Obama Administration Miscalculates Risk that Asian Carp Pose to Great Lakes

NWF: White House misses opportunity to protect Great Lakes from threat of Asian Carp, as U.S. Supreme Court prepares to tackle issue.

01-06-2010 // Jeff Alexander

The National Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups criticized the Obama Administration’s refusal to take emergency measures to prevent an Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes.

Instead of supporting the temporary closure of two Chicago locks that would keep Asian carp from sneaking into Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes, the Obama Administration sided with defendants in a court case that will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court as early as Friday, Jan. 8.

The administration’s action was in response to a lawsuit brought in December by Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. Michigan’s lawsuit is supported by the attorneys general in Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin and the Canadian province of Ontario.

“The Obama Administration has miscalculated the threat Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “Without immediate action, an invasion of Asian carp will unravel many of the president’s Great Lakes initiatives. Regardless of what happens in the Supreme Court, the Obama administration needs to do the right thing.”

Unnatural link between Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds has become a pipeline for invasive species

The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which was built in the late 1800s to divert Chicago’s sewage into the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, created an unnatural link between the watersheds of the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes. Asian carp now dominate the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and are on the verge of sneaking into Lake Michigan through the artificial canal.

The lawsuit by Michigan and the other states called for measures to separate Lake Michigan from Asian-carp infested rivers and canals, including an emergency and temporary closure of two Chicago navigational locks that are the last barrier preventing the invasive fish from entering Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes. The emergency measures would buy time to develop a permanent solution to the problem.

DNA evidence recently collected by University of Notre Dame researchers suggested that the invasive Asian carp — specifically the silver and bighead carp species — have breached an electric fence in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and are within 6 miles of Lake Michigan.

Big foreign fish pose huge problems for the Great Lakes, their tributaries and boaters

Bighead and silver carp are large filter-feeders that out-compete native fish for food and habitat.

Individual fish can weigh up to 110 pounds for bighead carp and 60 pounds for silver carp. Boaters have been injured by silver carp because the fish is easily startled and hurls itself out of the water and into or over boats in response to boat motors.

Conservation groups — including Great Lakes United, the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club — joined NWF in criticizing the Obama Administration for opposing the temporary closure of locks in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Coalition led by NWF says refusal to close locks could sabotage efforts to restore Great Lakes

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, which is co-led by NWF and is comprised of more than 100 conservation and civic groups, also expressed disappointment at the administration’s stance on the Asian carp lawsuit.

“The Obama Administration has made Great Lakes restoration a top priority, which is why we are disappointed that it has chosen not to pursue closing the locks to protect the Lakes from the Asian carp,” said the National Wildlife Federation’s Jeff Skelding, director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “Failure to confront the threat of the Asian carp threatens to undermine the progress the nation is making to restore the Great Lakes and revive the economy.”

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