Stemming the flow of the mon- strous Asian carp into the Great Lakes has surfaced as a classic tug-of-war between environmental and economic interests in the Midwest and the nation.
Environmentalists argue that if Asian carp are allowed to multiply and infest the Great Lakes, a worst-case scenario would produce horrific harm to the vital health, economic and recreational assets of the waterways, including those of nearby Lake Erie.
Chicago-area economic and political officials argue that closing its locks into Lake Michigan would cost its local economy $4.7 billion over 20 years. But an increasingly large chorus is calling for closure after commercial fishermen recently landed a 3-foot-long, 20-pound adolescent Asian carp in Lake Calumet on Chicago’s South Side, about six miles from a lock into Lake Michigan.
As the debacle enters a new forum this month — a federal courtroom in northern Illinois — we maintain our steadfast support for action to prevent or lessen the potential for a calamity of epic proportions to a mainstay of our region’s ecosystem and economic livelihood.
Asian carp are extremely destructive. They weigh more than 100 pounds, consume large amounts of food and reproduce rapidly. They pose a real threat to native fish by reducing populations of native plants, a staple for the native fish.
Asian carp also learn to jump up to 10 feet out of the water when disturbed by the sound of watercraft, posing a public-safety threat to boaters and water skiers.
Unfortunately, several initiatives to rein in the carp thus far have been deep-sixed.
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to intervene on behalf of Ohio and most other Great Lakes states in their suit to force action by recalcitrant Illinois and Chicago-area authorities. The Obama administration gave a polite but patronizing snub to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s recent demand for an emergency summit on the Asian-carp threat.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Fortunately, viable opportunities in two arenas remain for those seeking to halt the threat.
On the legislative front, action is expected soon, perhaps next week, on a bill co-sponsored by Northeast Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette that requires the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an 18-month feasibility study on how to separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. That effort has gained bipartisan support, as Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and George V. Voinovich are co-sponsoring a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.
On the judicial front, five state attorneys general — including Richard Cordray of Ohio — filed a suit in federal court in Northern Illinois in late July demanding tougher action by Chicago and Illinois to prevent Asian carp from overrunning the Great Lakes and destroying their fishing industry.
“The introduction of Asian carp into Lake Michigan will irreversibly damage this important resource. The time for action is now,” wrote Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
Van Hollen is absolutely on target. The longer the delay to deal seriously with Asian carp’s potential for disaster, the greater the likelihood for irreversible damage to all of our Great Lakes, the largest body of fresh water in the world.