Carp closer to Lake Michigan

Guest Editorial
Step by step, we appear to be approaching the moment so many environmentalists and fisheries experts — the cynical ones, at least — have long feared.

The same day they find proof positive that Asian carp have found their way into Lake Michigan near Chicago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Obama administration will announce they’ve found a way to keep them out. Guaranteed. So far, the carp have been winning the race to the lakes and so far, the Corps and the IDNR and those who depend on keeping the canal system around Chicago open for business have been lagging just far enough behind to make it look like a race.

Last week Illinois fisheries biologists netted two 60-pound carp in a Chicago-area lagoon. Officials said the carp had probably been there for many years and had possibly been brought there when the pond was stocked or by a fisherman’s bait bucket.

An IDNR spokesman said the lagoon is not connected to Lake Michigan or to canals that connect the lake to the Illinois River. The fish couldn’t have gotten out on their own and could not breed in the still water, he said.

But that’s the kind of thing the experts have been saying just about every time they find carp farther up the network of streams, rivers and canals that link the Mississippi River basin to Lake Michigan. The carp weren’t supposed to get by a couple of electric fences, but then scientists realized that during spring floods the fish could bypass that barrier. Carp DNA was found in a Lake Michigan inlet in January of 2010 and what scientists call “environmental carp DNA” has been discovered in various other streams, ditches and waterways in the region.

So hearing assurances that the two carp found in a lagoon near Chicago couldn’t possibly get into the lake is less than compelling.

It’s not all doom and gloom on the carp front, however.

Canada, our allies in this fight, have said they will devote an additional $17.5 million to the carp wars, including development of an early warning system with U.S. agencies so authorities can react quickly if the invasive species is detected.

If that sounds a bit like the horse and the barn door, well, it is. But at least you know the Canadians mean it. They also plan on informing people about the dangers Asian carp pose and how to keep them out of the lakes, a strategy that may work on Canadians but won’t much impress American types who want to know what’s in it for them.

So the race is still on.