Asian Carp and the Great Lakes Region

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Silver carp jumping on the Illinois River (


Alien species of Asian carp are a significant ongoing adverse ecological threat to the Great Lakes of North America. Chief pathways for the introduction of these species has been from the waterways of the city of Chicago, Illinois. The U.S. Congress and federal regulatory agencies are investigating protocols to reduce alien species influxes from Chicago waterways into the Great Lakes, whose fishery value is approximately seven billion dollars per annum. The city of Chicago has resisted environmental protection initiatives, on the grounds that the city's commercial interests may be harmed.

Summary of the U.S. Congressional Research Report

Four species of non-indigenous Asian carp are expanding their range in U.S. waterways, resulting in a variety of concerns and problems. Three species—bighead, silver, and black carp—are of particular note, based on the perceived degree of environmental concern. Current controversy relates to what measures might be necessary and sufficient to prevent movement of Asian carp from the Mississippi River drainage into the Great Lakes through the Chicago Area Waterway System. Bills have been introduced in the 111th Congress to direct actions to avoid the possibility of carp becoming established in the Great Lakes.

According to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Asian carp pose a significant threat to commercial and recreational fisheries of the Great Lakes. Asian carp populations could expand rapidly and change the composition of Great Lakes ecosystems. Native species could be harmed because Asian carp are likely to compete with them for food and modify their habitat. It has been widely reported that Great Lakes fisheries generate economic activity of approximately $7 billion annually. Although Asian carp introduction is likely to modify Great Lakes ecosystems and cause harm to fisheries, studies forecasting the extent of potential harm are not available. Therefore, it is not possible to provide estimates of potential changes in the regional economy or economic value (social welfare) by lake, species, or fishery.

The locks and waterways of the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) have been a focal point for those debating how to prevent Asian carp encroachment on the Great Lakes. The CAWS is the only navigable link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, and many note the potential of these waterways to facilitate invasive species transfers from one basin to the other. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has constructed and is currently operating electrical barriers to prevent fish passage. However, in light of recent indications that Asian carp may be present upstream of the barriers and in Lake Michigan, increased federal funding to prevent fish encroachment (largely through the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) has been announced by the Obama Administration, and calls to permanently separate the two basins have grown. The potential closure of existing navigation structures in the CAWS and the permanent separation of the basins are currently the most contentious issues related to Asian carp control in the region, and a long-term solution has yet to be decided.

On January 19, 2010, the Supreme Court refused to order emergency measures sought by the state of Michigan to stop the migration of invasive Asian carp toward Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River basin via the CAWS. Michigan’s renewed motion for a preliminary injunction was also denied by the Supreme Court on March 22, 2010. In response to the Supreme Court’s denial, Michigan (along with Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago on July 19, 2010.

In the 111th Congress, Section 126 in Title I of P.L. 111-85 directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement additional measures to prevent invasive species from bypassing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Dispersal Barrier Project and dispersing into the Great Lakes. In addition, P.L. 111-307 amended the Lacey Act to add bighead carp to the list of injurious species that are prohibited from being imported or shipped interstate.

Editor's Note

This summary was taken from the Congressional Research Service Report R40182 by Eugene H. Buck, Harold F. Upton, Charles V. Stern, and James E. Nichols

Attached Files



Service, C. (2014). Asian Carp and the Great Lakes Region. Retrieved from