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Asian Carp Threaten Aquatic Life in Lake Michigan

November 30, 2009

CHICAGO - The recent discovery of DNA from Asian carp just seven miles south of Lake Michigan has scientists, federal officials and conservation groups on the offensive, since it means the big and predatory fish have made their way past electrical barriers that were erected to keep them out of the Great Lakes. If the fish make it into Lake Michigan, they could bring down an already-fragile ecosystem and disrupt the region's $7 billion sport fishing industry.

Federal officials are considering poison and electro-fishing as potential ways to get rid of the invaders, but Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club, says more than those things should be done.

"In the long term, we really need to look at whether we can disconnect the Illinois River system from Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. I think that could be done. It was the way that nature built the system, and we can get back there; it's just going to take some careful planning."

Asian carp eat a lot and breed quickly, so, instead of poison, Darin says, authorities need to consider other short-term plans to keep them out of the Lakes. He says Coast Guard officials could use their jurisdiction over locks and barriers that protect Lake Michigan from the Chicago and Illinois River system.

"We would hope that the Coast Guard would take a serious look at at least temporary immediate closures of the locks that may be the only thing that stand between Lake Michigan and our Great Lakes and these invasive fish."

As an emergency measure, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has announced plans to deploy a fish-killing chemical into a stretch of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to try to stop the Asian carp. The canal between Romeoville and the Lockport Dam will be treated in December, while one of the two electrical barriers is turned off for maintenance.

Aricka Flowers, Public News Service - IL