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EDITORIAL: Money needed to keep Asian carp from Great Lakes
Rockford Register Star
Published August 29, 2006

How would you like to get hit in the face by a 20-pound fish while you were boating or water skiing? Doesn’t sound very appealing, although a video of a Peoria man getting hit in the face by a jumping fish was worth $10,000 last year on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

The spread of Asian carp in Midwestern waters would be funny if it weren’t so serious. These ugly fish are destroying our rivers, disrupting recreational boaters and skiers, and ruining the way of life for commercial and sport fishermen.

They must be stopped, especially from entering the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes account for 90 percent of the surface freshwater in the United States and need to be spared from another invasive species that would damage their ecosystem.

Congress needs to approve financing that would make permanent one barrier and complete construction of a second barrier that helps keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan and the rest of the Great Lakes.

Asian carp are a family of fish that includes bighead carp, silver carp, grass carp and black carp. The fish were imported from China in the 1970s by catfish farmers in the South to control algae and snails in their ponds.

The fish were washed out of those farms and into the Mississippi River during floods in the 1980s. From the Mississippi they’ve made their way into the Illinois, Missouri and other rivers. The Rock River has been unaffected so far, although there have been a couple of reports of fishermen catching bighead carp.

These fish get big in a hurry by consuming about 40 percent of their body weight in plankton in a day. Their voracious appetites limit food supplies for other fish and wind up driving out native species. China once had more than 400 diverse species of fish. Asian carp have driven out more than 150 species and made an additional 150 species rare. The same could happen in the U.S. if the carp are not controlled.

They have no natural predators. They grow so fast, they quickly become too large to be eaten by any other fish. They are so hearty that chemicals and shocking affect them less than other fish. They reproduce in such great numbers — one female may lay 1 million to 4 million eggs — that there are too many to deal with.

Boat motors literally make these fish jumpy. Flying fish have injured boaters and skiers, and authorities say it’s inevitable that someone will be killed. Some boaters wear helmets when they are on the water, and companies are trying to sell cages that could be put on boats to protect passengers.

Emergency funding to keep a barrier operating in the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, which flows into Lake Michigan, was approved this summer, but about $20 million is needed to upgrade that barrier and finish a second.

The first barrier was authorized in 1996 under the National Invasive Species Act to prevent non-native species from entering the Great Lakes and threatening its $4.1 billion sport and commercial fishing industry. In the 10 years since the first barrier was put in place, Asian carp have taken over waterways. Some estimates say Asian carp make up 70 percent of the fish population of the Illinois River.

Money for the barriers is part of the Water Resources Development Act. There are differences in the House and Senate versions of the act that have to be reconciled. A spokeswoman for Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said the senator hopes that will happen when Congress reconvenes in September.

Once the act passes, an appropriations bill would then be needed to get the money. Durbin is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, so he is in a good position to help secure those funds once they are authorized.

We’re sure Durbin will remind his colleagues than Asian carp are not just an Illinois problem. So far, 14 states have been affected by these fish, and more states will be if the fish go unchecked.

Scientists from around the world gathered in Peoria last week to discuss how to deal with Asian carp. They had more questions than answers, but one thing was clear: These fish are an environmental disaster that must be dealt with.

Financing permanent barriers to stop their progress would be a good step.


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