Are you herring me? Restoring river herring through dam removal

1 year after a dam removal in CT

In 1965, commercial fishermen topped out at a catch of 65 million pounds of river herring in Maine. They were plentiful then and there was no worry they would ever be any less abundant. However as fishing techniques continued to advance, fishermen in Maine have only been able to catch just over 2 million pounds once since 1993. The population has dwindled down so much that a report on September 4, 2017, claims the federal government is reviewing the proposal for river herring to go under the Endangered Species Act (Whittle 2017). Once a bountiful fish, now on the brink of endangerment. Why? One of the causes is due to extreme damming, erupting 14,000 new dams in New England (Hall et al., 2012).

River herring are relatively small fish that rely on coastal rivers to spawn. They are anadromous fish, which means that they migrate between freshwater and saltwater during breeding portions of their life cycle. Once river herring swim up rivers, they spawn in streams and ponds in the spring. Their young will then return to the ocean in the fall. River herring need ponds, lakes, and slow moving small streams in order to spawn (Hall et al., 2012; Hall et al., 2010). The term river herring includes several species of fish such as alewives, blueback herring, and American shad. They are often collectively referred to as river herring because they share very similar biological characteristics. River herring are a key member of the food chain for many commercially and ecologically important species. They feed on lower, smaller organisms which allows them to potentially exist in large numbers (Hall et al., 2012). Without access to key coastal rivers, the adults have no place to spawn and entire watersheds lose these valuable fish. River herring are important members of many New England watersheds and coastal zones.

River herring numbers have shown a massive decline over the course of the colonization of New England (Hall et al., 2012). Since the 1600s, yearly available river herring biomass has decreased by 30 million kg, which is roughly 11.8 billion fish lost from potential yearly harvest (Hall et al., 2015). This means that river herring are not reproducing nearly as much as they used to. River herring were once vastly abundant fish that provided substantial amounts of nutrients to freshwater and marine ecosystems alike. New England has a history of fishing and Native Americans once harvested the seemingly unlimited bounty of fish. Even though New England river herring used to occur in the billions, their numbers quickly fell as their breeding grounds were cut off by dams.

River herring are a potential prey item for a variety of predatory fish, such as cod, striped bass, and many others (Hall et al., 2012; Willis et al., 2017). River herring are important prey items because they contain more nutrients than many other invertebrates. River herring have higher levels of proteins and lipids, making them a higher quality prey item for predatory fish (Willis et al., 2017). Due to restoration efforts striped bass numbers have risen, causing them to expend more pressure on other valuable species such as juvenile Atlantic salmon (Hall et al., 2012, Hall et al., 2010). This particular case is a result of a predator being restored without the presence of its typical prey item, causing striped bass to eat other unintended fish. Predator fish that eat river herring are major contributors to the local coastal economies of New England. In three major fishing communities in New England: New Bedford, MA, Gloucester, MA, and Portland, ME, caught ground fish that eat river herring were worth a total of  $48.7 million and employed 347 boats from large to small in 2016. These numbers represent only a fraction of the overall fishing industry in New England that are affected by river herring and show that there is a large economy that could benefit from their restoration. There is also a mussel, known as the alewife mussel, that depends on alewives to complete its life cycle. Following a trend in river herring restoration in 1985, alewife mussels experienced improved abundance and range expansion (Hall et al., 2012). This data clearly displays the importance of river herring in freshwater and marine ecosystems. By protecting river herring, we are indirectly helping numerous other organisms that are important to the New England economy.

With the importance of river herring in mind, the issue of dams arise. Dams have been constructed in waterways in the northeastern U.S. since the arrival of European colonists in the seventeenth century. Records dating back to the 1600s have proven that dams have significant impacts on watershed ecosystems. The impacts of damming include, but are not limited to: loss of habitat, stream alterations, and changes in water flow and temperature. These impacts can have serious implications for anadromous fish that inhabit dammed coastal waterways in New England, such as river herring. Dams can often block access to key spawning grounds for river herring. These physical barriers, unless modified with a fish ladder or passage, are almost always impassible and prevent river herring from spawning upstream of these areas. There are over 14,000 dams in New England alone that have caused virtually every watershed in the region to be affected by dams (Hall et al., 2012, Hall et al., 2010). Dams disrupt the flow of water and sediment to downstream portions of rivers, creating a poor habitat for several fish species (Hogg et al., 2015). Dams can also cause water temperature to increase, making much of the watershed uninhabitable for some fish, as well as disrupting migration patterns of river herring (Kornis et al., 2015). River herring are important spring and fall prey for predator fish and when increasingly warmer rivers disrupt these seasonal migration patterns, predator fish are adversely affected. From these observations, it can be inferred that dams have considerable, negative impacts on river herring and New England watersheds as a whole.

For centuries, dams have impeded river herring from crossing the boundary between freshwater and ocean water. Since river herring are anadromous, it is imperative that they have access to both freshwater and saltwater to complete spawning. When passage from the waterway to the ocean is inhibited, river herring experience a great loss of accessible habitat, causing detrimental shifts in their ability to thrive. From 1634 to 1850, significant reductions in anadromous spawning habitat, due to dam construction on tributaries and small watersheds, reduced river herring lake habitat in Maine by 95% (Hall, Jordaan, Fox, et al., 2010). Construction of large dams on primary river heads resulted in a virtually complete loss of available habitat by the 1860s (Hall et al., 2010). Such extensive habitat loss led to the severe decline of river herring, putting them on the brink of endangerment and giving them their current classification as a species of concern.

It is understood that of the 14,000 dams in New England, the vast majority of them have historical and personal values associated with local residents. As a result, there has not been a single dam removal project in New England without some type of opposing group (Sneddon et al., 2017, Fox et al., 2016). Opposing groups include local historical societies, residents with connections to local dams, and residents with specific views on the natural state of their watersheds. Dam removal projects such as the Warren Dam, East Burke Dam, Mill Pond Dam, and the Swanton Dam have been halted after concerted efforts to keep them (Fox et al., 2016). Residents often develop a cultural bond with their dams and resist dam removals due to perceived loss in heritage site (Sneddon et al., 2017, Fox et al., 2016). Fox et al. (2016) quote an example of a grassroots organization member in opposition of the Swift River dam removal in central Massachusetts who said, “If you kill the dam, you kill a part of me.” There is also a disconnect between what scientists believe is the natural state of a stream and what residents believe is the natural state of their watershed (Sneddon et al., 2017, Fox et al., 2016). Instead of viewing dam removal as a method of river restoration, many residents of New England tend to see it as a historical and ecological disturbance.

Local residents living near a dam may feel that the dam contributes to their cultural and ecological systems. Differing ideas about what counts as natural is attributed to three factors: attachment, attractive nature, and rurality (Jørgensen 2017 p.841). An example of contradicting viewpoints takes place in Nanaimo, Canada. There was a proposal to remove the Colliery Dams and the Colliery Dam Preservation Society protested the removal, claiming they would lose “the lakes in this very special park” and it was supposed to be a “legacy for our children, their children and all future generations” and that their rebuttal slideshow only provides a “glimpse into the beauty and uniqueness of a very special place” (Jørgensen 2017 p.847). This further proves that the driving factors of the Colliery Dam Preservation Society is due to their attachment, the attractive nature of this park, and their perception of rurality. In a debate between for and against- removal parties, Charles Thirkill, a fisheries biologist, criticizes those who spoke fondly of the fish in the lakes because they were farm-raised sterile fry, almost as artificial as the Atlantic salmon that are raised in net pens (Jørgensen 2017 p.848). This sparks a realization for those against dam removal and the preservation of the “natural” state of the park because what they were so fond of is really all artificial or man-made.

It is important to understand that all stakeholders have different perceptions of what is natural. As previously mentioned, Jørgensen (2017) explains all the perceptions of what the word natural means, however a man-made physical barrier does not happen without the work of man. Since it is decreasing the abundance of anadromous fish, dams should be removed for the sake of fish populations as well as other ecological benefits. Keeping a park intact is important for the culture of local communities however there are other ways of conserving a park even with the removal of a dam. Parks can be shifted over, it can incorporate the new river, or if a reservoir is drained out, it can be made into walkways, gardens, fields, and so forth.

New England differs from other parts in the country in that it is controlled by mostly private lands, meaning that locals have a strong influence on the decisions made in their town (Sneddon et al., 2017; Fox et al., 2016). As a result dam removal processes begin with long town hall like debates, where all parties voice their particular positions (Sneddon et al., 2017; Fox et al., 2016). In Durham, Vermont, the mill dam is a key feature of the town, its industrial history, a major tourist spot, and even appearing on the town seal. Yet after receiving two letters of deficiency from the state, residents claimed it is “one of the most photographed sites in Vermont and, it could be argued, is an essential part of the single most important resource in the town – it’s beauty,” (Fox et al., 2016, p.98). Despite the state’s suggestion to remove the dam, it still remains standing.Dams can play an important role in the culture of local communities and removing them can be hard for many. Removing dams can create newly revived rivers in which communities can find their own sense of beauty and culture. By embracing the benefits of dam removal and in many cases in cheaper costs than repairing dams, local historians may be able to accept the loss of one resource for the benefit of another.

Dams are historical structures and so the request to remove them may be hard for those who feel a strong connection to the dam. With this, it is important to consider the dangers of keeping an old dam. A case where dams go horribly wrong would be in Johnstown. In the late 1800s, Johnstown was a thriving town located in western Pennsylvania. Just 14 miles away was the South Fork Hunting & Fishing Club. This club restored an abandoned earthen dam and created Lake Conemaugh which was used for sailing and ice boating and was stocked with expensive game fish (Hutcheson 1989). The new dam raised concerns for Daniel Morell, one of Johnstown’s best civic leaders, and so he inspected it to find that this dam was in need of dire attention. He sent numerous letters to the club and the town hall, however they were all dismissed. After several days of heavy rainfall, on May 31, 1889, the dam breached (Hutcheson 1989). 20 million tons of water crashed down onto the town of Johnstown taking trees, railcars, and entire houses in its path leaving 2,200 dead. Chicago Herald’s editorial afterwards was entitled “Manslaughter or Murder?” shining light on South Fork Club’s complete negligence for several warnings of the dam’s breach (Hutcheson 1989). 13% of dams in the US are considered highly hazardous and could cause damage such as in Johnstown (NDSP). This means there are 1,820 dams in New England that could pose significant damage to their communities and may serve as potential clients for removal to avoid these potential disasters.

There are many benefits to dam removal yet these are often not fully understood or superseded by locals desire to keep dams as part of their cultural history. A dam removal in Greenfield, Massachusetts was halted after multiple years of 17 organizations coordinating the project with already $500,000 spent on the removal. Yet there are ways that advocates for dam removal can effectively achieve their goals. In Maine conservation, under the Natural Resources Protection act, advocates can petition to the state to remove a permanent structure if it poses significant harm to a natural resource, especially wetlands and watersheds (MDEP, 2016). This could give states more power to remove dams in Maine that harm their natural resources. Across New England there are many federal and state grants available to remove dams (EOEEA, 2007). In Rhode Island the Pawtuxet Falls dam was removed with the help of the Pawtuxet River Authority and Narragansett Bay Estuary Program that sought funding from a dozen sources, including, R.I. Saltwater Anglers Association, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (NRCSRI, 2011). These can allow conservation commissioners independent funding that is not depend on local town support. In the cases where dams are need of repairs were the cost is too high for the town to pay then conservation commissioners can pay for their removal.  There are 50 dams in New England currently under review for removal and as dams age this number will slowly increase (Fox et al. 2016). To Truly restore river herring their spawning habitat needs to be restored and this can happen by removing dams. By targeting dams with no economic benefits that are in need of costly repairs, a precedent can be set for slowly removing the many dams of New England and restoring river herring habitat.

The removal of the Edwards dam on the Kennebec River in Maine highlight the importance of dam removal for river herring (Hall et al. 2012, Robbins and Lewis, 2008). The Kennebec River is one of Maine’s largest river system and covers a full 132 miles. It provided an ample supply of anadromous fish until the Edwards Dam was constructed. This resulted in an immediate loss of 17 miles of spawning habitat for river herring (Robbins and Lewis 2008). After the removal of Edward’s Dam, four Atlantic Salmon in the first time in 162 years have finally reached the upper Kennebec River. From there, the amount of anadromous fish re-entering the Kennebec have continued to increase (Robbins and Lewis 2008). An ex post survey on the economic effects, it was concluded that more anglers have come to fish at the restored fishery and are willing to pay more for better angling opportunities since the removal of the Edward’s Dam (Robbins and Lewis 2008).

Removing dams have economic benefits to the surrounding area. Many cases such as Edwards Dam in Maine and Whittenton Pond Dam in Massachusetts, prove that their repairing outlived dams costs more than removing them. Not only is removing a dam more cost efficient, it also brings more jobs and revenue from the improvement of recreational fishing and activities.

Edward’s Dam is a prime example of a successful removal with economic benefits. As mentioned before, many residents in the surrounding area had ties to this dam and the park it was associated with. Alternatives were considered to improve the life cycle of anadromous fish and so to install fish passages it would cost $14.9 million. The cost to just remove the dam would be four million less at $10.9 million (FERC 1997). Edward’s Dam was thus removed and by doing so, they generated $397,000 -$2.7 million in new income, amounting to benefits totaling $4.9 million to $61.2 million over 30 years (Industrial Economics 2012). As well as generating vast income, another dam removal case proved to prevent a major financial loss.

Whittenton Pond Dam in Mill River, Massachusetts was beyond repair and was at risk for a catastrophic breach. This was a 10-foot high and 120-foot wide wood and concrete structure built in 1832 to power a textile mill and when the mill was shut down, the dam was no longer maintained (Headwaters Economics 2016). Removing the dam would have four benefits: cost effectiveness, avoided emergency response cost, protection of vulnerable species, and increased property values. The cost of removing the dam was $447,000 whereas to rebuilding it estimated to be $1.9 million, and options to repair the dam with a fish ladder or bypass would cost even more than rebuilding it (MDFG 2015). The dam was later removed in 2013, preventing $1.5 million in emergency response expenses if the dam was left for a catastrophic breach to occur. With these figures in mind, it is apparent that removing the Whittenton Pond Dam is the most cost effective option. Thus the dam was removed. This opened up 30 miles of river habitat to vulnerable fish species so that they can spawn, and have nutrients and minerals evenly distributed to previously blocked off areas (MDFG 2015). The removal of the dam is expected to increase property values upstream and downstream of the dam site, lifting the economy of the town (Lewis, Bohlen, and Wilson 2008).

Dam removal is a successful method for restoring river herring because they can rapidly colonize new areas (Hogg et al., 2015, Hall et al., 2012). Hogg et al. (2015) showed in their study that alewives colonized the above dam portion of the studied river within two years. This river had been cut off to those river herring for over a century (Hogg et al., 2015). Hall et al. (2012) claims river herring are ideal for restoration because of their high reproduction rate, allowing them to proliferate rapidly. Hall et al. (2012) also claims that river herring have a rate of straying, meaning that they visit other streams to spawn. This means that a healthy population can rapidly spread to other areas and colonize them. If broad scale stream restoration was done, then existing populations such as the Damariscotta River population in central Maine, would be able to easily colonize newly formed habitat. This shows that dam removal is an effective way of restoring river herring populations.

New England was once a hub for factories and the production of machined goods. We once needed dammed rivers to more through the industrial revolution but it has been well over a century since New England relied on water power. Even though many residents have become accustom to the status of our watersheds it has had major effects on the quality of our ecosystems. We longer need mills but recreational and commercial fishing has existed in New England for over 400 years and will continue to do so. We once made drastic changes to our environment to suit our need and it is now time to make more drastic changes in order to restore the damages that we have caused. There are many dams in New England that are in hazardous conditions that would be far cheaper to remove. By targeting these degraded dams, trying to convince or suppress locals that are against dam removals, and effectively fund these projects, dam removal can greatly restore New England watersheds. The benefits of removing dams will have noticeable and long last economic and environmental benefits to New Englanders and therefore dam removal should be a real consideration for restoring streams in the Northeast.


Quentin Nichols – Natural Resources Conservation

Jessica Vilensky – Natural Resources Conservation

Suzanna Yeung – Building & Construction Technology



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Creating A solution For Asian Carp

 For hundreds of years, the fishing industry has not only supported millions of Americans livelihood, but has also become an immense avenue of trade and commerce across domestic and foreign borders. Invasive species threaten this avenue and are estimated to cause the United States tens of billions in environmental and economic damage each year they remain in U.S. waters (Pasko & Goldberg, 2014). An invasive species is defined as a non-native species in an ecosystem whose introduction will likely cause environmental harm (National Invasive Species Information Center, 2006). Aquaculturists introduced the invasive Asian carp to the United States in 1970 for the sole purpose of controlling algae blooms in aquaculture ponds. Algae blooms are an increase in algae and green plants, that may carry toxins, due to an excess amount of nutrients in the water that deplete the amount of oxygen resulting in the death of fish (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2017). Since Asian carp feed on algae, aquaculturists believed they were the perfect solution to controlling their algae bloom issue. This worked until 1980, when flooding led to Asian carp (i.e. bighead carp, silver carp, grass carp, and black carp) escaping their aquaculture ponds and spreading into local water bodies, introducing them into the Mississippi River, Ohio River, and some of it tributaries. Once the Asian carp population settled into the surrounding bodies of water, they started to outcompete native fish by appropriating their resources. To resolve the detrimental Asian carp issue, it is essential for humans to fulfill the role of their natural predators by creating a profitable fishing market to reduce their population in U.S. ecosystems.

Asian Carp are an extremely dangerous fish for the ecosystem. The presence of Asian Carp in the Ohio River led to a population crash of Gizzard Shad, a dominant planktivore species (aquatic organisms that feed on plankton such as zooplankton) in the early 1990s (Pyron et al., 2017). Gizzard shad are small fish in the herring family that feed on these planktivore species. The Asian carp consume up to 40% of their body weight in planktivores each day, leading to a decreased amount of  food supply for Gizzard shad, which led to a decrease in their populations (Pyron et al., 2017). A clear over population of carp is present and something must be done. In 1997, fishermen reported catching over 50,000kg of carp compared to the previous catch size of 5,000kg (Chick and Pegg, 2001). Although Asian Carp are only one of 139 species in Lake Erie, they are quickly taking over space and resources, resulting in the native species becoming extinct in those specific areas (Simon et al., 2016). If time continues without a decline in population of Asian carp, it is clear that the native species will continue to decrease. If native fish continue to decrease in the Mississippi River, it will hurt the fisheries and the ecosystem because carp are effectively killing off native species due to competition for resources. The amount of taxpayers money it would take to rebuild the ecosystem is unthinkable. The jobs and money lost will be in the millions. At the end of the day, Asian carp are taking over many of the major U.S. rivers, which can be more devastating than one can imagine.  

In the river economies, commercial fisheries are essential to efforts of reducing the population of Asian carp. U.S. fisheries provide $208 billion in sales, contribute $97 billion to the nations GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and provide 1.6 million people with jobs (NOAA, 2017). To operate a healthy fishery, there must be a balance between predator and prey (Minnesota Sea Grant, 2017).  In  the U. S., Asian carp have very few natural predators, allowing them to out-compete native fish species, resulting in a reduction of those native fish populations (Minnesota Sea Grant, 2017). The decline of native fish populations negatively affects fisheries because it becomes harder and more expensive to raise and sell those fish, resulting in the closing of fisheries (Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries, 2015). To prevent commercial fisheries from shutting down, the demand of Asian carp needs to increase. Only when demand is increased, will the process of lowering carp populations rise.

The best way to control an invasive species is to create a mechanism to prevent further introduction, create systems to monitor and detect new infestations, and to move rapidly to eradicate invaders (National Wildlife Federation, 2017). Once an invasive species establishes itself, it becomes extremely difficult and expensive to control. Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific, and are found invading the east coast of the US, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA, 2017). Like Asian carp, Lionfish have very few predators due to the fact that they are non-native to the U.S. However, the U.S. combated the invasive lionfish by distributing permits for their removal to recreational divers (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2017). Permits to catch lionfish allow one to use spear fishing methods; no permit is required for the removal of lionfish with the use of hook and line (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2017). After the Lionfish are caught, they are used as a food source for people (Lionfish Hunting, 2017). Eating lionfish is good for the environment because removing them helps reefs and native fish populations recover from environmental pressures, lionfish predation, and overfishing (Lionfish Hunting, 2017). Lionfish and Asian carp are both invasive species in the U.S., and they both became successful by their ability to reproduce rapidly, outcompete native species for food and habitat, and avoid predation (NOAA, 2017). Therefore, we can confidently say that using a solution similar to what was used with Lionfish, will give us the results we are looking for with Asian carp. Asian carp have negative effects on the ecosystems they invade, but by using Lionfish as a base model, we will be able to combat the overpopulation of Asian carp by increased fishing.

Many communities rely on fishing as a source of income and food. Asian carp lack natural predators as a consequence of their rapid reproduction, which results in an absence of natural predation to bring down their population. Fortunately, Asian carp mature rapidly and reach a harvestable size at a young age (Michigan Department of Natural Resources [MDNR], 2017). Commercial fishers and markets can benefit from this rapid population increase of Asian carp because it provides an opportunity to create a market. Since commercial fishers rely on large numbers of fish, the higher the population of Asian carp, the more they are able to catch and sell them. In the U.S., humans are the main predators of Asian carp, resulting in the removal of more than 750,000 kg of bighead carp from the Illinois River over a four year period (Ridgway & Bettoli, 2017, p. 438). Asian carp can create plentiful commercial fishing jobs and increase demand with the establishment of a proper marketing strategy.

To eliminate the over population of Asian carp, we need to create a market that increases the demand of Asian carp. Once the demand of Asian carp increases, hunting pressure will also increase. Private industries are actively developing products and markets that utilize Asian carp in a high volume to keep up with increased fishing (Pasko & Goldberg, 2014). One of the main ways Asian Carp are used after they are caught is in food dishes (Illinois Department of Natural Resources [IDNR], 2017). In addition, Carp are commonly turned into kosher hot dogs, fish jerky and omega-3 oil supplements (Modern Farmer, 2015). The community of Chicago was given an opportunity to sample the healthy and tasty fish free of charge, while teaching them about efforts to protect the Great Lakes from the invasive Asian carp (IDNR, 2017). We aim to eliminate the negative perception of Asian carp through public exposure and outreach to promote it as a quality food item in domestic and international markets.

Asian carp have the potential to invade the Great Lakes if no action is taken towards decreasing their population. Bighead and Silver carp eat 5-40 percent of their body weight each day (Asian Carp Response in the Midwest, 2017). They are filter-feeders, meaning they consume plankton, algae, and other microscopic organisms. Native fish populations rely on the same plankton as their main source of food during their larval stage. If Bighead and Silver carp populations increase they can wipe out the larval population of native fish by striping away their key sources of nourishment at the vulnerable larval stage (New York Invasive Species Information [NYISI], 2011). If Asian carp spread to the Great Lakes, they will negatively affect the $7 billion/year fishing industry by out-competing native fish species for food and habitat.

If Grass carp were to spread into the Great Lakes, they will cause degradation of the water quality and damage to wetland vegetation by consuming aquatic plants (NYISI, 2011). Their foraging disturbs lakes and river bottoms, destroys wetlands, and increases murkiness in the water, making it more difficult for native fish to find food. The destruction and loss of aquatic vegetation also leaves native juvenile fish without proper cover from predators and reduces spawning habitats (Fisheries and Oceans Canada [FOC], 2017).

Once Black carp reach the Great Lakes, they will cause a decline in the native mussel population (Michigan Invasive Species [MIS], 2017). Black carp consume native mussels and snails posing an immediate threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem (MIS, 2017). Many of the native mussels are already considered an endangered species and the introduction of Black carp would only make it worse (MIS, 2017). A severe decline in the mussel population would be a huge problem for the Great Lakes. The decline of mussels will negatively affect the water quality because mussels act as biological filters that keep the water clean and healthy (State Of The Great Lakes, 2005). Mussels are also eaten by other animals, such as fish, otters, and birds. The decline of mussels in the Great Lakes mean less food for its predators, potentially resulting in a decline in those animals as well (State Of The Great Lakes, 2005). Although mussels may seem to be a insignificant animals, they are extremely important to the Great Lake’s ecosystem in many ways (State Of The Great Lakes, 2005). The decline in mussel population would result in a decline in water quality (mussels are filter feeders), as well as a decline in other native species’ populations who already depend on them for food (State Of The Great Lakes, 2005).

While the market for Asian carp is strong internationally, there has been some resistance in the U.S. due to the fact that Asian carp are looked at negatively as bottom feeders by society (Varble and Secchi, 2013). One way that markets have started to overcome this resistance is by simply referring to Asian carp as “silverfin”. The University of Arkansas conducted a blind taste test between canned tuna, salmon, and carp, this resulted in canned carp being rated better than both tuna and salmon (Varble and Secchi, 2013). This supports the theory that most of the resistants in the U.S. is due to the fact that society views Asian carp negatively (Varble and Secchi, 2013). If Asian carp markets start referring to them as “silverfin” there could be less resistance to the consumption of Asian carp because it would look  more appealing to the public (Varble and Secchi, 2013). Other countries have utilized the fact that Asian carp reproduce with large amounts of eggs as another avenue of profit (Varble and Secchi, 2013). The collection of carp eggs has become a growing part of the caviar market but has yet to be utilized in the U.S. (Varble and Secchi, 2013).

The market price of Asian carp is very low because of its current abundance in U.S. waterways (Varble and Secchi, 2013). People believe that the quality of meat Asian carp provides is low because the price to purchase it is also low (Varble & Secchi, 2013). If communities are made aware of the quality and palatability of Asian carp, the demand for them would increase in local markets (Varble & Secchi, 2013). Many communities pride themselves on local food production and consumption, which could be a valuable asset in marketing the carp. Local production of Asian carp can be paired with the negative environmental impacts they cause to help increase consumption of Asian carp in communities surrounding areas inhabited by Asian carp (Varble & Secchi, 2013).

The local and commercial fishing industries are an extremely important part of the United States environmental and economic well-being. Invasive Asian Carp are a key factor to a massive native fish decline in the Mississippi River (Asian Carp Response in the Midwest, 2017). Without fish, people would lose not only a food source, but a source of income and a way to keep rivers and lakes clean. Asian carp are a type of fish that are very good at hunting prey and can reproduce quickly, making it essential to create a population decline in order to protect the natural ecosystem. Creating a consumer market for carp will not only solve the problem of overpopulation, it will also be beneficial for our economy and our environment. As of recently, various fisheries all over the country have suffered due to these carp spreading into more and more waterways (NOAA, 2017). Since fisheries are a billion dollar industry, Asian carp are essentially creating an economic problem (NOAA, 2017). To reduce the current population, fishermen first need to fish out a majority of the carp, which they will then sell to local businesses and vendors. Once the fish is purchased by these businesses and vendors, they can sell the fish in the public market, making two branches of this economic sector profit, therefore boosting the economy. In turn, the Carp population due to increased demand will eventually become extremely low, allowing the native fish populations to become established once again. The native fish could then start to rebalance the natural food web again, keeping the rivers healthy.  If Asian carp are only minimally hunted, there is serious risk of the health of all native species in the Mississippi river as well as the river itself. Asian Carp are clearly a very successful yet detrimental, invasive species to the United States. However, their success may lead to their demise. If we can create a high demand market for carp, utilizing humans as their natural predator, we can restore the river environments that have been harmed, while creating jobs and food for people.


Tiffany Vera Tudela- Natural Resource Conservation

James Sullivan- Natural Resource Conservation

Shannon Gregoire- Animal science

Dylan Osgood- Building Construction Technology



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Replace Hydropower Dams to Save the Southern Resident Orca Whale Population!


On August 8th 1970, the southern resident orca whale population was ambushed off the coast of Penn Cove, Washington in one of the most infamous whale captures in history (WDC, 2017). This capture involved 80 whales, in which 7 were collected and 5 were killed (WDC, 2017).  The only current living orca from this incident is Lolita (WDC, 2017). She is now the oldest living killer whale in captivity and lives in what is arguably too small of a tank (Save Lolita, n.d; Herrera, 2017). It’s believed that Lolita’s tank doesn’t meet the minimum 48 feet horizontal dimension requirement set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) (Herrera, 2017). Lolita has a 60 foot tank obstructed by a ‘work island’ that separates her pool into two 35 feet sections (Herrera, 2017). Another issue Lolita faces in captivity is solitude (which is abnormal for social animals such as orcas) (Save Lolita, n.d). Due to animal rights advocacy groups making these issues well known to the public, Lolita has become both a symbolic example for why orcas can’t feasibly be kept in captivity and a famous icon for the southern resident orca population. This killer whale population is currently estimated at 80 whales consisting of 3 pods named the J,K and L pods (NOAA Fisheries, 2015). In the fall, spring and summer their territory ranges from waterways near the U.S.-Canadian border to inland waterways in Washington state ( NOAA Fisheries, 2015).

The southern resident orca whale population is also vital for Washington state’s economy. These whales benefit the state’s economy by providing tourism revenue through whale watching (Grace, 2015). The number of people going on whale watches in Washington has even increased over time; from 1998 to 2008, Washington state saw an increase of 108,000 whale watchers and a 3% average annual growth rate (O’Connor, 2009). Due to this increased whale watching tourism, wildlife watching activities (such as whale watching) created over 21,000 jobs in Washington State, yielded $426.9 million in job income, and generated $56.9 million in state tax revenue all in 2001 (Grace, 2015, para. 4). People are also estimated to spend nearly $1 billion annually in Washington viewing wildlife (O’Malley, 2005, para. 1). It’s also estimated that the southern resident orca population itself adds minimally 65-70 million dollars to Washington state’s economy (Grace, 2015, para. 1).

Sadly though, despite all the intrinsic and economic benefits these orcas bring to Washington state, they are facing the threat of extinction. In fact, the southern resident orca population was even added to the endangered species list in 2005 (NOAA fisheries, 2015).They were added to this protection list because the population has fallen from an estimated 200 whales in the late 1800s to a current estimate of 80 whales (NOAA Fisheries, 2015). This population decline even lead to the production of a recovery plan by the National Marine Fisheries Services (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2008). This plan addresses specific potential threats to the southern resident orca population such as prey availability, pollution, vessel effects, oil spills, exetera and outlines goals to minimize these threats and their harm to orcas (National Marine Fisheries Service, 2008). One of the believed reasons behind the orcas small population size is a limited abundance of salmon from the Snake and Columbia rivers (Baker & Peterson, 2017). The southern resident orcas rely on Columbia and Snake river salmon as a food source during the summer when they live in waters off the San Juan Islands that lie northwest of Seattle (Baker & Peterson, 2017). Salmon are an essential food source for these whales because resident killer whales only prey on fish, not other marine mammals (such as seals or sea lions) (Ford et al., 1998, 2009). The Columbia River itself is also especially crucial for southern resident orcas as they display unique feeding behavior there not seen at any other territorial location; they stock up on salmon by sitting at the mouth of the river for days and foraging (Baker & Peterson, 2017). It’s also believed the declining salmon population is a key reason behind the southern resident orcas low population because orcas are predators at the top of their ecosystem’s food chains and don’t serve as prey for other animals (Ford, 2009). Therefore, predation of orcas cannot be considered a valid source for their population decline. As a result, the decreasing salmon population in the Columbia and Snake Rivers has added pressure to the orca population over the past three decades (Baker & Peterson, 2017). The Center for Whale Research and the Center for Conservation Biology (University of Washington) found that low salmon populations also lead to enough nutritional stress to cause two-thirds of  southern resident orca pregnancies to fail between 2007 and 2014 (Baker & Peterson, 2017).The majority of the salmon this whale population consumes also originates from the Snake river, a tributary of the Columbia River (Barker & Peterson, 2017). In short, the southern resident orca population is critically endangered and low salmon populations are putting even more stress on the whales (Barker & Peterson, 2017; Ford 2009). If the northwest salmon population is not restored, it could result in the disappearance of resident orcas in the northwest forever.   

Since 1991, twelve specific populations of Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead have been protected under the Endangered Species Act (Harrison, 2016). For Snake River Salmon the National Marine Fisheries Service noted that the estimated annual returns of spring/summer Chinook declined from 125,000 fish between 1950 and 1960 to just 12,000 fish in 1979 (Harrison, 2016). Proposed recovery plans have also started legal battles over what actions are necessary to avoid further jeopardizing the species (Harrison, 2016). This debate is complicated by hydropower dams directly affecting salmon and steelheads (Harrison, 2016). These hydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers are inhibiting growth of the river’s salmon population by creating habitat fragmentation, causing direct mortality and decreasing their food supply (Harrison, 2008).

At 1,954 kilometers long, the Columbia river is the 15th longest river in North America; its tributaries and it form the dominant water system in the Pacific Northwest as it drains into seven different western states (Bonneville Power administration , 2001). The history of the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers date back to Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, as the construction of the first dam on the Columbia river (the Rock Island dam) began shortly after his election with the sole intention of producing electricity (Harrison, 2008) . By 1975 the Columbia river had four more large dams constructed on it and has had smaller dams constructed on it since (Harrison, 2008).  

These dams inhibit the river’s salmon population because they fragment rivers and therefore impede salmon migration. This negatively impacts the reproduction of the Columbia and Snake river salmon because they then cannot spawn effectively upstream. Salmon need to navigate between spawning sites, rearing habitat (juvenile living space) and the Pacific Ocean in order to reproduce. Salmon hatch in rivers and then travel to the ocean for their adult lives  (National Park Service’s, 2017). Then when they are ready to spawn again, instincts guide them back to their birthplace to spawn (National Park Service’s, 2017). There are also case studies to show that dams, like the ones present in the Snake and Columbia river, prevent the salmon from properly spawning upstream. For example, the presence of the Hemlock Dam on Trout Creek, Washington, USA was linked to the impeded migration of  U.S. threatened Lower Columbia River steelhead (a type of salmon) and other migratory fish by blocking their migration path (Claeson & Coffin, 2016, p. 1144). It is also known that the dams in the Columbia river basin now block more than 55 percent of the spawning and rearing habitat once available to salmon and steelhead (Harrison, 2008).

Dams not only block the upstream passage of adult fish but block the downstream passage of juvenile fish as well. Hydroelectric dams (such as the ones on the Columbia and Snake rivers) compound this problem because they force migrating fish to travel through turbines without a bypass systems (Harrison, 2008). This is a problem for migrating salmon because the spinning blades and/or concrete walls in these turbines could kill or injure juvenile fish drawn in by the current (Harrison, 2008). Biologists estimate that fish drawn through a turbine passage has a 10 to 15 percent chance of dying (Harrison, 2008). This is problematic due to the Snake and Columbia river having multiple hydroelectric dams that increase each fish’s chance of dying by forcing them to travel through turbines to migrate (Harrison, 2008).

The dam’s on the Columbia and Snake rivers are also negatively impacting the salmon populations chance of survival by limiting their sources of food. The hydroelectric dams are doing this by limiting the growth of benthic insects (mayflies,stoneflies, caddisfly nymphs) populations within the rivers. Dams are known to limit benthic insect population growth by increasing water temperatures (Claeson & Coffin, 2016).  Dams increase water temperatures by creating reservoirs that isolate water and create a slow flow over the dam that increases the reservoir’s water and discharge temperature (Claeson & Coffin, 2016). In warmer waters, desirable salmon food sources such as mayfly, stonefly and caddisfly nymphs die off and are replaced by other insects (midges and mosquito larvae) that are much less desirable as food for salmon (Effects of Elevated Water Temperatures on Salmonids, 2000).  Cold water fish such as salmon relay on benthic insect populations as a source of food and decreasing benthic insect populations makes an environment unsuitable for salmon to live in (Claeson & Coffin, 2016, Harrison, 2008).  

The best plan to solve this problem and save both the salmon and orca whale population would be to remove the dams from the Columbia and Snake rivers. Removing the dams would help restore the salmon population that the southern resident orcas so heavily rely on. There have been previous dam removals in the Columbia and Snake river area that have resulted in a successful increase in salmon population. In 2012, removing the Condit Dam from the White Salmon River (a tributary to the Columbia River) restored upstream migration access for the first time in 100 years (Allen et al., 2016, p.192). The number of redd counts (the number of salmon spawning nests) shows the increase in the salmon population (Allen et al., 2016, p.197). In the pre-dam model for the Tule fall Chinook Salmon it’s redd count increased by 60% since dam removal and the Upriver bright fall Chinook Salmon redd count increased from no abundance to around 4,251 redds after dam removal in 2013 (Allen et al., 2016, Table 2). This dramatic increase in spawning means a greater number of salmon are being produced. Other large dam removals include Washington State’s Glines Canyon Dam and the Elwha Dam hydroelectric dam. These dams were removed in 2011 (Nijhuis, 2014). Now salmon can be seen migrating past the former dam sites and as salmon populations recover, research expect the whole food web to benefit (Nijhuis, 2014). These cases set forth by the Condit, Glines Canyon and Elwha Dam removal is further evidence that dam removal in the region can be beneficial to the salmon population.

While these cases have made it clear that dam removal is the best option to restore the salmon population, there are other options available. Alternative methods such as a permanent adult fish ladder can be seen on the Lower Granite Dam (Conca, 2016). However, fish ladders can be problematic because they elevate water temperatures to form a “thermal barrier” that stops adults from migrating upwards into warm waters (Conca, 2016). One method the US Army Corps of Engineers attempted to face this problem was releasing Dworshak reservoir water in to cool the Snake River (Lower Granite Adult Fish Ladder Temperature Improvement System, 2016). Another alternative method is  “daylighting” juvenile fish passage (Conca, 2016).  This is when  juvenile fish passage is allowed through a large elevated bypass flume leading to the Juvenile Fish Facility just downstream of the dam (Conca 2016). Save Our Wild Salmon (a nationwide coalition working to restore salmon and steelheads to the rivers) also argues that the federal government is relying on these unreliable alternative methods such as barging and trucking salmon around the dams and limiting the amount of water in the river (Bogaard, 2017). Implementing these alternative methods have already cost billions of dollars to the US taxpayers and over the past twenty years, researchers still also haven’t found conclusive evidence that federal salmon recovery actions succeeded in helping restore these fish (Bogaard, 2017). Federal agencies have spent more than $8 billion in attempts to restore Columbia and Snake River salmon (Bogaard, 2017). Each year more than $550 million in funding goes to NOAA Fisheries, the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies for this effort (Bogaard, 2017). Removing these dams could be cheaper than these other restoration efforts and revive both the salmon and orca populations. Advocates for dam removal also argue that the removal of these dams is a viable option because they produce most of their power in the spring when it’s not crucial for Northwest power supplies, and it would be relatively simple and inexpensive when comparing the cost to other alternative methods  (Baker & Peterson, 2017).

The main reason some are still resistant to removing these dams is because they provide a significant source of hydropower. There are four main hydroelectric power providing dams on the Snake river; these are the ICE Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite Dams (Conca, 2016). According to Conca (2016) Ice Harbor Dam produces 1.7 billion kWhs/yr, Lower Monumental dam produces 2.3 billion kWhs/yr, Little Goose dam produces 2.2 billion kWhs/yr and Lower Granite dam produces 2.3 billion kWhs/yr. (Conca, 2016). Washington’s hydroelectric power provides more than two-thirds of Washington’s net electricity generation and almost nine-tenths of the state’s renewable power generation (U.S Energy Information Administration, 2017). As for the Columbia river, The Grand Coulee Dam is the largest hydroelectric power producer in the United States, with a total generating capacity of 6,809,000 kilowatts (U.S Energy Information Administration, 2017). The communities that depend on the Snake and Columbia river’s hydroelectric dam power are then faced to question if there are potential ways to provide Washington state a renewable energy source that doesn’t hurt the salmon population . To end this debate an alternative energy source (specifically wind energy) needs to replace the hydropower provided by the dams on the Snake and Columbia river so that the dams may be removed.

This replacement energy source absolutely needs to be renewable because Washington passed renewable energy standard (RES) legislation in 2006 that requires certain utilities to have fifteen percent of their electricity sales from renewable resources by 2020 and to invest in energy efficiency (American Wind Energy Association, 2014). One viable, renewable energy source that may be used to replace hydroelectric power provided by these dams would be wind energy. In fact, in 2015 Washington ranked ninth in the nation in wind energy electricity generation (U.S Energy Information Administration, 2017). There are still some skeptics regarding the reliability of wind turbines and their ability to produce enough power to feasibly replace other energy sources.  For example, some claim that wind turbines are unpredictable, not dependable enough for consistent power generation and only produce 8% of their total system capacity (Edmunds, 2014).  However, this is mostly incorrect and invalid in this case. Wind energy has already proven itself feasibly reliable in Washington, it’s the state’s second largest renewable energy generation contributor with over 3,000 megawatts of installed capacity (U.S Energy Information Administration, 2017). This can be compared to the 6,910 megawatts of hydroelectricity generated Washington net electricity (U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis, 2017). Wind energy is also relied upon as a common renewable resource of choice to meet renewable energy legislation requirements (American Wind Energy Association, 2014).

New wind turbine farms to replace the hydroelectric dams can be installed by PSE (Pudget Sound Energy), the largest Northwest utility producer of renewable energy (Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility). They own and operate the large wind farms including the Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility located in Columbia County (Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility). The Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility started in 2005 and consists of 87 turbines  producing an average annual output of about 465,000 megawatt hours, sufficient to power 41,000 households (Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility). If more winds farms like Hopkins Ridge Wind Facility were developed to help the state of Washington develop more wind energy, the people of Washington wouldn’t need the hydroelectric power provided by the dams and they could be removed to help prompt orca and salmon population recovery.

The best possible solution for this issue is to harness and develop more wind energy in the state of Washington. This energy replacement will allow for the dams to be removed without depriving the people of Washington of electricity. Being able to remove these dams is critical for the survival of the salmon population within the Columbia and Snake rivers. Sustaining the salmon population is critical for the survival of the southern resident orca population (a beloved tourist attraction in the state of Washington). Saving the salmon population will also help the National Marine fisheries service in achieving the recovery plan outlined for southern resident orca whales in 2008 (National Marine Fisheries Service. 2008).  In short, finding an alternative renewable energy source to replace the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers is imperative for the survival of the salmon and orca whale populations affected by these dams. Lolita the orca was taken from this population and is now suffering as a result (Save Lolita, n.d.; WDC, 2017). She serves as an example of how hard captivity is for orcas and why preserving the southern resident population in the wild is their only true chance for survival.


Marilyn Donovan – Animal Science: Pre-vet

Lauren Baldwin – Environmental Science

Connor Taylor – Environmental Science


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Alligator Gar As Means To Control Asian Carp


        Jordan Fielder, a nineteen year old boy, was enjoying a fun day on the Illinois river with his family when all of a sudden a large fish launched from the water like a missile, and smashed into his face. The fish fractured his nose, dented his forehead, and shattered bones in his eye sockets and brow (Schankman 2015). Jordan commented, “If it had hit me any harder it could have broken my skull bones and essentially damaged my brain and killed me on the spot”(Schankman 2015). For Jordan this was a fun family day on the river, turned to a near death experience. The fish responsible for this, is the invasive Asian carp, which is overrunning the Illinois river and its surrounding waters including the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers (Hayer et al. 2014). The carp easily become scared by boat motors or other loud noises which causes them to jump out of the water (Shankman 2015), turning their large bodies into a dangerous projectile which can clearly hurt people in their path. Jordan’s experience is not uncommon as this has happened to many others. As harmful as they can prove to humans, they are just as bad for the ecosystem, as is seen with many invasive species.

        In the 1950s, East Africans introduced Nile perch to Lake Victoria to strengthen a lacking fishing industry (Micalizio, 2015, p. 1). The environmental effects of this introduction completely transformed the Lake Victoria ecosystem. Voracious appetites and bountiful prey allowed the top-tier predator Nile perch to cause the extinctions of over 200-species of fish native only to Lake Victoria, such as cichlids. Native predatory catfish species such as the Sudan catfish and African sharptooth catfish also suffered as a result of the Nile perch (Frans Witte, 1997). In 1973, the Sudan catfish and African sharptooth had catch rates of 44 pounds per hour. However, by 1985 they had catch rates of zero. Whereas the Nile perch showed a catch rate of zero in 1973, but jumped to 176 pounds per hour by 1987, 4 times higher than the native catfish species when they were at peak abundance (p. 28). A domino-effect occurred from the loss of native species, leading to outbreaks of insects and algal blooms (Nile perch , 2014, p. 6). Some of the largest impacts came down on the backs of humans. The fishermen and their families cannot eat the fish themselves, they have too high a value and eating them means a loss in profits, yet fishermen go on longer fishing trips now than in the past to try and keep up with demand (p. 9). The Nile perch serve as an example that represents how non-native freshwater fish introductions can derail an ecosystem and community if not well-controlled or managed (Vitule et al., 2009). There is such an introduction happening right under our noses here in the United States, the invasive Asian carp.

        Ecosystems have a delicate balance in which organisms work in harmony, each occupying their own little niche (the role of an organism in an ecosystem) (, 2016), when a new organism enters that ecosystem, they can occupy another species’ niche, competing with them for resources and food. Unfortunately, native species often lose this competition to the new invaders. The National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC), defines invasive species as “non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health” (“What is an invasive species?” 2012, para. 1). One such invasive species, the Asian carp, have made a name for themselves here in the United States, introduced to control phytoplankton and for aquaculture.

        Native species of carp have existed in the United States for over 100 years, and the species called the “common carp” has lived here with little environmental impact (Naylor et al., 2001).  The newer and more potent Asian carp describe 4-different species, the bighead, grass, black, and silver carp. The U.S. imported silver and bighead carp in the 1970s from Asia for research purposes, putting them into wastewater lagoons and aquaculture ponds and observing if they improved water quality (Naylor et al., 2001, para. 2). Federal and state agencies, private citizens, and researchers imported and introduced the grass carp from eastern Asia in 1963 to control aquatic plants in fish farms (Grass carp, 2013, para. 1). Juvenile black carp came to the U.S., initially in Arkansas, in the 1970s when they arrived with a shipment of grass carp (Nico and Nielson, 2014). Nobody noticed because juvenile black and grass carp have nearly identical appearances. The U.S. attempted to use the black carp as a food resource and to control yellow grubs in aquaculture ponds (para. 5). Flooding events in aquaculture ponds connected to rivers allowed the silver, bighead, grass, and black carp to escape into the Mississippi River and Missouri River where they now have established breeding populations (Naylor et al., 2001, para. 2; Grass carp, 2013, para. 1; Nico and Nielson, 2014, para. 5).

        Invasive Asian carp demonstrate trends of rapidly increasing abundance a short time after their introduction. In the Missouri River in South Dakota, the abundance of Asian carp skyrocketed from 2009-2012 (Hayer et al., 2014, p. 294). In 2009, a fishing survey in the Missouri River caught no Asian carp. By 2012, fishing surveys caught 35 fish per hour (p. 294). In 6 sections of the Mississippi River, the number of Asian carp caught went from <50 per hour in 2003, to 775 per hour in 2012 after their introduction (Phelps et al., 2017, p. 7).  This 15x increase demonstrates the ability of Asian carp to overwhelm an area in as little as 9 years.

        Asian carp often outcompete native species for food (Asian carp overview, 2015). Asian carp filter feed and voraciously consume algae and zooplankton, primary food sources for native fish species like gizzard shad, paddlefish, and bigmouth buffalo (Asian carp overview, 2015; Irons et al., 2007; Sampson et al., 2009). Small zooplankton such as rotifers compose a large part of the diet of many native filter feeders, however, Asian carp consume them as well. In one section of the Mississippi River, Asian carp cut the abundance of rotifers from 6000 per liter of water in 2002, to 3500 in 2003, nearly a 50% decrease in only one year (Sampson et al., 2009, p. 488). Thus reducing the amount of available prey, and forcing predatory species to feast more heavily on other organisms such as copepods, seldom consumed by many fish, but compose nearly 62% of the diet of endangered paddlefish (p. 489). The decrease in rotifer abundance observed by Sampson et al. (2009) therefore means that fish will have to search for and eat different prey species instead of relying on rotifers the way they did before Asian carp.

        Asian carp reduce the abundance of native species where they colonize (Hayer et al., 2014; Phelps et al., 2017). In 2009, Asian carp represented <1% of the catch in the Missouri River, whereas the native emerald shiner fish comprised roughly 30% of fish caught in 2009. In 2012, Asian carp composed 50% of the catch, and emerald shiner dropped to 5% of the catch, equating to a 6x decrease in emerald shiner, and a 50x increase in Asian carp  (Hayer et al., 2014, p.298). In the Mississippi River, Asian carp caused the bigmouth buffalo population to decrease by 10%, instead of following the historically-observed increase of 35%. After the invasion of Asian carp, the number of buffalo caught per hour decreased from 178 to 85 (Solomon et al., 2016, p.8). In another study on the Illinois River, the bigmouth buffalo’s abundance declined by 80% in 2005, compared to the abundance recorded from fishing trips in 1995 (Irons et al., 2007, p. 268). In this same stretch of river, the annual Asian carp catch increased from 0 in 1995, to 500 in 2005 (p. 265)

        Predatory and game fish populations also undergo negative changes because before the young become large enough to eat other fish and crustaceans, they eat small plankton consumed by the invasive carp (Solomon et al., 2016, p.1). This means that if the carp kill off the young of a species, they will do massive damage to the species populations as a whole. For example, two species of crappie showed dramatic decreases in abundance, Black crappie populations decreased by 61.79% and white crappie populations decreased by 45.98% (Solomon et al., 2016, p. 8). Carp do not feed on crappie, but they feed on the same thing as the juveniles, causing the population to have trouble growing. The removal of plankton by Asian carp also casts residual effects on important prey species for predatory fish. For example Asian carp negatively affect gizzard shad, another filter feeder. These shad comprise an important food source for predators of the ecosystem (Phelps et al., 2017, p. 11). Shad are a staple food source of a very popular gamefish in the Largemouth Bass, if there are less shad, then the bass will not do as well (Storck et al. 2011, pg. 1). Gizzard shad went from an average biomass increase of 10% to nothing because the Asian carp reduced their survival rate from 80% to 10%, preventing their population from growing (Phelps et al., 2017, p.5). Fish catches also decreased by almost half for the shad going from 7186 per hour to 3810 per hour (Phelps et al., 2017, p.6). This massive decrease sends a negative effect right up the food chain of an ecosystem. Directly related to the shad population going down, the CPUE of Asian carp increased over the same period of time showing that the native fish get outcompeted (Phelps et al. 2017, p. 11). As carp became more prevalent in floodplain lakes, predators such as bass, catfish, gar and bowfin started to disappear. (Phelps et al. 2017, p.9).  

        One reason that carp have become so abundant is that native fish have shown a preference for native prey when given a choice between the two. Native piscivores of the Mississippi River Basin showed negative selectivity or preference of silver carp versus native prey species (Wolf et al. 2017, p. 1142). White bass tested in this study, chose Asian carp first only 3 of 29 times (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141). The study showed that largemouth bass chose to eat Asian carp first instead of native prey species only 4 of 29 times (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141). However largemouth bass did show a positive selection of 0.23 specifically for grass carp, however they still negatively selected for Asian carp in general with a -0.08 (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141).  In this study a score of 1 represented the highest selectivity for consuming Asian carp and a score of-1 represented a complete avoidance of Asian carp.  The study showed that all native piscivores showed little or no preference for Asian carp except the longnose gar, which had a selection for Asian carp of 0.12 (Wolf et al., 2017, p. 1141). Asian carp’s low selectivity by U.S. piscivores, (Wolf et al., 2017) demonstrates that using predators to control Asian carp infestations in U.S. waters will only be successful through the implementation of one of the carp’s natural predators into their new environments in the U.S.

        However as none of Asian carp’s natural predators live in U.S. water systems, all of Asian carp’s natural predators would also be invasive species to these ecosystems and their implementation into U.S waterways could cause further ecological impacts that are just as bad or worse than the negative impacts ensued by Asian carp infestations (National Wildlife Federation, n.d.). A situation similar to this occurred when the cane toad was introduced to Australia in an attempt to control pests. These toads succeeded at their job but caused many negative side-effects to the environment such as consuming large quantities of non-pest animals such as small lizards. (Frontier Gap, 2015, para. 4) These toads were able to grow in numbers and cause such havoc due to their toxic skin and glands which leave them with no predators in this new environment. (para. 4) With this knowledge at hand, the introduction of non-native predators in efforts to control the effects of Asian carp infestations does not seem like a  smart option.

        Invasive species cause vast amounts of damage to humans every year. The most recent economic study shows that the United States spends more than $120 billion every year to control invasive species (Scully, 2016, para. 3). In 2010 alone, the U.S. spent $78.5 million dollars to keep Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes (“The cost of invasive species,” 2012, para. 11). That’s enough money to buy 20-Hubble telescopes every year (Goldman, 2012, para. 2). Even if you don’t care about fish, you should find this alarming because Asian carp affect rivers that flow in and out of the great lakes.With sixty-five million pounds of fish harvested from the great lakes every year, the lakes generate about one billion dollars in revenue for the local economy (“About our lakes: economy,” n.d., pg. 1). If Asian carp decrease native fish populations by eve one percent, that is a lot of money to lose. So clearly there is high potential for a significant problem to occur.

        So it is clear that asian carp cause problems wherever they invade. People are not blind to this and have done things to try to combat their invasion. The Army Corps of Engineers implemented an electric fence along the Chicago ship canals to keep them from moving upriver (Kraft, 2013, para 6) This is bad for two reasons. First, it stops native fish from moving along the river, and second the power for the fence has shut off, and carp moved past it (Kraft, 2013, para 6). Another option is dumping poison into the rivers to kill off the carp (Hasler, 2010, para 10). This is bad because it could kill off all of the native species along with it, and dumping poison into a river will only carry it further upstream, affecting more than just the target area. Furthermore, sometimes the poison just does not work (Hasler, 2010, para 5).  With people struggling to come up with a viable solution, we have a proposition; add a predator into to U.S. waterways to combat the Asian carp.

        Luckily there is one species of predatory fish native to the Southeastern U.S., called an alligator gar, that many scientists are arguing could be used as an effective predator of Asian carp. (“How to combat Asian carp? Get an alligator gar,” 2016). The use of a native predator could prevent against any negative effects that could be incurred from the of introduction of another invasive species to U.S. waterways. Alligator gar once existed through the Mississippi River and its tributaries all the way from Ohio to Illinois and down to the Gulf of Mexico. They now however, only live in in the Mississippi River valley from Arkansas southward (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, n.d., para. 12). The reason for this mass decline in alligator gar populations is mainly caused by humans. For one many people saw  alligator gars as a “trash fish” with less value than commercial game-fish and targeted them for extermination and control (para. 13). Some of the other main reasons that humans targeted alligator gar in this way include that they are big, monster looking fish, thought to attack humans and they were thought to deplete populations of commercial gamefish (Cermele, 2016). Although these two notions about alligator gars fueled the drive to eradicate these species, both of them ended up being false. There has never been a confirmed attack of an alligator gar on a human to date (Cermele, 2016, para. 6; Parks, 2016, para. 1). Additionally, alligator gar do not eat many game-fish as they are opportunistic feeders, eating anything that swims in reach of them, and most game fish are relatively stationary, meaning that if alligator gar wanted to eat them, they’d have to hunt them down, something that is just not in their nature (Cermele, 2016, para. 10; Department of Natural Resources, para. 10). Scientists have only disproven these false notion recently through studies allowing light to shine onto alligator gars potential for controlling Asian carp infestations and reintroduction efforts are already underway in Illinois (Department of Natural Resources, n.d., para. 5). State officials must consider two constraints to determine if reintroduction efforts of alligator gar in U.S. waterways will be an effective measure of combatting Asian carp infestations; effects of alligator gar on Asian carp populations and feasibility of an alligator gar reintroduction program.

        Obviously before considering feasibility of an alligator gar reintroduction, policy makers should determine the effects an alligator gar reintroduction will have on Asian carp populations in U.S. waterways. Many people including Dan Stephenson, biologist and chief of fisheries at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, criticize that alligator gar can actually consume Asian carp, saying they aren’t big enough to do so. He says that their jaws just won’t open wide enough to fit most Asian carp (Garcia, 2016, para. 6). However alligator gar one of the  largest freshwater fish in North America and the largest fish species in the Mississippi River Valley (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015, para. 3), an ecosystem that the Asian carp have spread throughout. At maturity they can grow to be 10 feet in length and weigh up to 300 pounds (“Alligator gar,” 2009, para. 2). On the other hand, the four Asian carp species that have invaded U.S. waterways can only grow to be at maximum, about 3.3-6 feet in length and weigh 70-99 pounds in weight (“Asian carp,” 2017). Considering that the biggest alligator gar can grow to be 3 times the weight of the biggest Asian carps in U.S. waterway and are opportunistic predators (Department of Natural Resources, n.d.), it is perfectly reasonable to assume that alligator gar can consume Asian carp, if not as full grown fish but at the very least as adolescents; which could be even more effective as it would reduce the amount of Asian carp surviving to reproductive maturity.

        Alligator gar do in fact mostly target rough fish, including carp, and gizzard shad (Cermele, 2016, para. 10, Department of Natural Resources, para. 10). Although data is scarce on alligator gar selectivity towards Asian carp specifically and is not well documented, more is known about other species of gars’ selectivity for Asian carp. According to recent research from from Western Illinois University the shortnose gar has a positive selection for Asian carp as they existed in the highest abundance, above any other prey item, in shortnose gars stomachs (David et al., 2016,  para. 5). Additionally, as previously stated, Wolf et al. (2017) found that longnose gar showed a positive selection for asian carp. Since these species are very closely related to alligator gar, it is likely alligator gar would have a similar, positive selection for Asian carp as longnose and shortnose gar and consume Asian carp in similar numbers. Alligator gar would likely even consume more Asian carp biomass per fish than longnose and shortnose gar, as they are the largest of the seven known gar species (Alligator gar et al., 2009, para. 2), adding to their effectiveness.

        With alligator gars effectiveness of controlling Asian carp infestations demonstrated, the next thing to consider is the feasibility of an alligator gar reintroduction program in U.S. waterways. Reintroduction programs have been implemented successfully in the United States on many occasions bringing animals such as California condors and black-footed ferret populations back from the brink of extinction (Errick et al., 2015). In 1982, less than 22 California condors remained. However, through reintroduction efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started in 1985, by 2015 there were about 210 of them in the wild and 180 in captivity (Errick et al., 2015, para. 8).

         On top of returning decimated species back to stable populations, predator reintroduction programs are also a tried and proven technique for combatting the effects of rampant species population growth. The reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 had immense success combatting the effects of unwanted elk population growth. All the gray wolves of Yellowstone had been hunted to extinction by the end of the 1920s (“1995 Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone,” 2017, para. 4). Thereby allowing elk populations to skyrocket and mass degradation of brush and trees that elk graze on (Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem, 2011, para. 8, 1995 Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone, 2017, para. 5). However, in the winter of 1995/1996, scientists captured 14 gray wolves from Canada and released them into Yellowstone Park (“Wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone Park, wolf pack dynamics, & wolf identification,” 2000, para. 2). By 2015, there were about 528 total wolves in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem (“Wolves,” n.d., para. 6). Soon after their reintroduction into Yellowstone the environment started to return to a healthy state. This increase in ecosystem health isn’t just because the wolves ate the elk and drove their populations down. In fact elk populations have actually increased since Gray wolf reintroductions into Yellowstone. For instance in 1968, only about one-third of today’s  elk numbers existed in Yellowstone (“Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem,” 2011, para 9). Willow tree health in Yellowstone also increased (“1995 Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone,” 2017; “Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem,” 2011). If 108 gray wolves living in Yellowstone can have these positive effects on the ecosystem by consuming an increasing population of elk, it is likely that a small population of alligator gar, another top predator (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015), can have significant positive effects on U.S. waterways by consuming Asian carp. With experience gained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from past successful reintroductions of animals such as gray wolves and California condors, the department is definitely capable of succeeding at yet one more species reintroduction, this time with alligator gar, and these efforts are already underway in Illinois (Department of Natural Resources, n.d., para. 5).

         Asian carp continue to spread and cause problems for the native fish wherever they invade. In these areas, native fish populations decrease by about half through being outcompeted themselves or through their food sources dying off (Phelps et al., 2017, p.6). With Asian carp threatening to establish themselves in the great lakes, a billion dollar per year fishing industry comes under fire, as well as an amazing and unique ecosystem. Nature controls populations through a system of checks and balances. This means that if something were to keep carp populations in check, they wouldn’t be such a big problem. For example reintroducing wolves to the Yellowstone national park region to control the effects of the elk population that was getting way out of control worked out very well and allowed the degraded conditions of the willow trees that the elk feed on to increase immensely (“1995 Reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone,” 2017, “Wolf reintroduction changes ecosystem,” 2011). In a similar way alligator gars are the answer to keeping the effects of the Asian carp in check. They grow large enough to eat them and other gars have shown a taste for asian carp. They also were native to the region before, so reintroducing them is not some radical, new idea. If you have a large prey item, introduce a larger predator to keep it in check, and that is exactly what we propose to do with the alligator gar in regards to the Asian carp epidemic that threatens the Mississippi River Valley Basin and great lakes.


Samuel Romania – Environmental Science Major

Jonathan Hastings – NRC:Fisheries

Skyler Rehbein – NRC Fisheries



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How Farming Oysters Impacts the Ocean


Oyster Farmer Chris Whitehead adjusting oyster cages

The district was blindsided by the lawsuit. The National Audubon Society, which is a non-profit organization that aims to fight for the conservation of the environment (“Audubon”, 2016) along with the California Waterfowl Association, sued the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District (Kraft 2017). Humboldt Bay is an important stop for migratory birds to eat and rest on the Pacific Flyway, the path of migration for many birds (Simms, 2017).The Audubon society was outraged by the unjust approval for the expansion of a commercial oyster farm (owned by Coast Seafoods and Co) into the Humboldt Bay Harbor that would hurt Canada geese, Western sandpipers, and other migratory birds (Kraft, 2017). The Audubon society claimed that a faulty environmental report was used by the Conservation District to approve the expansion, and that 200 species of birds, 300 species of invertebrates, and over 100 plant species, including eelgrass, would be affected by this expansion (Kraft, 2017). Why does a decline of a 100 small plant species, like eelgrass, matter? Eelgrass supports a multitude of marine organisms and communities, including but not limited to: crabs, sea turtles, young herring, and other microorganisms through acting as food and shelter. With the expansion of aquaculture as a business, about half of the bay would incorporate wire-like structures (Kraft, 2017). Certain methods to harvest oysters trample eelgrass in the process, which for a species already in extensive decline on the west coast, could have detrimental impacts on the ecosystem as a whole (Kraft, 2017). The spokesperson for the Audubon society, Mike Lynes, points to the fact that with a decline of eelgrass comes a decline of certain birds like the black brant and a decline in certain fish as well (Kraft, 2017). Any decline in a resident species in a habitat will affect the food chain and natural flow of the ecosystem. As if not already expected, the general manager of Coast Seafoods denied that the environmental report was faulty and insisted that the proper measures were taken to evaluate the environmental impact the expansion would have on the Humboldt Bay Harbor (Kraft, 2017). Due to the risk of negative alterations to the seagrass life cycle by oyster aquaculture, the size and number of oyster aquaculture farms must be limited in location and method of farming. Continue Reading

Polyculture (IMTA), a better way to produce fish


Aquaculture of the Future

Kendall Sarapas – Natural Resource Conservation Wildlife

Alexis Duda – Sustainable Food & Farming

Aaron Johnson – Building and Construction Technology

The fishing industry has been important since the dawn of mankind, being a rich and reliable food source. One of my first fishing voyages was with my grandpa on his boat in the sea. He was an avid fisherman who went fishing quite often. I caught my first salmon on his boat which made me want to explore the world of salmon. As soon as I saw the tip of the fishing pole point down towards the water I ran over. I started reeling in what felt like a ton of bricks on the other end dragging me to the side of the boat. I clenched on to that pole with all of my strength and reeled in the massive salmon very slowly. The weight of the fish on the hook squirming around below the water was a struggle for any ten year old to handle. My grandpa came running over and helped me reel in the salmon. That weekend we chopped up the salmon and cooked it for dinner. After that first salmon was caught, I needed to know more about their way of life. Continue Reading

Dam Removal: A Type of River Restoration?

Kathryn Brennan: Environmental Science

Ashley Busold: Geology and Biology

Mallary Rocheleau: Animal Science

The life of a salmon is unlike many other fish species, for it must swim through thousands of miles of ocean in search of the river where it was born.  The mission is to bring about the next generation in the same place that this salmon, along with many others, were produced. After the many months of migrating through the ocean, with only a few miles left to travel against the river current, there is a road block in the form of a giant wall. The salmon will search up and down looking for a way past without success, but never give up because to reproduce is the top priority. However, salmon can only stay in one place for a certain amount of time before either needing food, or being food. At this roadblock, all of the salmon that have travelled here are being wiped out by eager fisherman or in competition for food.  With no hope of ushering in the next generation, this species is on the path to extinction.

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Removal of Non-Power Generating Dams on the Connecticut River

Raquel Gayle, Building and Construction Tech, B.S.
Cameron Young, Natural Resources Conservation, B.S.
Jesse Armfield, Geology, B.S.

People living near a body of water or in low lying areas acknowledge the likelihood of flooding and understand its risks. What many people are unaware of is the possibility of flash flooding due to dam failure. Catastrophic dam failure can destroy bridges, homes, and take human lives. Just this year, flooding in South Carolina caused 13 dam failures that lead to 17 deaths and destruction of property (Smith, 2015, p.1). Tragedies like this can be avoided by taking down dams that are not necessary for energy generation. Due to public safety concerns and declining migratory fish populations, a government grant should fund the removal of small non-hydroelectric dams in the Connecticut River watershed. Continue Reading

Atlantic Salmon Restoration in the Connecticut River System by Dam Removal and Modification has Economic, Environmental and Social Benefits


Connecticut River Watershed

Amy Tellier, Animal Science

Harry Spampinato, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation

Mohamed El Shamy, BCT

Vincent Wurster, BCT

It is an early April morning in northwestern America, and the rising spring sun peeks across the horizon to shine and flicker off the surface of the Columbia River. A small boat with a few occupants glides through the water and an easy silence sits upon them, broken only by short phrases of conversation as they adjust their fishing gear, and the occasional splash. Along the riverbank the water tumbles across rocks and swirls into little currents, but the majority of the water traveling down the center of the wide expanse of river appears almost still, presenting only the smallest of waves and ripples to indicate the current flowing downstream beneath them. From their boat, the fishermen can see a variety of other boats like their own, all outfitted with similar fishing gear. The water they float on forms a reflective surface like a television showing a program about the trees on the riverbank and the clouds in the sky (Angler West TV, 2014). This reflective surface hides a secret; it is the reason these people ventured out in their boat on such a chilly spring morning. They are fishing for spring Chinook salmon, one of four main species of salmon that spawns in the Columbia River (Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, 2015). Suddenly the quiet is broken by a flurry of motion as one of the lines goes taut, and the person responsible for this line begins to reel it in. A second person hurries over with a net, and once the fish has been maneuvered to a position alongside the boat, the net is used to scoop it out of the water and into the boat (Angler West TV, 2014). Continue Reading

There’s Something Fishy About Unsustainable Supermarkets: Prevention of a global fishing crisis in the food retail industry

Bottom Trawling Sia, k. (2015). Bottom trawling: How to empty the seas [Online image], Retrieved April 7, 2015 from

Bottom Trawling
Sia, k. (2015). Bottom trawling: How to empty the seas [Online image], Retrieved April 7, 2015 from

Alani Iannoli NRC

Cassidy Plaud NRC

Paige Diffendale Animal Science


Do You Know Where Your Fish Comes From?

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