May 14, 2012

New $1.7 million grant funds Asian carp research

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale who are leading the way in combating the invasive Asian carp species will be able to continue their work with the help of nearly $1.7 million in new grant money.

The two-year grant, which will fund the University’s ongoing research on the Asian carp problem, comes from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative law. The research project is titled “Monitoring Asian Carp Population Abundance and Control Efforts:  Preventing Upstream Movement in the Illinois River.”

James Garvey, director of SIU Carbondale’s Fisheries and Illinois Aquaculture Center, is the primary investigator on the grant. David Glover, a post-doctorate research fellow with the center, and Greg Whitledge, associate professor with the center, also are working on the project, along with researchers from other universities.

“We are extremely pleased that this collaborative effort, led by Dr. Garvey and his team, will continue to provide valuable assessments -- and potential solutions -- for what has become a significant issue in Illinois and potentially the Great Lakes,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said.

The grant is the latest in an 18-month effort to quantify the Asian carp problem and identify potential solutions.  The team recently issued a report that stated the large, invasive fish now comprises more than 60 percent of the total fish biomass in one of Illinois’ major river systems.

The original $1.1 million grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources funded multiple studies.  The report resulting from those studies included several major findings and population control strategies.  For instance, along with establishing that the carp now make up the majority of living tissue in the main channel of the Illinois River, it also found that eating the tasty, healthy, high-protein fish is a plausible approach to greatly reducing its numbers.

The large, bony fish is high in protein and healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids.  Most fish also were low in contaminates. It has a mild flavor and is among one of the healthier fish for consumption, given its plankton feeding habits. In China, where the head of the big head variety is used to make soup, the fish has been hunted to near eradication.

Asian carp are present in the upper and lower portions of the Mississippi River, the lower Missouri River, the Illinois River and Ohio River. Several varieties -- including the bighead and the silver, which can grow to 100 pounds and leap into the air -- are present in Illinois waterways.

Populations of these fishes are growing dense in the lower and middle Illinois

River and both species are approaching the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) and the defensive electrical barrier set up there to stop them.  Researchers say the downriver source populations of the fish will continue to send individuals upstream to challenge the CAWS and ultimately the Great Lakes until their numbers are reduced.

During the last decade, the state has taken action to prevent the fish from becoming prevalent in the Great Lakes fisheries. Although the major concern regarding the carps’ entry into Illinois waterways and the Great Lakes is the fear that they will hurt the populations of native fish, Garvey said their research team found that hasn’t yet happened.

The team also sees an opportunity in converting Asian carp into fishmeal, although additional infrastructure is needed for an appropriate processing facility. In addition to exporting the fish for human consumption and making it into fishmeal, marketing research at SIU Carbondale suggested that U.S. consumers across a wide range of demographics are willing to try Asian carp and would be interested in purchasing a value-added product such as fish cakes, particularly if marketed as locally produced, the report stated. Again, however, the primary hurdle for developing such products is a lack of infrastructure in the region, not public perception.