Shippers question plan to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes

Sep 13, 2017

A $275 million plan to keep Asian carp from reaching Lake Michigan -- and the Great Lakes system -- drew both criticism and praise at a hearing in Chicago.

Tugboat Kiowa in one of the canals near the Great Lakes
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Barge operators openly questioned the need for increased defenses, saying the leading edge of the Asian carp invasion hasn’t moved in 25 years, Great Lakes Now reports. An official with the Port of Indiana added that shifting cargo from barges to trucks or trains could drive up costs and hurt many businesses.

But others, including the National Wildlife Federation, called for quick action to block the advance of the invasive Asian carp. 

Asian carp
Credit U.S. Geological Survey

Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh called current safeguards "inadequate."

In August the Army Corps said new measures are needed to prevent Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes.

The report says the current defense at the Brandon Road lock in Illinois – an underwater electric barrier – should be beefed up. The recommended $275 million plan would add water jets and complex noises – like the underwater recordings of a boat motor. 

Monday's hearing was part of a campaign by the Army Corps to solicit public comments; it lasts until Nov. 16. You can submit comments online. 

Millions of dollars have been spent already to keep the invasive species out of the Great Lakes, and defenses are concentrated near the southern tip of Lake Michigan.

Two varieties of Asian Carp -- the Silver and Bighead -- pose the biggest threat because of their voracious feeding habits. They consume lots of zooplankton, the microscopic animals that other fish feed on.

The issue got new attention in June, when a live Asian carp was discovered beyond the electric barrier and just nine miles from Lake Michigan.

An examination showed that the 4-year-old fish originated in the Illinois/Middle Mississippi watershed, spending about a year in the Des Plaines River area. It spent no more than a few months in the Little Calumet River before being captured on June 22.

Earlier this year, barge owners signaled their opposition to changes that would affect their operations.

Lynn Muench of the American Waterways Operators, a tug and barge trade group, told Great Lakes Today that additional structures at the Brandon Road lock could slow commerce.    

The group supports federal money for some research and for harvesting carp from the Illinois River, but   Munch said other spending should get a close look.