Growing concerns about the invasion of Asian carp into the Great Lakes sparked heated debate yesterday between residents of Chicago and those of the greater Michigan area.
A panel of representatives from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Coast Guard outlined their strategy to deal with the invasive species in a committee meeting held yesterday in Ypsilanti.
The panel heard concerns and statements from residents of both regions at last night’s meeting.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) was present to address the growing concerns and offer her services to help push the issue on Capitol Hill.
“As chair of the Senate energy sub-committee, an oversight hearing will be held this Thursday to focus on this very topic,” she said.
Stabenow addressed the panel and called for immediate solutions to the Asian carp issue.
“I would urge you to come up with urgent deadlines, clear deadlines, and a focus and understanding for what is at stake here,” she said, “We’re dealing with something very, very serious and we need to act as quickly as possible, with a sense of urgency.”
Asian carp — an invasive species introduced into the Mississippi river in the late-1970s — prey heavily on the same foods that sustain fish native to the Great Lakes. Fears surrounding the invasive fish center on their devastating effect on the ecosystem and the commercial fishing, sport fishing and tourism industries associated with the area.
Michigan residents and politicians have called for a closing of the shipping locks that connect the Illinois River to Lake Michigan in an effort to stop water from carrying the fish into the lake.
Residents of Chicago, who rely on the shipping and tourism industries, responded by saying that closing the locks to Lake Michigan could negatively affect job opportunities in their area.
“Any closure of the Chicago locks will affect my job, as well as many jobs,” Jennifer Perry, who works in the commercial boating industry in Chicago, told the panel last night. “The issue goes far beyond just closing the locks and separating (Lake Michigan and the Illinois River).”
A recent DNA test on fish scales and tissue suggests that Asian carp are present in the Illinois River. Perry said the data currently available was inconclusive and, because the fish have yet to be spotted, did not immediately suggest that the carp had entered the Illinois River.
But Michigan residents told the panel last night that the invasive carp could have detrimental economic affects on their area.
“When you consider the fishing and tourism industries in the Great Lakes, it far outweighs the costs to the Chicago tourism industry,” an audience member who said he was from Michigan told the panel.
“While we’re talking, they are swimming,” another audience member who said he was from Michigan told the panel.
The Great Lakes fishing industry currently accounts for over $7 billion of the Michigan economy, according to figures cited during the meeting.
Cameron Davis, senior advisor to the EPA, said he understood the importance of the issue to the industries in both northwest Illinois and western Michigan.
“The devastation of the carp is something that is of great concern to the regions,” he said in an interview following the public comment session. “We have a strong fishing industry in the Great Lakes that is very important and valuable. We also have some cargo coming through that greatly affects the Chicago and northwest-Indiana regions.”
At last night’s meeting, Lorne Thomas, captain for the U.S. Coast Guard, said the Coast Guard is lending its support to the operation.
“We have the ability to regulate the maritime industry,” he said. “We also have the ability to restrict the waterways if we need to and get the fish killed. That’s the coast guard’s primary role in all of this.”
Michigan politicians have called for a preliminary injunction to close the Illinois waterways that lead to southern Lake Michigan. The United States Supreme Court rejected the injunction late last month.
In 2002, an electric fence was built near the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to contain the fish, but scientists have discovered genetic material from the carp extending beyond the barrier.
Despite the roadblocks in the carp debate, the panelists were optimistic that a consensus could soon be reached between the Chicago and Great Lakes industries.
“I think people are frustrated and people are scared,” Davis said, “but what I saw today was a lot of hope.”