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American Politics, Canadiana, Environment

Understanding Asian Carp’s Threat

Asian carp protesters in Traverse City, Michigan. (Circle of Blue)

I’ve been following the recent growth in public interest about the threat posed by Asian carp to the Great Lakes, although interest in the issue remains largely confined to the Great Lake states, primarily Illinois.

This is troubling for many reasons: namely, the issue is already national in scope in the United States, with continent-wide implications should the worst-case scenario come true and the aquatic invasive species enter the Great Lakes ecosystem.

When you include other rivers now dominated by bighead and silver carp, the list of impacted American states should broaden to include any touching on the Mississippi, Illinois or Missouri rivers and their tributaries. Suddenly the geographic range triples to include such divergent states as Arkansas and Minnesota. Add the potential of this fish species to spread into Canadian waters and the list of impacted jurisdictions expands north to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Ocean.

I wrote a feature for This MagazineAttack of the Killer Carp – on the potential spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes and beyond. As the issue went to press, numerous announcements were made:

  • The Department of Fisheries and Oceans completed its long-awaited report on the likelihood of bighead and silver carp spreading and surviving in Canada. It highlighted the various vectors the species might use for entry.

Tracking the spread of this invasive species from the American South to the Chicago Area Waterways System over the past 40 years is complicated, and the issue – which is seeing more movement now than it ever has –  continues to evolve:

  • Witness Congress putting the Army Corps of Engineers on a significantly tighter deadline to make recommendations for closing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Previously, the Corps had until 2015 to make their recommendations – their timeline has ben shortened to 18 months. The Corps is expected to report back by late 2013.
  • Also note how the failure of either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney to address the threat of Asian carp has been pilloried in midwestern news outlets where the issue threatens livelihoods and, occasionally, lives.

For those looking for an in-depth history of Asian carp in the United States, you could do far worse than read Dan Egan’s latest piece for the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel, outlining the latest high-tech advancement/boondoggle in stoping Asian carp.

“I can sum up my comments in six words: It’s time to man the barricades,” John Rogner of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said as President Barack Obama’s handpicked Great Lakes czar, Cameron Davis, stood rigidly at his side.

“For nearly 10 years we’ve watched as two species of introduced Asian carp – the bighead carp and silver carp – have moved up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, and now they are here. They are now at the gates to the Great Lakes and our action over the next several days is designed to protect those gates.”

Such a large-scale chemical assault on a North American waterway – one that would ultimately cost taxpayers about $3 million – was unprecedented.

The scope of the historic detail goes some distance towards demonstrating the depth of the issue in the American midwest, and the increasing importance being placed on efforts to stop the aquatic invasive species in its tracks.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


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