Environmentalists fighting invasive species

2014-03-16T00:00:00Z 2014-03-16T00:24:06Z Environmentalists fighting invasive speciesLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

While not everyone agrees on which method is best, elected officials and federal agencies are working now more than ever to find solutions to the Asian carp invasion.

"There is progress being made," said Kay Nelson, director of environmental affairs for the Northwest Indiana Forum. "The discussions are not easy, but there is still a great deal of energy."

Among the concerns about the Asian carp invasion is the threat the voracious fish presents to commercial fishing on the Great Lakes, which brings in an estimated $7 billion annually.

Some experts believe there are solutions to the problem that could not only save economic loss but boost the economy with jobs and sales.

John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said last fall Indiana could learn from Illinois which is pairing commercial fishermen with government agencies to remove hundreds of tons of the fish from the Illinois River.

The fish are then shipped to Asian countries for consumption.

"The market for carp products or value-added carp products is truly the future," Goss said at an Environmental Quality Service Council meeting in Porter in September.

A report issued in January by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers analyzed eight possible approaches to the Asian carp problem and endorsed none of them. Four of the eight involved cutting off some or all of the connections between the Lake Michigan and Mississippi River watersheds.

Physical separation of the two watersheds would cost an estimated $18 billion and take some 25 years to implement.

"We need to look at interim measures to take which are implementable in a shorter time frame," Nelson said.

Nelson proposes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service embark upon a national aquatic invasive species program to deal with all aquatic invasive species, not just Asian carp.

Nelson said the good news is there is more data, new technologies and new studies underway supporting multiple approaches to Asian carp control. Among the measures being used and studied are water guns, disco lights, pheromones, toxicants and carbon dioxide curtains that can be used to address the problem.

"The discussion about the long-term separation will continue to be held, but that's a multidecade endeavor," Nelson said. "It's important that as that discussion goes forward, the U.S. Department of Transportation be at the table."

Nelson said road and rail traffic will increase if the waterways are separated due to the impact on the shipping industry.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller spent four days last summer on a 334-mile trip on the Wabash River with Goss and others.

"There were two active schools that exploded out of the water," Zoeller said of his trip during the Environmental Quality Service Council meeting in Porter in September. "Two landed in the boat and one hit the driver."

Zoeller is proposing a portion of federal funds used for efforts to curb Asian carp be allocated as grants to states to work on measures in rivers and streams.

"The states then could undertake programs to determine how to push the highly mobile Asian carp back downstream to be potentially contained or removed and away from entrances to the Great Lakes," Zoeller said.

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