All 16 U.S. senators from states that border the Great Lakes urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a letter Wednesday to present quickly the best strategies to block permanently the migration of Asian carp species into the Great Lakes. There is ample reason for the pressure on the corps to move swiftly after years of studying how to address the threat of the invasive species.
On Tuesday, scientists reported detecting the DNA of Asian carp, though not a live fish, in Lake Michigan. Last month, the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that four grass carp caught last year in Lake Erie and the Sandusky River were spawned there. In other words, the year-old fish did not arrive in the Sandusky by accident.
The alarm is justified. The report is the first confirmation that fertile grass carp may have gone “native” in tributaries of Lake Erie. As the researchers point out, if the grass carp, a less destructive species, can breed in the Lake Erie and Ohio River watersheds, the odds are high that the more voracious species, the bighead and silver carp, also would find the conditions favorable for breeding.
That likelihood is frightening. The non-native fish, which have been moving steadily up the Mississippi for decades, are prolific breeders, eating massive quantities of plankton and vegetation that support a variety of native species, including the walleye and perch. The warning, loud and increasingly urgent, is that it will be only a matter of time before the carp arrives in the Great Lakes, threatening vital fishing, tourism and recreational industries that generate $11 billion a year in Ohio.
Of particular concern as a pathway into the lakes is the Chicago Area Waterway System, the network of shipping and sewage canals that connects the Mississippi to the Great Lakes. The Obama administration has spent roughly $200 million trying to block the advance of the carp, including the installation of electric barriers. The new reports indicate more aggressive measures are needed. They offer enough argument for the Corps of Engineers to abandon the resistance to severing the Chicago waterways from the Mississippi.