September 24, 2014

Get behind the effort to stop Asian carp

By Jessie Tobias
Staff Writer | info@ogemawherald.com
Posted 6/13/12

The threat Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes is being multiplied by the human idiocy factor, and it’s time to do something about it.

Stop the carp, that is. History has proven the idiocy factor to be persistent.

For those unfamiliar with the issue, Asian carp are invasive fish that have slowly but surely overtaken the Mississippi River on their way north from the fish farms where they were first introduced to eat algae and keep ponds clean.

The carp can grow to weigh upward of 50 pounds, and because they reproduce and grow so fast, they eat everything in sight, undermining natural ecosystems and starving out indigent fish populations — and they are knocking on the doorstep of Lake Michigan.

The fish are held back only by an electrified barrier installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Chicago canal system that connects Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi is infested with silver carp, a type of Asian carp. These are the fish seen in photographs and videos on the Internet jumping out of the Mississippi as boats pass by, a behavior that can cause injuries to passing boaters because of the carp’s large size.

That’s what the Great Lakes could become. Five great big lakes seething with carp. The Great Carp Lakes.

And last month, some idiot from Arkansas was caught selling live Asian carp in Michigan.

It’s time for the majority to step in and demand action. Live Asian carp cannot be allowed into Great Lakes states. The DNR has thrown down the gauntlet, charging the carp seller with multiple felonies in relation to the arrest, but in my opinion more should be done than simply making an example of this man.

When the emerald ash borer made its debut, devastating ash trees across the region, firewood transportation was nailed down in an attempt to stop the spread of the bugs. The transportation of Asian carp should be regulated and curtailed the same way.

It also bothers me that the federal government and the U.S. Supreme Court are more interested in keeping the dollars flowing than protecting the Great Lakes. Despite a lawsuit filed by multiple states bordering the Lakes, the Chicago canal remains open. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme court ruled against Michigan and other bordering states, including the Canadian province of Ontario. President Obama supported Illinois’ side of the lawsuit.

In spite of what reality television would like us to believe, people aren’t idiots. Rumors exist of a quiet body of smart, rational, insistent people who aren’t shy about telling their government something should be done. I dearly hope it exists, because right now the federal government is placing more importance on the Chicago shipping trade than the Lakes — and the economies of the multiple states that rely on them for fishing and tourism.

The carp might seem like a distant, unrealistic threat. Why worry, when the electric barrier is holding, and we’re on top of the situation?

But things can change in the blink of an eye.

For years, Middle Eastern terrorists were a distant, unrealistic threat to the majority of the American population. And it only took a matter of hours on a sunny September day 10 years ago to set us straight.

I fervently hope Michigan and the other states that border the Great Lakes don’t get the same kind of a wake-up call, because if Asian carp get through the door, the Great Lakes as we know them will vanish forever.

I know it’s not fair to compare 9/11 to a potential ecological disaster. There may be livelihoods at stake —along with the preservation of an enduring, valuable natural resource — but no human lives are at risk.

After all, it’s taken the carp more than 30 years to make their way up the Mississippi River to the Lakes’ doorstep. Even if they do find their way into Lake Michigan, it would take years for them to fully infest the Lakes.

But thinking the problem is any less immediate just because the repercussions would take time to be felt is foolish. Now is the time to take action, before the situation spirals out of control.

The electrified barrier installed right now in the Chicago canal has been successful so far — as far as we know.

But is it enough, when live Asian carp are finding their way into the state anyway?

We shouldn’t risk the ecosystem of the entire Great Lakes on that kind of a question. I’m putting my letter-writing hat on and telling everyone who’ll listen what I think. And if the feds and the state aren’t prepared to take decisive action, I would at least like to see some kind of plan of action in the event that Asian carp get past the barrier in Chicago — or find a way around it.

I hope anyone who has ever spent a day enjoying the Great Lakes will join me.

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