Officials detail plan to handle Asian carp threat
Written by Chicago Tribune   
Monday, 08 February 2010 19:03
After a White House meeting christened the "carp summit," federal and state officials today announced a multi-pronged attack with a $78.5 million price tag to prevent Asian carp, an invasive species, from establishing populations in Lake Michigan.

Nancy Sutley, the president's top environmental adviser, led the meeting at the request of the governors of Michigan and Wisconsin, who were on hand. Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois was scheduled to attend, but cancelled his travel plans because of the winter weather and planned to take part by teleconference, said Marlena Jentz, a spokeswoman.

Officials this afternoon unveiled an Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework, which they characterized as "aggressive" and "unparalleled." It features more than 25 short-term and long-term actions funded by major spending, some of which officials said already is in the pipeline.

Asian carp are considered a major threat to the Great Lakes and its commercial and recreational fishing industry, which estimates call a $7 billion enterprise.

The new strategy calls for a multi-tiered defense of the Great Lakes to keep carp out which scientists try to develop biological controls to prevent the prolific, non-native fish from developing self-sustaining populations.

Officials said a priority is limiting the number of carp that enter Lake Michigan. Key containment measures include:

  • Constructing and operating a third electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal at the cost of $10.5 million. Two existing barriers are near Romeoville, Ill.
  • Awarding a $13.2 million contract next month to construct concrete and chain-link fencing between the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Des Plaines River. The aim is to prevent fish passing around electric barriers when flooding occurs.
  • Opening Chicago's navigational locks less frequently to block carp movement and studying the feasibility and impact of permanent lock closure.
  • Deploying larger field crews to conduct physical and sonar observation, electro-shocking and netting.
  • Testing 120 water samples a week, twice the current number, for eDNA, which refers to environmental DNA showing trace amounts of carp.
  • The feasibility study on potential closure of the locks will examine the effectiveness of lock operations in blocking carp movement, the risks and costs associated with closure, and alternative steps, officials said.

Dick Lanyon, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, said Monday that one aspect to the federal government's control plan could limit shipping and boating traffic through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to certain hours of the day or certain days of the week.

Officials haven't yet announced a schedule, Lanyon said, and don't yet know what impact this would have on cargo shipping and recreational boating in the Chicago area. The locks and dams would still be able to be opened in emergency situations to prevent flooding, Lanyon said.

Under normal operating conditions, Lanyon said, the navigational locks and dams remain closed until a ship or boat is approaching.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, whose bid for a court order forcing immediate closure of the locks was rejected while his lawsuit against the state of Illinois goes forward, released this statement regarding a possible partial closing.

"We have yet to see an official proposal in response to our suit, but that sounds as logical as keeping criminals in jail four days a week and hoping the other three days go well," Cox said. "Michigan and the other states continue to demand an immediate, full-time closure of the locks and a plan to get to a permanent separation of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basin. We have not seen such a plan from Illinois or the federal government."
 
In addition to Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the meeting also drew officials from the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and the Coast Guard.

One participant, Tom Strickland, the Interior Department's assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, talking about Illinois, said in a statement: "We are providing immediate financial, technical and research assistance to the state for their Asian carp control efforts in South Chicago waterways, and will continue to do everything we can to keep carp out of Lake Michigan."

The federal strategy also outlined longer-term management techniques to curb the Asian carp threat.  Some $5 million will be spent on additional chemical treatments; $3 million to expand the commercial market for Asian carp in Illinois and elsewhere, with some proceeds from carp filets going to ecosystem restoration and invasive species prevention; and more than $1.5 million for new research.

The research is aimed at giving decision-makers new tools to manage the fish, such as developing Asian carp-specific poisons, devising ways to disrupt spawning and egg viability, designing sonic barriers and assessing food sources and potential habitats.

The strategy also outlines educational and enforcement tools to prevent Asian carp from being sold or purposefully transferred. It also calls for an investigation of Asian carp transfer in ballast and bilge water.

Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, noted that federal, state and municipal partners are working with Canadian provincial and national officials on the threat. Darcy helps supervise the Army Corps of Engineers.

 
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