HOW coalition urges Congress, federal agencies to step up efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (FEB. 25) — The co-chair of the Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition today called on Congress to declare the Asian carp an imminent threat to the Great Lakes and direct federal agencies to separate the carp-infested Mississippi River system from Lake Michigan.

Testifying before the Senate Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water and Power, coalition co-chair Andy Buchsbaum urged Congress to give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a new mission: Stop the movement of live organisms between the Mississippi River system and the Great Lakes.

The Healing Our Waters®-Great Lakes Coalition, which represents 114 conservation groups and other organizations in the region, wants Congress to direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine how best to separate the Mississippi River system from Lake Michigan. The Corps is currently studying whether it is feasible to create an ecological barrier in a manmade canal that links two of North America’s largest freshwater ecosystems.

“Ecological separation is essential for the Great Lakes — it is the only way of safeguarding the lakes from Asian carp,” Buchsbaum said. “Anything short of separation will fail sooner or later.”

Buchsbaum said Congress should direct the Corps to complete a study of how to separate the Mississippi River system from Lake Michigan by mid-2011, and then implement the report’s conclusions.

In his testimony, Buchsbaum also called on the federal agencies to quickly design and implement a contingency plan to stop any further movement of the invasive carp into Lake Michigan, and to eradicate the carp that are already in the Chicago Waterway system.

“Even under a best-case scenario, ecological separation will take time. We have to protect the lakes from Asian carp until the basins are separated, which could take several years. The agencies need to put into action a channel-by-channel, lock-by-lock plan to stop the carp from advancing further.”

Asian bighead carp and silver carp were imported to the U.S. in the 1970s to control algae in commercial fish farms in the southern U.S. The fish escaped into the Mississippi River in the 1980s and have since spread to the edge of Lake Michigan via manmade canals in the Chicago Waterway System.

The invasive fish — which can grow to 100 pounds, hog fish food and leap out of the water when disturbed by boat motors — pose a serious threat to the Great Lakes’ $7 billion fishery and $16 billion tourism industry.

Government agencies recently stepped up Asian carp control efforts after scientists detected Asian carp DNA in Lake Michigan, near Chicago.

“We recommend that Congress declare Asian carp to be an imminent and substantial threat to the Great Lakes and that stopping their movement into the Great Lakes be given the highest priority by the Corps and other federal agencies as they design and implement short-term and long-term measures to combat the carp,” Buchsbaum testified.

He praised state and federal agencies working to beat back the Asian carp invasion. But he said the federal government’s plan fails to address all potential invasion routes near Chicago and lacks specifics on what actions will be taken, and when, to keep the menacing fish from colonizing the Great Lakes.

“Although it has many useful and potentially effective elements, it is not nearly enough to protect the Great Lakes,” Buchsbaum said. “Most fundamentally, it does not shut the door on additional Asian carp reaching Lake Michigan.”

One of the major flaws in the control strategy is the government’s long-term solution — a series of studies, none of which commits federal agencies to taking action.

Despite a steady flow of bad news about Asian carp, Buchsbaum said there is still a chance to stop their advance on the Great Lakes before they begin reproducing in Lake Michigan.

“I believe our biggest challenge is not technical, but political,” he said.

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