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Asian Carp: Not Quite the Action We Were Fishing For...

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Visit NRDCs Switchboard BlogThe Asian Carp Coordinating Committee put out their updated “control strategy framework” this afternoon. It is basically the playbook from which the Army Corps of Engineers, USEPA, and other governmental stakeholders are supposed to be attacking the advance of invasive species into the Great Lakes. We were not particularly pleased with what we saw in the original version that came out earlier this year, but held out hope that the updated version for 2011 would include some new, smart, coordinated strategy we could rally around…

…it did not…

We are still digging in, but what we see is still isn't a plan. It is a bunch of uncoordinated, stand-alone tactics tossed at the wall to see what sticks---kind of like a fraternity house approach to pasta. Sure, there are some new things added into the mix, but even they are problematic as they seem to contradict the confident front put forth by the carp warriors on two of their most important tools: the electric barrier and eDNA.

In response to our questions about the evidence that the Carp are present throughout the Chicago Waterway and, in fact, have made it to Lake Michigan, we have heard repeatedly from the carp team that the electric barrier erected by the Corps to shoo away the invaders, by shocking the water, is working and keeping the fish out.

We have had our doubts about the barrier from the get-go. Evidence shows it doesn’t really work. The continued eDNA tests showing more and more fish beyond the barrier just reinforce our belief that there is a better way to deal with this problem. If we are going to rebuff the carp, the response is going to have to pick up speed and urgency. The updated document points to working on improvements in eDNA testing to help make it a more valuable tool, but at the end of the day, you actually have to do something to respond to what the tests are telling you.  

We need a permanent solution as quickly as possible, not just for Asian carp but for all the other invasive species that use the waterway system. Accelerating a permanent solution will be both more effective and cheaper, if it is done in a way that actually takes care of the problem (including for species other than Asian carp). And that gets us to the other news of the day---the attorneys general of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan announced that they had filed a notice of appeal to a court ruling in the lawsuit to close the locks connecting Chicago’s waterways with Lake Michigan (which they would like to see used as a barrier to stop the advance of Asian carp into the Great Lakes). I was surprised to see the appeal and while I completely understand their frustration at the lack of movement on real and permanent solutions to the carp threat, I think there are better ways to get things rolling.

NRDC released an initial assessment of how a permanent barrier could be built in the Chicago Waterway System to address the broader invasive species threat while bringing much needed resources to improve and rebuild our region’s water and transportation systems. (Check out this week's Chicago Tonight segment on the report below.)

But that kind of project comes with a price tag that should not be considered a “Chicago problem.” If we are going to fix this thing it will require moving forward with regional cooperation to leverage resources necessary to permanently and intelligently separate the ecosystems in a way that will improve water management in the region, as well as the  movement of national commerce in and through the Chicago region. A bill proposed by Senators Durbin and Stabenow would force the Corps to speed up their analysis of how specifically to separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River system near Chicago would move the effort forward sharply---that is the kind of action we are really looking for!  

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

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