“Extraordinary Solution” Needed To Protect Great Lakes From Asian Carp

In a recent study, a group of U.S. and Canadian researchers and scientists have concluded that the threat of Asian carp to the Great Lakes is imminent and real. This invasive species can cause billions of dollars in damages to businesses in the Great Lakes and destroy ecosystems.

Scientists say the electrical barriers and other methods currently used are insufficient and impractical in blocking out Asian carp. They believe the electrical barrier alone cannot prevent other invasive fish species, parasites, and plants from entering the Great Lakes. Also, they feel the public and many government officials are largely misinformed by the actual effectiveness of the electrical barrier. In addition to the electrical barrier, other measures are used to supplement the barrier. Electrofishing (stunning a fish with electricity before being caught), netting, and the use of fish poison have helped with dealing with Asian carp. Unfortunately, other species of fish are sometimes affected by these measures.

At times, the electrical barriers need to be deactivated for maintenance. Also, critics cite the costs to operate and maintain the electrical barriers.

During times of flooding, higher water levels may prove the electrical barrier to be useless in stopping Asian carp and allows them to spread out even further. For instance, many fear the recent Mississippi river floods may have introduced the invasive fish to new areas.

Says Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, “Extraordinary evidence demands extraordinary solutions, and the evidence is piling up in favor of separation. Declaring independence between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River is the only option.”

Despite the sense of urgency supporters of the permanent barrier feel, federal government officials are largely downplaying the situation. Federal officials say there is no sign of Asian carp in the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers estimate that a study assessing the effects of separating the Mississippi river and the Great Lakes, if approved, would be completed by 2015, which many feel is much too late.

The Army Corps demonstrated the first of the electrical barriers in 2002 and installed another in 2009. The electricity used is rated at 2 volts per inch of barrier, which the Army Corps believes is sufficient. Also, the voltage is low enough for boaters or ships to pass by safely, especially cargo ships carrying flammable or explosive materials. However, the Army Corps has admitted smaller fish may be able to slip through the electrical barrier unless the voltage is increased.

Those who oppose the separation of the Mississippi river and the Great Lakes believe the electrical barrier has been doing its job. Hoping to run for governor of Indiana, Republican House Representative Mike Pence also agrees that permanent barriers are not only excessive, but can hinder local businesses. The Times of Munster, a local newspaper, notes that some companies, such as BP and the steel making companies ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel, regularly use one of the canals to be closed off.

According to Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, who also pushes for further studies on the impacts of a permanent barrier, believes permanent barriers would make flooding worse.

The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal was constructed over 100 years ago to reverse the direction of the Chicago river and to carry waste water away from the Great Lakes. As the city’s source for freshwater and recreation, heavy rains allowed polluted water from the Chicago river to flow into Lake Michigan, contaminating the lake.

However, the rise of Asian carp populations poses a more imminent threat to the Great Lakes and most likely requires a comprehensive and complex solution. Says Thom Cmar, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, of the current measures taken against Asian carp: “There are still serious gaps in our knowledge about how well it’s working. No one ever imagined these electric barriers would be a permanent solution. They’ve always been just a stopgap idea.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/mpwillis/187016947/

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