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Mark Biel Headshot

ESPN Fumbles Asian Carp Report

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ESPN is king of sports coverage. From Wrigley Field's bleachers to the ice at the United Center, ESPN is all over the Chicago sports scene. Hey, they're not called the Worldwide Leaders in Sports for nothing. But just a few days ago, with an Outside the Lines special report, ESPN jumped into the foray of voices as an unlikely contributor to the Asian carp debate.

Recently, Outside the Lines - ESPN's popular investigative reporting program - aired an exclusive piece intended to spotlight a local sporting event: the sixth annual "Redneck Fishing Tournament." Just 200 mi. from Chicago, the rural town of Bath is host to this unique, homegrown competition that takes place on the Illinois River. The in-depth storytelling amusingly portrayed how the rural competition brings new meaning to the sport of fishing. When attempting to hit on the nitty gritty details involved in the Asian carp debate, however, OTL missed the mark. This is a very complex issue that requires more than an ominous soundtrack and interviews with fishermen who only portray only one side of this debate.

ESPN's skewed angle was evident from the first minute of the report, falsely pitting Chicago against the Great Lakes' billion dollar fishing industry. The voiceover dramatically, and incorrectly, claimed that the locks connecting the Illinois River with Lake Michigan stand as "the last line of defense" from Asian carp.

Unfortunately, this significant 'fact' has become common place in the Asian carp discussion. Ever since Michigan and five other Great Lakes states sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in federal court to force immediate closure of the Chicago locks, people have shortsightedly honed in on the of the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) as the sole entrance for Asian carp to gain access to the Great Lakes. Proponents of lock closure continue to aggressively target the CAWS because they believe that sealing this channel is the one and only way to keep this fish out.

Truth be told the CAWS is not the only point of access for the Asian Carp. In fact, last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unveiled in its Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study plan a comprehensive inventory of other pathways and current hydrologic connections between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. The reality is there are dozens of channels through which Asian Carp could migrate, making this is a serious regional problem. All five states and 18 locations listed in the USACE Other Pathways Inventory are on the front lines, and many additional barriers are under consideration in the Illinois River and Indiana to prevent the advancement of Asian carp. In the past the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service also identified more than 21 ways - including flood plains and human introduction - by which the Asian carp may find their way into the great lakes. So, while the CAWS and its effective barrier system should not be forgotten, it would be detrimental to the future of the Great Lakes to over look these additional routes.

Throughout the course of the last seven months, the Great Lakes states have painted Chicago as the enemy. And in its report, ESPN did exactly the same thing. However, it should be clear that the Asian carp problem isn't solely Chicago's... or the CAWS. Unfortunately for all of us, there isn't a simple solution. We must examine these pathways and then act strategically to design an economically feasible solution.