Carp study leaves no one happy

Cape Breton Post - - Classifieds - BY JOHN FLESHER

TRA­VERSE CITY, Mich. — The surest way to keep ram­pag­ing Asian carp from gain­ing a foothold in the Great Lakes is to sever the link be­tween Lake Michi­gan and the Mis­sis­sippi River basin, cre­ated by en­gi­neers in Chicago more than a cen­tury ago.

That would thrill en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and those who make their liv­ing in the $7 bil­lion Great Lakes fish­ing in­dus­try, which could be dev­as­tated by a carp in­va­sion. Not so the barge op­er­a­tors who move mil­lions of tons of com­modi­ties on the Chicago-area wa­ter­ways each year.

And so, pulled in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions by both, as well as politi­cians in the Great Lakes states, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion this week pro­posed a $78.5 mil­lion plan that ap­pears to make no one happy.

“It ap­pears to be po­lit­i­cally ne­go­ti­ated rather than sci­en­tif­i­cally based ... sort of like try­ing to cut the baby in half,” said Thom Cmar, an at­tor­ney with the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fence Coun­cil. “It of­fers a lot of mid­dle-ground al­ter­na­tives with no dis­cus­sion of why any of them would ac­tu­ally work.”

Ship­pers worry about a promised study that would ex­am­ine clos­ing more of­ten a pair of nav­i­ga­tional locks at Chicago, and the prospect that a long-term study could rec­om­mend sev­er­ing the con­nec­tion be­tween the river and the lakes for good.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, mean­while, fear the plan’s re­liance on strength­en­ing an elec­tric bar­rier de­signed to block the carp’s ad­vance — and other mea­sures, such as step­ping up ef­forts to find and kill fish that may have slipped through — is an ex­pen­sive gam­ble that might not be enough to ward off an in­fes­ta­tion.

“ We’re spending close to $80 mil­lion just for a short-term de­ter­rent,” said Joel Bram­meier, pres­i­dent of the Al­liance for the Great Lakes, an en­vi­ron­men­tal group. “We need to stop push­ing money to­ward tem­po­rary so­lu­tions and get every­one on track to­ward in­vest­ing in one that works for good — and that means ab­so­lute phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion.”

On­tario is also con­cerned about the carp com­ing to the Great Lakes. The prov­ince’s Min­is­ter of Nat­u­ral Re­sources Donna Cans­field has said the carp are a se­ri­ous prob­lem for the ecosys­tem and fish­ery.

On­tario has joined Min­nesota, Ohio, New York, Penn­syl­va­nia and New York in sup­port­ing a Michi­gan law­suit seek­ing clo­sure of the locks and an even­tual sep­a­ra­tion of the Great Lakes from the Mis­sis­sippi River basin.

Big­head and sil­ver carp — both na­tive to Asia — have been mi­grat­ing to­ward the lakes since es­cap­ing from Deep South fish ponds and sewage treat­ment plants in the 1970s. The big­gest can reach 100 pounds and 4 feet long, con­sum­ing up to 40 per cent of their body weight daily in plank­ton, the base of the aquatic food chain. Once es­tab­lished in the lakes, the carp could starve out the prey fish on which pop­u­lar species such as sal­mon and white­fish de­pend.

The carp have al­ready in­fested parts of the Mis­sis­sippi and Illi­nois rivers, driv­ing away many na­tive fish. Sil­ver carp are known to hur­tle from the wa­ter at the sound of pass­ing motors and slam into boaters with bone-break­ing force.

While sci­en­tists dif­fer on whether the carp would thrive in the Great Lakes, which are colder, deeper and eco­log­i­cally dif­fer­ent than rivers, many say the risk is too great to take any chances.

“None of us know for cer­tain what their im­pact would be,” Uni­ver­sity of Notre Dame bi­ol­o­gist David Lodge told a House sub­com­mit­tee this week. “ There’s only one way to find out, and I don’t think any of us want that.”

To be fair, the so­lu­tion en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists pre­fer — cut­ting ties be­tween the lakes and the Mis­sis­sippi — would mean re­con­fig­ur­ing some 70 miles of canals and rivers. That’s a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing that could not hap­pen quickly. “ We can­not fight bi­ol­ogy with en­gi­neer­ing alone,” Cameron Davis, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s spokesman on the is­sue, told the con­gres­sional panel.

The As­so­ci­ated Press

Two Asian carp are dis­played Tues­day, on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, dur­ing a Sub­com­mit­tee on Wa­ter Re­sources and En­vi­ron­ment hear­ing on pre­vent­ing the in­duc­tion of the carp, an aquatic in­va­sive species into the Great Lakes. The Asian carp, which can grow up to 100 pounds, were caught in Ha­vana, Ill.

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