Asian carp found in Chicago canal, just 9 miles from Lake Michigan shores

Asian carp are on the move toward Lake Michigan, even as the Trump Administration refuses to release an ambitious new plan to block the migration of the fish up the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and into the Great Lakes.

A single live Asian carp was pulled from the Chicago canal Thursday — above an electric barrier system operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

The fish, more than two feet in length, was captured in a net approximately nine miles from the shores of Lake Michigan.

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This is the second live Asian carp to be plucked from the water on the lake-side of the electric barriers, an indication that the system, which has a history of power outages and does not operate at a strength high enough to repel small fish, isn’t up to the job of keeping the voracious carp from invading the world’s largest freshwater system. 

The announcement comes the same week a bi-partisan group of federal lawmakers called on the Trump Administration to release a new battle plan to stop the carp that involves modifying a navigation lock on Chicago canal system.

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The Army Corps has prepared a study on options to use the Brandon Road navigation lock near Joliet as a kill zone, a move opposed by barge operators in Illinois and some Illinois politicians, including Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti. She blasted the concept as an “unnecessary experiment” in a commentary that appeared in the Chicago Tribune last February.

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“Building new bells and whistles at Brand Road will cost too many taxpayer dollars,” she wrote on February 24, noting that construction estimates for the project ranged as high as $270 million and operating and maintenance costs could be as high as $10 million annually. “Disruption to navigation, jobs and revenue will not be addressed in the Corps project, even though all parties agree that mitigation would be necessary.  Meanwhile, the Corps has indicated that the report has been ‘finalized,’ and the only way to stop it is to protest during the public comment period.”

Less than a week later, the Army Corps announced it was delaying the release of that plan, which has yet to see the light of day.

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“I’ve been sounding the alarm on the threat Asian carp pose to our Great Lakes, our quality of life in Wisconsin and our freshwater economy,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said Friday. “Today’s discovery is incredibly troubling and it shows how urgent our fight is right now. There is no excuse for any further delay — the Trump Administration must release the Brandon Road study so we can get to work on a permanent plan to stop Asian carp from ever devastating our Great Lakes. I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation requiring the release of this report because Wisconsin communities can’t wait any longer.”

Dan Egan is the Brico Fund Senior Water Policy Fellow in Great Lakes Journalism at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee School of Freshwater Science. In this role, he will report on pressing issues facing the Great Lakes. Editorial content is controlled by Egan and Journal Sentinel editors.

Thursday’s carp find will trigger two weeks of intense netting in the area to see if others have somehow made their way past the electric barrier.  

“It is important to note that this preliminary finding does not confirm that a reproducing population of Asian carp current exists above the electric dispersal barriers or within the Great Lakes,” the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee said in a news release Friday morning.

Conservation groups said the find is significant enough to order the immediate release of the new plan.

“The lack of action by the Administration is putting the Great Lakes at risk,” the Alliance for the Great Lakes said in a news release. “Any further delay is unacceptable.”

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The only other Asian carp found above the electric barrier system was netted in 2010. However, genetic evidence of the fish, identified by sifting DNA out of the water, has been found above the barrier since that time. 

The worry is that Asian carp, which can grow to 100 pounds and eat up to 20 percent of their weight per day in plankton, will ravage the Great Lakes multi billion dollar fishery. 
Many biologists believe the open waters of the Great Lakes lack the plankton levels to allow the fish to thrive in the manner that they do in the Mississippi River basin, but many biologists also believe the fish could thrive in the lakes’ warmer, shallower bays, harbors, as well as the rivers that feed the lakes.

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Dan Egan is a reporter covering the Great Lakes. His reporting on invasive species and other issues has won numerous awards. He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist for explanatory reporting, in 2010 and 2013.

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