Asian bighead carp swim in an exhibit at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. Asian carp are infesting Great Lake waters.
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HURON, Ohio — It is not often that you can collect the representatives from more than a half dozen federal agencies, several watchdog groups, and a commission whose membership includes eight states and two Canadian provinces, pack them in a room and have them march in lockstep and speak the same tongue.
Fear of the rampaging Asian carp apparently can do that.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) convened a forum on the Asian carp threat to Lake Erie at the Cedar Point Center on Bowling Green State University's Firelands Campus.
Representatives from the EPA, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and the Great Lakes Commission reviewed the extensive data on the menace posed by the invasive carp.
"Asian carp" is a generic term covering four species of non-native fish — bighead, silver, black, and grass carp. Bighead and silver carp, which escaped from rearing ponds in the southern U.S. during floods decades ago, have dominated large sections of the Mississippi River basin and present the threat to the Great Lakes.
These carp have moved to within a few miles of Lake Michigan as they push up the Des Plaines River toward the Chicago canal that connects the two watersheds. The carp have also surged up the Wabash River in Indiana and threaten to enter Eagle Marsh near Fort Wayne, where the waters of the Wabash mingle with those of the Maumee River during periods of flooding.
"They are coming north through the Mississippi River system, and every year the pace quickens," Miss Kaptur said. "To me, the need to address this is very urgent. We can't let it destroy Lake Erie. We're talking about 800,000 jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity on the Great Lakes."
John Goss, a native Hoosier who heads the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee that met on Monday, was appointed by President Obama to serve the role as Asian Carp Director for the White House environmental group.
"We are absolutely determined to see that the carp do not get in," Goss said. "They are a threat to the ecosystem wherever they are present."
The Asian carp can grow to 20 or 30 pounds in just three years, and the bighead variety can reach 100 pounds and consume half their body weight per day. Both the bighead and the silver carp, notorious for their frantic leaps that have injured many boaters, are filter feeders that strain plankton from the water, monopolizing the food source of the young of many game fish and collapsing the complex food web.
Leon Carl of the USGS, whose recent study concluded that the Maumee River system and the western basin of Lake Erie would suffer the worst impact if the Asian carp get established in the Great Lakes watershed, said as more studies are done on these invasive fish, the news is not good.
"We've learned that they swim vertically a lot better than we thought," Carl said. He added that the fence the Corps of Engineers installed across Eagle Marsh to deter the movement of adult fish was a good step in holding off the carp, and that the electrical barrier in place in the Chicago waterway serves the same purpose.
"What they are doing ... is critical, because it is buying us time," he said.
The time element is where the parties in the discussion of the Asian carp problem part ways.
A proposal by the Great Lakes Commission offers three potential methods to restore the natural divide between the Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds in Chicago. All three address the complex separation, transportation, flood management, and water quality issues that exist there, with costs that range from around $4 billion to $10 billion, and the projects would not be completed until 2029.
Miss. Kaptur said the snarl of political interests involved in the issue are impeding the push toward a solution.
"The problem is that the Corps and certain interests in Washington want to delay addressing this — five years, 10 years, 15 years — and we can't wait 15 years," she said.
"The type of separation of watersheds that needs to be done must occur quickly, rather than with further delays. We need a technical solution that is implemented quickly. That requires appropriations, and it ought to be in this appropriations cycle as we begin 2012."
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.