Lawmakers need to angle for more Great Lakes protection
Written by Muskegon Chronicle   
Thursday, 17 December 2009 11:25

Carping about invasive species not enough

The threat of several species of Asian carp moving into the Great Lakes has prompted Michigan and five environmental groups to threaten to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to force it to temporarily shut down three shipping locks near Chicago.

We support this move and call on the Corps of Engineers to voluntarily close the locks immediately on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which connects the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, and other rivers and streams while the scope of the problem is determined.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin also has joined the fight urging a Senate panel to pass the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act, which he introduced in July. It has bipartisan support from Great Lakes states senators. We urge Congress to take action before the holiday break and to at least get another species of Asian carp — the bighead carp — on the list of injurious species under the Lacey Act, thereby making it illegal to import or transport the fish live and, hopefully, help to minimize the risk of intentional introduction. Three other species of Asian carp (silver, large-scale silver, and black) have previously been classified as injurious under the Lacey Act.  While Levin urged swift action at a hearing Dec. 3, none has been taken.

We urge Congress to move quickly.

In addition, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service also has published and is seeking comments on a management and control plan for Asian carp under the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force. Again, action on this proposal needs to be swift.

Corps of Engineers Chicago district officials have said they are considering all options but would not close the locks without first studying the possible effects.

The Chicago shipping canal is used to move millions of tons of cement, stone, oil, coal and other goods between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes. Shipping officials had no estimate of the value of the goods traveling through the canal, according to The Associated Press, but said the additional cost of shipping the goods by truck or train across Illinois between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes could “definitely impact day-to-day living.”

The value of the Great Lakes recreational and commercial fishing industry is $7 billion. The Great Lakes recreational boating industry is valued at about $11 billion. The loss of either or both of these industries also would impact day-to-day living for Michigan residents as well as those in other Great Lakes states and Canada.

Illinois environmental officials recently dumped poison in a nearly six-mile stretch of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal near Lockport to kill off the carp while the electrical barrier is turned off for maintenance. There is some DNA evidence that Asian carp may have breached the electrical barriers designed to keep them from the lakes, although no living carp have actually been found. There have been anecdotal claims by anglers and boaters that Asian carp have been spotted in both lakes Michigan and Erie.

The electrical barrier, installed in 2002, is a nonlethal barrier for the fish and doesn’t interfere with water flow or navigation in the canal. Government officials and environmentalists have proposed construction of a second electrical barrier, but no action has been taken. Now officials are questioning the value of the barrier at all since it appears the carp have breached it.

Much is unknown about what will happen — and how quickly — if the carp enter the Great Lakes. But the carp’s ability to take over is evident in places like the Illinois River, where it has caused native fish to go hungry.

The damage Asian carp could do to the Great Lakes lies mainly in the disruption of the fish food web. Bighead carp can grow between 4 and 5 feet long and can weigh up to 110 pounds. The species consumes up to 40 percent of its weight a day gobbling up algae and plankton, which is the basis of the fish food web. The carp also are expected to compete with salmon and other fish spawning in rivers, eventually crowding them out.

So, the danger to Great Lakes recreational and commercial fish would be starvation and lack of spawning grounds.

If the silver carp — the jumpers — reach the Great Lakes, there also could be danger to boaters. Boat motors stir up the fish in shallow water and cause them to jump. There have been reports of broken jaws and noses from boaters hit by the fish. One Illinois boater was knocked unconscious and fell into the water. She was saved by a nearby boater who pulled her out before she could drown.

Basically, a warm-water fish, the Asian carp are expected to move into the state’s warm rivers like the Grand River, perhaps some bays in the Great Lakes where the water is warmer and into inland lakes connected to the Great Lakes like Spring Lake and Bear Lake.

Originally, the carp were imported from Asia to cleanse fish ponds and sewage lagoons in the South, but they escaped into the Mississippi River when flooding overflowed those ponds and have been working their way north since the 1980s. Their DNA is now found in water about 7 miles from the Great Lakes.

If the Asian carp do invade the Great Lakes, it most likely won’t wipe out all the native species as some have forecast, but it will be a major problem. For years we have spent millions of dollars annually trying to control the effect of other species like the sea lamprey, zebra mussels and goby, on our fishery, boating industry and lakeshore communities.

It makes more sense to spend those millions now preventing the fish from entering the Great Lakes at all

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