PORTER | Asian carp are adapting to river conditions in Indiana in alarming ways, and experts believe one solution to the problem may create money and jobs in the state.
"The market for carp products or value-added carp products is truly the future," said John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "There could be economic opportunities for companies in Indiana."
Goss, dubbed President Barack Obama's "Asian carp czar," addressed the Environmental Quality Service Council meeting at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor's Center last week. The legislative committee, headed by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, normally meets in Indianapolis.
Reuben Goforth, assistant professor of aquatic community ecology at Purdue University, has been studying Asian carp in Indiana's Wabash River and found the fish are far more adaptive than previously thought.
Goforth said he and his team have discovered the gills are changing on some species of Asian carp in the Wabash, making them stronger and an even greater threat to the river's native species.
"They are not tied to specific water levels like we thought they were," Goforth said. "They are not tied to spawning at a particular time of year like we thought they were."
Goforth said in collecting data on Asian carp eggs, the most students had found in a five-minute net collection was 1,000.
But in June, they found 300,000 eggs in three minutes. Anglers reported seeing a 3/4-mile stretch from bank to bank jammed with Asian carp spawning at the same time.
"We'd never seen anything like this before," he said.
Goforth said the adaptations remind him of the "Jurassic Park" line, "Life finds a way," from Michael Crichton's novel and Steven Spielberg's film.
"Fish are doing things here that they haven't in their native distribution, which frankly scares me," Goforth said.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller recalled a four-day, 334-mile trip he took this summer on the Wabash River with Goss and others where he saw Asian carp.
"There were two active schools that exploded out of the water," Zoeller said. "Two landed in the boat and one hit the driver."
Goss said an electric barrier on Chicago's South Side is keeping the fish from entering Lake Michigan. Asian carp have been found in the Illinois River about 50 to 60 miles south of the barrier, he said.
Commercial fishermen have contracted with government agencies to remove more than 1,000 tons of Asian carp from the Illinois River in recent years, he said.
This week, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources revealed a large Bighead carp was found last month at Flatfoot Lake in the Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve. Chris McCloud, director of communications for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the carp likely arrived in the lake through "unintentional human introduction."
"This and other urban fishing ponds have been stocked with catfish and other sport fish and it's possible that years ago, before Asian carp were a known threat, a few Asian carp minnows could have been unintentionally mixed in with the stocking," McCloud said.
Bait buckets and Asian cultural releases also have been cited as sources of inland urban Asian carp sightings.
Goss said last week studies are underway for an Asian carp-specific toxin, which could be introduced to waterways and would affect only those species, much like lampricides used to kill sea lamprey.
"It could be expensive, but it could be an effective tool in a small area," Goss said.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report on Asian carp due to Congress in January will outline strategies in five categories, including taking no new federal action, nonstructural alternatives, technological alternatives, hydrologic separation and hybrids.
The hydrologic separation issue — reversing the flow of the Chicago River — would be of great interest to Northwest Indiana, including the Calumet River.