Asian carp policy: Is it keeping Obama and Romney up at night?
Nah. But the issue resonates in (battleground) states around the Great Lakes, so the Romney and Obama camps outlined their approaches to dealing with a prospective Asian carp invasion.
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Mitt Romney, Mr. Obama's rival in the election, says the administration is moving too slowly. He has suggested that “America put a man on the moon” in less time than it’s taking to protect the Great Lakes from an invasion of the big fish migrating up the Mississippi River watershed, threatening to broach Lake Michigan at Chicago.
Sure, encroaching carp aren’t in the league with jobs or foreign policy when it comes to national priorities. But the political debate over what to do about the disruptive Asian carp population also isn’t just about the ecology and hydrology of the world’s biggest freshwater system. It's also about the 64 electoral votes locked up in four Great Lakes battleground states: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
For now, both candidates are focused on how the federal government can solve the problem – nothing will happen for at least another year because the Army Corps has until the end of 2013 to complete its study. Meanwhile, local and state governments, aided by fishing entrepreneurs and Chinese investors, are making headway on a lemons-to-lemonade-style solution: export the carp to China for service on dinner plates there.
This summer, the Illinois Department of Commerce provided $2 million toward building a new carp processing plant in Grafton, Ill., which is expected to employ 39 people and provide new opportunities for fishermen. That’s part of at least $10 million in state investments into the carp fishery in the past two years.
“We want to move these fish out of the river – and we’re going to attract people that have large boats and want to go out and work hard and bring in a lot of weight,” Ben Allen, owner of American Heartland Fish, told Michigan Public Radio this week. With the state’s help, Mr. Allen struck a deal with Chinese investors to ship tons of “wild-caught upper Mississippi carp” to Chinese food markets, where fresh, healthy carp are popular but difficult to find.