Bighead Asian carp no longer allowed in U.S.

  • Asian Bighead carp at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. A new law bans anyone from bringing live Asian Bighead carp into the United States, unless for scientific research or with licensed permission.

    Asian Bighead carp at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. A new law bans anyone from bringing live Asian Bighead carp into the United States, unless for scientific research or with licensed permission. Associated Press File

  • Silver carp, a type of Asian carp, jump high out of the water on the Illinois River.

    Silver carp, a type of Asian carp, jump high out of the water on the Illinois River. Associated Press File

 
By Nicole Thompson
Updated 3/22/2011 3:29 PM

Illinois may be one step closer to keeping Lake Michigan safe from the invasive Asian carp, which threaten to destroy the fishing industry on the lake.

A new law went into effect this week banning live Asian carp from the United States.

 

"This is a long-overdue victory for wildlife preservation," said U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, a Hinsdale Republican who has been fighting to keep Illinois waterways safe from the voracious species for nearly a decade. "These carp... have caused tremendous ecological and economic damage. This ban will ensure that other fragile ecosystems aren't exposed to the same biological threat."

The ban applies specifically to the Bighead variety of Asian carp, which can weigh up to 100 pounds and consume 40 percent of their body weight each day. Under the new law, anyone who transports the fish across state lines faces a penalty of up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine, or $10,000 for an organization.

The law adds Bighead carp to a list of banned invasive species, which includes other varieties of Asian carp, such as the silver carp, known to jump out of the water and injure boaters.

Experts blame Asian carp for nearly eliminating the fishing industry on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, where they make up nearly 95 percent of the fish population in some area. That same industry in the Great Lakes is worth $7 billion a year, officials estimate.

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When federal wildlife managers found a single Bighead carp in Lake Calumet last June, the first time an Asian carp had been confirmed in waters north of the electronic barrier system near Romeoville, legislators were inspired to add Bighead carp to the list.

The law only applies to live carp or viable eggs. Transportation of dead carp, or transportation of live fish by permit for zoological, education, medical or scientific purposes, is still allowed.

The legislation to ban the carp was a bipartisan effort, backed in the U.S. House of Representatives by Biggert and in the Senate by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin. The Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act was passed and signed into law in December 2010.

"I'm very pleased we were able to work with our colleagues from Michigan to secure enactment of this measure, and grateful for the support of my colleagues from throughout the Great Lakes," Biggert said. "We must protect Lake Michigan, and we must do it in a way that preserves the jobs that depend on Midwest waterways."