Don't expect Asian carp czar to leap into action
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Tuesday, 14 September 2010 10:45
As you read this, a young man named James Schafer is in China with an American trade delegation working on a deal to have his family-owned Schafer Fisheries ship Asian carp from the Mississippi and Illinois rivers to China.

Asian carp numbers are declining in their native waters, largely because the Chinese have dammed, polluted and overfished the rivers where carp spawn.

So we soon may be treated to the irony of American commercial fishermen netting ecologically damaging invasive species from China and shipping them halfway around the world to where they originated.

As Schafer negotiated with Chinese bureaucrats, the White House named an American bureaucrat to coordinate efforts to keep the potentially destructive species out of the Great Lakes.

A lot of environmental groups cheered the appointment of John Goss as Asian carp director on the White House Council of Environmental Quality. They said "Goss' experience as Executive Director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation and former head of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources makes him an excellent choice to lead the fight."

I'll believe that when I see him make a concrete proposal to do more than "study" the problem that we've been watching get worse for 30 years. We may need more studies on long-term remediation and solutions, but when it comes to the immediate threat, we already know the most important thing to do:

Seal off the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that is the vector through which Asian carp are poised to reach the lakes, if they haven't done so already.

Free Press photographer Brian Kaufman and I recently spent several days along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to get yet another look at the problem.

We learned that hard-working people like the Schafers from Thomson, Ill., who last year marketed 12 million pounds of Asian carp worldwide, and fisherman Orion Briney from Browning, Ill., whose calloused hands caught 4 million pounds in all kinds of weather, are far more effective than fat-cat bureaucrats whose jobs don't seem to require satisfying their customers.

One news release said that "Today's announcement (of Goss) responds to the calls from environmental groups and Great Lakes Senators, led by Senators (Richard) Durbin and (Debbie) Stabenow, for increased federal action, greater transparency and communication with the public, and better coordination among federal, state, and local agencies."

The truth is that although Durbin, from Illinois, and Stabenow, from Michigan, have used Asian carp for campaign rhetoric, they have been about as effective at preventing their spread as the levees were at protecting New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina.

A joint statement from the environmental groups stressed the need for "keeping everyone -- particularly the Army Corps of Engineers -- focused on identifying the permanent solution that improves the outmoded infrastructure of the Chicago Waterway System and permanently prevents the travel of invasive species between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River."

That will be easier said than done. If you want proof of the axiom that "all politics is local," look no further than the Asian carp debacle in America.

The businesses and politicians who have blocked the federal government from closing the Chicago canal are from Illinois, as is President Barack Obama, which doesn't give me much confidence in Goss' "independence."

And years ago, when Asian carp were first recognized as a threat, the Arkansas fish farmers responsible for releasing them into the Mississippi ran to their White House buddy, Bill Clinton, and got the federal government to eliminate the job of the biologist who was raising the hue and cry.

So lots of luck to John Goss. Our new carp czar is going to need it. And so will those of use who live in the Great Lakes states.
 
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