TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The recent discovery of a large Asian carp near Chicago underscores the need to protect the Great Lakes from the voracious fish and other invasive species that could slip into Lake Michigan, two members of Congress said Tuesday.
"If Asian carp are not stopped before they enter the Great Lakes, they could destroy the ecosystem, as well as the boating and fishing industries, and hundreds of thousands of jobs," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat.
The director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality's Asian carp program reported the find last week during a Great Lakes conference in Milwaukee that drew hundreds of environmental advocates, scientists and government officials from across the eight-state region and Canada. John Goss said the 53-inch, 82-pound fish was caught about a month ago in Flatfoot Lake, on the Illinois-Indiana state line.
Flatfoot Lake is landlocked and surrounded by a berm that would prevent it from flooding and enabling Asian carp to escape, said Chris McCloud, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
But it's very close to Chicago's Lake Calumet, where commercial fishermen landed a 3-foot-long Asian carp in 2010 about six miles from Lake Michigan. Lake Calumet and Lake Michigan are connected by the Calumet River.
The latest find "is another reminder that we must find a permanent solution to protect the Great Lakes," Rep. Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said Tuesday.
Bighead and silver carp were imported from Asia to the southern U.S. in 1970s to control algae in fish ponds and sewage lagoons. They escaped and have infested most of the Mississippi River and many of its tributaries, including the Illinois and Wabash rivers, which could provide linkages to Lake Michigan and Lake Erie.
Scientists say if the voracious carp become established in the lakes and spread widely, they could out-compete other fish for plankton — the base of aquatic food chains.
Stabenow and Camp sponsored legislation enacted last year that ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete a study on a permanent solution by early 2014. They say the best measure is to physically separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River drainage basins, which Chicago business interests oppose, saying it could disrupt shipping and tour boat traffic.
The corps report will include a list of options, including physical separation, and a price tag for each, Chicago district commander Col. Frederic Drummond said during the Milwaukee conference.
Public sessions will be conducted before decisions are made on a permanent fix, Goss said.
"With your help, I feel confident that over next spring and summer we can identify alternatives, come to a consensus and come up with a good solution to this challenge," he said.