Asian Carp and the Great Lakes
Asian carp have been found in the Illinois River, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan. Due to their large size and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem.
To prevent the carp from entering the Great Lakes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, the State of Illinois, the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to install and maintain a permanent electric barrier between the fish and Lake Michigan.
How did Asian carp get so close to the Great Lakes?
Two species of Asian carp -- the bighead and silver -- were imported by catfish farmers in the 1970's to remove algae and suspended matter out of their ponds. During large floods in the early 1990s, many of the catfish farm ponds overflowed their banks, and the Asian carp were released into local waterways in the Mississippi River basin.
The carp have steadily made their way northward up the Mississippi, becoming the most abundant species in some areas of the River.
What effects might Asian carp have on the Great Lakes?
Asian Carp are a significant threat to the Great Lakes because they are large, extremely prolific, and consume vast amounts of food. They can weigh up to 100 pounds, and can grow to a length of more than four feet. They are well-suited to the climate of the Great Lakes region, which is similar to their native Asian habitats.
Researchers expect that Asian carp would disrupt the food chain that supports the native fish of the Great Lakes. Due to their large size, ravenous appetites, and rapid rate of reproduction, these fish could pose a significant risk to the Great Lakes Ecosystem.
Fight to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes reaches Supreme Court
Michigan's attorney general files a lawsuit that seeks to close two shipping locks near Chicago, sealing off the fish's most direct route to the Great Lakes.
By Joel Hood and James Janega LA Times
December 22, 2009
Reporting from Chicago - The fight to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes reached the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, as Michigan's attorney general filed a lawsuit seeking closure of two shipping locks near Chicago.
Claiming Illinois officials have been lax, Michigan Atty. Gen. Mike Cox asked justices for immediate action to seal off the most direct route for fish entering Lake Michigan, in hopes of protecting the region's $7-billion fishing industry.
"We don't want to have to look back years later . . . and say, 'What was the matter with us? We should have done something,' " Cox said. Closing the locks, he said, was "the easiest, the most reliable and the most effective" short-term step officials could take.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declined to say whether he favored closing the locks, but added: "We have to protect the ecology of the Great Lakes; we also have many, many jobs that depend on shipping, so there has to be a proper balance.
"There are ways of preventing the carp from getting into the Great Lakes without strangling our economy."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the locks and is a codefendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment.
In addition to closing the locks, the lawsuit seeks creation of barriers to prevent carp from escaping the Des Plaines River or neighboring waterways during flooding. Cox also called for a study of Chicago's water system to understand the size and scope of the Asian carp population.
The lawsuit comes during a period of heightened anxiety over recent DNA research that hinted the voracious fish may have bypassed an underwater electric barrier system -- and could now be within six miles of Lake Michigan. In August, Quinn signed into law a $3-million program giving universities and researchers authority to fish as many varieties of Asian carp as they could find. Last week, Illinois was awarded $13 million in federal funds to deal with the carp problem.
In filing the lawsuit, Michigan was asking that the high court reopen a 100-year-old case sparked by Chicago's reversing the flow of the Chicago River to send its sewage and human waste away from Lake Michigan and toward the Mississippi River. A number of states around the Great Lakes complained that Chicago's manipulation of the waterways was harming the lakes. The courts responded by limiting the amount of water Chicago could divert each day.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial barge traffic pass through the area each year, with much of it proceeding to harbors in Lake Michigan, said the American Waterways Operators, a trade group for the barge industry. Thousands of recreational boaters also use the locks.
The Alliance for the Great Lakes, which recently studied permanently closing Chicago's shipping canals over fear of invasive species, said there was too much at risk to dismiss closing locks entirely.
"That canal is becoming a liability because it's putting the future of the Great Lakes at risk," said Joel Brammeier, chief executive officer of the alliance. "Right now, it's every tool in the toolbox, whatever it takes to keep the carp from getting into the Great Lakes."