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Mark Biel

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Getting It Right in the Gopher State

Posted: 09/20/11 01:00 PM ET

When it comes to the Asian carp debate, a long-running problem in the Great Lakes region is a laser-like focus on Chicago and its waterways. While attention is certainly due, it cannot come at the cost of ignoring all the other potential pathways and introduction methods in various states where Asian carp could find their way into the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Agencies and lawmakers in Illinois and Indiana continue to lead the way in keeping a broader perspective on the issue but a new state, Minnesota has recently taken steps that should serve as an example to the rest of the region. Led by Governor Mark Dayton, policymakers in the Gopher State are taking a proactive and level-headed approach to the issue.

Just this week, the governor convened an Asian carp summit in Minneapolis to discuss a coordinated control strategy. Attended by representatives from the state's congressional delegation and representatives from federal and state agencies, the meeting provided a forum for constructive conversation about control efforts. With several stakeholders and experts collaborating in the same room, it's no surprise that the dialogue produced sound and strategic ideas for managing the species in the future.

Chief among the controls proposed was the installation of bubble curtains. By releasing a deliberate arrangement of bubbles from a machine placed at the river bottom, this technique would act as a barrier for fish movements.

While the viability of air bubble curtains depends on the specific geographic locations for proposed barriers on the Saint Croix River, it's extremely encouraging to see that alternative methods are not only on the table for discussion but being pushed as major priorities. Even the natural resources commissioner Tom Landwehr, who pointed out that the technology is untested, indicated that the bubble-barrier might be the best option to deal with advancement of carp moving northward.

When the conversation at the summit shifted to proposals by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to shut down locks and dams as control methods, Governor Dayton strongly emphasized the importance of carefully weighing the potential impacts. Not only did Dayton make it crystal clear that he wants more information about the true cost and effectiveness of lock closure, he also wants to ensure potential alternatives are studied first.

And as the state solidifies its Asian carp control strategies, public advocacy initiatives are already raising awareness about general invasive species control. Thanks to a recent $400,000 check cut by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Sea Grant program at the University of Minnesota Duluth ramped up its educational efforts to inform Minnesotans about the threats posed by the spread of invasive species.

With tactics ranging from billboards to trading cards and county fair booths to fishing shows, the Sea Grant is utilizing multiple platforms to let Minnesotans know that seemingly harmless activities like fishing, boating and tossing an unwanted pet fish into a pond can actually accelerate the spread of these species. Dockside education and enforcement is more prevalent than ever, and the Sea Grant intends to keep up the pressure and the continued reminders.

It's a promising sign that a more reasoned and common sense approach is taking hold in Minnesota. Now, it's time that the Attorneys General in other Great Lakes states turn away from their fixation on irrational solutions and move toward a similar coordinated commitment to long-term Asian carp control tactics.