Why the Army Corps of Engineers is electrocuting invasive fish

·2 min read

There’s something fishy going on in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Invasive Asian carp, imported to southern fish farms 15 years ago to stop the spread of algae, have ridden floodwaters into the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois rivers. Now, they’re on the verge of spilling into the Great Lakes.

That’s unless the Army Corps of Engineers has anything to say about it. The civil works and engineering segment of the U.S. Army has come up with a rather ... shocking solution: An underwater electric fence.

“We have chosen this point very strategically so there’s no way for invasive carp to get around this one particular point,” according to project manager Jeff Zuercher.

To accomplish their mission, engineers place electric bars, which flow DC current into the water, around 21 feet below the surface. Zuercher likened it to a speed bump in the pavement. The measure is roughly six volts per inch, 34 times a second.

The current gradient stuns the carp as they attempt to swim the canal upstream, and, once shocked into unconsciousness, they gently float back down the waterway, where they may wake up disoriented with no memory of the event — not unlike service members, who, after one too many off-base beers, manage to wake up safe and sound in the barracks.

To monitor their travel patterns, the stunned fish are being marked with trackers. So far, they have not made it into the Great Lakes, and biologists are hoping it stays that way. So invasive is this particular breed that, if they do find their way into Lake Michigan, the lake’s ecosystem — and, by extension, the fishing industry — would be decimated.

“There’s never been a more important time for the federal and state governments to stand up and do the right thing,” Joel Brammeier, acting president of the Chicago-based Alliance for the Great Lakes told NPR. “If we don’t take the right steps today, we are consigning the Great Lakes to a future as carp ponds.”

According to NPR, Bighead Asian carp have the ability to reach four feet in length and weigh up to 100 pounds, while Silver Asian carp are often between 20 and 40 pounds.

But, as Dave Chapelle said, “Modern problems require modern solutions.”

In this case, shocking these critters with enough electricity to send a person into cardiac arrest seems to be doing the trick.