Asian carp caught near Lake Michigan: ‘Carp wars’ just got hotter

An Asian carp caught in Lake Calumet this week is the first such live fish to be found in such close proximity to Lake Michigan. Worries mount that the species will invade, and ruin, the Great Lakes.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer Christian Science Monitor
posted June 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm EDT

Chicago — The discovery of a 19-pound Asian carp in a lake outside Chicago is the most dramatic evidence yet that the voracious, invasive species is swimming past an electric “fence” and heading for Lake Michigan.

The carp, reportedly caught by commercial fishermen on Tuesday, is likely to intensify the “carp wars” that have been raging for most of this year between Illinois and other Great Lakes states over what should be done – and how soon – to stop the fish from reaching Lake Michigan. The one found this week in Lake Calumet is about six miles away, according to an Associated Press report.

In December, six Great Lakes states, led by Michigan, sued Illinois to force the closure of two Chicago-area navigational locks to prevent access of the fish into Lake Michigan. State leaders and environmentalists are concerned that if the fish make their way into Lake Michigan, they will destroy the ecosystem there and, eventually, ruin the $7 billion-a-year recreational fishing and tourism industries.

The US Supreme Court this year has refused three petitions to close the locks. In February, President Obama committed $475 million to research solutions and to build an additional electric barrier.

Critics say that framework lacks urgency and does not call for immediate closure of the O’Brien Lock and Dam in the Calumet-Sag Channel and the Chicago Controlling Works in the Illinois River – two potential entry points into Lake Michigan for Asian carp that have been migrating upstream from the Mississippi River for decades.

The federal plan, supported by Illinois lawmakers and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, notes that closing the locks would harm the barge industry. About 14.6 million tons of the Chicago region’s petroleum, coal, road shale, cement, and iron travel through the locks. Business through the shipping channels is worth $30 million a year, according to the American Waterways Operators (AWO), a trade association representing the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said the discovery this week confirmed “our worst fears.” Previously, Asian carp DNA had been found in the vicinity of Lake Michigan, but this is the first live fish to be found in such close proximity.

“Responsibility for this potential economic and ecological disaster rests solely with President Obama. He must take action immediately by ordering the locks closed and producing an emergency plan to stop Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan,” Mr. Cox said in a statement. He announced that his office is working on another legal action to try to close the locks.

Discovery of the fish also alarmed environmental groups.

“Asian carp are like cockroaches: When you see one, you know it’s accompanied by many more you don’t see,” says Henry Henderson, director of the Midwest chapter of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Now we can stop arguing about whether the fish are in Chicago’s canals and start moving as quickly as possible toward permanently separating the Great Lakes [from the Mississippi River]. We just cannot wait five to seven years for the Army Corps of Engineers to complete its own studies before deciding to solve this problem.”

The Asian carp pulled from Lake Calumet, east of the O’Brien Lock, stretched 34 inches and weighed more than 19 pounds. Biologists from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources are unsure how the fish made it that far, and past the electric barrier, and are planning to use genetic testing to determine its origin.

For the time being, however, the US Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the locks, says it does not plan to shut them.

“We see no reason … to take any step toward lock closure,” said agency spokesman Mike White.

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