Prof calls for invasive species research facility at U of M

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

University of Minnesota Professor Peter Sorensen wants to bring the fight against exotic species like Asian carp closer to home.

Sorensen, of Sorensen Lab at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources, made his pitch to a Senate natural resources committee Jan. 5 at the State Capitol.

“I hate to say it, we have no way of stopping it now,” Sorensen said of Asian carp entering the state waters.

Indeed, Sorensen doesn’t even like to use the word “barriers” when speaking of bubble or sound curtains or other schemes at blocking the progress of Asian carp upriver. They can all be penetrated, he said.

“It’s like cancer of the environment,” Sorensen said of Asian carp and other exotics threatening the state.

Not that Sorensen, who’s looking for state funding for an exotic species research center at the university, is a fatalist.

“I’m probably not as depressed as you are,” he said. “Because I know there are solutions out there.”

Sorensen cited work by the university on the common carp — the invasive species Minnesotans have come to live with.

Studies show these carp predictably use environmentally degraded bodies of water for spawning — healthy populations of game fish ravage carp eggs, he said.

But through the use “Judas” carp, or carp fitted with electronic transmitters, researchers have been able to carefully track the movement of common carp.

In some experimental lakes in the western metro, carp populations have been decreased by 90 percent assisted by the exact information researchers obtained, Sorensen said.

“Every species has its weakness,” he said.

According to Sorensen, beyond federal funding for invasive species research being limited, the focus with Asian carp has been on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and threat posed by the carp to the Great Lakes.

It’s not a Minnesota focus, Sorensen said.

Asian carp are only one Minnesota-bound, exotic species, he said.

Another not far behind it is the northern snakehead, Sorensen said.

But in their native lands, these invasive species, such as zebra mussels, Asian carp, do not run rampant, he said. Natural controls do exist, Sorensen said.

According to Sorensen, it would cost about $750,000 to start up the research center at the university and he estimated annual funding at $1.3 million.

“This is a war we’re in,” Sorensen said of finding controls for exotic species.