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Even as the federal government is spending $20,000 each day to operate and maintain an electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in a desperate attempt to keep Asian carp from colonizing the Great Lakes, the super-sized leaping fish are apparently finding other ways to continue their inexorable migration north - not into Lake Michigan, but into Wisconsin's inland waters.
An angler recently snagged a bighead carp in the Lower Wisconsin River in southwestern Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reported Thursday. At the same time, "environmental" DNA sampling on the St. Croix River on the northwestern border of the state has turned up positive samples of silver carp, the DNR reported.
Silver and bighead carp are the two species of Asian carp that biologists are worried most about in terms of impacts they can have on native ecosystems.
The fish, imported to North America by Southern fish farmers, have been migrating north for decades after escaping their containment ponds and have overwhelmed some stretches of river in the Mississippi basin below Wisconsin.
Asian carp were first detected in the Mississippi River along Wisconsin's western border 15 years ago, but Thursday's announcement was the first time a bighead carp has been documented on the Wisconsin River, according to DNR spokeswoman Laurel Steffes.
A bighead was also captured near the mouth of the St. Croix River earlier this year, but a recent round of DNA tests indicates the fish may be more widespread on that river than earlier believed.
Still, officials don't think the fish have infested these northern waterways anywhere near to the extent that they have in states like Illinois and Missouri.
Another positive, DNR officials say, is that dams on the Wisconsin and St. Croix rivers will block the fish from migrating farther inland.
But officials, who speculate this year's high waters on the Mississippi River are to blame for the carp's apparent advance, are worried nonetheless. They note most of the carp fight so far has been directed at protecting the Great Lakes, but they say guarding inland waters should also be a major concern.
"We need the federal government to recognize the importance of the Mississippi River basin's invasive species problem and give it the attention and funding it deserves," Bob Wakeman, the DNR's invasive species coordinator, said in a news release.