U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Report on Barge Entrainment and Small Fish in the Chicago Area Waterway System

May 26, 2016

Katie Steiger-Meister, 612-723-4839, Katie_Steiger-Meister@fws.gov

Golden shiners. Photo by USFWS.
Golden shiners. Photo by USFWS.

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a report on its 2015 study to examine the likelihood that small free-swimming fish can be inadvertently trapped and transported by commercial barge tows through locks and electric dispersal barriers. Results indicate that free-swimming fish, both wild fish and fish placed in and around barges by researchers, can remain between barges for substantial distances. In one trial, live fish were transported more than nine miles on the Illinois River through Brandon Road Pool, Lockport Lock and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ electric dispersal barriers.

Research was conducted using golden shiners, but findings hold implications for federal, state and local groups working to prevent the spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. Golden shiners, a native fish species that naturally occurs in the Illinois River, were selected for the study due to their similar size to small Asian carp. The research is timely as 2015 Service field sampling confirmed the presence of small silver carp within 39.5 miles of the electric dispersal barriers.

“The results of this report are concerning,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Deputy Regional Director, Charlie Wooley. “However, we still have time to work with our partners to reduce the potential risk that small Asian carp could be accidentally transported across the barriers.”

To date, there is no evidence that Asian carp have crossed any of the electric dispersal barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

“Proactive prevention is key,” explained Wooley. “A goal in our monitoring work is to identify vulnerabilities so that we can counter them with additional safeguards. We’re taking the ‘best offense is a good defense’ approach.”

The Service will continue to work with federal, state and maritime industry representatives to identify and address additional study needs and potential management options. Activities in 2016 will include the investigation of potential tools and options for vessel operations to reduce the likelihood of small fish entrainment between barges, and to test entrainment with small Asian carp in parts of the Illinois River where Asian carp are already abundant.

To read the complete report, please visit http://www.fws.gov/midwest/fisheries/carterville/documents/2015-barge.pdf. These findings will also be published in the August 2016 issue of the Journal of Great Lakes Research.