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The speed of carp

Today the Supreme Court denied Michigan’s request for an emergency injunction to close Illinois locks — on the same day that Asian carp DNA was reported found in Lake Michigan for the first time.  Some people think it’s a pretty serious situation [e.g., see Thom Cmar at NRDC’s Switchboard].

But the Chicago Tribune reports that “Illinois” welcomes the ruling (in fact recreational boaters and fishermen and women in Illinois are generally much less sanguine) – and runs not one but two “relax and enjoy it” stories (see Tex Antoine) about how to cook carp.

The forced humor of the paper’s food blog – “Illinois doesn’t have the best history when it comes to preventing unfortunate things, but we’ve always been pretty good about turning a buck on them” – is particularly tasteless.

Life imitates bad art, however:  the LaSalle News Tribune reports that Illinois politicians are talking with a big Illinois fish processing company that says it could process carp from the Illinois River – if the government can come up with a $100 million subsidy.

Next month the Supreme Court will consider the case on the Chicago Diversion filed by Michigan and backed by Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and New York, not to mention Ontario.  And AP reports that, in response to calls by Michigan officials and others for a White House summit on the crisis, “the Obama administration said it would welcome such a meeting.”

It’s striking the way some people’s response to the issue depends on which side of the state line they’re on – particularly politicians, but also newspapers.  And you have to wonder whether the Obama administration would have opposed the motion if the President and his chief of staff (and everyone else, down to his chef) came from Milwaukee instead of Chicago.

(That could have made a difference today; one legal expert tells the New York Times that the court may have deferred to the administration’s position.)

That parochialism doesn’t apply to environmental groups, based here and elsewhere, which have pushed for an end to the stalling.  They criticized the Obama administration’s position on the Michigan motion, and today they issued a joint statement saying the court’s ruling means U.S. and Illinois officials need to take responsibility.

“State and federal agencies keep saying they understand the problem,” said Jeff Skedling of the Great Lakes Coalition. “Talking about the urgency comes cheap.  We can’t wait another two minutes — let alone another two months — to know how one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water will be protected from these monsters.”

“This is a crisis,” Dr. Marc Gaden of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission told Newstips last week.  “It’s impossible to move fast enough. We don’t have the luxury of time.

“We need to move at the speed of carp, not the speed of government,” said Gaden.

He points out that the electronic barrier that is now failing has been 15 years in the making.  First authorized in 1996, a full-strength barrier was finally installed last year.

He applauds the Army Corps for undertaking a study of possible solutions, including separation of Lake Michigan from the Mississippi River water system.  But the study could take years.

“We’re now in the 21st century,” he said. “It’s not like we need a canal to deal with wastewater – every other city deals with it without a canal – and there are other modes of transportation.  It’s time to make a transition.”  He talks about a “paradigm shift.”

“These are very solvable problems – if we are willing to make the investment in a 21st century transportation system that will accommodate the interests of a variety of stakeholders.”

But “it’s absolutely unthinkable to consider a tradeoff of the integrity of the Great Lakes for the ability of some people to continue doing things in the ways they are used to, when they can certainly be done in a different way.”

The $7 billion Great Lakes fishing industry includes 5 million people who fish, including 70,000 who work in commercial fishing as well as Indian tribes with historic claims.

“Millions of people rely on that resource for food, for income, for recreational value, and for subsistence,” he said.  “There are whole communities built around recreational, commercial and tribal fishing that we have to protect.  There’s a way of life that we have come to respect and revere.  And it’s all in jeopardy.”

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Category: environment, Lake Michigan

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