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Praise, scorn for carp agencies

An editorial in Friday’s Sun Times praises the “wise approach” of authorities responding to the capture of an Asian carp in Lake Calumet last week.

At the Detroit Free Press, meanwhile, outdoor writer Eric Sharp suggests the carp crisis shows government protection of the environment to be “hopelessly slow and often massively incompetent.”

And at NRDC’s Switchboard, Thom Cmar slams “the mismanagement of this situation” as “scandalous.”

What’s going on?  The Sun Times is praising “intensifying” efforts to figure out how the fish got there, and whether it’s part of a breeding population.  And it’s urging everyone not to panic.

Sharp is taking a long view.   “The federal government has known for nearly 30 years the threat these fish pose for the Great Lakes,” he writes. “That was evident almost from the day they escaped from southern fish farms and sewage lagoons and began making their way up the Mississippi River to the Illinois.

“And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has spent at least eight years and millions of dollars coming up with a carp-repelling system that doesn’t work.”

Cmar is talking about a new decision — the little-noted announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers that it will discontinue the eDNA testing that has found evidence of Asian carp in several areas beyond electronic barriers – in patterns that scientists say are “consistent with an upstream invasion.” (Only the Michigan Messenger seems to have picked up on this announcement.)

“Now is not the time to drop the most important monitoring tool we have,” comments Josh Mogerman of NRDC.

The Corps’ decision to drop eDNA testing follows months of downplaying the results, Cmar says.

The eDNA team’s final sampling on May 27 found eight positive DNA hits near the Chicago Lock, “indicating the presence of Asian carp on the doorstep of Lake Michigan,” Cmar says.  But the Corps reported this as a single positive result, explaining that they all turned up on the same sampling trip in the same general area.  In fact they ranged from the South Branch of the Chicago River to the Lake Shore Drive bridge.

Now they’re relying on traditional sampling methods, like nets and electroshock – though the government’s own experts admit they don’t work for Asian carp, Cmar points out.  (One expert told the Journal-Sentinel that nets and electroshock would harvest only 10 percent of the total fish population of a small lake – and a much smaller proportion in a huge canal system.)

That lends credence to charges from observers like Tom Marks of the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council, who calls the emphasis on testing a distraction and “a waste of time and money.”

The Sun Times counsels patience as agencies try to figure out if Lake Calumet hosts a breeding population.  It’s hard to understand this.  It can take years for a species, moving under the radar, to reach that level – but once the Asian carp does, this particular fight may well be lost.

Senator Durbin said Friday he will introduce legislation this week asking the Army Corps to look at hydrologic seperation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River water systems – the artificial connection created a hundred years ago by the Chicago canal system.

Newstips reported in May that Senators Durbin and Burris had joined other Great Lakes senators calling on Congress to pass such legislation.  (Also that the Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Governor Quinn, had earlier this year called on the Corps to embrace ecological separation as “the key, permanent strategy” in the fight against Asian carp.)

We also reported what environmental groups have been saying – that Congress has already authorized the Corps to study ways of stopping invasive species, and that the Corps’ approach has focused almost exclusively on stopgap measures — and done almost nothing about a permanent solution.

That’s likely to change now, thanks to a fish.

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Category: environment, Lake Michigan

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