Asian Carp Get Caught in the Courts

  • The Bighead Asian Carp found in Lake Calumet. It was the first physical specimen found beyond the U.S. Army Corp of Engineer's electric barrier. (Photo courtesy of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee)

Everybody loves to hate the Asian carp… but not everyone agrees what to do about it. Some of the monster fish can grow up to 100 pounds… and many scientists say if the fish get established in the Great Lakes, it would be a disaster for the $7 billion fishing industry.

Last year, scientists found one of these giant carp beyond an electric barrier that was supposed to keep them out of Lake Michigan. That made a lot of people nervous.

Attorneys general from Michigan and four other states filed a lawsuit. They wanted to close some of the locks in a shipping canal between Chicago and Lake Michigan to try to keep carp out of the Lake. That request was denied and it has been tied up in the courts ever since.


The people who use the Chicago shipping canal are very much against closing the locks.

Lynn Muench is with the American Waterways Operators. It’s a trade group for the barge and tugboat industry.

“It would impact our industry by over 20 companies being impacted and potentially putting some of them out of business.”

Muench says she’s hoping the Great Lakes states will drop their lawsuit.

On the other side are environmentalists who say something needs to be done soon.

Joel Brammeier is president and CEO of the advocacy group Alliance for the Great Lakes. What’s the latest science on how close the carp are to Lake Michigan?

(interview is being transcribed – please check back)

JB: You know, unfortunately, live carp have already been found in the waters of the Great Lakes. There was an individual live carp found over the summer on the southeast side of Chicago on a river that drains into Lake Michigan. That’s the bad news. We know that these fish are actually in the Chicago waterway. The less bad news is the reproducing populations of these fish are still miles below where the electrical barriers are located, outside the city of Chicago. So the reproducing front of these fish is perhaps 70-100 miles from Lake Michigan. Don’t draw too much comfort from that, because these fish move fast, they’re unpredictable, and they can advance tens of miles in a year.

RW: So what do you think about this solution that the states are pushing – closing the locks – will that work?

JB: Well, I think just like all the other tools we’ve got, nets and electric shocks and poisons, locks will be used as a management tool to buy some time to stop these fish from invading Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes. They’re not a silver bullet, they’re not an overnight solution, and we’ve got to avoid thinking of them that way. We’re not going to keep those locks closed permanently, they’re not designed to do that and frankly they probably wouldn’t solve the problem on their own. We really need to stay focused on a permanent solution, and that’s breaking the connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River once and for all. That idea that sounded radical two years ago has quickly elevated to the realm of reality now that carp have been found actually in the waters of Lake Michigan.

RW: When you talk about cutting the Mississippi River off from Lake Michigan, what do you mean by that?

JB: It means that we make a break, and at that break water no longer flows between those two systems. We’re confident that the kind of economy and quality of life that this waterway supports can actually grow even after a separation occurs.

RW: Joel Brammeier is the president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. Thank you so much for your time!

JB: No problem, Rebecca. Take care.

RW: At the moment, the Army Corps of Engineers is in the middle of a study to try to figure out how to keep carp out of Lake Michigan. But the Corps says that study won’t be done until the year 2015. That’s not fast enough for some Great Lakes cities and states. They’ve raised their own money to do their own study, and they say that’ll be done by the end of this year.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.