Officials: Asian carp threat to St. Joe River
Written by South Bend Tribune   
Friday, 19 February 2010 12:45
The St. Joseph River could be "ground zero" for Asian carp in the coming years, a state official said.

"The river is ideal for the fish," said Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, his statement catching the full attention of the crowd in front of him.

Cox co-hosted a town hall meeting, attended by more than 100 people, with U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, at the St. Joseph Public Library Thursday morning. They highlighted the disastrous effect they said Asian carp could have on the Great Lakes, other local waterways and the economy in general, if canals leading into Lake Michigan are not temporarily closed in and around the Chicago area sometime soon.
 
The silver and bighead carp — known for eating 40 percent of their weight a day and growing up to 100 pounds — were originally imported in the 1990s to control algae in fish farms near the Mississippi River. However, they escaped during a flood, reproduced quickly and have proven to outcompete native fish.

Their journey has taken them from the Mississippi River to the Illinois River and into the Des Plaines River. That will likely put them into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Calumet-Sag Channel — on the doorstep of Lake Michigan — very soon, Cox said.

Once there, the fish could negatively affect the ecosystem of the Great Lakes and connecting waterways forever, he said, not to mention severely crippling Michigan's $7 billion fishing industry.

"This is a real dilemma that impacts our community," Upton said. "None of us want to close the locks, but we need to do anything we can to keep them out."

Cox's request last month to the U.S. Supreme Court to force the closure of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was denied, as was a request by Gov. Jennifer Granholm to the White House.

Several proponents of these measures spoke at the town hall meeting — from boaters, to fishers to Chamber of Commerce officials. They all touched on how the carp could negatively affect the economy if other fish are killed off by the carp.

The Berrien County Commissioners, meanwhile, prepared a resolution Thursday that will be brought before the council next week stating Michigan should prepare a contingency plan for dealing with the threat should the carp enter Lake Michigan. That would include, but not be limited to, closing fish ladders at dams on the St. Joseph River. The resolution would be forwarded to Granholm, local state and federal politicians and to Michigan counties bordering the lake, including the Michigan Association of Counties.

Electrical barriers were placed in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal just above its connection with the Des Plaines River, but environmental DNA testing sponsored by the Army Corps of Engineers and discovered by University of Notre Dame professor Lindsay Chadderton indicates the carp may be past the barrier and closing in on the lake. The White House announced earlier this month that the government will give $78 million to go toward further testing and a third electric barrier.

That may not be enough, according to Kelley Smith, chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' Fisheries Division.

"We can't stay ahead of them," he said. "For 13 years, Asian carp has been our biggest issue. We've got to prevent these things from happening. ... If they get in the Great Lakes, the estuaries and rivers will be majorly affected. Once they're here, they're here. It will have serious effects on the fish population on the Great Lakes. I'm very, very concerned with this.

"The animals are hard to capture. We'll continue to send crews down the Illinois (River) on a search and destroy mission. I don't see that we have a priority higher than this. ... But finding them is very difficult."

"They're like rats," commissioner Bryan Bixby, of Berrien Springs, said of how fast the fish breed.

Chadderton, who also serves as Great Lakes Aquatic Invasive Species director, said he can use DNA to figure out some patterns of the fish and if they've been to certain places, but it won't tell how many fish there are and exactly where they are.

"If they get in the Great Lakes, we don't think it's game over," he said. "There's still the ability to disrupt it."
 
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