The ongoing threat to the Great Lakes’ ecosystem posed by Asian carp was revisited this past week in several ways. Last Tuesday, a panel of engineering and environmental experts convened in Huron, Ohio for a public forum to discuss possible solutions to the threat. The same day, news outlets reported the findings of a recent study co-sponsored by the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. The federal government and affected state governments should use the findings to determine the most cost-effective solution to the Asian carp problem before it grows beyond their control.

The report was released in the wake of increasing public concern over carp sightings near the juncture of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. The Commission’s report calls for the immediate separation of the basins with a barrier designed to keep out the pesky carp. It also offers three alternatives to the plan in hopes that a compromise can be reached. Since the plan would force the city of Chicago to overhaul its waterway system, a number of Chicago business owners and representatives are opposed to the separation and its potential effects on the faltering Illinois economy.

Asian carp are well-known for their habit of consuming massive amounts of plankton, an organism that’s essential to the survival of native fish species and the Great Lakes’ fishing industry, which generates $7 billion in annual activity for the local economy. The carp are also known to jump out of the water violently when startled by nearby fishing boats, which puts recreational fishermen at risk for serious injuries. Once the carp are able to establish a young breeding population in an ecosystem, it’s virtually impossible to eradicate them. This means the welfare of nearly all the native fish of the Great Lakes — and the wildlife that feed on them — is at stake.

The Great Lakes region may be forced to make a considerable investment in the barrier, but the project would pay for itself over time. Efforts to control invasive species already cost local economies more than $150 million a year. Though the cheapest solution the study proposes would cost between $3.26 and $4.27 billion to implement, it is also projected to generate up to $9.5 billion in long-term savings. The overhaul of Chicago’s shipping facilities could also generate $400 million in economic benefits for the city’s ports, and the entire separation effort could create thousands of much-needed jobs.

There’s not much time for local representatives to act on these measures. Asian carp have crept steadily closer toward the Great Lakes via the Mississippi River ince the 1990s. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, there are currently as many as 10 invasive species on the verge of overtaking the Great Lakes. The spread of Asian carp would permanently damage Michigan’s fishing and tourism industries. The state government needs to act on recent findings and take appropriate steps to prevent the invasion of Asian carp before it’s too late.

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