CHICAGO — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to order the emergency closure of Chicago-area shipping locks to prevent voracious Asian carp from slipping into the Great Lakes, leaving disappointed environmentalists and state officials vowing to continue their fight.
In a one-line ruling, the nation's highest court for the second time rejected a request by Michigan and several other Great Lakes states to issue a preliminary injunction shutting the locks in the increasingly desperate battle against the invasive fish, which have migrated up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers toward the lakes after escaping from fish farms in the South decades ago.
Asian carp often leap high out of the water when boats are near. They can weigh 100 pounds and consume up to 40 percent of their body weight daily in plankton, the base of the food chain for Great Lakes fish. Many fear that if they reach the lakes, the invaders could lay waste to a $7 billion fishing industry by starving out competitors such as salmon and walleye.
Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, a Republican running for governor, said he would continue his battle in the courts and repeated calls for President Barack Obama to act to at least temporarily close the locks.
While the Obama administration has called defeating Asian carp a high priority, it has sided with Illinois in opposing the closure. The state says there's no guarantee closing the locks would block the carp's path, and it would certainly disrupt shipping and promote flooding.
Barge and tug operators, for whom Chicago-area canals are a vital link to and from the Great Lakes, praised Monday's ruling.
"We're obviously very pleased," said Lynn Muench, vice president of American Waterway Operators, the main industry trade group. "I'm hoping everybody will step back, get out of the courts and go back to collaborating."
An electric barrier that delivers a nonlethal jolt to scare off fish is the only thing now standing between the carp and Lake Michigan. The Army Corps of Engineers expects to finish constructing a third segment of the electric barrier in the canal by October and will study how to operate the locks in ways that make it harder for carp to slip through, Col. Vincent Quarles, commander of the Chicago district, has said.
Also, in January more than a dozen members of Congress from the region agreed to seek funding to help develop methods to prevent the carp from becoming established in the lakes. Among the options are the increased use of poisons, biological controls and commercial fishing.
Joel Brammeier, president of Alliance for the Great Lakes, said officials cannot rely on stopgap measures.
"It wouldn't (give) us the permanent solution to the problem," he said. "If we can't come up with that strategy to prevent establishment, then we're consigning the Great Lakes to a future of Asian carp."
Cox said Michigan asked the Supreme Court to reconsider an injunction in part because authorities announced they had discovered Asian carp DNA in Lake Michigan only after the justices turned down the state in January. He said in a statement that Michigan still plans to ask courts to reopen a case dating back more than a century, when Missouri filed suit after Chicago reversed the flow of the Chicago River.
Reopening that case could give proponents who want to permanently separate the Chicago-area canals from Lake Michigan a chance to argue that position, said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
"This is not a crushing blow by any means; it's one step in a long process," he said about Monday's ruling. "We need to keep our eye on the ball of a longer-term solution: permanent separation. That's the only way to ensure Asian carp don't colonize Lake Michigan."
Associated Press writers Caryn Rousseau in Chicago, Mark Sherman in Washington, D.C., and Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing, Mich., also contributed to this report.