GUEST VIEW: Illinois shouldn’t steer Asian carp prevention efforts

The following editorial was published in the May 10 edition of the Traverse City Record-Eagle:

Illinois just took a dive into planning efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Gov. Bruce Rauner said his state is willing to help pay for a proposed $275 million project on the Des Plaines River near Chicago. The offer could bring results — or it may bog them down.

Federal law requires in this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project that a state or local partner share costs and chores such as securing rights of way. Illinois can fill that legal need and help move the project forward. But Rauner said his state has some problems with the project in its current form. Ironing out those issues could slow the entire initiative.

Delayed response could give the invasive species time to establish a foothold in Lake Michigan.

The Asian carp is an aggressive species that has quickly spread through rivers and lakes, putting immense pressure on native fish in the Mississippi River basin. If Asian carp reach Lake Michigan and begin spreading across all the Great Lakes, the long-term effect on existing fish populations could be devastating.

Some varieties of Asian carp are aggressive fish, in terms both of individuals’ behavior and of habitat dominance. The Great Lakes states need to craft a quick and aggressive response to the threat of invasion.

Illinois officials’ offer to take part in the planning effort, hopefully, will speed action. The state’s lieutenant governor said, while Illinois considers existing efforts to be effective, state officials understand the concerns of other states.

Michigan has more than 3,200 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. Illinois has just 63. Both states value their shores — but the numbers suggest Michigan may have a little more to lose if the marine ecosystem is hit with another invasive species jolt.

Great Lakes advocacy groups and several Great Lakes states aren’t completely on board with Illinois’ contention that Asian carp haven’t advanced any closer to Lake Michigan since 1990. Illinois claims commercial fishing efforts in a section of the Illinois River 50 miles from Lake Michigan have significantly reduced the Asian carp advance toward the big lake.

But one was caught last summer in Chicago’s Little Calumet River, only 9 miles from Lake Michigan. That’s far too close for comfort.

The saga of an invading species has been repeated many times in the Great Lakes. Longtime residents remember the headaches caused by sea lamprey, then by alewife.

More recently, invasive zebra mussels and quagga mussels have swept through the Great Lakes.

Asian carp may present the region’s greatest invasive species threat yet.

Officials in Illinois fear that the federal plan to install noisemakers, water jets and another electric barrier near Joliet might bog down cargo shipping traffic on the river. That is a viable economic worry.

That fear needs to be balanced against the potential harm to the Great Lake ecosystem if Asian carp sneak past existing barriers. Illinois cannot alone decide the fate of the Asian carp invasion. All eight of the states that border the Great Lakes — and Ontario — have a vested interest in the health of the freshwater seas.

All the affected states, along with the federal government, must work together to find a speedy and effective answer to the question of how to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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