MSU scientist’s work to eradicate invasive grass carp earns national recognition

Kelly Robinson receives 2020 Decision Analysis Practice Award

Research to help eradicate grass carp, an invasive species of Asian carp, in Lake Erie has garnered Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife researcher Kelly Robinson national recognition with the 2020 Decision Analysis Practice Award.

The distinction is given annually by the Decision Analysis Society and the Society of Decision Professionals to the best decision analysis application, as determined by a panel of members of both societies. The award includes a cash prize and assistance in getting the work published in a research journal.


“The Lake Erie grass carp project brought together managers around the lake and organizations that have done previous research on invasive carp to develop management programs for the species and potentially eliminate it,” Robinson said. “It also establishes a framework to prepare management plans for other Asian carp species that are kind of knocking on the door of the Great Lakes.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, grass carp are commonly used in aquaculture ponds to control plant growth. They escaped captivity in the Mississippi River and have been reported in the Great Lakes, except Lake Superior, for over 40 years.

Robinson’s project engaged managers, biologists and researchers from federal, state and provincial agencies and universities in decision making to elicit grass carp response objectives and potential actions.

Their work resulted in a five-year adaptive response strategy for the Lake Erie Committee, the decision-making entity for fisheries management. The team created a population model that is predicts the effects of management and control actions and also provides a much-needed forum for members in this multi-jurisdictional arena to make decisions together. 


“Our project serves as a case study for how decision analysis can be used for invasive species management and has convinced Great Lakes fisheries managers that decision analysis will be critical if other invasive Asian carp enter the Great Lakes basin,” she said.

Robinson worked with Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator Lucas R. Nathan with the Michigan DNR’s Fisheries Division on the project.

“Dr. Robinson brought her extensive experience with decision science applications to the grass carp issue,” said Nathan. “Grass carp present a complex management problem because they have the potential to impact the Great Lakes in numerous ways.

Grass carp research team
Members of the research group Robinson worked with as part of her grass carp research. The group, from left, includes: Alexa Curtis, Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Jorden McKenna, US Fish and Wildlife Service; Ryan Young, USFWS; John Buszkiewicz, MDNR; Kaitlen Lang, MDNR; Jesse McCarter, USFWS; Lucas Nathan, Michigan State University/MDNR; and Sean Egelston, Michigan State University. (Photo courtesy of USFWS)

While many uncertainties exist about the status of grass carp in the Great Lakes, Nathan said the process among regional partners to identify uncertainties and evaluate tradeoffs among management strategies has been critical in the development of the basin-wide plan currently implemented in Lake Erie.

 “Grass carp are high priority invasive species in the Great Lakes region due to their potential to negatively affect aquatic ecosystems,” Nathan said. “They consume large amounts of aquatic vegetation which can lead to negative impacts to native species (fish and waterfowl) and water quality. Spawning in rivers connected to Lake Erie has been observed which increases the concern that they may become established and spread throughout the Great Lakes.”

Robinson said the next steps will include developing more effective removal methods and developing potential barriers to limit movement into rivers to spawn.

In general, Robinson’s lab focuses on fish ecology and conservation and the use of structured decision-making (SDM) as a means to integrate science with management. The outcomes lead to predictions and modeling frameworks used to establish management programs for various issues within the state and region.

A member of the Lake Erie Percid Management Advisory Group, Robinson uses population modeling and decision analyses to inform the management of yellow perch and walleye. She assists the DNR and Lake Michigan Committee by conducting structured decision-making analysis with Lake Michigan anglers to develop common fishery goals and objectives to inform the Lake Michigan Predator Prey model, an important tool to determine stocking levels.

“Dr. Robinson’s expertise in decision-science provides valuable contributions to all of these projects which represent complex management decisions with multiple objectives,” said Nathan.

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