Asian Carp Integrated Control and Containment

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Increased threat of Asian carp entering the Great Lakes and spreading to other basins such as the Upper Mississippi River and Ohio River basins, has led to increased prevention and control efforts since 2010.  Successful management of invasive species requires methods to contain future spread, reduce population levels, and minimize their effects.  In collaboration with partners, USGS scientists have developed and continue to test containment and control tools and technologies, and investigate options for combined implementation of tools using an integrated adaptive management approach. Working in tandem with the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee and other organizations, an Asian carp control toolbox is being developed to enhance the ability of agencies to manage and control Asian carp to minimize their effects and spread.  

Learn more about USGS containment and control tool development and testing and other Asian carp activities in the Asian Carp Action Plan at


Asian carp sound testing pond
Sound testing pond. (Public Domain)

Use of Underwater Sound to Alter Behavior of Asian CarpSignificant work has been done to identify potential biological and physical techniques that are candidates for barriers that may serve to deter the movement of bighead carp and silver carp while allowing for shipping to continue. One candidate barrier that has received a great deal of attention has been the use of underwater sound. Previous studies have indicated that both bighead and silver carp react negatively to sound. These studies have indicated that the bigheaded carp will repeatedly respond to complex sound while many native fish respond little to that same sound. However, some basic questions still need to be answered. For example, we are currently assessing the high frequency hearing capacity of AC, but we still have little understanding of the sound pressure levels (SPLs) that fish will tolerate and at what SPLs hair cells are damaged (causing deafness). Therefore, the goals of this project are two-fold. First, we aim to use this technology as a deterrent by determining the optimal sound frequencies and SPLs to optimize repulsion of AC while preventing injury to native species and limiting habituation. Second, we will determine the efficacy of complex sound to contain, herd, and capture AC.

Field Deployment of Sound at Brandon Road LockSeveral potential control technologies are being considered to prevent Asian carp movement through Brandon Road Lock; however, sound was chosen to test at this time The USGS has conducted numerous laboratory and field tests using complex sound to deter Asian Carp, however, if this technology is to be used at or around a lock and dam, proper testing and installation should be completed. This project allows for testing and monitoring of new control technologies in the approach channel of the Brandon Road Lock.
This testing will allow for the evaluation of sound via sound propagation models, speaker deployment configurations, collection of operation and maintenance information for longer deployments, and assessment of impacts to native fish and any telemetered Asian Carp in the Dresden Island Pool over the deployment period. Another objective of this project is to provide all potential parties with field experience in the deployment of these ANS control technologies and to inform engineering considerations of future deployments.

This video portrays two areas near the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a US Army Corps of Engineers facility in Joliet, IL. This video was collected as the lock was emptied through the downstream valves, refilled with water, and then emptied again. This data collection is supporting efforts to combat the spread of invasive Asian carp into the Great Lakes Basin. Brandon Road has been selected as a location to apply controls to stop the movement of these fish. To develop these controls, resource managers need to understand how the water moves through the system. This video shows a split screen with three different panes. The left half shows a series of photographs from two cameras in the lock (left), and downstream of the lock (middle). The right side portrays the velocity vectors at an acoustic Doppler velocity meter located in the channel approximately 1,200 feet downstream of the lock. The arrows on the velocity vectors indicate what direction the water is flowing and the length of the velocity vectors indicate how fast the water is flowing. All photos and the velocity vectors are time synchronized so that the viewer may see how the changes in the lock level change the velocity in the downstream channel. This data collection is supporting efforts to combat the spread of invasive Asian carp into the Great Lakes Basin. Brandon Road has been selected as a location to apply controls to stop the movement of these fish. To develop these controls, the hydrodynamics of the system must be well characterized by collecting flow and velocity data.Frank L. Engel, U.S. Geological Survey(Public domain.)

Characterization of Brandon Road Lock and Dam for Asian Carp ControlTo help prevent the movement of Asian carp from the Mississippi River basin to the Great Lakes basin, additional barriers to the Chicago Area Waterways have been proposed at Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet, IL as a component of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) Report developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). To implement new technologies at the Brandon Road location would require a better understanding of the impacts of lockages, structures and other influences that could constrain the deployment of these technologies. The USGS is collecting hydraulic and water-quality data to be used in the design of the system to minimize the movement of fish above Brandon Road Lock and Dam while preserving the movement of barges and other vessels in the river.
Two velocity and stage (water-surface elevation) gages are installed downstream from the lock. Two continuous water-quality gages are installed—one upstream from the lock and one downstream from the lock. In addition to this continuous data collection, velocity has been mapped in the lock and in the channel during regular lock operation and during lock flushing (water moves the lock from upstream valves and through the open downstream gates). Dye concentration data was also collected to characterize mixing zones within the lock and downstream of the lock. These data will be used to help inform the evaluation process by the USACE related to the proposed controls in the GLMRIS study.

Image of a grass carp
Grass carp.(Public domain.)

Grass Carp Control in the Great LakesThe Grass Carp research program includes several projects focused on particular aspects of Grass Carp spawning and the effects they may be having on the Lake Erie ecosystem. Direct sampling of Lake Erie tributaries informs where and under what conditions Grass Carp spawn. Lab research on proximal spawning cues identifies what variables Grass Carp respond to when initiating spawning, and these cues will be 'triggers' for implementing eventual control actions. Lab and field research on methods for capturing early life stages (eggs and larvae) will improve detection of spawning, assessing magnitude of spawning, and assessing which spawning events are most likely to produce juveniles. Hydraulic models are developed and refined to pinpoint spawning locations, which can be targeted for control efforts. Assessments of chemistry of otoliths, small bones in fish heads, in concert with water chemistry of potential spawning rivers, provides a "CSI-style" analysis of where Grass Carp have been to provide a more complete understanding of where they spend time in the Lake Erie system and where else they may be spawning. Water chemistry "libraries" are being generated for all of he Great Lakes except Lake Superior, the only lake in which Grass Carp have never been reported. Generation of maps of vegetated areas using satellite data combined with on-the-water verification of submerged vegetation provides both assessment of where Grass Carp habitat is for targeted removal and a means to assess the damage they cause. This suite of projects permits us to fully understand where, when and under what conditions Grass Carp spawn, when conditions are favorable to producing juvenile fish that might become adults, and the degree of the problem, all of which inform potential control strategies.
The benefits of this program extend beyond Grass Carp control in the Great Lakes: everything learned about Grass Carp will serve as ‘preventive maintenance’ for the other Asian carp, which have nearly identical spawning requirements.

Significant findings to date include:
- Documentation of spawning in the Sandusky River;
- Identification of spawning locations in the Sandusky River;
- Refinement of hydraulic models to refine estimates of spawning locations;
- Mathematical modeling of the first of several potential control strategies;
- First-generation maps of vegetation in western Lake Erie generated using satellite imagery as a baseline for monitoring Grass Carp effects
- hydroacoustic and physical samples of vegetation to validate maps and establish species identity and relative abundances of preferred and avoided vegetation types.

Large Black Carp
Black carp discovered by ditch near Mississippi and Missouri River.(Public domain.)

Black Carp Control, Bait, and Populations AssessmentsBlack carp are now established in the Mississippi River Basin and catches are increasing.  Black carp, being highly efficient and very large molluscivores, pose a substantial risk to mollusks native to the USA, many of which are threatened or endangered.  In this project, we are working on the development of a directed toxic bait, based on the crushing ability of black carp.  In this strategy a glass vial of a toxicant (antimycin) is attached to the shell of a live black carp food organism or a prepared hard bait, and the antimycin is released in the throat of the fish when the organism is crushed.  Laboratory work so far has focused on development of the delivery mechanism, the size of food items and selectivity (using invasive corbicula clams as baits), toxicity of antimycin given this dosing strategy, and preliminary tests to determine breakage of vials during feeding.  Vials usually were broken when food items were consumed by black carp.  In this project, we are also receiving black carp captured by commercial fishers across the Mississippi River basin. The USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center (CERC) catalogues these catches, provides the information to the USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database, performs gonad histology to determine age at maturity and time of year of reproductive activity and performs diet analysis to determine mollusk types most at risk and to identify habitat types of food items, so that habitat preference of the black carp may be determined.  CERC also provides age and growth information on these captured fish.  CERC extracts otoliths and eyes and genetic and stable isotopes material and provides to collaborators to determine age and origin and of these fish. Furthermore, the USGS Principle Investigator for this study is participating in the binational (Canada-USA) risk assessment for black carp in the Great Lakes.

Science and Technology Integration for Asian Carp ControlUSGS is conducting integrated Asian carp science in collaboration with other research organizations and management agencies from the funding provided by GLRI and USGS (appropriated funding) and supports the development of data-driven adaptive management to prevent Asian carp introduction into the Great Lakes. This body of work includes the following primary objectives: (1) the implementation and evaluation of new tactics for monitoring, surveillance, control and containment, (2) the development and evaluation of databases and decision support models needed for data-driven adaptive management, and (3) understanding the movements, behaviors, and reproduction of Asian carp to inform (1) and (2).

Silver carp and algal attractants
Silver carp swim toward algal atractants(Public domain.)


New tactics that will be evaluated in the field include complex sound and CO2 as deterrents at lock chambers and microparticle piscicides and CO2 as lethal control agents. Algal attractants are being tested to aid in removal efforts and enhance the effectiveness of microparticle piscicide application. Complex sound is also being tested as a means to drive Asian carp into nets for removal. Further testing and development of a Chinese fishing method for removing Asian carp in large reservoirs, known as the Unified Method, is also underway to improve upon its effectiveness and efficiency in shallow floodplain lakes. Surveillance techniques being developed and evaluated include a real-time telemetry network and real-time telemetry with satellite-capable geolocator tags to inform removal efforts in the upper Illinois River. Other monitoring techniques being evaluated for detection of egg and larvae of Asian carp include light traps and DNA screening of ichthyoplankton tows. Online databases and associated visualization tools are being developed for a basin-wide acoustic telemetry network (> 300 passive receivers and > 500 active fish) and upper Illinois River Asian carp removal and monitoring program. Other decision support projects include refinements to population and habitat models to inform data-driven adaptive management in the upper Illinois River waterway. To better understand the movements, behaviors and reproduction of Asian carp to inform control, a variety of studies on the life history and behavior of Asian carp in established and emerging populations are underway. Ongoing studies include acoustic telemetry to understand lateral (between channels and floodplain lakes) and longitudinal (between upstream and downstream) movements in relation to biological and environmental conditions, predator-prey relationships to better understand potential recruitment constraints, and microchemistry of Asian carp bony structures to determine their natal origins. Additional collaborative studies on age and growth, recruitment, mortality, and dam passage in the Illinois River will be initiated to strengthen a population model that is becoming central to the data-driven adaptive management for Asian carp in the Illinois River to protect the Great Lakes.

Field Deployment of Carbon Dioxide Barrier to Deter Asian carpThis project is evaluating carbon dioxide (CO2) injected into water as a deterrent to reduce the upstream movement of invasive Asian carp. Laboratory and mesocosm studies have found that Asian carp, and other non-native fishes, respond strongly to elevated CO2. Applying CO2 into pinch-points and other management locations can be used to deny access to critical habitat, limit range expansion and isolate populations to enhance removal efforts. USGS provides guidance for on-going regulatory affairs support for registration of CO2 as a deterrent or to register CO2 as a control agent in limited open-water application sites; and assists management agencies that plan to deploy CO2 as a deterrent or the use of a CO2 as a control agent in limited open-water application sites to control bigheaded carp. USGS also provides guidance for on-going regulatory affairs support for registration of CO2 as a deterrent or to register CO2 as a control agent in limited open-water application sites; and assists management agencies that plan to deploy CO2 as a deterrent or the use of a CO2 as a control agent in limited open-water application sites to control bighead and silver carp. 

Microparticles in a tube
Microparticles being evalutated. (Public domain.)

Targeted Microparticles for Asian Carp Control - USGS is developing and testing a toxic microparticle that is designed to be eaten by bighead and silver carp and avoid harming native species. The initial toxicant incorporated into microparticles is Antimycin A, a general use piscicide already registered with U.S. EPA. Formulation of the particle can be modified to incorporate other control agents. The combination of these approaches will result in a tool that can be used by resource managers to help manage Asian carp populations while having minimal impact on native fishes. The first field assessment of nontoxic microparticles was conducted in spring 2017, and the first field test of toxic microparticles filled with antimycin was conducted in fall 2017 in a backwater area of the Wabash River.  Ongoing research to identify other toxicants and bioactive compounds for incorporation into microparticles continues, as does adapting microparticles to control other invasive species such as grass and black carps.

USGS is also providing regulatory affairs support for the registration of microparticle controls and development of registration-specific data to support the registration of microparticle controls for bighead and silver carp.  These required registration activities are ongoing with U.S. EPA.

USGS is also coordination activities with the U.S. FWS to estimate the potential non-target effects on native aquatic organisms. Results from this project will include the development of comprehensive Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and institutional guidance for use by approved state or federal agencies when implementing the control agents in prevention actions.

Asian carp telemetry set up
Setup of asian carp telemetry network(Public domain.)

Development of a Monitoring Database for Asian Carp Over the past 5+ years, large amounts of data have been collected in the Illinois River by multiple agencies to monitor Asian carp populations and help inform management and control efforts. However, there is not currently a comprehensive and standardized database for all GLRI and Asian carp data. This creates challenges for researchers in their efforts to summarize data, discern trends (over longer time periods), create quantitative models, and make predictions about future conditions. Thus, we propose to develop a comprehensive database for all standardized fish data collected as part of the Monitoring and Response Plan for the Illinois River.
The framework for the database will be built using an open database format. This format will allow the developer to ingest existing datasets in their native format. Such a database will aid in report writing and data reporting, creation of decision support tools, monitoring carp populations, and data archiving. In addition, the database will be flexible enough to add additional parameters (e.g., larval, egg, plankton, eDNA, or environmental variables) as research and monitoring progress. A cohesive database design will also lay the groundwork for adding additional invasive species data over a larger spatial area and meet current data reporting requirements for data collected with Federal dollars.
Additional decision support tools and visualizations can be developed from this database to further aid management. Some possibilities include:
• Heat maps of commercial catch data and habitat type to increase catch or plots,
• Bycatch estimates for presentations and reports,
• Identifying proper gear types for a specific time of year or environmental condition.

Real-time Telemetry Network/ Advanced Telemetry TechniquesReal-time information on bigheaded carp movements and locations in the upper Illinois River system can inform removal efforts and other management responses. To satisfy that information need, USGS has deployed 5 near real-time acoustic receivers (Figure 1) at strategic locations in the upper Illinois River system (Figure 2). Three additional receivers will be deployed in 2018. Data from these receivers is automatically downloaded hourly and is available online at State partners directing management efforts can use this information when determining where to direct monitoring and removal crews.

Big head carp being released back into the water with satellite tracker
satellite tracker(Public domain.)

Satellite Tracking of Bigheaded Carp - Understanding movements and habitat use of Bighead Carp and Silver Carp in the upper Illinois River system is critical to removal efforts in this management zone. Standard telemetry with manual tracking is limited in that personnel must locate fish using boats, receivers and hydrophones to determine movements and habitat use. This can be labor intensive and expensive on a per unit of information basis. Recent advances in telemetry with GPS and satellite tracking capabilities might make it possible to track individual fish from the office computer or smartphone 24-7. USGS is working collaboratively with Western Illinois University to test these technologies on Bighead Carp and Silver Carp in the upper Illinois River. We are currently tracking 5 of these fish in the Dresden Island Pool as part of this pilot study.