Finished carp fence dubbed ‘substantial’

An Asian carp fence.

The numbers document the dimensions of a barrier constructed at Eagle Marsh near Fort Wayne designed to block potential advancement of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes.

“Substantial,” is the word Indiana Department of Natural Resources director Robert E. Carter used to describe the fence.

Construction of the 1,177-foot main fence and a supplemental 494-foot debris catch fence began in early September and has been completed.

The final cost of the fence project is still being determined, but indications are it will be less than the $200,000 bid estimate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are funding the cost of the project through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

“I tip my hat to DNR staff that tackled this project and got it done in a timely and efficient manner,” Carter said. “This may not guarantee Asian carp never get into the Great Lakes someday, somehow, but with a temporary barrier this substantial, it certainly seems unlikely this will be the route.”

The DNR took a lead role in the fence project after identifying Eagle Marsh as a potential pathway for Asian carp to move from the Wabash River system into the Maumee River, a tributary to Lake Erie. Although the Wabash and Maumee basins drain in opposite directions and have no direct connection under normal conditions, their waters do comingle under certain flood conditions in Eagle Marsh, a 705-acre restored wetland near Fort Wayne.

The DNR pursued the mesh fence barrier as a short-term option while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies develop a permanent solution.

“The completion of this fence marks another milestone met in the framework we laid out to prevent invasive Asian carp from establishing themselves in the Great Lakes. The barrier at Eagle Marsh is an example of what can be done through strong state and Federal coordination,” said John Goss, former Indiana DNR director who is the Asian Carp Director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Although placing such a large fence in the midst of a wetland restoration project creates aesthetic concerns, it was the right thing to do according to Betsy Yankowiak, executive director of the Little River Wetlands Project that manages Eagle Marsh.

“We spend so much on fighting invasive plant species and so much on volunteer time in that effort,” Yankowiak said. “We couldn’t handle it if Asian carp got through Eagle Marsh. We want to be proactive and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

While blocking passage of adult Asian carp is a primary goal of the fence, it also is designed to allow movement of water so as not to increase flood elevations and cause property damage.

As an added component of floodwater monitoring, the U.S. Geological Survey installed gages on the fence that will measure water levels in effort to ensure the fence does not block water flow during significant flooding events.

DNR staff supervised the fence’s construction by two Fort Wayne companies – Brooks Construction and R&C Fence.

Asian carp refers to several species of fish originating from Asia. Three species of the non-native fish – bighead, silver and black carp – were imported to the southern United States to keep aquaculture ponds clean and to provide fresh fish for markets. Some of the fish escaped into the Mississippi River system in the 1980s and 1999s after flooding and have expanded their range northward ever since.

Bighead and silver carp were first detected in Indiana in the late 1990s at Hovey Lake Fish & Wildlife Area in the southwest corner of the state. Since then, they have moved up the Wabash, East Fork and West Fork of the White River, the Patoka River, and the Ohio River and some of its tributaries in southern Indiana.

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