Invasive Asian carp near Lake Michigan must be a ‘wake-up call,’ lawmakers say

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Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press

Published 10:32 p.m. ET June 23, 2017 | Updated 0 minutes ago

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Several Michigan legislators have weighed in on the finding to say it should act as a “wake up call” to protective action for the Great Lakes.
Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON — A live Asian carp was caught beyond electronic barriers meant to keep the invasive species out of the Great Lakes, just 9 miles from Lake Michigan, state and federal government officials confirmed Friday. 

The Thursday capture of the silver carp — one of two invasive species collectively known as Asian carp — below the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam in Chicago immediately raised concerns that not enough is being done to keep the carp out of the Great Lakes.

“Today’s news is a wake-up call,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who has been clamoring for controls, including possibly separating Lake Michigan from Chicagoland waterways, for a decade. “We need to know how the silver carp came so close to Lake Michigan and whether there are any additional carp in the area.”

Henry Henderson, director of the Midwest Program for the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said Asian carp are like cockroaches.

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“When you see one, you know it’s accompanied by many more you don’t see,” he said. “We have had 15 years to deal with this slow-motion tragedy.”

Environmentalists, fishermen and others worry that the voracious carp, which were imported from Asia and have populated in the Mississippi River basin, will decimate habitat for other species if they infiltrate the Great Lakes. The recent find only heightened those concerns.

“The window of opportunity to protect the Great Lakes is closing,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., who co-chairs the House Great Lakes Task Force. “If Asian carp are able to gain access and reproduce within the Great Lakes, the environmental and economic damage will be severe.”

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and a consortium of local, state and federal agencies called the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee announced the find Friday morning, saying the 8-pound, 28-inch-long silver carp was caught by gill net as part of its seasonal monitoring of waterways in the Chicago area.

It is only the second time in eight years of monitoring that a bighead or silver carp has been found beyond the electric dispersal barriers operated by the Army Corps of Engineers about 37 miles from Lake Michigan. In 2010, a bighead carp was caught in Lake Calumet not far from the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam.

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No other evidence of Asian carp infesting waterways near Lake Michigan was found at that time. But there have been longstanding concerns about the effectiveness of the electronic dispersal barriers, especially after researchers showed evidence that smaller fish could be swept along through the barriers in the wake of larger barges.

The capture of the silver carp automatically triggers two additional weeks of intensive sampling in the area to determine whether there are others nearby. Late last year, the Free Press reported that the leading edge of the Asian carp’s juvenile population was about 50 miles from Lake Michigan.

The regional coordinating committee sought to tamp down concerns, saying not enough is known to determine the seriousness of the find.

“It is important to note that this preliminary finding does not confirm that a reproducing population of Asian carp currently exists above the electric dispersal barriers or within the Great Lakes,” the committee said in a statement.

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Sam Finney of the U.S. Fish and Widlife Service narrates sonar video that shows fish swimming past the electric fish barrier in Chicago meant to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan.

The fight over what to do to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan has been waged for a decade, with officials in Michigan arguing that hydraulic separation may be needed to protect the Great Lakes. Business interests in Illinois and Indiana, meanwhile, have balked at such suggestions as well as others calling for barriers, saying they will impede inland waterway travel.

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Stabenow and other members of Congress from Great Lakes states, including Michigan, Ohio and others, have also been clamoring for the Trump administration to release a report on how best to implement barriers at another key choke point on the waterways to Lake Michigan, at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, in Joliet, Ill.

The Free Press first disclosed that the report — expected to be released by Feb. 28 — was ordered delayed by the Trump administration, though the reason is not known.

“The discovery of a live Asian carp just 9 miles from Lake Michigan and beyond the electric barriers makes it all the more critical that we add additional defenses,” said Mike Shriberg, executive director for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “The electric barriers are not sufficient to stop Asian carp. … We call upon the administration to release the draft study on improving defenses at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam without delay.”

Follow Todd Spangler on Twitter: @tsspangler

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