The Great Fish Massacre of 2009

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2 min read
chicagopublicradio / CC
Asian carp

This is one of those bizarre stories that could easily stump the panel on a “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” pick-the-fake-news-story segment.

On Wednesday night, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources dumped 2,200 gallons of deadly poison into a 5.7-mile stretch of a canal in order to prevent Asian carp from escaping the canal and entering Lake Michigan while an electronic barrier was turned off for servicing. They poisoned every single fish in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal with Rotenone, which kills fish by depleting oxygen from their blood and causes them to float to the surface of the water, where they gasp for air as they slowly suffocate.

Tens of thousands of animals lost their lives in order to kill a few carp who they thought might be in the waterway. So far, a lone carp has been found among the carnage. At a price tag of somewhere around $3 million, that has to make him or her the most expensive dead carp in history.

Asian carp, who consume nearly half their body weight in plankton every day, were originally imported in the 1970s to clean aquaculture and wastewater treatment facilities’ retention ponds. Flooding throughout the 1990s allowed the fish to escape into the Mississippi River, which is connected to the Great Lakes through a series of rivers and canals. If the fish reach the Great Lakes, it is feared that they will crowd out other species of fish and threaten the lucrative sport and commercial fishing industries.

In other words, this is a manmade threat to manmade industries that carp and other fish are paying for with their lives.

I know what you’re thinking: Surely they would only kill thousands of animals if there were no alternative? But you would be mistaken. The fish could have been kept at bay with sonic and light deterrents or by simply closing the locks while the barrier is down. But the latter would have caused shipping delays, and we can’t have that.

We understand that a plan for a back-up barrier is in the works, which is great—it just would have been nice if they’d thought of that a little sooner, before killing tens of thousands of animals and threatening the lives of other animals and humans who may inadvertently come into contact with the toxic stew they have created.

Written by Alisa Mullins

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