Asian Carp: Slick PR is Not the Solution

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This must have looked like a dismal week for the folks overseeing the efforts to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. In the face of news that their vaunted anti-carp electric barrier had suffered a mechanical failure last week and a growing drumbeat from regional editorial boards angrily noting the slowness of action to beat back the invasion, the Administration’s carp cognoscenti were facing some serious beatdown.

But the federal bureaucracy attempted to change the story line with a super-slick PR move that reframed the narrative away from the snail-paced failure that has marked the carp battle to date into one of “hope.” And most impressively, they did it with a press conference about nothing.

In what would normally be a yawn-inducing announcement, the Carp Crew announced that they would be changing the process currently underway to determine a solution to the movement of the carp out of the Mississippi River system by bringing Congress into the mix sooner. According to their story, the addition of an interim report to Congress sometime next year represents a “streamlining” of the process — something that “could” expedite things. Yowza! To desperate ears in the region concerned about the imperilment of the Great Lakes and their significant fishing economies, it seemed like a string of hope; a flash of light from a distant shore. By couching the announcement in such terms, the administration turned attention away from the negative stories that would have otherwise dominated the media landscape and even garnered some slow clapping in headlines around the region that noted the professed“speed up” of the process.

Alas, there is no speed up. There is no progress. There is no light at the end of the long, extending tunnel. The announcement that seemed to beckon promisingly to a new day, really had no content, solace or certitude for those of us hoping for a firm and determined commitment to a real solution from the agencies spending our tax dollars.

But hey, this isn’t just my take — the Carp Czar admits this himself in the AP coverage of the announcement:

[Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works] and John Goss, Asian carp program director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, didn't guarantee that the revised timetable would put a final solution in place sooner.

That’s it. By bringing Congress into the mix earlier — the same Congress that cannot currently bring itself to fix crumbling bridges or put out a job plan amidst one of the worst economic slumps in our history — the Administration implies that they are goosing the process. Yet the same long timeframe for studies and process before a real solution is approved and executed is still there. The press announcement was really just a hollow, implied promise.

While I am impressed with the way the carp folks have shifted the region’s attention this week, I would rather see that sort of deft refocusing maneuver played out in re-thinking Chicago’s waterways where an array of competing needs and visions for the system need to be brought together to not only stop the Asian carp and other invasive species, but to revitalize the economy on the banks of this resource with so much potential. Instead of re-imagining the narrative, we should be re-imagining the infrastructure.


Carp Coming image by jmogs via Flickr