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Great Lakes Article:

U.S. officials yank fish barrier funding
$4.4 million was promised for fence
By Michael Hawthorne
Chicago Tribune

Federal officials have cut funding for a new electric fence to block voracious Asian carp from invading Lake Michigan, where biologists fear the prolific fish could rapidly spread and devastate all of the Great Lakes.

Only 50 miles of water and a temporary electrical barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal stand between the lakes and the advancing carp, which took less than a decade to eat their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The original electric fence, an experiment to determine if fish would turn back as they swam toward it, is expected to wear out by next year.

Construction of a more permanent barrier in the canal was scheduled to begin this spring. Illinois officials agreed to provide about $2 million for the project, but $4.4 million promised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was eliminated in the agency's budget. Now a bipartisan group of Great Lakes lawmakers is trying to get it back.

"These fish are a disaster waiting to happen for the Great Lakes," said Mike Conlin, fisheries chief for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. "We've got to stop them here if we can."

Asian carp, which grow to an average of 4 feet and 60 pounds, meandered north to the Illinois River after escaping from fish farms during flooding along the Mississippi River a decade ago. Fish farmers in southern states had imported the carp to control disease and algae.

The carp are a particularly threatening invasive species because they have no predators and aggressively crowd out other fish species. They can devour up to 40 percent of their body weight in a day, mostly by straining out phytoplankton, tiny creatures that provide the base of the food chain for native fish such as bass and walleye.

When frightened by passing boats, the carp can jump up to 10 feet out of the water. Scientists who monitor the Illinois River tell stories of people who have suffered broken noses, neck injuries and bruises from encounters with the leaping carp.

Officials fear the three Asian carp species--bighead carp, black carp and silver carp--could end up causing more ecological and economic damage than other invasive species that already have wreaked havoc in the lakes, such as the sea lamprey and the zebra mussel.

"This is unacceptable, especially since all that is left to do is construct the project," the entire Illinois congressional delegation wrote last week in a letter urging the Army Corps to finance a permanent barrier of electric cables across the canal.

A spokesman in the corps' Washington office did not return a phone call. Chuck Shea, project manager in the corps' Chicago office, said he was told that funding for domestic projects was being cut back to provide more money for the corps' work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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