Public Weighs in on Plans to Keep Asian Carp Out of Lake Erie

Invading carp could hurt Ohio's multi-million-dollar sports fishing industry
Invading carp could hurt Ohio's multi-million-dollar sports fishing industry
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Asian Carp have been a known threat to the Great Lakes for years. They were brought to the US in the 1970's --- innocently enough, to filter pond water in Arkansas fish farms. But, they escaped their southern confines and became aquatic marauders --- working their way North along the Mississippi river, scarfing-up the plankton that feed local fish, and dominating the waterways. Biologist Christopher Winslow, with the Lake Erie water quality monitoring group, Ohio Sea Grant, says if they get into Lake Erie, these invaders could edge out area perch and walleye populations

CHRISTOPHER WINSLOW: And so what you're impacting is the multi-billion-dollar sport fishing industry. And, you're not just thinking about the anglers, but you're thinking about the restaurants, and the hotels, and the tourism on the land around the Lake. There's roughly a 12 billion-dollar tourism industry, just in Ohio, in the eight counties along the Lake. That's almost a quarter of all Ohio tourism revenue.

Chicago is often cited as the place to put up barriers so that the carp won't break into the plankton-rich waters of the Great Lakes. But, some Windy City business interests have lobbied hard to prevent such barriers from going up. Last week, the US Army Corps of Engineers issued a long-awaited report describing eight ways to keep out the carp --- everything from screens, to electric shocks, to a complete sealing of the connection between the two bodies of water. Many environmentalists favor that last option, but the Army Corps' Dave Wethington says that comes with a 18-billion-dollar price tag, and would take over two decades to build.

DAVE WETHINGTON: Because of the complexity of the Chicago-area waterways, and the multiple uses --- including navigation, flood risk management, and water quality --- building that infrastructure to ensure that the over nine million residents of Chicago don't flood, when we put that dam in the system is really what's going to take that 25 years.

The Army Corps has come under criticism for the length of time it took to complete its study, but Marc Smith of the National Wildlife Federation says there is now a path to action.

MARC SMITH: The Corps study highlights that the most preventative way to stop the transfer of Asian carp between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River is a physical separation of some sort. We hope that this report provides enough information for Congress to make a reasonable decision to act and move forward.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown joined the conversation to talk about the financial feasibility of such a project. He concedes that 18-billion dollars is a lot of money but he thinks it's well worth the investment

SHERROD BROWN: One of the great victories of the last couple generations is cleaning up the Great lakes. And it takes major public dollars, and investment, and that lesson should be learned by both parties to investing what we need to carry out what most of us think we need to do.

Brown says the final solution will come from compromises between the business interests that want to keep the canal open and environmentalists who want to seal out the dangerous fish. The Army Corps is hosting a series of public forums to get input from residents around the Great Lakes. Plain Dealer Outdoors writer D'Arcy Egan says attendance at these meetings has been mixed, so far.

D'ARCY EGAN: When we talk about the Chicago meeting, of course it's more important in Chicago, because of the ramifications, and about 100 people showed up. At the Milwaukee hearing, about two dozen people.

For those who can't make the meeting in Cleveland, a future forum will be broadcast as a webinar.

The Northeast Ohio forum on the Army Corp's proposals is set to run from 4:00 to 7:00pm Thursday 01-16-14 at the Cleveland Public Library, downtown.

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