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Changes to lock and dam aimed at stopping invasive carp

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Asian carp
Silver carp in a tank Thursday, Apr. 4, 2013 at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus.
Jennifer Simonson for MPR News 2013

Updated: 4:25 p.m. | Posted: 11:30 a.m.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has adjusted the flow of water through a Mississippi River lock and dam in southeastern Minnesota in an effort to slow the spread of invasive carp.

The changes to Lock and Dam 8 near Genoa, Wis., were based on recommendations from a research team led by Peter Sorensen, a University of Minnesota professor and expert on invasive carp.

Sorensen said it's the first time the Corps of Engineers has adjusted a dam's operations to prevent the spread of an invasive species. 

"If we could stop them there, there would be only a very short stretch of Minnesota they'd ever get into," he said.

Sorensen's research team found that the water flows through the lock and dam weren't always even.

"We figured out that they were unbalanced, and then how to correct the balance," he said. "In the course of doing that, you take away any weak spots that the fish might be able to swim through."

The relatively small adjustments in how the spillway gates are operated will prevent carp from moving upstream without affecting barge traffic, Sorensen said. He believes the low-cost, relatively simple changes could be replicated at other sites along the Mississippi and elsewhere.

"It's going to be much cheaper and easier if you do it proactively before they've passed through a spot and are actively breeding and moving around," Sorenson said. 

Researchers also have mounted underwater speakers in the lock gates to broadcast low-frequency noises that deter carp, but aren't known to affect native species in the river and are not audible to people.

Bighead, silver and other invasive carp have been making their way upstream since escaping into the Mississippi River in the 1970s. These large fish are voracious eaters that compete with native species and pose a threat to rivers and lakes.

While no breeding populations have been detected in Minnesota waters, individual fish have been caught in the Mississippi near the Twin Cities, the St. Croix River and the Minnesota River.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, bighead and silver carp are now abundant and reproducing in Iowa, about 100 miles south of Genoa, and are moving north.