Toronto — Environmental groups today submitted a petition to the Ontario government, requesting the province take stronger steps to stop an invasive species of fish, Asian carp, from entering the Great Lakes.
The petition, expected to be tabled this week, asks the government to immediately begin working with the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative to ensure the Great Lakes and Mississippi basins are physically separated to prevent Asian carp from getting into Lake Michigan. The petition was signed by more than 900 Ontario residents and organized by the Great Lakes Section of the Sierra Club and Great Lakes United.
“Great Lakes residents, both U.S. and Canadian, are alarmed by the threat of Asian carp,” said Mary Muter of the Sierra Club Ontario. “We are calling for a permanent solution in the Chicago area waterways, which artificially connect the Mississippi to the Great Lakes. We need to protect what wetlands we have left and the already threatened fish community from these rapidly reproducing food-chain disrupters.”
Currently, bighead and silver Asian carp are the dominant fish species in some stretches of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, and continue to spread. Asian carp are an invasive species that were imported into the southern United States in the 1970s by federal researchers and private fish farmers. After flooding, the fish invaded the Mississippi River, spreading rapidly and causing harm along the way.
These voracious eaters consume plankton, algae and other microscopic organisms, stripping the food web of key food for native fish. Over the past several years they have made their way north to the door step of the Great Lakes and threaten to enter the lakes through the man-made Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi.
The Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative have released a report, Restoring the Natural Divide, outlining viable solutions to the threat from Asian carp and other invasive species. The report suggests a long-term, permanent solution instead of stopgap measures that, on their own, will ultimately fail to stop the Asian carp’s march to Lake Michigan.
“The Great Lakes are shared waters, and Asian carp will pay no attention to the border,” said Jennifer Nalbone of Great Lakes United. “Separating the Great Lakes from Mississippi waters is a modern 21st century solution for a 21st century problem. This report points the way to a solution that not only benefits the Great Lakes states, but also Canadian and Mississippi River stakeholders. Most of North America will ecologically and economically benefit from separating the two basins.”
Staff lawyer Hugh Wilkins of Ecojustice, which assisted in the submission of the petition, said it is hoped that the upcoming Great Lakes Protection Act, expected to be announced this week, commits to stronger efforts to stop the threat of invasive species, prioritizing cooperation with U.S. partners and the separation of river basins including the Great Lakes and Mississippi.
The federal government recently announced $17.5 million in funding over the next five years to address Asian carp, focusing on prevention, early warning, rapid response, and management and control.