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Food security Fish zapping: shocking Asian carp out of Midwest waters not feasible

Published 10 January 2013

The several species known as Asian carp are not native to U.S. waterways but have been found in rivers throughout the Midwest; these fish are competing with native species for food and altering ecosystems; they are also dangerous to boaters and other river users since Asian carp can weigh up to sixty pounds and are known to jump out of the water during even minor disturbances; scientists had hoped to modify or expand low-voltage electrical barriers like those used around Chicago waterways to direct Asian carp from particular areas, but found that the level of electricity needed would be far too high

One of the more promising ideas for controlling or eliminating troublesome Asian carp populations in the Midwest’s rivers is impractical and unsafe, according to a Purdue University researcher.

Scientists had hoped to modify or expand low-voltage electrical barriers like those used around Chicago waterways to direct fish from particular areas. A Purdue University release reports that Reuben Goforth, an assistant professor of aquatic community ecology in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, said the level of electricity needed to kill Asian carp eggs in the rivers where the invasive species has spread would be far too high.

We were really hoping this would be a viable way to control these Asian carp,” said Goforth, whose findings were published in the early online version of Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. “We really need to look at other methods.”

The several species known as Asian carp — silver carp, black carp, and bighead carp — are not native to U.S. waterways but have been found in rivers throughout the Midwest. These fish are competing with native species for food and altering ecosystems. They are also dangerous to boaters and other river users since Asian carp can weigh up to sixty pounds and are known to jump out of the water during even minor disturbances.

They’re softer, but imagine going 35 mph in a boat and having something with the mass of a bowling ball hitting you in the face,” Goforth said. “There are cases of broken cheeks, broken noses, people being knocked out.”

Goforth tested electrical fields on three model species — zebrafish, goldfish, and fathead minnows — which are in the same family as Asian carp and have embryos that are similar in size. He found that it took at least sixteen volts per centimeter of electricity to kill the embryos.

This is in contrast with one volt per centimeter used in electrical barriers around Chicago, which Goforth said have had at least one case in which a boat too close to shore caused a substantial electrical arc.

Using sixteen volts is just too much,” he said. “It would be dangerous for people and other aquatic life to put that much electricity in the water. It’s a significant hazard.

Even if we were able to control the population with eight volts per centimeter, that’s a lot of electricity.”

Goforth said he would look at other methods to control Asian carp, including using weak electrical fields or hydroacoustics to deter the fish from optimal spawning grounds.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funded the study.

— Read more in Sam Nutile et al., “Evaluating the Effects of Electricity on Fish Embryos as a Potential Strategy for Controlling Invasive Cyprinids,” Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 142, no. 1 (2013) (DOI: 10.1080/00028487.2012.717518)

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