We should have learned two lessons on June 22 when a fisherman pulled in an Asian carp on the wrong side of electric barriers designed to keep the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.
Lesson One: No, this is not necessarily an immediate emergency.
Back in 2010, an Asian carp was found in Lake Calumet, which means it essentially already had made it into the Great Lakes. But biologists determined the fish hadn’t spawned here and could have arrived with a shipment of farm-raised catfish.
Similarly, It’s possible the latest piscine intruder is not a sign that a reproducing population of Asian carp has made it past two electric barriers downstream from Chicago. Scientists expect to figure out where the 8-pound adult fish came from by next month.
Lesson Two: Yes, this is really is an emergency, one we should be paying close attention to.
The emergency is that the Great Lakes ecosystem is suddenly much more vulnerable for two reasons.
First, the Trump administration won’t release a plan to put additional anti-carp protection at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent two years developing the plan and preliminary recommendations. The Corps had expected to make the plan the plan available for public comment on Feb. 28, but at the last minute the Trump administration yanked it back.
Hiding the plan is a mistake. The voracious Asian carp have been have been working their way up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers for years. If they make it past the barriers, it could be devastating to the Great Lakes’ recreational fishing, commercial fishing, boating and tourism industries.
If the Army Corps has a better plan for keeping the fish out of the lakes, we need to see it immediately.
Second, the Trump administration is proposing to scrap the $300-million-a-year Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which provides funding for protections against invasive species, including carp, along with a host of other programs to restore and protect the lakes’ ecosystem.
Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes already have been damaged by such invasive species as quagga and zebra mussels, round gobies and sea lampreys. Scrapping funding for the lakes’ restoration and protection would open the door to new invaders. Illinois’ elected officials and the state’s congressional delegation, as well as officials from other Great Lakes states, should demand we do more for the lakes, not less.
We’ve already learned the cost of inaction. It’s not a lesson we need to learn again.
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