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Congress to seek more money to fight Asian carp

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[January 28, 2010]  TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) -- From poisons to nets to electric jolts, authorities are studying a series of desperate measures to ward off an invasion of the Great Lakes by hefty, hungry Asian carp.

InsuranceMore than a dozen members of Congress from the region agreed Wednesday to seek $20 million for developing ways to prevent the carp from becoming established in the lakes and jeopardizing the fishing industry by starving out competitors such as salmon and walleye.

Among the options: stepped-up use of poisons, biological controls and commercial fishing.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies also may quicken construction of another electric barrier and improve methods of determining how many carp are advancing toward Lake Michigan in Chicago waterways.


Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who hosted the strategy session in Washington, D.C., said the lawmakers remained divided over whether to close Chicago shipping locks and gates that could be doorways to Lake Michigan for the carp.

The voracious fish can reach 4 feet long, 100 pounds and consume 40 percent of their body weight daily in plankton -- the foundation of the Great Lakes food web.

Michigan and four other states are pressing a lawsuit demanding closure of the locks, even though the U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected their request for an immediate order. Illinois and the Obama administration say there's no guarantee closing the locks would block the carp's path, but it definitely would disrupt shipping and promote flooding.

"There's clear disagreement about closing the locks and I knew we couldn't resolve that issue today," Durbin said in a phone interview. "But I wanted to find some common objectives that we could move forward on aggressively and quickly, and we have."

The White House has agreed to meet early next month with governors from the region to discuss the carp problem.

But some activists say there's too much talk and too little action, especially since the disclosure last week that genetic material from Asian carp had been detected in Lake Michigan for the first time.

"The question is how much longer we've got until this becomes a game-over situation for the Great Lakes," said Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Charlie Wooley, deputy Midwestern director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, acknowledged that much of the $20 million proposed by Congress would be used to develop methods still in the idea stage.

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They were proposed in a wide-ranging Asian carp control plan released in 2007 by a task force of government, business and academic specialists. The document outlines a two-decade, nationwide crackdown on the carp, which have infested numerous waterways including parts of the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers.

Wooley said it recommends a "gauntlet" of devices to repel carp advancing toward Lake Michigan in the Chicago waterways. In addition to an electric barrier already there, the obstacles might include sound transmissions, flashing lights and bubble curtains that would repel them.

While those measures are being perfected, authorities could take more immediate actions such as encouraging commercial netting and treatment of specific areas with poisons as was done last December in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, Wooley said.

The Army Corps expects to finish constructing a third electric barrier in the canal by October and will study how to operate the locks in ways that make it harder for carp to slip through, said Col. Vincent Quarles, commander of the Chicago district.

Also on the drawing board are plans for what to do if the carp make their way into Lake Michigan. Barriers could be placed on rivers where they try to spawn. Scientists could use biological attractions to lure the carp to places where they could be poisoned.

"Even if the fish develop a spawning population in the Great Lakes, there are things we can do to control them, as we already do with the sea lamprey," said Duane Chapman, a U.S. Geological Survey fisheries biologist. "But it won't be cheap."

[Associated Press; By JOHN FLESHER]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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