While Michigan politicians issue alarmed statements about the invasion of the Great Lakes by Asian carp, two U-M professors say the peril is overplayed. Mesmerizing YouTube videos showing the fish (which can weigh up to 100 pounds) leaping into the air don’t scare Jim Diana, a fisheries biologist and director of the Michigan Sea Grant College Program. “If they didn’t jump around, we wouldn’t hear anywhere near as much about them,” Diana shrugs.
“It’s a red herring, so to speak,” says Gerald Smith, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology. He and Diana say that the warm-water import (known also as silver carp or bighead carp) is unlikely to flourish in the chilly Great Lakes.
Andy Buchsbaum, executive director of the National Wildlife Foundation’s Great Lakes office, agrees that the Asian carp won’t thrive in the “open waters of the Great Lakes,” but says they could decimate the fish populations in rivers that flow into the lakes. Diana responds that they prefer longer rivers than the ones feeding the lakes, and that dams will block them from moving very far inland.
Diana and Smith agree that ecologically speaking, the splashy carp pose far less danger to the lakes than the tiny zebra and quagga mussels. Brought from Russia by oceangoing vessels in the late 1980s, the invasive mollusks now filter so much plankton from the food chain that Lake Erie’s water is visibly clearer. Smith recently told an NPR interviewer that the carp are a “nuisance,” but–contrary to gubernatorial candidate Mike Cox’s claims–“there is no way they could destroy the 7.1 billion dollar fishing and tourism industry!”