Asian Carps
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Socio-economic Impact

The Threat of Aquatic Invasive Species to the Great Lakes

Boat tied to dock

The full effects and consequences of aquatic invasive species sometimes take decades to emerge. The Bi-national Ecological Risk Assessment of Bigheaded Carps (DFO, 2012)1 determined that following the arrival of Asian carps, it would take 7 years for the impacts to be realized. Fisheries and Oceans Canada used this information to conduct a Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (DFO, 2014)2 to better understand the impacts of an Asian carp establishment in the Great Lakes. The study uses 2011 as the base year, and an adjusted base of 2018 from which to consider the 20 year and 50 year impacts. For the purposes of estimating the impact to Canada, the study excluded Lake Michigan. 

List of Activities

Base Year of 2018


20 Years


50 Years


Commercial Fishing




Recreational Fishing




Recreational Boating




Wildlife Viewing




Beaches and Lakefront Use








Table 1. Estimated Present Values of Affected Activities in the Great Lakes in 20 and 50 Years by Activity.2

Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada staff calculation, Policy and Economics, Central and Arctic Region

In order to estimate the risk to each activity, it was assumed that without added prevention, Asian carps will arrive, establish a population, survive and spread due to the availability of suitable food, compatible lake temperatures and spawning habitats, and high productivity embayments in the Great Lakes basin.

Commercial Fishing

The Commercial Fishing Industry depends heavily on the health and ecological state of the Great Lakes. The total value of the Commercial Fisheries in the Great Lakes during 2011 was over $33 million dollars. The presence of Asian carp would have multiple impacts, including:

  • Increased costs and decreased revenues for commercial harvesters.
  • Small prey fish of commercially fished species would be impacted through direct consumption by Asian carp.
  • Increased competition for food resources with young and mature native species.
  • This decrease in revenue would in turn reduce the level of gross profits and thereby create a circular flow of impact.

Flow chart outlining the impact of Asian carp to the Great Lakes commercial fishing

From a demand perspective, the commercial fishing sector would also be adversely affected as the quality of native species fished would be expected to reduce as total population numbers decline. As the total number of catchable fish decline, commercial fisheries will need to adjust harvesting methods for smaller sized native fish species. This reduction in fish size and quality will decrease the demand of Great Lakes’ fish as a food source all over the world.






Grand Total

Landings (lbs.)

Yellow and White Perch






Rainbow Smelt












Lake Whitefish






White Bass


















Landed Values

Yellow and White Perch






Rainbow Smelt












Lake Whitefish






White Bass


















Table 2. Landings and Landed Values of Commercial fisheries in the Great Lakes by Species and Lake in 2011.2

Note: * Includes American Eel, Bigmouth Buffalo, Black Crappie, Bowfin, Brown Bullhead, Burbot, Channel Catfish, Chinook Salmon, Cisco, Common Carp, Freshwater Drum, Gizzard Shad, Lake Trout, Lepomis, Moxostoma, Mudpuppy, Northern Pike, Oncorhynchus, Pink Salmon, Pomoxis, Quillback, Rainbow Trout, Rock Bass, Round Whitefish, Sea Lamprey, Suckers, White Sucker.


The presence of Asian carp in the Great Lakes would damage recreational fishing activities in a variety of ways, as shown in the flow chart below. If recreational catch rates were reduced by a decrease in native fish populations, there would be reduced angling activity and correspondingly, less disposable income spent on this recreational activity. Anglers contribute a large amount of money to the provincial government via fishing licenses, as well as, contributing to other sectors of the economy while on fishing excursions. Reduced recreational fishing and related activities will have economic impacts on other businesses and livelihoods which depend on the continuation and development of this sector.

Flow chart outlining the impact of Asian carp to the Great Lakes recreational fishing

Asian carps may also discourage recreational water use though direct harm to people and property. Silver Carp are known toexcite at the sound of boat motors, causing them to leap out of the water, possibly injuring water-skiers or landing in boats causing damage to property and injuries to boaters. There have also been incidents of Silver Carp breaking fishing rods, windsh

ields and other equipment. In addition, once the carp land in the boat, they leave slime, blood, and excrement. These potential damages from jumping Silver Carp would also raise operational and maintenance costs to boat owners, such as repairs and installation of protective equipment.

Other major activities that would be negatively impacted by an Asian Carp establishment in Canadian waters is summarized in Table 3. The threats associated with Asian carps, as well as the estimated value that is at risk over 20 and 50 year periods in the Great Lakes are listed. The estimated values indicate what consumers would be expected to spend in each of these categories. It is anticipated that there would be some relocation of these expenses by resident/non-resident Canadians to other sectors due to the expected damage to these activities following an establishment of these invasive fishes (the values exclude respective consumer surplus and tourism).

Major Activity




Estimated Present Value

20 Years

50 Years

Recreational Boating

Silver Carp jumping out of water

Damage to boats and boating equipment

Increase in operational and maintenance cost

$109 Billion

$237.3 Billion

Injuries to users

Decrease in participation

Wildlife Viewing

Increase in cladophora mats in the Great Lakes, particularly along the shorelines

Decrease water quality

Damage to viewing activities and opportunities

$3.5 Billion

$7.5 Billion

Human health concerns

Decrease in participation

Beaches Lakefront Use

Increase in cladophora mats in the Great Lakes, particularly along the shorelines

Damage to beaches and lakefront use activities

Decrease in property value and relocation of expenditures to other sectors.

$5.2 Billion

$11.3 Billion

Table 3. Summary of threats to major activities and the estimated costs to each in the Great Lakes Basin2

Cladophora: a green algae commonly found in the Great Lakes which grows on hard substrates and the lake bottom and becomes detached throughout the summer.

Total Economic Valuation of the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes basin has proven to be a very valuable resource to the Canadian economy in multiple ways. The basin is directly linked to numerous industries, all of which would be greatly impacted if the ecological state of the lakes were compromised. The most recent estimates of the value of economic contributions of activities in and around the Great Lakes basin is in the amount of $13.8 billion contributed to the Canadian economy.

The Great Lakes basin provides invaluable services to society with maintained ecosystem health and biodiversity. Those intrinsic values however, are difficult to quantify because they are much more intangible than other benefits such as commercial fish harvesting (Krantzberg, 2006). Flowchart 3 illustrates this number in greater detail and displays the distribution throughout different industries and sectors of the economy.

Social and Cultural Values of the Great Lakes

It is expected that recreational and cultural activities in Canada will experience similar negative impacts as those seen in Illinois and the Chicago Area Waterways should Asian carps establish in the Great Lakes. More than 1.5 million recreational boaters utilize the Great Lakes water system every year. The ecological impact that Asian carps would have on the Great Lakes, would likely result in significant declines in the industries, jobs and recreations that depend upon them. The decline in recreation related activities could also have a direct impact on Ontario’s reputation as a destination for outdoor recreation tourists, including purchasers of vacation homes.

People kayaking down a river

First Nations communities have inhabited the shores of the Great Lakes for a very long time and cultivated a unique relationship with the rivers and lakes of the basin. There are currently approximately 75 First Nation communities inhabiting the coasts of the Great Lakes, with many more living within the surrounding areas. Hundreds of these communities occupying the Great Lakes region are engaged in fishing activities and many rely on subsistence fisheries for food and cultural reasons.3 Natural resources such as fish, are harvested by more than 70% of northern Aboriginal adults and >96% of those do so for subsistence purposes.4  The disruption of these fisheries by the invasion of non-native aquatic species could severely disrupt the ability of these groups to sustain their livelihoods and culture. Other concerns with the potential degradation of the Great Lakes quality include4:

  • Loss of biodiversity may cause loss of Aboriginal Knowledge related to specific species should they become extinct
  • Economic losses for First Nation communities due to the reduction of commercial fishing
  • Degradation of fish populations threatening food security and thereby traditional First Nation diets. Diet (and income supplementation) is especially important for residents in remote northern locations because of the high costs to transport goods and the limited employment opportunities.
  • Loss of culturally or spiritually significant sites
  • Gaining access to traditional fishing activities may be impaired and may increase costs of subsistence harvesting and thereby costs of living in the areas.
  • There may be increased level of competition among First Nation communities and with recreational and commercial harvesters for fewer native fish species.

First Nations groups play a key decision-making role regarding Great Lakes issues, and are consulted about resource development.

The Great Lakes provide considerable subsistence, social, cultural, and spiritual benefits to regional residents

and contribute significantly to the economy as a whole:

  • Socially, the Lakes’ beaches and shorelines provide a “sense of place” and a unique source of opportunity for research and educational activities that result in a better understanding of the ecology. 
  • Harvesters of Great Lakes’ freshwater fish species and the communities involved in the harvests have long realized the importance of these resources to their communities, both for preserving traditional values and for subsistence purposes.  
  • Great Lakes beaches and coasts provide a unique source of community pride, as they encourage diversified recreational activities. The beaches and coasts are a key public perception measure of environmental quality.
  • Freshwater fisheries have contributed substantially to the preservation of traditional Aboriginal lifestyles in the region. Fish harvesting is one of the primary economic activities which provide a viable livelihood to support Aboriginal family ties and traditions and it is therefore important for social and cultural reasons. 
  • Due to the inherent compatibility of the fisheries with traditional indigenous livelihoods, participation in this industry allows First Nation harvesters to participate in the modern economy without losing their cultural identity.
  • The investment in the freshwater commercial fishery contributes to the community, as in some northern communities, commercial fishing equipment is being used to supplement family income.  
  • The social impacts of commercial fishing are significant in terms of both employment and for cultural reasons. These non-economic cultural benefits are not only substantial, but may even exceed the benefits of subsistence as a food source.

Sunset picture of a man and his dog in a fishing boat


1.  Bi-national Ecological Risk Assessment of Bigheaded Carps (DFO, 2012)

2.  Socio-Economic Impact of the Presence of Asian Carp in the Great Lakes Basin (DFO, 2014)

3.  Assembly of First Nations – Impacts of Pollution on Great Lakes Fisheries Discussion Paper (

4.  Climate Change, Health, and Vulnerability in Canadian Northern Aboriginal Communities (Furgal et al., Environmental Health Perspectives, 2006)