Archive for May, 2011

Asian Carp Update, Part I: New eDNA Evidence

May 31, 2011

After a long blogging hiatus, I’m jumping back in after being inspired by yesterday’s ESPN episode on Asian carp; what a great piece!

The ESPN Outside the Lines piece went right to where the worst impacts of the carp would be: Lake Erie.  It included interviews of a bunch of charter boat captains, including our longtime partner Rick Unger. The show appears to be a rebroadcast from November of last year.

Except for the ESPN piece, the news coverage on Asian carp has been quiet. That quiet is misleading, because there’s an awful lot happening, too much to put into a single post:

  • the most recent sampling data
  • short-term actions,
  • long-term actions,
  • threats from outside the Chicago canal system, and more.

Today I’ll start with an update on Asian carp sampling data, and cover the other topics in the weeks to come.

If you’ve been following the media (or lack of it), you’d think that all is well: that is, that there is no new evidence of Asian carp above the electric fence. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

The most recent eDNA evidence of Asian carp in the Chicago canal system from the last three months of 2010 documents the presence of Asian carp beyond the barrier on multiple occasions: 7 silver carps hits and 2 bighead carp positives. In addition, 6 samples were positive for silver and bighead carp in the DesPlaines River north and east of the electric fence in the canal. If the Des Plaines floods into the Chicago canals (and with the recent construction of berms and fences between the two waterbodies, it shouldn’t), the flooding would occur above the electric fence. The Corps’ eDNA surveillance map  identifies where the samples were taken.

Click for a full size pdf of the sampling map:

eDNA Results Map

So why isn’t the evidence of Asian carp beyond the barrier all over the news?  We’re looking at 15 Asian carp hits above the electric fence in 3 months. The Asian carp eDNA is a clear indication that the electric fence is not 100 percent effective and that Asian carp are swimming freely in the Chicago canals with an open path the Lake Michigan just a few miles away.

A year ago, far less evidence of Asian carp triggered a crisis and made headlines all around the region, but not this time.

I can think of three reasons the current evidence of Asian carp beyond the electric fence is not getting the press it deserves, none of which makes these findings any less important:

  1. The Asian carp issue is suffering from media fatigue; the media are tired of covering it. Sorry, I don’t buy it. I think the media will cover any part of this issue that seems like a new development (and even some that don’t). Witness the ESPN story yesterday. I think it’s less media fatigue, and more…
  2. The Corps’ release of the samples is so slow that by the time the data are public, they’re no longer news. Even these most recent data cover the period from October-December, 2010. Why can’t the Corps get this information online faster? The agency’s delays make this crisis seem less urgent, when it most certainly is not.
  3. The Chicago shipping industry and many of the government agencies have really downplayed the eDNA results. When the agencies release the most recent monitoring data on Asian carp, they don’t start with the eDNA tests that indicate the presence of the carp. Instead they start with other sampling techniques – netting, commercial fishing, electrofishing – that scientists uniformly agree would not be expected to find Asian carp in the Chicago canal system.  So it’s no surprise that they don’t find the carp through those methods.

    Rarely do the agency reports acknowledge eDNA samples that show the presence of Asian carp, and if they do, it’s usually in a way that minimizes the importance of those samples (so from October to December, they point out that there were 1330 samples processed, and 15 samples, or 1 percent, showed evidence of Asian carp).

    I agree it makes sense to put the positive DNA hits in a larger context to demonstrate that Asian carp do not yet appear to be present in breeding populations in the Chicago Area Waterway System.

    But, you can only put the DNA evidence in context if you first reveal and discuss the fact that the DNA evidence again and again shows that there are Asian carp past the electric fence. And when you put it in that context, the problem is as urgent as ever. The lack of breeding population only means that we actually have time to fix the problem before it’s too late. We still have hope.

That’s it for this week. Next time I’ll talk about short-term actions to prevent Asian carp in the Great Lakes and what we’re seeing there.