Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Can They Be Stopped?
Everything is connected on planet Earth. It is said that the flutter of a butterfly wing in Thailand affects a thunderstorm in Wisconsin. Because of a century-old mistake, this ugly, inedible, aggressive fish is within striking distance of Lake Michigan. If it reaches the lakes the fear is that it will destroy the Great Lakes fishing industry, harm the drinking water that 40 million people depend on, and make the lakes unsafe for swimming and boating.
Asian Carp have been moving up the Mississippi River into the Illinois River for years, and now they’ve reached the canal that connects the infested Illinois River to Lake Michigan. This canal was dug over a hundred years ago for ease of moving barge traffic into the lakes, and all that separates the carp-infested Illinois River from them is a single, electrified barrier. If that barrier needs to be shut down for maintenance—and occasionally, it does—there's nothing to stop the intruders from making their way into the freshwater paradise.
Asian Carp were stocked in Louisiana fish ponds to clean them, but during a period of flooding they escaped into the Mississippi River. This ill-conceived idea combined with a century-old mistake has now endangered our nation's most precious natural resource.
We are not talking about common carp, which are eaten in many places. The creatures in question here are the silver and bighead carp. Even if they didn't taste terrible,
they have interlaced, "floating bones" that make them a nightmare to eat. While they are not good to eat, they are very good at eating. They can get up to 100 pounds in size and eat 40% of their body weight daily. The climate of the Great Lakes region is similar to their native Asian habitats and they would have no natural predators. They would simply out-eat and out-breed the others.
The fear is that the carp will transform the Great Lakes ecosystem into something unrecognizable. One need only look at infested sections of the Illinois River where environmental officials say that carp now comprise nine out of every 10 pounds of living material—plant or animal—found in the water. That’s 90% of the total biomass! "Sooner or later, those carp are going to find a breeding home" in Lake Michigan, said Joel Brammeier, acting president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a Chicago advocacy group. "And once that happens, there's going to be no stopping the Asian carp in the Great Lakes."
For the Great Lakes, already taxed by the invasion of other non-native species, it could be the last straw. "Once in the lakes, it would be very difficult to control them" say the Fish and Wildlife Service
One would think that the Great Lake States would unite on this issue, but Chicago business and political interests do not want to lose easy use of barges for shipping. So there's a fight. In an urgent effort to close down Chicago-area passages that could allow the unwanted fish to reach Lake Michigan, the State of Michigan is suing the State of Illinois. Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin have filed documents in recent days supporting Michigan’s move, and Indiana says it will soon do the same. But it may be too late. They shouldn't have waited until Asian carp came within striking distance before getting around to suing the very negligent and irresponsible state of Illinois.
“Officials need to put a cork in the connection between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes built more than a century ago. The end point clearly needs to be biological separation," said Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in Ann Arbor, Mich., which focuses on protecting the lakes' fishing industry. “Commerce will find a way to move cargo. The commodities will still move. And move efficiently. Until we slam the door, this problem will not go away.”
We must separate the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes basin, as Mother Nature intended. But will it happen? Michigan had taken their suit directly to the Supreme Court, but, sadly, the court declined to consider the suit.
Please pass the word, blog about this, call the White House, or leave an email in the nice little comment form. It's easy and you'll feel good about it. Michigan's Attorney General, Mike Cox, has requested that President Obama use his executive powers to close the locks and wouldn't it be cool if the Whitehouse was inundated with demands that he do just that? Even if you don’t rely on the Great Lakes for your drinking water, or eat fish from them, swim in them or vacation on them, what happens to them will eventually affect you, like the flutter of a butterfly’s wing.