Reuben Goforth found that the voltage necessary to kill Asian carp embryos and control the invasive species with electricity would be too high to be safe in rivers. Scientists had hoped to modify or expand low-voltage electrical barriers such as those used around Chicago waterways to direct fish from particular areas.
Reuben Goforth found that the voltage necessary to kill Asian carp embryos and control the invasive species with electricity would be too high to be safe in rivers. Scientists had hoped to modify or expand low-voltage electrical barriers such as those used around Chicago waterways to direct fish from particular areas.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — One of the more promising ideas for controlling or eliminating troublesome Asian carp populations in the Midwest’s rivers is impractical and unsafe, according to a Purdue University researcher.

Scientists had hoped to modify or expand low-voltage electrical barriers such as those used around Chicago waterways to direct fish from particular areas.

Reuben Goforth, an assistant professor of aquatic community ecology in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, said the level of electricity needed to kill Asian carp eggs in the rivers where the invasive species has spread would be far too high.

“We were really hoping this would be a viable way to control these Asian carp,” said Goforth, whose findings were published in the early online version of Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. “We really need to look at other methods.”

The several species known as Asian carp — silver carp, black carp and bighead carp — are not native to U.S. waterways, but have been found in rivers throughout the Midwest. These fish are competing with native species for food and altering ecosystems.

They also are dangerous to boaters and other river users since Asian carp can weight up to 60 pounds and are known to jump out of the water during even minor disturbances.

“They’re softer, but imagine going 35 mph in a boat and having something with the mass of a bowling ball hitting you in the face,” Goforth said.

“There are cases of broken cheeks, broken noses, people being knocked out.”

Goforth tested electrical fields on three model species — zebrafish, goldfish and fathead minnows — which are in the same family as Asian carp and have embryos that are similar in size.

He found that it took at least 16 volts per centimeter of electricity to kill the embryos.

That’s in contrast with 1 volt per centimeter used in electrical barriers around Chicago, which Goforth said have had at least one case in which a boat too close to shore caused a substantial electrical arc.

“Using 16 volts is just too much,” he said. “It would be dangerous for people and other aquatic life to put that much electricity in the water. It’s a significant hazard.

“Even if we were able to control the population with 8 volts per centimeter, that’s a lot of electricity.”

Goforth said he would look at other methods to control Asian carp, including using weak electrical fields or hydroacoustics to deter the fish from optimal spawning grounds.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funded the study.