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