Closing off the Carp Green Groups Say Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Carp in the Great Lakes

Asian carp are still a looming threat to the Great Lakes, even if the fish are no longer generating headlines. Now, Friends of the Earth Canada has joined five U.S. states—Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—in filing an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief asking the Supreme Court to hear an appeal arguing that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to take urgent action to prevent the Asian Carp from entering the Great Lakes and proliferating there.

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of Earth Canada says: “There’s no indication that there’s a less imminent threat. The thing I find puzzling—if not appalling—is the pace at which the Army Corps of Engineers is taking to do their study. This feels like an urgent situation.”

Asian Carp. Credit: Kate Gardiner, FlickrCC

Specifically, the Army Corps is investigating ways to prevent Asian carp from moving from the Mississippi River and its tributaries—where the fish have exploded in number—to Lake Michigan. In the Illinois River, the main such tributary, commercial fishers now catch up to 25,000 pounds of bighead and silver Asian carp per day. But the results of the Army Corps’ Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study are not scheduled to be released until 2015, which the states argue is too slow. If the voracious fish manage to get past the current electric barrier that’s in place in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal which links the two water bodies, the devastation would be immense, upending the food web balance as the carp consume the Lakes’ plankton and algae (some fish reach over 100 pounds) and causing irrevocable harm to the region’s $7 billion fishing industry.

For many environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth and Natural Resources Defense Council, the only solution is a permanent barrier separating the Chicago Sanitary from Lake Michigan. Such a structure would likely cost billions and prevent the current easy travel of oil and coal barges and tour boats. But it would keep the carp invasion at bay

“The artificial canal that was built should be closed,” Olivastri says. ”A permanent barrier… is the only thing that’s going to give any confidence that the fish would not enter the Great Lakes.”