Something's fishy
Written by Muskegon Chronicle   
Sunday, 10 January 2010 20:50
Obama needs to rethink Asian carp stand.

We know President Obama is a busy guy, but he should rethink his Asian carp strategy.

Faulty advice is at the root of Obama’s opposition to a lawsuit filed by Michigan and four other Great Lakes states demanding temporary closure of three locks near Chicago until the extent of the Asian carp threat to the Great Lakes can be determined.

The five states, which were joined by the Canadian province of Ontario and have received verbal support from Indiana, believe the move is needed to prevent more Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. Anecdotal sightings of the carp have been reported in southern lakes Michigan and Erie. Some even claim to have seen the fish in West Michigan waters.

Basically, Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the Supreme Court last week that Obama opposes the suit because it hasn’t been proven that closing the locks immediately is needed to keep the Asian carp out of the lakes.

Leaving them open hasn’t done the trick, either.

Michigan filed suit after a massive poisoning of fish in the shipping canal found at least one Asian carp had made it through the electrical barrier designed to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes. The poisoning was conducted because Asian carp DNA had been detected in a stream 6 miles from Lake Michigan, where the only barriers are locks and gates.

We’re disappointed that a “Great Lakes” president, one of the few politicians from this region ever to make it to the White House, doesn’t see the threat Asian carp present to what many consider the nation’s greatest resource.

We’re even more disappointed that he decided to be a “homer” and protect Illinois’ tiny stake in the issue.

On behalf of Obama, Kagan told the Supreme Court Michigan’s request would endanger public safety while disrupting cargo and passenger vessel traffic. She was concerned, according to the Associated Press, that it would cost shippers 10 percent more to move their products by land from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Michigan officials contend any economic losses from closing the locks would be small compared to the damage of an Asian carp invasion in the Great Lakes.

Kagan said the closure also would make it more difficult for the Coast Guard to respond to recreational boating emergencies and oil spills — all issues that can be resolved.

It may not be clear in Washington, D.C., but it’s clear in Michigan that thousands of jobs could be affected along with the lakes’ ecology if Asian carp are allowed to enter the Great Lakes in large numbers. The carp are an aggressive species that could quickly devastate the $7 billion Great Lakes fishery and $11 billion recreational boating industry.

And it won’t be just the Great Lakes that are affected. All warm water rivers and smaller inland lakes connected to the Great Lakes would fill with Asian carp.

Perhaps the most galling part of Kagan’s court filing was this statement: “Nothing in federal law warrants second-guessing its expert judgment that the best information available today does not yet justify the dramatic steps Michigan demands.”

Those experts she refers to have watched — for nearly 40 years —  as the bighead and silver carp and other species swam up the Mississippi River and other connecting rivers and crowded out the existing native fish — and did almost nothing to stop them.

It took years for the Corps of Engineers to erect an electrical barrier in the shipping canal between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes to stop the carp and other invasive species and now the Corps says it has never operated the barrier at full power because it was worried about the effects on nearby barges.

Apparently, research on the barrier — which the Corps sold as an effective tool — was lacking.

As we have pointed out before, Michigan has spent millions of dollars annually for decades trying to control other invasive species like the sea lamprey, zebra mussels and goby, and their effect on our fishery, boating industry and lakeshore communities.

It makes more sense — both economically and environmentally — to spend those millions preventing the fish from entering the Great Lakes at all — despite what President Obama thinks.

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