Feds pass on surest solution to Asian carp advance

February 11, 2010 By JOHN FLESHER , AP Environmental Writer

Two Asian carp are displayed Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010, on Capitol Hill in Washington, during a Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing on preventing the induction of the carp, a aquatic invasive species into the Great Lakes. The Asian carp, which can grow up to 100 pounds, were caught in Havana, Ill. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP) -- With marauding Asian carp on the Great Lakes' doorstep, the federal government has crafted a $78.5 million battle plan that offers no assurance of thwarting an invasion and doesn't use the most promising weapon available to fight it off.

The surest way to prevent the huge, hungry carp from gaining a foothold in the lakes and threatening their $7 billion is to sever the link between and the basin, created by engineers in Chicago more than a century ago.

The strategy released by the Obama administration this week agrees only to conduct a long-range study of that idea, which could take years. The government also refuses to shut down two navigational locks on Chicago waterways that could provide an easy pathway for the carp into the lakes, although it promises to consider opening them less often.

Instead, the plan outlines two dozen other steps, from strengthening an electric barrier designed to block the carp's advance to using nets or poisons to nab fish that make it through. That's an expensive gamble that may not keep enough carp out of the lakes to prevent an infestation.

"We're spending close to $80 million just for a short-term deterrent," said Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the , an environmental group. "We need to stop pushing money toward temporary solutions and get everyone on track toward investing in one that works for good - and that means absolute physical separation."

To be fair, the solution environmentalists prefer - cutting ties between the lakes and the Mississippi - would mean reconfiguring some 70 miles of canals and rivers. That's a massive undertaking that could not happen quickly and is fervently opposed by barge operators who move millions of tons of commodities through the Chicago locks each year.

Bighead and silver carp - both native to Asia - have been migrating toward the lakes since escaping from Deep South fish ponds and sewage treatment plants in the 1970s. The biggest can reach 100 pounds and 4 feet long, consuming up to 40 percent of their body weight daily in plankton, the base of the aquatic food chain. Once established in the lakes, the carp could starve out the prey fish on which popular species such as salmon and whitefish depend.

The carp have already infested parts of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, driving away many native fish. Silver carp are known to hurtle from the water at the sound of passing motors and slam into boaters with bone-breaking force.

While scientists differ on whether the carp would thrive in the Great Lakes, which are colder, deeper and ecologically different than rivers, many say the risk is too great to take any chances.

"None of us know for certain what their impact would be," University of Notre Dame biologist David Lodge told a House subcommittee this week. "There's only one way to find out, and I don't think any of us want that."

Pulled in different directions by the fishing and the barge industries, and politicians in Illinois and those from the other Great Lakes states, the Obama administration says the only realistic approach is to confront the carp on multiple fronts instead of taking the bolder step of severing Lake Michigan from the Mississippi basin.

"We cannot fight biology with engineering alone," Cameron Davis, the Environmental Protection Agency's spokesman on the issue, told the congressional panel.

Yet the federal plan is heavy on technological innovations. Among them: barriers using sound, strobe lights and bubble curtains to repel carp and biological controls to prevent them from reproducing. They're promising measures - but still on the drawing board.

Environmentalists and Great Lakes governors outside of Illinois who want to close the Chicago locks claim it's the best short-term option. But it isn't a foolproof solution, as young carp might still be able to slip through the leaky structures. The Chicago waterways also have other access points to Lake Michigan.

Army Corps of Engineers officials are putting their faith in a two-tiered electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal about 25 miles from Lake Michigan, to which they will add a third section this year. It emits pulses to scare off the carp or knock them unconscious if they don't turn back. No carp have been found above the barrier, although biologists have detected their DNA in numerous spots past it and even within the lake itself.

"While we're all talking," Lodge said, "the fish are swimming."

That almost certainly means at least some carp have eluded the device and reached the lake. The government's plan aims to keep their number low enough to prevent them from breeding. The problem is that no one knows how many carp need to make it into the lake to establish a foothold that can't be turned back.

"This is a lot of money to pile into stopgap measures," said Phil Moy, a University of Wisconsin Sea Grant researcher. "It may do some good in the short term, but in the long term it's not going to solve the problem of invasive species on both sides of the divide. Ecological separation has to happen for this to be successful."

Explore further: Carp barriers to Great Lakes may fall


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3 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2010
Stop the carp. Block the waterway.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2010
Quit taking calculated risks. Everone agrees they don't know what will happen if these fish get into the Great Lakes. The scientists do know what has already happend in the habitats they've invaded so far. So what all the talk about. The solution is spelled out clearly. Sever the link to Lake Michigan. Instead all these people want to debate till they turn blue in the face and wasting all this time with these "talks" the fish will get in. There is no doubt about it!
5 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2010
I've been reading stories about this subject for some time now. The "FIX" could have already been done. This is a real "NO BRAINER". It's really sad that this hasn't been done. The next story that I read about this issue wil be "Asian Carp have invaded the Great Lakes". Just like the zebra mussle, The Sea Lamprey and numerous other creatures. Mark my words. To little Too late.
3.5 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2010
We also know what will happen if we close down the locks between the river and the lake; billions of dollars lost in reconfiguring the transport of commodities through Chicago. Nobody knows what these carp will do to the Great Lakes ecosystem, if they can even survive there for long periods, and we've already messed up those ecosystems pretty badly anyway. For all we know, those carp might help clean up a lot of the pollutants we've already dumped in that lake. After all, that's why they were introduced into those Southern sewage ponds.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2010
I've seen several articles about this creature but no comments about how they taste. If they grow to 100 lb., my cat and I are both interested, unless, of course, the flesh is polluted.
3 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2010
I've seen several articles about this creature but no comments about how they taste.

Compared to salmon or whitefish, they taste like crap.

On a related note: how long will it be until Al Qaida discovers eco-terrorism?
1 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2010
I've seen several articles about this creature but no comments about how they taste.

Compared to salmon or whitefish, they taste like crap.

They don't taste like carp?
not rated yet Feb 12, 2010
I've seen several articles about this creature but no comments about how they taste.

Compared to salmon or whitefish, they taste like crap.

They don't taste like carp?

I was tempted to say they taste like carp crap, but I never tasted carp crap, so I couldn't in all honesty post such a claim...
not rated yet Feb 12, 2010
the water way in question is the sewage out let for chicago.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2010
They have an excellent taste if cooked correctly. I think the problem is they'll be messing with the ecosystem, not that they cannot be used for aquaculture.
not rated yet Feb 12, 2010
I was thinking in terms of commercial fishing to reduce their numbers, assuming there is a market. If they are the biggest fish in the river one would hope that nets could be designed to snag just them and let the rest go. There are 80+ million cats alone in this country. Any receipes? For carp, that is.

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