Ecojustice Blog – Nature Posted on January 10, 2014 (updated: January 10, 2014)

Debating the costs of stopping Asian carp (and the risk to the Great Lakes)

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a report that describes options for stopping Asian carp and other invasive species from getting into the Great Lakes.

The report had eight options, including sealing off the carp-infested waters of the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes. They estimate this will cost $18.4 billion and will take 25 years to complete.

While restoring the natural divide between the two watersheds might sound long and expensive, it’s the only solution that will truly protect the Great Lakes from an Asian carp invasion. A physical barrier would prevent invasive species from travelling from the Mississippi into the Great Lakes. It would keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, for good.

This solution is supported by U.S. and Canadian environmental groups, the coalition of binational Great Lakes mayors, and a number of U.S. political representatives.

Asian carp would cause permanent damage to the Great Lakes. With no natural predators, a huge appetite, and the ability to reproduce quickly, these fish can out-compete native species for food. In some parts of the Illinois River, Asian carp now make up 95 per cent of the biomass.

If we are going to take our common responsibility to protect the Great Lakes seriously, the option that gets the job done should be chosen. The other options would be band-aid solutions that, while helpful in the short-term, would mean the Great Lakes were still at risk from Asian carp. We don’t have time to waste on half measures.

Right now, underwater electrical fences shock the fish to discourage them from swimming into the Great Lakes, at a cost of $50 million per year. The Corps have admitted the fences are not failsafe and have been breached by fish in the past.

We already know of at least one case of Asian carp reproducing in a Great Lakes tributary, and various studies that have shown the existence of Asian carp DNA in Great Lakes waters.

So what is the role of Canada’s governments in stopping the Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes? With so much at stake for the Canadian economy and quality of life, our governments should consider helping to pay for a permanent solution.

The report released this week lays out the options. The public now has until March 3rd to comment on their report, at which time U.S. Congress will review the options and (hopefully) agree on next steps.

What’s at stake is a $7 billion fishing economy, a $16 billion boating economy, and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry in Canada and the U.S.

That’s why action is needed now.

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