The war against terrorism nearly led to a biological invasion of the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers was struggling to find money for a barrier to stop Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes. It wasn’t until a strong letter from 24 members of Congress was sent to the Corps that the money was found. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The war against terrorism nearly led to a biological invasion of the Great Lakes. The Army
Corps of Engineers was struggling to find money for a barrier to stop Asian carp from getting into
the Great Lakes. It wasn’t until a strong letter from 24 members of Congress was sent to the
Corps that the money was found. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Asian carp have already invaded the Mississippi River system and they’re making their way
toward the channel that connects the Mississippi basin to the Great Lakes basin. The big fish is a
poster child for alien invasive species. It leaps out of the water, sometimes even hitting and
hurting boaters. It competes with native fish. And it’s feared that it would wreak havoc on the
Great Lakes fishery and the ecology of the lakes if it ever gets through to them.
South of Chicago, a barrier that electrifies the water is in place in the connecting channel between
the Mississippi system and the Great Lakes. It shocks the fish and seems to stop them from going
any farther. But that barrier is just a temporary demonstration project. So Great Lakes officials
were pleased when the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would build a permanent barrier.
Michael Donahue is President and CEO of the Great Lakes Commission. The organization
lobbies for the eight Great Lakes states.
“Most invasive species we find out about after the fact, once they’re in the system, they’re
established and the damage is being done. In this instance we know who the enemy is, where
they’re at, what pathway they plan to take to get into the lakes and what we need to do to stop
So environmentalists, anglers, conservationists and scientists all believe stopping the Asian carp
from getting into the Great Lakes is a pretty good idea.
Stuart Ludsin is a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s
Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab. Ludsin says we don’t know exactly how the Asian
carp will affect the Great Lakes… but we don’t want to find out either…
“We certainly do not want to let other exotic species into the system for fear of the economic and
ecological consequences that can come from an invasion.”
Sport fishing enthusiasts don’t need to know exactly what the Asian carp will do to the Great
Lakes. Jason Dinsmore is a resource policy specialist with the Michigan United Conservation
Clubs. Dinsmore says it’s pretty clear the Asian carp won’t be good for anglers.
“Our big concern is: these fish eat what our fish eat, I guess is the best way to look at it. These
large predatory fish are planktovores which means that they eat very small organisms that our fish
like, you know, juvenile perch will depend on. And if they’re out-competing the juveniles of our
sport fish, our sport fish will look to take a hit in overall numbers which means there’s going to
be less for our anglers to catch.”
So, there’s no problem, right? The Army Corps plans to build it. Everyone seems to think it’s a
good idea. But then the Corps couldn’t find the money for it. Chuck Shea is the project manager
for both the demonstration fish barrier and the new permanent fish barrier that’s being planned.
“Earlier in the month of February we didn’t have the full funding allocated to the project. The
project was not dead in any way. We were still working internally to try to find the money.”
The four-point-four million dollars to build the electric barrier to keep the Asian carp out of the
Great Lakes was to come from a 25-million dollar fund that the Corps uses for projects not
specifically authorized by Congress. It’s discretionary money. But this year money is tight and
with money being used for projects in Iraq and Afghanistan, it wasn’t clear the Great Lakes fish
barrier could get the money from the fund.
“The war on terror and homeland security issues are creating new demands on the budget, in
particular for the Army. The Army is heavily involved in supporting the war on terror and
homeland security and that does affect the budget overall, yes.”
That’s when 24 Members of Congress from the Great Lakes region stepped in. They signed off
on a letter calling for the immediate funding of the fish barrier project and started making calls to
the Army and anyone else who had influence on funding the project.
It looks as though the political lobbying might have worked. The Corps issued a news release
which indicates the corps expects to start construction of the second barrier this summer,
completing it this fall. In the meantime, the temporary barrier will keep running, hopefully
deterring the Asian carp from making it to the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes Commission’s Michael Donahue says everyone hopes the barrier is completed
in time to stop the Asian carp because it’ll will cost a lot if it’s not.
“And instead of spending a few million dollars to prevent the invasion, we could be spending a
few hundred million dollars to deal with it once the Asian carp is established.”
The next challenge is finding money to rebuild the first electrical barrier and make the temporary
barrier permanent as well, backing up the new barrier in case it fails or needs to be shut down for
maintenance. No one wants to think about what might happen if the temporary barrier would
fail now before the permanent barrier is built. The Asian carp has been spotted as close as 20
miles from the barrier and only 50 miles from Lake Michigan.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.