By Douglas Belkin | WSJ
Federal officials Monday unveiled a multi-pronged attack to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes and prevent an invasion that could potentially devastate a $7 billion recreation fishing industry.
Among the tactics in a $78.5 million, 25-point plan: Navigational locks in Illinois waterways that lead to Lake Michigan will be opened less frequently, and officials will more aggressively search for and kill the fish when they are found.
“We are going to hit the carp with all of the tools in the toolbox,” said Cameron Davis, a senior adviser with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The plan was announced following a meeting between several environmental agencies and governors from Great Lakes states at the White House.
Asian carp were brought to Arkansas in the 1960s to clean up algae from sewers and fish hatcheries. After a flood, they escaped into the Mississippi River in the early 1990s and have been migrating north up Midwestern rivers ever since.
The fish are voracious eaters that can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 100 pounds. They reproduce rapidly and can quickly displace native species. In stretches of the Illinois River they now account for as much as 90% of the fish population by weight. Scientists fear they could do the same in the Great Lakes, potentially destroying native species.
What’s more, the fish have the habit of leaping up to eight feet out of the water at the sound of approaching motors. They have knocked boaters unconscious and broken their bones. Some people now cruise along parts of the Illinois River wearing football helmets for protection.
An electric barrier about 20 miles from Lake Michigan was supposed to be the last, best way to stop the carp from invading the Great Lakes, but last month genetic material from the fish was found in Lake Michigan for the first time. Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said despite evidence that the fish are in Lake Michigan, they aren’t yet established and there remains a window of opportunity to stop them. She called the federal plan “strong and aggressive.”
The issue has become a political hot potato, pitting environmental groups and the recreational boating and fishing industries against commercial shippers. Michigan sued Illinois to force them to shut the locks in the hope of containing the fish but the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Michigan then asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision and filed another suit seeking to separate the man-made connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi water basins. Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania have joined that suit.
At the White House meeting on Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm met with federal officials to figure out alternative ways to contain the fish. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell joined the meeting by conference call along with officials from Ohio.
The plan includes an additional electrical barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to repel the fish, and a restrictive schedule for the locks. If fish are detected near the locks the water could be electrified or treated with fish poison.
In addition, the plan calls for increased testing to monitor the fish are and speed up research to stop them from reproducing.
Ms. Granholm said after the White House meeting that such measures wouldn’t be enough to protect the lakes.
“You have to permanently shut these locks down,” she told the Associated Press.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, which has advocated aggressive action to stop the carp, characterized the proposal as a head scratcher.
“The complete absence of time lines and triggers for specific actions to be taken in response to specific events make evaluation of the framework’s details difficult,” Thom Cmar, a spokesman for the organization said in a statement. “But, we are concerned that the document released today still doesn’t articulate a clear plan, based on the best available scientific information, that will actually work.”