In the tense struggle to keep the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, the natives are beyond restless. They are nervous, agitated, and increasingly impatient about what they see as endless inaction.
A consortium of 46 major stakeholders in the future of the waterway — businesses, charter boat captains, marina owners, watchdog groups, chambers of commerce, and civic organizations — have found a somewhat diplomatic way to say that it’s time for the thumb-twiddling in Washington to end.
The groups have funneled their ire into one voice and formally requested a Congressional oversight hearing be held in order to make certain that any proposed solution in the Asian carp crisis provide a permanent separation between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems.
In a letter to the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R., Ashland), the group called into question the work the Army Corps of Engineers is doing on the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS), due in early 2014. That study is supposed to present Congress with potential steps to prevent these invasive fish from reaching the Great Lakes.
“The threat of invasive species, such as the voracious Asian carp, requires immediate, decisive, and effective action, and this coalition has concerns that the options in the Corps’ GLMRIS report will not meet the mandates that Congress originally gave them,” the letter stated.
“Asian carp” is a generic term that refers to four species of non-native fish — bighead, silver, black, and grass carp. Grass carp were brought to this country to reduce vegetation in rearing ponds on fish farms, while bighead and silver carp have been used primarily to clean sewage ponds. Black carp, the only non-vegetarian in the group, are used to devour snails that carry a parasite that is deadly to catfish raised on commercial fish farms in the south.
When serious concerns about the environmental impact of chemicals used to control aquatic vegetation surfaced, and the government issued mandates for less damaging alternatives, the Asian carp were seen as an environmentally friendly ally.
But when these carp started to escape the fish farms and sewage retention ponds in the early 1990s during periods of flooding, they began making their way into the Mississippi River system. They have been on a relentless march in all directions ever since, dominating many areas in their path. Asian carp now make up as much as 90 percent of the fish in certain stretches of the Mississippi.
They also have pushed to within just a few miles of Lake Michigan on the Des Plaines River, where a manmade waterway — the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal — makes an artificial connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds. An electrical barrier is supposed to provide a temporary restriction, preventing the carp from using this link to reach Lake Michigan.
The groups behind the demand for a hearing believe the Corps, which operates the electrical barrier, is not following its mandate to come up with a “permanent” separation of the two systems.
“Congress needs to hold the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ feet to the fire so that the nation can move forward with solutions to prevent Asian carp and other non-native species from wreaking havoc on our Great Lakes and other waterways,” said Marc Smith, senior policy manager with the National Wildlife Federation and a signatory on the letter.
Once established in a waterway, bighead and silver carp can rapidly dominate an ecosystem. They are prolific breeders and aggressive feeders that can grow to 60 or 70 pounds. As filter feeders, these carp are rarely caught by hook-and-line anglers. The carp trap phytoplankton and zooplankton, thus removing primary food for young fish of most native species.
The groups behind the letter see the threat to the Great Lakes’ $7 billion fishing industry as potentially catastrophic. They contend, and many biologists agree, that if the Asian carp become established in the Great Lakes, the use of this vast storehouse of fresh water by boaters, tourists, and fishermen will be permanently altered.
“Asian carp are advancing towards the Great Lakes on multiple fronts,” said Kristy Meyer of the Ohio Environmental Council.
“We believe the Corps should be recommending the best options for a permanent separation, and then move into the pre-construction phase once Congress approves a plan to do that. We can’t spend another 10 years talking about this problem. We feel that doing something now is not only cost-effective, but also smart.”
Meyer said that as of Thursday, the group had not received a response from the committee or from the Corps.
FISHING REPORT: Maumee Tackle reports the river was up six inches on Thursday following the recent rains, and the water had warmed to 68.2 degrees. The new surge of water could prompt another small push of white bass, but as that spawning run tapers off, anglers are still managing to locate fish scattered throughout the river, using spinners or jigs tipped with minnows or worms. Catfish are being caught in many of the larger pools in the Maumee, and smallmouth bass are hitting an assortment of plugs and crankbaits. On the Sandusky River, a few stray white bass are being caught on minnows fished under bobbers, or on brightly colored twister tails. Anglers are also taking crappies from the brushy areas along the shorelines in the river and in Sandusky Bay, using minnows and tiny jigs. On Lake Erie, anglers are dodging the storms and swells, but trollers are doing well with worm harnesses around Green Island, north of Kelleys Island and north of the reef complex. Some of the successful trollers are fishing slow, using two-ounce weights, and fishing about 30-feet back.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.