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Michigan hails judge's move in Asian carp fight against Chicago

A judge on Monday scheduled hearings in an Asian carp case for September – a move that will allow five Midwestern states to call on expert testimony. The five states are seeking to close two Chicago canals in a bid to stop Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

By Staff writer / August 23, 2010

Asian silver carp jump alongside a fisherman's boat during near Utica, Ill., in this May 8, 2006 photo. A federal judge has set Sept. 7, 2010 as the next hearing in a multistate lawsuit demanding tougher action to prevent Asian carp from overrunning the Great Lakes.

Chris Young/The State Journal-Register/AP/file



The five Midwestern states suing to keep Asian carp – the behemoths that gorge on plankton and leap 10 feet in the air – out of the Great Lakes claimed to score a legal victory Monday.

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On Monday, a federal judge held an initial hearing and scheduled more hearings for expert testimony in early September. The Michigan attorney general’s office heralded the decision, since it will be the first time the case is heard on its merits. The Supreme Court earlier this year declined to take up the case.

The goal of the lawsuit is to force Chicago to shut down two locks except in cases of emergency, preventing Asian carp from using the canals to reach the Great Lakes. That plan has met with with fierce resistance from barge and tour boat operators.

But with carp DNA showing up near Lake Michigan and a bighead carp found in June just six miles from the lake – and beyond the electronic barrier that is supposed to keep it out – a number of groups are calling for drastic action before the fish can infiltrate the Great Lakes with potentially dire consequences.

“We have here a carp highway,” Robert Reichel, Michigan assistant attorney general, told the judge in the hearing.

Where are the carp now?

Silver and bighead carp have been working their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers for years, but haven’t yet – to anyone’s knowledge – established a population in the Great Lakes. Scientists worry that if they do, they could wreak havoc on populations of prized fish like salmon and walleye, both through decimating their food source and by eating their larvae and eggs.

Bighead carp can grow to more than 100 pounds, and silver carp are known for leaping 10 feet out of the water – a major danger to recreational boaters.

“They’re sort of living missiles,” says David Lodge, a biologist at the University of Notre Dame who has done research locating the carp DNA in the waterways near Lake Michigan.