By Jamey Dunn
A single live bighead Asian carp was found yesterday beyond an electronic barrier meant to keep the invasive species out of the Great Lakes. The discovery could revive a legal battle to close Chicago’s navigational locks in an effort to stop a possible migration.
The Illinois Department of Natural (IDNR) Resources announced today that a commercial fisherman, contracted by the department to search for carp, caught the almost-20-pound male specimen in Lake Calumet—about 6 miles from Lake Michigan. This is the first carp found beyond the barrier.
Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to close the locks to keep the fish out of Lake Michigan. He said thousands of jobs depend on the environmental health of the lake. Invasive animals can severely damage ecosystems they pervade as they compete with existing organisms for resources.
Cox called on President Barack Obama to intervene. "Our worst fears were realized with the discovery of Asian carp near the Great Lakes," Cox said in a written statement. "Responsibility for this potential economic and ecological disaster rests solely with President Obama. He must take action immediately by ordering the locks closed and producing an emergency plan to stop Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan."
Cox added that his agency is considering further legal action.
“At this time there is not intention to close the locks,” said Mike White, director of programs for the Great Lakes and Ohio River division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “At this time we see no reason, relative to the threat that has been identified, to take any step toward permanent lock closure.”
John Rogner, assistant director of the IDNR, agreed that one fish does not necessarily mean the threat has become more significant. He said carp DNA has been detected beyond the barrier, but no fish have been found, so the assumption has been that if there are fish, they are few in number. He said the discovery of only one carp would support that theory.
Rogner said the first task is to find out whether the fish is part of a greater population of carp. Tests may be able to determine if the fish has been in the lake for a while, or if it was recently introduced. Researchers also may also be able to find out if it was born in the wild or captivity. People dumping bait or stocking fishing areas can accidentally introduce Asian carp to waterways.
“We set out on a fact-finding mission, and we have found what we were looking for. This is important evidence, and the more information we have about where Asian carp are, the better chance we have of keeping them out of the Great Lakes,” he said.
The IDNR plans to step up its search for Asian carp both in the Calumet area and other spots throughout the Chicago Area Waterway System, as well as efforts to remove the fish downstate before they can reach the barrier. They will also begin a risk assessment analysis to help determine whether more action is needed to prevent the fish from reaching the Great Lakes.