Senseless snags thwart action to protect against Asian carp

Our Great Lakes region’s persis- tent efforts to reel in meaningful action to rein in the potentially destructive Asian carp continue to hit snag after snag.

The latest setback came earlier this month when U.S. District Judge John Tharp threw out a lawsuit filed by Ohio and four other Great Lakes states that want barriers placed in Chicago-area waterways to prevent Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.

The lawsuit filed by Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania claimed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District are causing a public nuisance by failing to physically separate a network of rivers and canals from Lake Michigan.

Dire predictions

And nuisance is putting the potential long-term dangers mildly. Scientists say if the voracious carp gain a foothold in the Great Lakes, they eventually could threaten native species and severely damage the region’s ecosystem and economic livelihood. After all, the Great Lakes provide nearly 35 million people with drinking water, and they support tourism and fishing industries, which generate an estimated $7 billion in annual economic activity .

The Asian carp breed of fish can grow as large as 4 feet long and can weigh as much as 100 pounds. These underwater enemies devour the plankton and other organisms that keep the underwater ecosystem thriving. In fact, the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative call the carp the greatest damaging invasive species that has entered the Great Lakes in the last century.

On top of this month’s judicial setback, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused four times to hear the states’ pleas to order temporary measures such as closing Chicago shipping locks and installing block nets in the waterways to prevent the spread of the threat. Judge Tharp and others have based their shortsighted decisions on the sanctity of interstate commerce, specifically that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is prohibited from constructing dams in any navigable waterway without congressional intervention.

In the case of the looming Asian carp threat, however, the public health of 35 million Americans must trump the parochial interests of Chicago-area shipping barons.

Action in Senate

To that end, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman recently put aside partisan differences to introduce the Strategic Response to Asian Carp Invasion Act, which would put the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in charge of coordinating a partnership between federal, state and local agencies to help stop the spread of Asian Carp. It would require ongoing research, concrete action and annual congressional review toward eradicating the threat of Asian carp and other invasive species in America’s prime waterways.

The legislation merits prompt attention in the new year. A recent Ohio Department of Natural Resources study found Asian carp environmental DNA in water samples collected from western Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay and Maumee River in Ohio. Clearly, the threat looms large and close to home. The longer that lethargy stands in the way of cooperative action, the larger the devastating impact of these monster predators may be for our state and nation.

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