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View from around the state: Keep giant carp from pillaging the Great Lakes

Those familiar with the term “carpe diem” know that it’s Latin for “seize the day.”

It’s time we twist that phrase and instead seize the carp — the huge Asian carp threatening to pillage the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Asian carp started escaping decades ago from fish farms. They spread during floods and have infiltrated the manmade Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal that connects the Mississippi River system to Lake Michigan. Evidence suggests they may have moved past the canal’s electrical barrier.

The simple solution seemingly would be to close the canal’s locks. That, however, is not so simple. Illinois argues it would cost 400 shipping jobs and severely disrupt businesses that depend on barge cargo. An industry group says the locks transport almost $1 billion annually in petroleum products alone.

The alternative, however, is to let the carp slip through the locks and enter the Great Lakes, where they would threaten a sport fishery valued at $7 billion annually.

Governments have spent millions if not billions of dollars fighting invasive species that are wreaking havoc on Great Lakes ecology. Everything from alewives and zebra mussels to sea lampreys have found homes here. Most enter the lakes when ocean-going ships dump ballast water.

Asian carp reportedly can grow to 100 pounds, suck up plankton — the base of the Great Lakes food chain — and each day consume up to 40 percent of their body weight.

They pose another hazard. They leap high out of the water at the sound of approaching boats. That could injure or even kill boaters, water skiers and those riding personal watercraft.

A recent photo in USA Today was frightening. It showed dozens of silver carp, a variety of Asian carp, leaping as a boat passed.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen was right to request that the U.S. Supreme Court close the canal. Minnesota, Ohio and New York also have asked the high court to act. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and at least 50 members of Congress have joined the call.

Apparently buoying their argument is a lawsuit started in the 1920s because neighboring states claimed the canal-considered an engineering marvel to help flush away Chicago’s sewage-illegally diverted Lake Michigan water.

The Obama administration said Tuesday it opposes closing the locks. That’s not surprising, given that Illinois is the president’s home state.

Yet it seems like the most sensible solution until someone devises a better way to protect the Great Lakes fishery from this monstrous invader.


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