Asian Carp Spreading; Threaten to Trump Feds

The discovery of spawning Asian carp in the Wabash River shows the crisis is advancing on multiple fronts and demands aggressive and immediate action to deal with the Asian carp crisis.

07-01-2010 // Jordan Lubetkin

The carp were found downstream of a floodplain that separates the Wabash from the Maumee River and Lake Erie, near the city of Fort Wayne, Ind., according to recent press and congressional statements.

The discovery and acknowledgment of the finding by the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee comes a week after the committee announced a live Asian carp was found just six miles from Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Lake Calumet. The 3-foot-long, 20-pound sexually mature male was the first Asian carp found beyond the last locks protecting the Great Lakes, and miles beyond the electric barrier meant to keep the devastating fish out of the lakes.

The discovery of a spawning population of Asian carp in the Wabash River is of particular concern because of the possibility the Wabash could flood into the Maumee River in Indiana. The Maumee River flows to Lake Erie and is identified by carp specialists as an ideal habitat for Asian carp.

“There is a lack of coordination and transparency in the current system and this current finding in the Wabash River highlights the breakdown in this system,” said Kristy Meyer, director of Agricultural & Clean Water Programs of the Ohio Environmental Council. “Lake Erie is well over a billion dollar fishing industry and in Ohio, a $10.75 billion destination stop. Now, more than ever, the state and federal agencies must stop the finger-pointing and get their act together before these natural wonders become desolate carp ponds.”

The groups say the latest finding signals the immediate need for effective leadership on a crisis that has moved well beyond the control of the federal agencies tasked with handling it.

“We’re being outmaneuvered by a fish and can’t afford to play catch up,” said Joel Brammeier, president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. "We need leadership to anticipate, align and activate on where the carp are going to be -- not where they‘ve already been.”

"The battle to protect the Great Lakes from the Asian carp is now being fought on multiple fronts, and we need a strategy that reflects that," said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “The clock is ticking, and we need to get this process back on track. We have solutions. It’s high time we used them.”

The groups emphasized their support for legislation introduced Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) The bill calls on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite and complete a study within 18 months on the feasibility of permanently severing the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins.  The physical separation of the two major watersheds is seen as the only permanent solution to keeping Asian carp and other invasives from traveling between them. 

"We applaud Sens. Stabenow and Durbin and Rep. Camp in calling for swift action to protect the Great Lakes from the threat of Asian carp,” said Max Muller, program director for Environment Illinois. “A physical barrier to prevent the spread of these invasive giants is imperative, and study on the best approach should begin immediately. We cannot afford any further delay if we are to avoid a nightmare scenario in the Great Lakes."

Henry Henderson, Midwest director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “This new discovery shows just how quickly invasive species problems can spiral out of control. We now see direct threats to two of the Great Lakes. We cannot afford foot-dragging and confusion about the problem or the solutions. It is time for focused, determined action, which requires direct and firm engagement from the White House.”

Coalition members sent a letter to President Obama Tuesday calling on him to appoint a “federal incident commander” to oversee and coordinate the federal response to the carp crisis. The groups say the federal response has fallen far short of expectations and has had numerous costly missteps, among them:

  • The corps’ delay in starting a congressionally ordered and funded separation study, originally authorized in 2007.
  • Failure to quickly and completely disclose environmental DNA evidence of Asian carp in Lake Michigan and the Chicago Waterway System, despite having collected data since summer 2009.
  • Suggesting that other invasive pathways, such as bait trade and intentional release, could be responsible for carp presence despite obvious evidence of wild populations.
  • Failure to develop a channel-by-channel plan for the Chicago Waterway System, where eDNA evidence has shown Asian carp to exist.
  • Questioning the science and veracity of eDNA evidence.
  • Failure to continue eDNA testing during June despite multiple positive hits in the Chicago Waterway System above the electric barrier in spring 2010. No eDNA monitoring is currently being conducted by the corps.


"Agencies aren't finding the fires, let alone putting them out fast enough," said Jennifer Nalbone, director of Navigation and Invasive Species for Great Lakes United. "We need Asian carp prevention elevated to the president now."

Jill Ryan, executive director of Freshwater Future, agrees. "With so much at stake and the fish moving toward us on multiple fronts, now is the time for clear leadership to coordinate the efforts to track and stop these fish from establishing in the Great Lakes," she said. "Our Great Lakes provide so much to our economies, our recreation and our way of life that we can't let a lack of leadership allow these fish to win the day."

“Indiana must take no chances that the Wabash River could provide an escape route for Asian carp and appropriate steps must be taken soon,” John Goss, executive director of Indiana Wildlife Federation.

“This new discovery ups the ante,” said Glynnis Collins, executive director of Prairie Rivers Network. “We need an aggressive, thorough short-term response, while moving with urgency and purpose toward the only permanent solution to this crisis: physical separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River system.”

The coalition includes the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Environment Illinois, Freshwater Future, Great Lakes United, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition, Indiana Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Environmental Council, Prairie Rivers Network and Sierra Club.

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