Fisherman nets Asian carp in Chicago waterway system
By JOEL HOOD
A commercial fisherman patrolling the calm waters of Lake Calumet has netted a 19-pound Asian carp, the first physical discovery of the feared invasive species in the Chicago waterway system above underwater electric barriers.
Within minutes of the official announcement on Wednesday, lawmakers from Michigan and environmental advocacy groups were once more chastising Illinois’ response to the Asian carp crisis and threatening a new round of legal action aimed at permanently closing Chicago-area shipping locks.
“This was so tragically predictable,” said U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., who is among the architects of the Carp Act, a bill in Congress that would close the shipping locks. “For years, myself and so many others have raised concerns over this issue and were criticized for it or told we were over-reacting. Today, our worst fears have been confirmed.”
Michigan is among six Great Lakes states that sued Illinois in December to force the locks closed, arguing that was the best way to prevent invasive species from entering Lake Michigan. Illinois fought back, saying lock closure could devastate the regional shipping industry and destroy the local economy. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to get involved.
Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, whose lawsuit last year sparked a national debate about the Asian carp threat, again called on President Barack Obama to issue an immediate order to seal off the Great Lakes.
“He must take action immediately by ordering the locks closed and producing an emergency plan to stop Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan,” said Cox, a Republican candidate for governor in Michigan.
Mike White of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the discovery of a live Asian carp within striking distance of Lake Michigan will not alter how the agency operates the locks.
“At this time we see no reason … to take any step toward lock closure,” White said.
In addition to controlling to flow of water out of Lake Michigan, locks at the mouth of the Chicago River and Calumet-Sag Channel are crucial entry points for millions of tons of cargo passing between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River each year. Some of those who’ve fought to keep the locks open urged the public on Wednesday not to assume the worst.
“A few isolated incidents of Asian carp in this small section of the Illinois waterway does not mean existing barriers have failed,” said Mark Biel, executive director of the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois.
A Bighead carp, a variety of Asian carp, was recovered during routine sampling in the northwest corner of Lake Calumet near Harborside Golf Course on Tuesday, about six miles downstream from Lake Michigan, according to John Rogner of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The adult male carp, 34 inches long and more than 19 pounds, was found east of the O’Brien Lock, giving it unimpeded access to Lake Michigan.
The important question now is how it got there. Rogner said fish biologists will use genetic testing to try to determine whether the Bighead carp was farm raised, perhaps indicating it had been dropped off in the lake, or whether it had lived its life in its natural environment.
The latter would suggest the carp was among several perhaps that have migrated up the Chicago water system and are now poised to enter Lake Michigan, a potentially dire scenario given how Asian carp have overwhelmed native fish populations in the Mississippi River and lower parts of the Illinois River.
State officials plan to intensify search efforts for carp in the Lake Calumet area, Rogner said.
“We’re absolutely concerned about it,” Rogner said. “Obviously our first step is to find out if it’s just a single fish or part of a larger population at that location.”