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Published: Sunday, 1/10/2010

President misses the boat on Asian carp danger

Imagine a terrorist heading toward your community.

Not a disgruntled Nigerian with possible ties to al-Qaeda, mind you.

But a hyperactive, monster fish from Asia armed with a voracious appetite and the ability to wipe out a Great Lakes fishery valued at $7 billion.

It's an especially frightful scenario for Ohio and Michigan, two states looking to the sportfishing industry for help in recovering from economic ruin with more recreation and tourism.

Make no mistake about it. Asian carp will hurt lives if they're allowed to colonize the Great Lakes.

It's just that the damage will be more subtle and less dramatic than an airliner exploding upon its approach to Detroit Metro Airport on Christmas Day, the scenario that 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab apparently had in mind for the 278 passengers and 11 crew members aboard Northwest Flight 253.

President Obama has helped the Great Lakes region during his first year in office - notably, with a $475 million down payment on his campaign pledge to pump $5 billion more into sewage work and other Great Lakes restoration programs.

But he has blown it on the Asian carp issue. He must be held accountable if an ecological disaster materializes.

Andy Buchsbaum, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center in Ann Arbor and one of many environmentalists who are seething right now, diplomatically stated that the administration "has miscalculated the threat Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes."

A memo filed Tuesday by Mr. Obama's Solicitor General Elena Kagan calls for the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a Michigan-led effort, endorsed by Ohio and other states, to shut down two locks separating waterways that flow between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. Canada's largest province, Ontario, also supports that effort. The court was to hear arguments Friday.

Asian carp are no lightweights, having swum upstream against the Mississippi's powerful current for years.

They're aquatic vacuum cleaners capable of eating four times their body weight in plankton daily. No other invasive freaks out Great Lakes fishery biologists like this one.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox is doing exactly what American intelligence officials should have done - step in and stop a would-be terrorist in his tracks.

By trying to get the Supreme Court to block the Asian carp's pathway, he is trying to avert what appears to be an inevitable crisis.

Drastic times call for drastic measures. How often have we seen a crisis in the making, yet been unable to get those in power to take it seriously enough?

Mr. Obama has aligned himself with the powerful shipping industry and other short-sighted business lobbyists who have convinced Illinois politicians that almost everyone else is crying wolf.

Illinois, no stranger to hardball politics, is working with the administration to keep the status quo.

If this massive gamble fails, we all lose. And history will show our first Great Lakes president in decades will have turned his back on us when we needed him most.

Border security must include aggressive action against all biological threats. Would we be waffling like this if the threat were a dangerous chemical migrating through the water instead of a hungry, nuisance fish?

Asian carp, imported to eat pond scum by some Southern fish hatcheries, first started migrating north after the Mississippi flooded in 1993. We've had time to plan for them. Their risks are known. They've been profiled down to their DNA.

Seventeen years of hand-wringing have occurred. Surely lessons from zebra mussels, sea lamprey, and nearly 200 other exotics have shown us that fears about invasives aren't overblown.

We deserve better from our Great Lakes president.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.


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