Fish and Fatalism Flourish: Asian carp now spawning in Indiana and threaten Lake Erie

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Those Asian carp are certainly determined and energetic… Every time it seems like we might be getting them bottled up and rebuff their efforts to enter the Great Lakes, they pop up somewhere else. Like last week, when a live carp was found beyond the electrical barrier that is supposed to keep them at bay. And this week, with a not-so-public admission that there is a sizable population of carp in the Wabash River…and they are spawning!

It is disturbing news.

And not just because the river, which runs through Indiana and into Ohio, occasionally floods to give the carp access to Lake Erie (via the nearby Maumee River) creating a new front to the war on these dangerous invasive fish. The fact that these fish are reproducing in yet another waterway with connections to yet another Great Lake is somewhat contrary to the party line we have been hearing from those who have been tasked with staunching this disaster for decades. We had been told that there was no need to worry until we observed breeding and self-sustaining populations…erp…

You would think that this new and troubling development deserved an all-points bulletin, but the news dribbled out via a press release from Michigan’s Governor Granholm about a private meeting with lawmakers. Maybe it is because, despite calls for more concrete plans on carp defense and a recognition that the fish had gotten into the Wabash previously through the Ohio River, no plan for containment of this threat to Lake Erie has been put to the public. Too bad, because it means that we will likely hear about an array of ill-conceived, half baked ideas for the Wabash and Maumee (just as crazy ideas about boiling the Chicago River or removing its oxygen have been advanced---expect to hear something about this insane facility where the Maumee meets Lake Erie).

Fatalists will throw up their hands and say we’ve lost this war. I look at this differently. We can act to change the situation---but not if we continue as we have up to now. The underlying realities have changed and we need to pivot in order to address the new situation. The current approach of fragmented, opaque, disingenuous governance is what is fatalistic: it commits us to infestation and after the fact, highly expensive response to infestation----like we have with zebra mussels, lampreys, gobies.

Something like, “They are here, we just need to control them," is not good enough. It is not a plan. The fact of the matter is that the carp are not yet established in the Lakes. We cannot be frozen into an acceptance of infestation.

The battle-ready terms swirling around this crisis are interesting, given the prominence of the Army Corps of Engineers as one of the lead agencies tasked with beating back the invasion. Generals that get outflanked in battle tend to lose their stars.

As the recent carp discoveries show the threat advancing on multiple fronts seemingly beyond containment from current leadership, we join a coalition of national and Great Lakes groups echoing the sentiments of Senators Durbin and Stabenow who have called on the Whitehouse to serve up a battlefield commission of sorts. It is time to tap a federal incident commander---a single person to coordinate all the myriad of efforts on this issue, and hopefully do it in more forthcoming fashion (rather than downplaying announcements like the elimination of eDNA testing in as afterthoughts with captured carp; or maybe like holding off on news of a new infestation until a long holiday weekend in hopes of burying the story…). In my mind, the fact that the info on the Wabash has squeeked out so late and unfocused underscores that the necessary work is not getting done.

There is still time to right the ship. Under the leadership of Durbin and Stabenow, the bill being advanced by Great Lakes legislators in DC is a good start. But we need to address the calls for capitulation and carp control that will surely follow the disappointing news on the Wabash---they have the potential to slow solutions even as the carp continue their advance.


Asian_Carp_Illinois_Senator_Richard_Durbin 0001 image by Kate.Gardiner via Flickr