For first time, Asian carp DNA found in Lake Michigan

On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court ruled that it will not force Illinois to shut locks that other states say could allow invasive Asian carp into Lake Michigan. Hours later, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that they had found Asian carp DNA in Lake Michigan.

By , Staff writer

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    Asian Big Head Carp swim, with a White Bass, bottom center, in an exhibit while US Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill asks questions of panel members during an Asian Carp briefing sponsored by Durbin and US Rep. Judy Biggert, D-Ill., at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, Jan. 12 in Chicago.
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    US Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, accompanied by US Rep. Debbie Halvorson D-Ill, left, and US Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., right, chairs an Asian Carp briefing sponsored by Durbin and Biggert at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, Jan. 12 in Chicago.
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On the same day that US Supreme Court ruled Illinois should not be forced to close canals that have allowed Asian carp to come to the very doorstep of the Great Lakes, the US Army Corps of Engineers reported evidence that the invasive species might already have made its way into Lake Michigan.

Both announcements have fired up environmental groups and a coalition of seven surrounding states, which say an Illinois canal linking Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River needs to be immediately closed because it threatens the $7 billion economy tied to the Great Lakes – primarily commercial and recreational fishing.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm quickly called for a White House summit on the issue.

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On Tuesday, the Corps said the discovery of a DNA sample along Calumet Harbor near Lake Michigan suggests that the Asian carp might have breached Lake Michigan. Asian carp DNA was also found on the Lake Michigan side of an underwater electronic barrier near Lockport, which was considered the last impenetrable barrier to the lake.

No fish found yet

It is too early to tell with certainty that Asian carp have penetrated the lake’s waters. No fish have been found there yet. But the discovery “is not good news,” said Maj. Gen. John Peabody, commanding general of the US Army Corps of Engineers' Great Lakes and Ohio River Division.

In a written statement, he said the Corps will continue to work to “defeat this threat to the Great Lakes.”

Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court ruling shifts the matter to the state level as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan had hoped. In a brief filed earlier this month, Ms. Madigan said a lawsuit filed by Michigan against her state was misguided. The lawsuit should have been leveled against the Corps, she said, since that agency, not Illinois, operates the locks located along the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Obama's role

Ever since Asian carp DNA was discovered in early December several miles from Lake Michigan, there have been allegations that the Obama administration has favored Illinois, the president’s home state.

“President Obama said he would not tolerate new threats to the Great Lakes, yet he has left the front door to Lake Michigan wide open," said Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said in a press release. “Billions in economic activity and 800,000 Michigan jobs connected with the health of the Lakes are at risk. His indifference is just stunning.”

In a roundtable discussion held last week at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin insisted Illinois official were just as concerned about the Asian carp situation as their neighbors.

“We are not in denial about the threat of this invasive species,” Senator Durbin said. “For at least the last 10 years, maybe longer, we've been actively dealing with this.” He asked for state leaders to work together outside the courtroom to come up with a solution.

Mr. Cox, however, says he plans to solicit help from members of Congress as well as build public support via a web campaign on stopasiancarp.com.

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