Bighead carp — a member of the Asian carp family that can fly through the air and grow as long as 60 inches and as heavy as 110 pounds, just two inches shorter and 15 pounds heavier than former child star Mary-Kate Olsen and her billionaire twin sister, Ashley — is just one of the invasive species worrying people who fish for fun or profit on the Great Lakes.
And there’s plenty of profit to be made on the Great Lakes if only from the $7 billion a year fishing industry.
But now a new critter has been added to the list of invasive species doing damage by natural resources officials in the states and Canadian provinces that surround lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.
It is much smaller but no less ugly, and it comes by its nickname because it is just as hungry.
The killer shrimp (scientists call it: dikerogammarus villosus) is an inch of pure hunger and fury that chews up and eats anything without a spine that is its own size.
Nick Popoff, the aquatic species and regulatory affairs manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, told PJ Media killer shrimp are aggressive little predators with sharp, serrated mouths that shred their prey and could completely alter the food chain in the Great Lakes.
Breathe a sigh of relief; they are not in the Great Lakes yet. The shrimp are busy invading parts of Europe right now, but Popoff said the shrimp have been added to the list of more than 30 invasive species that worry Michigan DNR officials.
“They are very aggressive and basically eat anything they can get their mouths on,” Popoff said.
As scary as the prospect of killer shrimp bottom feeding their way through the waters of the Great Lakes seems, it is the Asian carp that first rattled the invasive species alarm bells in nine states and two Canadian provinces.
Asian carp jump out of the water, seem to fly through the air, smashing hard into whatever or whomever is in their way, and they love to eat.
Cindy Larsen, the president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce on the western shore of Lake Michigan, is afraid Great Lakes tourists won’t feel as comfortable in the water when they are faced with the prospect of encountering large, ugly Asian carp “the size of teenage children” flying through the air.
Larsen, who admitted not seeing any firm estimate of the tourist revenue that could be lost due to Asian carp, is still worried. Muskegon, Mich., depends on tourists, some of whom might spend $1,000 in a weekend, staying in a Lake Michigan waterfront condo, having all their meals catered. And the business community sells the lakeshore’s quality of life to attract those people.
“Perch is a staple over here in West Michigan. It isn’t just about the fun of catching them; this is part of our food selection in our restaurants,” she said. “If we screw up the ecosystem it will have a broad, negative impact on all kinds of things.”
Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association president Steve Yencich voiced a similar concern.
“I always envision a young man zipping along on a jet ski at 25 or 30 miles an hour and a 30-pound silver carp jumps up in front of him,” said Yencich. “We would not be talking injuries. We would be talking death.”
Asian carp DNA was discovered in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan in 2013, and a live carp was caught in Flatfoot Lake near Chicago, located next to the Calumet River, which feeds directly into Lake Michigan.
A December 2013 joint Army Corps and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report showed that fish were moving through the electronic barrier in the Chicago Waterway meant to serve as Lake Michigan’s last line of defense against the carp.
In 2012, the electronic barriers temporarily malfunctioned, leaving the Great Lakes unprotected from infestation.
“Right now there are 180 invasive species and growing. Great Lakes fishing can’t afford another one,” Captain Denny Grinold of Fish “N” Grin Charter Service in Grand Haven explained. “If they go the way the sea lamprey did, they will destroy the fisheries.”
Canada is scared, too.
The Canadian government has invested $17.5 million to protect Canada’s Great Lakes from the threat of Asian carp.
The Canadians began by assessing the ecological impact of Asian carp on the Great Lakes.
Becky Cudmore, senior science adviser on aquatic and invasive species for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said that policy analysts used that information to conduct an economic impact assessment.
There are no hard facts yet, but “from around the basin in Canada and the U.S. commercial and recreational fisherman, people involved in the outfitters and tourist industry are concerned,” she said. “We hope that the ecological risk assessment will help people protect the ecology and economy of the Great Lakes.”
The Army Corps of Engineers has tried a variety of measures to beat the Asian carp from water cannon to electric fishing, but recommended in June the construction of permanent barriers that would cut off Lake Michigan from Chicago’s waterways, which seem to be a breeding ground for the carp.
But that won’t happen quickly or inexpensively. At a bare minimum, it’s an $18 million plan that would take 25 years to finish.
Critics say the barrier plan is also inadequate because it doesn’t take into account other waterways that feed into the Great Lakes.
As worrisome as the Asian carp and the killer shrimp are to the future of the Great Lakes, Popoff said it is the red swamp crayfish that is “on our doorstep.”
Not only is it mean, ugly and hungry, Popoff said red swamp crayfish are as tough to get rid of as your unemployed brother-in-law after he finds the key to your liquor cabinet.
“Wisconsin had to literally pave ponds over to get rid of them,” Popoff said.
The red swamp crayfish is also the only member of the Great Lakes’ invasive species list that is native to the U.S. The others are still busy chewing their way through the rest of the world’s waterways.
“We are taking a global view of this,” said Popoff. “These species are wreaking havoc in other places in the world, so let’s put a front up and not let them come here.”
Could Killer Shrimp-Nado, the Movie be next?
“Maybe you should call the SyFy Channel on that,” Popoff said.