
(carp) might need more than one volt to be detoured by the electric
barrier,” Shea said.

While IIA can be cranked up to four volts, safety issues such as
arching between barges carrying flammable materials or health risks
to anyone who might fall into the electrically charged waters
“haven’t been worked out at the higher voltages,” said Phil Moy,
invasive species specialist with Wisconsin Sea Grant and former
project manager for the barriers.

Moy, also co-chairman of the Dispersal Barrier Advisory Panel,
said Sea Grant, the Army Corps and other agencies will continue to
look into other ways the hefty fish could make their way to Lake
Michigan in 2009.

Flooding along the canal is known to be one avenue, Moy said,
and barges that leak or carry ballast water could be another.

The Asian carp continue to be an especially important topic for
Great Lakes fishermen and environmentalists, many of whom attended
a recent Sea Grant presentation on the encroaching invasive fish in
Benton Harbor, but few are more concerned than Michigan DNR Lake
Michigan Basin Coordinator Jim Dexter.

“If the Asian carp came in, I can’t even begin to think of what
might happen,” Dexter said. “That could be devastating for the
entire Great Lakes basin, and that means the native species as well
as the stocked exotic fish.”

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