One of the most serious economic and environmental threats to Wisconsin in recent years is the imminent invasion of Asian carp into Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. This invasion must be stopped.
The bighead and silver carp, more commonly known as Asian carp, are prolific and voracious. The non-native Asian carp, which can consume up to 40% of their weight in food per day and compete directly with commercial and sport fish for food. In some stretches of water, it is reported that up to 97% of the biomass is Asian carp. Commercial and sport fish are crowded out, jeopardizing the future viability of these native fish and causing commercial and sport fishing to go elsewhere. Waterfowl production, too, can be adversely affected by Asian carp.
Not only do Asian carp threaten the health of the ecosystems they invade, but they can be dangerous to people as well. By now I am sure you’ve seen videos of leaping silver carp. Fishermen, boaters, water-skiers: beware. These and other recreational pursuits become dangerous when fish that can grow to 100 pounds come hurtling through the air after being startled by motors. Research fish biologist Duane Chapman of the United States Geological Survey likens the impact of being stuck by a 20-pound flying fish as similar to being hit by a bowling ball. A fortunate boater who escapes injury may nevertheless be repairing broken windshields.
If these fish enter and take hold in the Great Lakes, they will irreversibly change the ecosystem. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources acknowledges that the Asian carp are “well suited to the water temperature, food supply, and lack of predators of the Great Lakes and could quickly become the dominant species.”
The Asian carp invasion into Lake Michigan would surely adversely affect Wisconsin’s and the region’s commercial and recreational industries that depend on a healthy lake. The Great Lakes fishery is valued at $7 billion annually. In Wisconsin, sport fishing alone in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior is estimated to generate 5,000 jobs and $419 million annually. This doesn’t include the Great Lakes considerable value to other industries or other states, and it doesn’t account for the loss of recreational opportunities Wisconsinites enjoy today that will diminish if the Asian carp invade the Great Lakes.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assured us that monitoring, electrical barriers, netting, application of pesticides, and reduction in commercial river lock operations would keep the carp from getting too close to Lake Michigan. These measures, we were told, would protect the Great Lakes while the Army Corps and other federal agencies continue to “study” solutions.
Their assurances don’t hold water. In December 2009, a bighead carp was recovered from the Canal north of the Lockport Lock, and eDNA collected for the Corps indicates that Asian carp are present at multiple locations lakeward of the Barrier System: in the Canal; the Calumet-Sag Channel; the North Shore Channel; the Calumet River; and in Calumet Harbor in Lake Michigan. This June, a bighead carp was recovered from Lake Calumet, approximately six miles from Lake Michigan. Nothing stands as a barrier between Lake Calumet and Lake Michigan. Yet the Army Corps’ response? More study.
The voracious Asian carp are at the doorstep of the Great Lakes. Before the turn of the 20th Century, the door was created when the Great Lakes were artificially linked with the Mississippi River system to allow Chicago to send its sewage west and south. Today, with its leisurely response, the United States government is holding that door open, simply hoping the problem will go away.
It won’t. It is time to shut the door.
That is why, on behalf of the State of Wisconsin, I filed a lawsuit with the Great Lakes States of Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania. We are asking the court to order both immediate preventive and long-term solutions. In the short term, we want certain locks closed, effective barriers created to prevent continued fish migration, and Asian carp killed that have already passed the Barrier System. Long-term, we think the best solution is the one nature once provided: the physical separation of the Great Lakes basin and the Mississippi river systems.
It is time to stop another environmental catastrophe from occurring before it is too late.
-- Van Hollen, a Republican, is Wisconsin's attorney general. The federal district court in Chicago is hearing the first arguments on the states' motion for preliminary injunction on Monday.