Last Friday, three members of Congress introduced legislation to defend the Great Lakes from Asian carp, an invasive species that has been wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems as it works its way up the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Environmentalists are concerned that the fish could cause serious ecological and economic damage if it migrates unchecked into Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes.
The bipartisan Guarding our Great Lakes Act was introduced in the House by Congressman Dave Camp, a Republican from Michigan, and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York, and in the Senate by Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan.
The legislation calls for improvements to a lock and dam that sit downstream of Lake Michigan in Joliet, Illinois, to stop the migration of the fish through the lock. Improvements will include an engineered channel as well as electric dispersal barriers. It also calls for improvements to Chicago’s waterway system to prevent the transfer of invasive species from the Illinois River into Lake Michigan.
Asian carp were introduced to the U.S. in the 1970s to control weeds and pests in aquatic farms, according to the National Parks Service. A few eventually made their way to the Mississippi River and established breeding populations. Asian carp out-compete native fish and lower the water quality. They also grow to extremely large sizes and have become infamous for their ability to jump out of the water at high speeds, sometimes even into boats.
Many experts are concerned that if the fish reach Lake Michigan they will devastate not only the environment, but also the $7 billion fishing industry.
A number of tactics have been deployed or proposed to stop the spread of the fish, including a $10 million electric barrier near Chicago that may in fact not even be stopping fish much smaller than carp. Some have even proposed reversing the Chicago River and cutting off the connecting man-made waterways between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Some entrepreneurial types are even trying to turn carp into the next foodie craze.
Despite these attacks, the carp have continued their march north, coming ever closer to the Great Lakes.