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Scientists to figure out how to thwart Asian carp from invading Great Lakes

Two Asian carp are displayed Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010, on Capitol Hill in Washington, during a Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing on preventing the induction of the carp, a aquatic invasive species into the Great Lakes.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

A dreaded aquatic bully has Canadian and U.S. scientists banding together in an attempt to thwart what's been called the greatest threat to the Great Lakes - the Asian carp.

An 18-month, binational program will assess the risks the carp poses and look at vulnerable pathways that the fish - currently being held at bay near Chicago - could use to enter the Great Lakes, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said Tuesday.

"The results will provide essential information for decision makers regarding monitoring, rapid response and management," said Ms. Shea.

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Fisheries and Oceans is dedicating $415,000 to the project, which will build on U.S. efforts already underway.

Officials on both sides of the border have been sounding the alarm for several years about the voracious Asian carp.

It threatens to destroy a fishing industry worth nearly $7-billion a year.

In the United States the carp are wreaking havoc on the ecosystem by decreasing biodiversity and decimating fisheries.

Introduced to North America in the 1970s to stop the spread of algae, the silver and bighead species of Asian carp escaped from southern U.S. fish farms in the 1990s during flooding.

They have infested parts of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, wiping other fish populations.

"They are ferocious feeders," said Robert Lambe, chairman of the Great Lakes Fishing Commission.

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"They tend to wipe out the lower food chain, so other fish tend not to survive."

A carp can weigh 40 kilograms and eat nearly half its weight each day in plankton.

Boaters have avoided using southern U.S. waterways for recreation activities, and for good reason - the silver carp can hurtle almost two metres from the water.

They have been known to bludgeon anglers.

"People are being hurt, broken jaws, concussions, from silver carp leaping out of the water," said Becky Cudmore, a research adviser with Fisheries and Oceans.

Scientists said Tuesday that the risk assessment will help identify all points of entry for the Asian carp.

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"The Great Lakes is our home," said research scientist Nick Mandrak. "We need to know not only where our doors are but where our windows are."

The research will also examine the food supply in the waters to see if the carp would survive if it entered the Great Lakes, and it will chart the time in which the invasion could occur.

The researchers also hope to find what rivers the carp could spawn in and try to predict population size.

Carp populations haven't reached Canadian waters, but officials said Tuesday it is the greatest threat to the area.

Two electrical barriers are currently in place near Chicago-area waterways to prevent two-way movement of invasive fish species between the two basins, the Mississippi river and the Great Lakes.

Environmental DNA testing has found genetic material from Asian carp in waterways near Lake Michigan. And last December officials said they found a single Asian carp in a canal leading to Lake Michigan.

Several U.S. states are involved in a lawsuit in an effort to close locks to stop the fish.

Michigan's assistant attorney general has said the threat is so imminent that the waterways leading into Lake Michigan have become a "carp highway."

But on Tuesday, Ms. Shea said Canada would not get involved in the legal fight in the United States.

"This legal battle could have tied us up as a country and stopped us from moving forward on his issue," she said.

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