Drawing a battleline on Asian carp

Minnesota natural resource managers in recent years have turned considerable attention to the issue of invasive species. We treasure our lakes and streams, and want to protect the quality of them from other than native species which can quickly change the biosphere into something less desirous.

Minnesotans have long been on the alert for the likes of zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil, but a new species to the Midwest threatens the health of the Great Lakes biosphere and could eventually threaten the health of Minnesota lakes connected through the Mississippi River.

The Asian carp, also known as the bighead carp or silver carp, are now on the verge of threatening the Great Lakes, finding a soft spot at Chicago to enter Lake Michigan. They have moved up the Mississippi River, and crossed over to tributaries leading to Lake Michigan.

The carp are a danger as they are vociferous eaters of plankton, competing for food with native species and resulting in fewer and smaller sport fish. They can also jump up to 10 feet out of the water when disturbed by sounds of watercraft. They often jump into boats and can injure boaters.

They can grow to be 4 feet long and weigh 100 pounds. There is a fear that if Asian carp reach the Great Lakes, they could greatly upset the balance of commercial fisheries by starving out salmon and walleye.

More than a dozen members of Congress from the region agreed Wednesday to seek $20 million to study ways to keep the Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Suggestions so far include increased use of poisons, biological controls and commercial fishing. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could step up construction of electric barriers and improve the use of closed dams to prevent the species climb into Lake Michigan.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., has cosponsored a bill authored by Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin and Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich to prevent the spread of Asian carp. The bill would add Asian carp to the list of injurious species that are prohibited from being shipped or imported into the United States.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has also filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court that supports Michigan's request for an injunction to close the shipping locks in the Chicago waterways that connect Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River basin. The court, however, last week rejected the request for an immediate order.

It is imperative that efforts continue to keep Asian carp from spreading to the Great Lakes and then to other waters. If we want to keep Minnesota waters free and clear of this invasive species, the work must start now while we can control it.

Star Tribune
Article Publish Date: 
January 29, 2010