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Fish fry

Worst-case scenarios for carp in the Great Lakes

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Published 2/24/2010

Scientists, lawyers and the hosting politician had the to-be-expected informative and persuasive presentations at a forum Monday, Feb. 22, about what it would mean for Lake St. Clair and the Great Lakes if Asian carp breach barriers to rivers and canals in Indiana and Illinois and enter Lake Michigan.

Get ready to see the carp swimming upstream into inland rivers so they can spawn, the experts said. Prepare for environmental disaster, they warned, predicting the fish will replace many native species. And say good-bye to the $7 billion sport fishing industry and any accompanying travel and tourism dollars because the salmon, walleye and other smaller fish will die off as the carp decimate their food supply.

But it was one boater's experience with the fish that most affected the crowd, judging by the shivers, grimaces and questions following his impromptu speech.

At the forum at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, attended by about 100, Paul Streetenberger of Harper Woods described being on a small boat on a western Illinois waterway as jumping Asian carp surrounded him. When the invasive fish are "disturbed" by the sound of motors, they leap up to 6 feet out of the water. "One even landed in our boat," Streetenberger said.

Search "jumping carp" on YouTube (or read News Hits online) for a view of what Streetenberger was talking about and imagine that on Lake St. Clair, or any one of the rivers or lakes that feeds it, or any of the Great Lakes.

If your response is like the Grosse Pointe Farms crowd, you'll want to know what you can do to prevent it. And the answer is to conduct a good, old-fashioned, grass-roots political campaign, says Susan Harley, the Michigan policy director for Clean Water Action.

"We haven't seen proper funding levels to protect our natural resources and we want to see that changed," she said.

Sign petitions. Call the White House. Write, e-mail and fax congressional representatives because much-needed federal legislation and money would be the best security against a further invasion of the Asian carp, says Nick Schroeck, the incoming executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

"We don't have comprehensive federal legislation" regarding invasive species and other related environmental issues, he said.

Kelley Smith, chief of the fisheries division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said states are limited in their efforts because they don't have power to force Illinois or Indiana to close the waterways as many are urging. The feds do but "the Obama administration has come out very clearly on the side of Illinois in this case," Smith said.

"Maybe there's a little bit of taking care of the home state here," Schroeck said of Obama's response.

Schroeck advocates a complete environmental and hydrological separation of the Chicago and northwest Indiana waterways from the Great Lakes to protect against the carp and future environmental problems. Poisoning, electric fences and other control efforts are not 100 percent effective, he says.

Closing canals, as other states have called on Illinois to do, is the most effective option at the moment, but with the network of sluices, water intakes and sewage routes, the fish could still make it into Lake Michigan and eventually the rest of the Great Lakes. Illinois has refused, citing the economic impact to the shipping industry.

That makes the threat an immediate one, Smith said.

"They're on the other side of Michigan but they're fish. They have fins. They'll swim."

State Rep. Tim Bledsoe (D-Grosse Pointe), who hosted the forum, said any such proposals will need to be coordinated between states. "There's no silver bullet against these fish," he said.

Some local officials are getting ready. In western Michigan, for example, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners announced last week that it is preparing a contingency plan for an invasion and would call for the closure of the St. Joseph River's fish ladders to prevent the fish from moving further inland.

In Washington D.C. this week, advocates are at "Great Lakes Days" and urging Congress to take aggressive action to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes and to separate the Mississippi and Great Lakes basins.

For more information locally, at the Outdoorama sport show at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs will host an Asian carp informational session at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25. Panelists include representatives from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment and the Michigan Attorney General's office as well as the Michigan Charter Boat Association and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

"This is a problem for the whole region," says Bill Kirk, from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

News Hits was written by Metro Times staff writer Sandra Svoboda. You can reach her at 313-202-8015 or ssvoboda@metrotimes.com.

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