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Published: Wednesday, 12/9/2009

Ohio lawmakers mount carp war

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - A handful of lawmakers and environmental groups yesterday called on Gov. Ted Strickland and Attorney General Richard Cordray to mount legal pressure on federal officials to head off the voracious Asian carp before it reaches the Great Lakes.

It's feared that the eating machines will work their way through a Chicago canal linking the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan, where they would proceed to eat their way through the Great Lakes ecosystem. That could destroy the sport and commercial fishing industries.

Among the signatures are northwest Ohio representatives Matt Szollozi (D., Oregon), Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo), and Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky). They are asking Ohio to join Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who recently urged Attorney General Mike Cox to bring similar pressure on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to close the canal locks.

"The U.S. [Environmental Protection Agency] said that should the Asian carp get into Lake Michigan and establish itself, in a five to 10-year time period there will be an ecological disaster on Lake Erie," said Rep. Michael Skindell (D., Lakewood), who attended a conference on the subject last week.

DNA evidence shows the carp had reached the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal despite an electrical barrier designed to keep invasive species out. Illinois has injected a powerful pesticide into an enclosed six-mile stretch, killing some 200,000 pounds of fish.

The EPA yesterday said one Bighead Asian carp was found. While the DNA evidence suggests the Asian carp may have reached the canal, the EPA said a work group involved in the project believes their numbers are small.

The Coast Guard on Monday reopened the canal and Little Calumet River to boat traffic.

Mr. Skindell said pressure must be brought on the Corps of Engineers to temporarily close the two canal locks until a permanent solution is found, a move that would endanger marinas and some other commercial activity on that stretch of the canal.

One suggestion involved building another electrical barrier.

Lawmakers suggested using part of $475 million meant for lake restoration from the federal economic stimulus package to confront the problem.

Strickland spokesman Amanda Wurst said the governor's office will review the letter and then decide whether legal action is the proper avenue.

"Ohio was one of the first states to contribute financial resources for the electrical barrier," she said, adding that the state also contributed $20,000 toward the pesticide used by Illinois in the fish kill.

Cordray spokesman Holly Hollingsworth said the attorney general's office has contacted Michigan to see how Ohio can help in the legal fight.

"If the Asian carp finds its way into the Great Lakes, it will be the undisputed heavyweight of invasive species," said Jack Shaner, of the Ohio Environmental Council. "It will outcompete, outswim, and outeat virtually all of our indigenous fish."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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