Great Lakes states step up pressure on Obama to stop Asian carp

With the invasive and destructive Asian carp now on the doorstep of Lake Michigan, lawmakers in the Great Lakes states say time is running out.

By , Staff writer

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    Asian bighead carp swim in an exhibit at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. Federal officials on June 3 ruled out closing Chicago-area shipping locks on a regular basis, saying it probably would not stop dreaded Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes but could damage the local economy.

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Federal officials are not moving swiftly enough to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, say critics of the Obama administration's plan to ensure the invasive species, recently found near Lake Michigan, is stopped.

“At some point we need to have a permanent solution," said US Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan at a subcommittee hearing on water and power on Wednesday.

Senator Stabenow acknowledged that President Obama’s framework to fortify entryways to the Great Lakes systems is providing valuable information on the Asian carp's movement, but she and other Great Lake lawmakers want a more sure-fire plan for keeping the fish, an aggressive eater known to devour local species, from harming local fisheries and thus damaging area economies.

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“Obviously, the fish are not going to wait for us. This is something we have to act on as quickly as humanly possible,” she said.

A coalition of Great Lakes states led by Michigan sued Illinois in December to force the closure of two navigational locks – a plan meant to stop the unfettered access of the fish into Lake Michigan.

Illinois said a complete lockdown would hurt the area’s navigational interests.

In February, Mr. Obama committed $475 million to research solutions and to build an underwater electric barrier. But when a 19-pound Asian carp was fished out of Lake Calumet, six miles from Lake Michigan and located outside the barrier, the federal framework was criticized as lacking urgency.

To date, the June discovery is the most direct evidence the fish may have moved beyond the locks and are in Lake Michigan. When asked why the locks were not shut down following that incident, Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the Obama framework required additional fishing to determine if the single fish represented an isolated incident. After 3,000 hours of additional fishing, Ms. Sutley said, no further fish were discovered, which she said was proof their efforts were working. [Editor's note: In the original version of this paragraph, Nancy Sutley's title was incorrect.]

“We are succeeding in preventing the Asian carp from establishing themselves in the Great Lakes,” she said.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) said the state will invest $2 million to help a downstate fishery retrofit its facility to harvest the Asian carp from the Illinois River for resale to the Chinese market where the fish is considered a delicacy.

The effort is a partnership between Big River Fisheries, located in Pearl, Ill., and Zhuochen Animal Husbandry Co. in Beijing. The Illinois fishery will catch, process, and ship the fish to its Chinese partner, which will prepare it for market. Both say they expect to yield about 30 million pounds of Asian carp for the Chinese market by late 2011.

In a statement released Tuesday, Governor Quinn called the endeavor “one of the most aggressive efforts to address the Asian carp problem” and said it would create 180 jobs in the state.

Some environmental groups, however, say the solution does not address an issue it considers crucial to the debate: disconnecting the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River system, where the Asian carp are coming from.

Henry Henderson, Midwest director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement that state and federal officials should “eradicate this dangerous invasive species, not manage a fishery.”

“Aggressive fishing simply will not solve the problem by itself,” Mr. Henderson added.

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