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Opening Fox Locks has critics worried about exotic species invading Lake Winnebago
By Peggy Breister
The Reporter
April 15, 2004

It’s easier to keep exotic species out of lake systems than to treat them once they get in, says a fisheries biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in Oshkosh.

This summer, Wisconsin is expected to finalize an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to turn over the Fox River Locks to state control. Critics worry opening the locks might allow exotic species to invade area lakes, including the Winnebago system.

The process of renovating and re-opening the locks is expected to take 12 to 20 years to complete, said state Sen. Carol Roessler, R-Oshkosh.

The Winnebago system fishery has many characteristics that make it stand out, said Kendall Kamke of the DNR. It has a phenomenal walleye fishery, there is encouraging news in rehabilitation of the sauger and the sturgeon resource is the envy of the United States, if not the world, he said.

“We are very proud of what we have here,” Kamke said. “It’s a great asset, aesthetically, economically and recreationally. Having said that, I would feel much more comfortable knowing there is at least one more barrier between the Great Lakes and the Winnebago system.”

Once something gets into the Winnebago system, he said, it has the ability to spread to other systems, including the Wolf and Fox rivers.

Roessler said the lock at Rapide Croche would remain closed and a lift or crane would carry boats through the lock. Kamke said an additional closed lock might help keep exotic species out of the lakes.

A couple of years ago, the DNR thought white perch had somehow made their way through the Rapide Croche lock and dam, he said.

“It turned out to be a false alarm,” Kamke said, “but it opened a lot of eyes to say ‘is one fire wall enough?’”

His main concern is the havoc exotic species can wreak on a system. He’s also worried about the difficulty of getting them out once they’re in. The state tried to keep zebra muscles at bay, but zebra muscles are now a fact of life in the Winnebago system.

Kamke echoed the concerns of local anglers about the lack of details in the locks plan.

“Quite frankly, it’s going to cost a lot of money just to open the locks without another firewall in there,” he said.

The benefit of opening the locks also is questionable, Kamke said. The Army Corps of Engineers closed the locks in the early 1980s because of a lack of commercial traffic. Three locks remain operational.

“I would like to see a cost/benefit analysis,” Kamke said. “I don’t think even when they were open that they had much traffic.”

Numbers presented are sometimes misleading because one boat on a round trip passing through 17 locks on the system would count as 34, he said.

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