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Published: Thursday, 7/19/2012

Advance of the carp

Now that Asian carp DNA has been detected in Lake Erie's Maumee and Sandusky bays, the Obama Administration and Congress must step up federal efforts to turn back the highly destructive species of fish.

The mere presence of carp DNA is not necessarily a game-changer. It could be the product of bird feces or evidence of a few Asian carp that are long gone. Yet it is a warning sign that makes clear the need for greater monitoring of Lake Erie and the four other Great Lakes.

Congress, not the White House, got the sluggish U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite a long-term engineering solution for the Chicago Area Waterway System, which connects Lake Michigan to the carp-infested Mississippi River. Rather than push for lock closures while that threat is examined, the administration helped Illinois fend off a challenge in the Supreme Court by Michigan, Ohio, and other states.

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The government has spent more than $150 million fighting Asian carp in the Chicago area, using measures such as electrical barrier and poisons. Yet Great Lakes residents won't learn until at least next year whether federal officials agree with scientists that a complete separation of the two watersheds, at a cost of $9.5 billion, is the best remedy.

Other potential pathways along which carp could advance must also be addressed. A chain-link fence in the Eagle Marsh wetland of Fort Wayne, Ind., where the Maumee and Wabash watersheds could meet under the right flood conditions, needs to be fortified.

There must be stronger enforcement of bans on interstate shipments of Asian carp along U.S. highways. Canada should enforce a similar prohibition. Stiffer fines are necessary to deter violations, which have increased as the live-fish food industry has become more popular in cities such as Chicago, Toronto, and New York.

Governments also need to know more about live fish released into public waters for religious and cultural purposes. The Ann Arbor-based Great Lakes Commission, which coordinates policy for the eight Great Lakes states, notes the discovery of Asian carp in public ponds and lagoons, and suggests they may have been released as part of Buddhist ceremonies based on the principle of compassionate action toward animals.

Western Lake Erie is the region's center for spawning fish. The Maumee River is an ideal habitat for Asian carp and many other fish species. Three of the largest Asian carp species, bigheads, were caught in Lake Erie between 1995 and 2000 without knowledge of how they got there. Last week, a Canadian report stated that 10 females and 10 or fewer males are enough to help Asian carp get established in any of the lakes.

The government can't ignore what nature is trying to tell it. It needs to be more aggressive in its fight against the carp.

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