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Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi River system for years after escaping from fish farms and wastewater treatment ponds in the southern U.S.They’re knocking on the door of the Great Lakes, and a number of people are concerned about what could happen if carp become established in the region.In this five-part series, we’ll take a look at what officials are trying to do to keep the fish out, what might happen if carp get in, and why some people want to turn carp into a business opportunity.

Obama administration releases strategies for keeping Asian Carp out of the Great Lakes

Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee

The Obama administration released the “2013 Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework” this past Wednesday. It outlines a $50 million strategic plan to keep the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

We’ve reported on Asian Carp many times before. They’re an invasive species that was imported to the U.S. in the 1970s. While they were originally used in research ponds and fish farms, they escaped and have been making their way up the Mississippi River system ever since.

The fish could pose a real threat if they reach the Great Lakes. The carp could be a huge disruption to the natural ecosystem of the Great Lakes, potentially harming other fish species like walleye, yellow perch, and salmon.

One way the fish could get into the Great Lakes is through Mississippi tributaries that reach Chicago waterways that lead to Lake Michigan.

According to a report by Keith Matheny and Todd Spangler in the Detroit Free Press, the framework includes measures to combat the spread of carp by means of:

…an improved electric barrier in the Chicago area, creating barriers at other tributaries to the Great Lakes and testing new tools such as water guns and netting, chemical controls and pheromone attractants.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contends the electric barriers are currently working, there is fear that as more carp reach the Chicago barrier, smaller carp could slip through.

So the next plan of action could include preventative measures like netting and chemical controls and water guns. But many people feel that the efforts the report proposes are not enough. The Free Press reports:

U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, a Midland Republican, called Wednesday’s updated framework “a welcome short-term response” to the threat posed by the species. But, he said, he remains committed to hydrological separation of the lake from the Mississippi River basin tributaries around Chicago as the best solution.

Camp is not alone. Many experts, environmentalists, and politicians from the Great Lakes region agree. The Michigan League of Conservation Voters released a statement on Obama’s plan, welcoming the effort but adding:

…a long-term solution to keeping the invasive species from decimating our region’s environment and economy is still at bay. The plan calls for an array of methods to strengthen defenses, but does not enforce full separation of waterways.

According to the Free Press’s report, a new study that will detail a permanent separation of Chicago area waterways from Lake Michigan will be completed later this year. A number of groups agree that the complete separation of those waterways is the best option. The Free Press interviewed Jim Diana, director of Michigan Sea Grant and professor of fisheries and aquaculture at the University of Michigan. He said:

“I think we could take carp control more seriously by disconnecting the Chicago waterway. In absence of that, we’ll have all these kinds of temporary solutions that might work.”

But the Free Press explains that physically separating the Chicago waterways from Lake Michigan requires difficult political maneuvering.

The more than century-old Chicago Area Waterway System and its Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal allows for the shipment of 10.5 million tons of commodities between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes, according to the Army Corps. Chicago also is President Barack Obama’s home base. A federal judge in December dismissed a lawsuit brought by five Great Lakes states, including Michigan, seeking to compel Chicago to separate the water bodies. But tensions may have thawed last month when Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, at a summit meeting of Great Lakes governors on Mackinac Island, expressed support for such action. “Ultimately, I think we have to separate the basins,” he said. “I really feel that is the ultimate solution. We have to do it.”

-Julia Field, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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