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Asian carp. Photo: The Environment Report
Asian carp. Photo: The Environment Report

Asian Carp update

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A big monster of a fish is at the center of a US Supreme Court case. Asian Carp are making their way up the Mississippi towards the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Michigan's Attorney General - along with New York and several other Great Lakes states - filed a lawsuit asking the Court to close a Chicago canal in order to keep the carp out. The shipping industry says the consequences would be devastating. Jennifer Guerra has a closer look at what's at stake.

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Transcript: Jennifer Guerra, January 18, 2010

There's one way to look at this as a purely economic story. In one corner you've got the people who ship cargo by water.

"Lynne Munch, senior vice president regional advocacy of the American Waterways Operators."

She says, if the Illinois is forced to close two of the locks in the Chicago canal permanently, more than 17 million tons of cargo will have to be shipped by truck instead of barge, and hundreds of jobs will be lost.

"One company alone has reported that they will lose 93 jobs next year if the locks are closed. One of our towing companies estimates they'll lose more than 130 jobs if the locks are closed."

In the other corner, you've got the seven billion dollar tourism and fishing industries.

"Oh hi, I'm Eric Stuecher, I own a company called Great Lakes Fishing Charters."

Stuecher takes people out on the Great Lakes and in rivers across Michigan. Salmon, Trout, Perch, you name it, he'll help you fish it. But if the invasive Asian Carp get into the Great Lakes?

"It would probably cost me the business. They'll eat anything they can get in their mouths, to the demise of so many of our other game fish."

So that's the economic side of the story. But what if we told you there's more at stake here than dollars and cents.

"In terms of environmental impact, the Asian carp have the potential to seriously disrupt the Great Lakes ecosystem."

That's Marc Gaden with the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission. He says there are already a lot of pests in the Lakes.

"There are 180 non-native species in the Great Lakes, many of which came in accidentally. Precisely two of them can be controlled. That's it. So that's why biologists and others are very, very concerned about the Asian carp. Once they get in, the cat's out of the bag."

Asian Carp were first brought to the states by Southern catfish farmers. The carp escaped the South in the 1990s because of flooding and have been making their way north ever since. These fish are huge. They can grow to four feet and weigh up to 100 pounds, and they reproduce like crazy. In some areas, they reproduce so much that by weight they account for more than 90 percent of the fish in the Mississippi River system.

So you can see why people around the Great Lakes don't want them.

That's why Gaden and a lot of other scientists say we should somehow block the man-made canal that connects the big rivers to the Great Lakes for barges carrying cargo.

"We need to be open to saying, just because we've been moving goods on the canal by barge for decades and decades, doesn't mean we need to continue to do it that way. Is there a better way to do it? Can we shift it to rail?"

Gaden and others have been arguing for 15 years to get some kind of permanent barrier built in order to stop invasive species from moving from one ecosystem to another.

"The government agencies that are responsible for doing things on that canal are not moving at the speed of carp, they're moving at the speed of government. And we don't have a minute to spare."

That's because new DNA tests suggest that Asian carp have moved well beyond the electric barrier meant to keep them out of Lake Michigan.

For The Environment Report, I'm Jennifer Guerra. 

Copyright 2009. The Regents of the University Of Michigan. Used with permission.

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