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Carp discovery speaks to danger of inaction

• Jun 28, 2017 at 5:00 PM

The Great Lakes are steaming toward an invasive species iceberg while those with power to steer away from catastrophe continue to belligerently delay any meaningful intervention that could prevent disaster.

Last week, that collision catapulted closer to the point of no return as officials announced they found an 8-pound Asian carp on the wrong side of electric barriers placed in the Chicago Area Waterway System to keep the destructive invasive species from reaching the nation's most important freshwater ecosystem. It's an intersection that promises to cause preventable, irreparable damage to the lakes we all so love.

The looming debacle for years has left many Michiganders shouting for intervention, but receiving frustrating silence in return. Those calls for action have warned repeatedly that something must be done to halt the march of the carp as they migrate upstream from the Mississippi River system toward Lake Michigan through the manmade channel near Chicago.

Continuous pleas for action have been met by unending false reassurances and years of studies — the latest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' draft report is being delayed by the White House — that still aren't complete. Those reports are expected to outline the need for substantial barriers, far more than existing electric barriers, to prevent Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan where researchers say they likely would decimate delicate aquatic ecosystems by devouring plankton that forms the foundation of the food chain.

The carp, first imported to clean ponds at southern fish farms, spread into the Mississippi River system and have procreated like droves of water-borne rabbits. Once in the Great Lakes, there is no doubt the aquatic mishap would turn disastrous, potentially destroying the region's $7 billion per year fisheries and dealing untold damage to our water-dependent economy.

The latest discovery proves long-held assertions by environmental and natural resource experts that the electric barriers in place south of Chicago are inadequate. It also hints at a problem potentially far worse than officials previously acknowledged.

Commercial fishermen caught a single, large-but-not-mature silver carp 34 miles closer to the Lake Michigan shoreline than any before. U.S Fish and Wildlife officials spent Friday offering reassurances that the single carp isn't a "three-alarm" emergency. They also contended the discovery doesn't necessarily mean the fish have established breeding populations in the Calumet River close to Lake Michigan.

But consider the source. These are the same people who continue to contend the electric barrier system is effectively keeping carp from migrating closer to the Great Lakes despite evidence to the contrary. They also have now taken direction from two administrations in the White House that seem content to stall and cater to special interests in the Chicago area, like the cargo barge owners who this year convinced the White House to halt the release of a draft of a long-anticipated, $8 million report many expect will call for new, more substantial barriers.

Instead, they seem content to continue playing roulette with the Great Lakes' future through inaction that should outrage all Michiganders.

Like an iceberg, the danger of Asian carp marching toward Lake Michigan isn't what we see, it's what lies below the water's surface that could sink our beloved lakes.

— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE (AP)

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