Carping alone won't solve fishery, economic concerns

January 4, 2010
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Preserving Michigan’s job base and economic vitality comes in many shapes and forms, and involves a myriad of pressing issues. Proposed solutions, particularly in a state election year, will run that gamut. Most press release politics represent grandstanding bravado, but some provide ideas that can flourish and succeed beyond the partisan shouting matches.

Michigan — and indeed much of the Midwest and beyond — face what some believe is a certified crisis that may not be at the top of many folks’ New Year’s priority lists. But maybe it should be.

Asian carp, which, if they can establish the impact seen in other areas, could wreak havoc on the fishing industry, have migrated to the Great Lakes. Many believe that if the fish get in and become established, they will decimate sports fishing as we know it. While many maintain it is not known whether the Asian carp can thrive in the Great Lakes and how quickly they might move through those waters, certainly most observers concede it’s not worth taking the chance if sensible measures can be taken now.

It will be a belated effort, nonetheless, as Congress and other agencies with the wherewithal to act on the challenge years ago may have irresponsibly missed the boat on the issue.

Environmentalists and sport fishers fear that the fish, which can grow to 4 feet in length and 100 pounds and which consume up to 40 percent of their body weight daily in plankton, could starve out smaller and less aggressive competitors and cause the collapse of the $7 billion-a-year Great Lakes sport and commercial fishing industry.

Asian carp were imported by Southern fish farms but escaped into the Mississippi River in large numbers during flooding in the 1990s. They have been making their way northward ever since. Last summer, experts identified the carp’s DNA only a few miles from the Great Lakes.

A chemical was dumped last month into a nearly six-mile stretch of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which links the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan, in an attempt to kill the carp. Gov. Jennifer Granholm also has asked Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox to take legal action to force the Army Corps of Engineers to temporarily shut down three shipping locks near Chicago. Cox has since filed suit in that regard, and it is hoped that we’re not witnessing more of the same old political tennis match.

The main concern is the Asian carp’s voracious appetite. If they survive, they could wipe out their competition by out-eating the trout, salmon and other fish in the Great Lakes, Department of Natural Resources fisheries experts acknowledge. And if the carp migrated to the Great Lakes, they might invade other water sources, such as the St. Joseph or Kalamazoo rivers, representing an even greater threat to those tributaries’ valuable fishing opportunities.

All of this could hurt the fishing industry, and in turn, the tourism industry, in communities along the Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is receiving $13 million to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp. Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, was among those leading an effort by the Michigan congressional delegation and the Great Lakes Task Force for the belated action.

The funding will allow the Corps to deter the carp from moving closer to Lake Michigan. It was secured from existing funds in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative fund.

Under a worst-case scenario, the impact of the Asian carp entry into the Great Lakes would devastate the sport fishing industry that was so diligently built from nothing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, eliminating employment opportunities and providing yet another blow to Michigan’s staggering economy.

At the very least, the Asian carp issue has generated a level of discussion that it likely merited years ago. Invasive species come in many forms and have already had significant impact on the Great Lakes. Look no further than that for a reason to at least keep talking and remain vigilant.

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