Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sustainability - Stop Carp"ing"

States Cast for Way to Stop Carp
Officials Poison Canal Near Key Barrier to Keep Giant Leaping Fish Out of Great Lakes

By DOUGLAS BELKIN, The Wall Street Journal

ROMEOVILLE, Ill. -- A decades-long battle to stop the northern migration of a voracious, invasive fish that can leap eight feet out of the water and batter boaters with enough force to break bones has come down to a six-mile stretch of muddy brown water here.

WSJ's Joe Barrett explains why Illinois officials have launched a big campaign to kill carp in the Great Lakes region.

On Wednesday night, officials pumped 2,200 gallons of fish poison into the narrow channel of the Chicago Shipping and Sanitary Canal to stop the spread of the Asian carp. By Thursday morning, scores of workers in 20-foot boats had scooped tens of thousands of pounds of dead and dying fish from the gritty canal, which is lined with weeds and hulking grain elevators.

The effort was launched to allow the routine maintenance of an electric barrier a few miles upstream that was put in place in 2002 to stop the carp from entering Lake Michigan. The torpedo-shaped fish can grow up to 100 pounds, and its tendency to leap out of the water at the sound of approaching watercraft has made some sections of the Mississippi treacherous for boaters.

Voracious eaters that reproduce rapidly, the Asian carp can quickly displace native species. In some stretches of the Illinois River, the carp account for as much as 90% of the fish population by weight, and scientists fear they could do the same in the Great Lakes, potentially destroying the lakes' $7 billion recreational fishing industry. What's more, the fish tend to be bony and have an unpleasant taste to the American palate.

Associated Press Crews dump poison into the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Thursday as part of an effort to keep the invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes. The fish can grow up to 100 pounds and tend to leap out of the water at the sound of approaching craft, threatening boaters.

"The barrier is the best weapon we have to keep the Asian carp from the Great Lakes," said Chris McCloud, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which was overseeing an effort that drew about 300 workers from a half-dozen Great Lakes states as well as Canada. "We need to push them back right here."

The Asian carp were imported to fish farms in the Mississippi Delta in the 1970s to clean holding pens. They escaped during floods in the 1990s and have been heading north ever since. The electrical fence here was supposed to be the last backstop between the fish and Lake Michigan, but this fall genetic material from the Asian carp was detected on the other side of the barrier.

That discovery sent shock waves across Great Lakes states. On Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, supported by five environmental groups, asked the state attorney general to pursue "every legal means" to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to temporarily shut three frequently opened shipping locks near Chicago as a last-gasp measure to stop the fish.

On Thursday night officials found one 22-inch Asian carp in the stretch of the canal that had been poisoned. The poison was pumped into the canal as a precaution to make sure none of the fish breached the barrier while it was shut down. The operation is expected to continue through Sunday.

Several environmental groups and Ms. Granholm have said it is only a matter of time before the barrier is breached. They have called for the drastic and massively expensive action of separating the Great Lakes from the Mississippi water basin. The two systems were connected in an epic feat of engineering a century ago when the Chicago River was reversed so that the city's waste would flow away from Lake Michigan -- which provides the city's drinking water -- rather than into it.

Army Corps of Engineers Brig. Gen. John Peabody, who oversees the Great Lakes and the waterways around Chicago, said the possibility of a complete separation is being studied but warned that such a project would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and be complicated by the urban environment.

In 2007, barges moved 16.9 million tons of goods through the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal. Permantly shutting down the canal to separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi basin would have a tremendous impact on the local economy, said Del Wilkins, vice president of business development for the Canal Barge Co. near Joliet, Ill.

"There would be a massive impact on jobs and the costs of moving goods," said Mr. Wilkins.

Most of the goods shipped through the inland waterways are commodities like salt, gravel and petroleum products. Mr. Wilkins said it would take 20 rail cars or 75 trucks to move the freight carried on a single barge.

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