CHICAGO (CBS/AP) — Once again a dreaded Asian carp has been found relatively close to Chicago and Lake Michigan. And a local environmental group said it’s time the Trump Administration stopped delaying a report on how to better fight the carp invasion.
Somehow, it seems, the Asian carp got past the electric barrier in the waterway system near Romeoville.
The silver carp was 28 inches long and weighed about 8 pounds, officials with the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee said. It was caught Thursday by a commercial fisherman under contract with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources about 2 miles below the below the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam in the Calumet River, on Chicago’s South Side.
The location is 34 miles closer to Lake Michigan than silver carp previously were known to have reached, said Charlie Wooley, Midwest deputy regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Silver carp are among four types of Asian carp threatening to invade the lakes, where scientists say they could compete with native species, unravel aquatic food chains and devastate the region’s $7 billion fishing industry.
The larger question is that one carp a harbinger of a big problem – a failure to keep out the invasive fish that could harm the ecosystem?
Officials cautioned the discovery doesn’t mean Asian carp have become established in the rivers and canals between the barriers and the Great Lakes, or in the lakes themselves. It’s more likely the carp was a loner that somehow made its way into the Chicago area, Wooley said.
“This is concerning but it’s not a three-alarm fire right now and we don’t expect it to be,” he said in an interview.
The fish carcass is being sent to Southern Illinois University, where biologists will attempt to determine where it came from, said Kevin Irons, the state agency’s aquatic nuisance program manager. They will examine its inner-ear bones for chemicals that are characteristic of particular waterways, he said.
They’ll also determine its gender and, if female, study its ovaries for indications of spawning.
Under a plan developed by the multi-agency coordinating committee, the find triggers two weeks of “intense” searching for others. Crews will use nets and electric stunning devices to comb the area where the silver carp was found, plus other sections of the Chicago-area waterways and Lake Michigan’s Calumet Harbor.
This is the second time a live Asian carp has been found beyond three electric barriers clustered in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal 37 miles downstream from Lake Michigan. The other was a bighead carp caught in Chicago’s Lake Calumet in 2010.
Bighead and silver carp are of special concern because of their voracious appetites for plankton — tiny plants and animals on which nearly all fish depend at some point in life. Silver carp are notorious for hurtling out of the water when startled, which can lead to bone-breaking collisions with people in motorboats.
The electric barrier system, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is intended to prevent fish from swimming between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed. Federal officials say it performs well, although a study has found that juvenile fish might get pulled through when caught in barge currents.
Members of Congress from some states in the Great Lakes region contend the electric barriers aren’t enough. They want barriers in the Chicago-area waterways to separate the lakes from the Mississippi system, a step opposed by Illinois lawmakers who say it would disrupt shipping.
The Army Corps of Engineers has finished a report on how to better address the problem at one crucial spot in the waterway.
But the Trump Administration has delayed its release.
Jennifer Caddick is spokesperson for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, which wants the report released now.
“We do know the shipping and barge industry has been very opposed to any additional measures in the Chicago waterway system and in the waterways leading up to Chicago and Lake Michigan that they fear might restrict traffic.”
Lawmakers from Great Lakes states introduced bills this week that would order its release.
“The discovery of Asian Carp this close to Lake Michigan demonstrates how the window of opportunity to protect the Great Lakes is closing,” said Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources said now that a carp has been found, the state will do some extensive testing both above and below that point in the waterway to see if any more are found.
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