Update: International Joint Committee Holds Public Meeting on Asian Carp

US Senator Stabenow, Michigan LCV executive director Lisa Wozniak & child

On Wednesday afternoon there was a spirited discussion before the Regional Coordinating Committee working to address the Asian carp issue. The meeting was one of several public meetings being hosted by the Committee in the region, to allow for public comment and public airing of grievances. The panel consisted of Irene Brooks, the Commissioner of the International Joint Commission, and senior representatives from the EPA, the Nature Conservancy, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Army for Civil Works, United States Army. And despite the fact that the meeting took place in Ypsilanti, the audience consisted of what seemed to be mostly Chicagoans, representing the shoreline sightseeing, tour-boat, barge, and tugboat industries.

Lindsay Chadderton from the Nature Conservancy spent some time talking about the movement of the carp, the eDNA testing being conducted by The Nature Conservancy in and around the Chicago-area access points to Lake Michigan, and the general movement of invasive species. He made a very valid point when he said “We know the canal [the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC), which connects the Mississippi River basin to the Great Lakes] is a pathway for invasion…and it’s a two way pathway”.

Charley Wooley, the Midwest Deputy Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also spoke about the carp’s migration up the river, and the USFWS’ grave concern that the carp will completely out-compete our native fish if they get into Lake Michigan. He was followed at the podium by Jo Ellen Darcy, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, who discussed measures currently being taken to prevent the carp from making it into the lake. These include the construction of a third electric barrier, a feasibility study into the effectiveness of the electric barriers , additional fence barriers between the Des Plaines River and the Chicago canal, and perhaps modified lock operation. The Illinois DNR is also stocking up on Rotenone, in case another massive river poisoning becomes necessary, and they are currently doing aerial observation, electro-shocking, and gill netting in the CSSC, to locate and stop any live Asian Carp that have made it that far up the river. As of Wednesday, no live carp have been found in the canals.

The educational portion of the program was followed by comments from elected officials. Grand Rapids Mayor Heartwell, Congressman John Dingell, US Senator Debbie Stabenow, and a representative from the Michigan DNRE all spoke. Statements were made on behalf of US Senator Carl Levin, and Congresswomen from Michigan and Illinois.  The Michigan politicians drove home similar points:

  • We need to act with urgency, and do everything in our power to stop the spread of the carp, which includes closing the locks in the CSSC.
  • They questioned the Federal Government’s carp control strategy framework, and its lack of details concerning when and what serious actions will be taken in the event that Plan A (presumably the electric and non electric barriers currently in the canals) fails.
  • Senator Levin’s statement disapproved of the fact that funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are being used to pay for carp mitigation, when this is not at all what that money is intended for.
  • Congressman Dingell criticized the fact that it has taken so long to act on this issue. He also offered a creative solution for carp population control: we need to turn the carp into something of value; food, or perhaps fertilizer, and then get to work fishing the rivers.
  • A statement from Illinois Congresswoman Judy Biggert introduced a new argument; closing the locks will actually lead to an increase in the spread of carp, since the flooding that will result will allow them to swim around barriers and escape into the lake.

Following the statements by elected officials, the public was allowed to come forward and ask the panel “technical” questions. A large contingency of representatives from the Chicago shoreline tourism, water taxi, and pleasure cruise industry had made the pilgrimage to Ypsilanti to express their opposition to the suggested lock closures. According to these stakeholders, closing the locks in the CSSC would result in the total destruction of the Chicago river-boating and shoreline tourism industry, leaving thousands out of jobs. Few questions were actually asked in this portion of the meeting, but the point was made, (more than) several times over, that what has been found in Lake Michigan up until this point is only eDNA, not an actual population of fish. Countless Chicago pleasure-boat representatives questioned why the Committee is taking preemptive action, including the aerial observation that is going on at the moment, and even suggesting that the locks ought to be closed, before determining that live fish were in the lake.

Questions aside, several important points were made by the Chicago passenger-boat crowd.

  • There should be a representative from the passenger boat industry on the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, to at least be a voice for that group of stakeholders.
  • Serious mitigation efforts should be taken downstream, where the carp are currently thriving, before they enter the Chicago metropolitan waterways. This is not to say that actions shouldn’t also be taken in Chicago, but the carp are a threat to everyone in the Great Lakes basin, and the mitigation efforts shouldn’t fall heavily on any one municipality.

The question session was followed by a chance for public comment, and sad stories were shared by both parties, about the potential loss of jobs, and loss of a way of life. We acknowledge that jobs are a central issue, especially in lean times, when everything is framed by economic loss and gain. And there’s no way to tell someone that their livelihood is less important than another person’s. The Committee has an incredibly hard job ahead of them. We are sure the people who spoke out against full lock closure yesterday represent only a fraction of the concerned stakeholders. Unfortunately, what many people fail to remember, is that there is no industry that even compares, either in economic or ecological value, to a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem, and every job, animal, plant and watershed that accompanies such an ecosystem.

Click here to check out our slideshow from the public meeting.

When available, the framework and a transcript of the meeting will be posted on http://www.asiancarp.org/regionalcoordination.