Posted on April 1, 2011 (updated: April 1, 2011)

Voracious fish must be prevented from entering Great Lakes

TORONTO — Yesterday, twenty-two Canadian groups- representing environmental, conservation, fishing and labour interests- requested that the U.S. government accelerate and strengthen a study aimed at preventing Asian carp and other invasive species infesting the Mississippi basin from moving into the shared international waters of the Great Lakes.

The groups joined on a binational letter, signed on by 108 groups from Louisiana to Ontario, calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to hear concerns from Canadian stakeholders and produce implementable recommendations within 18 months for preventing the northern migration of Asian carp into the Great Lakes water system.

“Asian carp are a huge threat, which can only be effectively addressed by preventing the fish from entering Lake Michigan where they would be free to enter Canadian waters,” says Elaine MacDonald, Senior Scientist from Ecojustice. “Canadian concerns need to be voiced and considered by the U.S. so that international interests are taken into account when deciding how to solve this problem.”

The Corps study, titled Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS), was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 2007 to determine how to prevent the two-way transfer of aquatic invasive species through the Chicago area waterways, as well as all hydrological connections between the Great Lakes and Mississippi basins. The groups maintain that the Corps is moving too slow and the only way to fully prevent the movement of aquatic species between the two basins is through hydrological separation of basin waters. The groups recommendations are echoing a call proposed in a bill before the U.S. Congress (Stop Asian Carp Act of 2011), aimed to ensure that the Corps 2007 mandate is not misinterpreted, and that the agency makes recommendations on how to separate the once-naturally-separated Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds within 18 months.

Until this study is successfully completed, there will be no authorizing or funding in the U.S. for construction needed to permanently separate artificial waterways that connect the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins, like the Chicago area waterway. Current efforts underway to stop the Asian carp in the Chicago area allows for the flow of water between the two basins.

“This artificial canal system linking two of North America’s largest watersheds provides a pathway for Asian carp to take hold in Canada,” says Mary Muter, Chair, Great Lakes Section, Sierra Club Ontario. “We must ensure that there is hydrological separation between the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes basin to prevent the carp from entering our waters.”

Asian carp are voracious eaters, grow to immense sizes, and are prolific. Over the past decade, they have steadily migrated northward, devastating natural habitats and destroying the aquatic food chain to the detriment of indigenous fish populations. Populations of the silver and bighead carp species are poised at the edge of Lake Michigan, being discouraged from invading the Great Lakes by an electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Both U.S. and Canadian authorities warn that if the carp enter the Great Lakes, commercial and sport fisheries will be seriously impacted.

Because an Asian carp invasion to the Great Lakes is not just a U.S. threat, the U.S. and Canadian groups are also asking the U.S. Department of State to request that Foreign Affairs hold a hearing in Canada to record the concerns of Canadian stakeholders for consideration into this study. A similar request for a hearing was made to the Department of State and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2010, but was unanswered.

“International transparency and Canadian input is needed into this critical Corps study to stop the Asian carp,” says Jennifer Nalbone, Director of Navigation and Invasive Species for Great Lakes United. “Canadians are echoing the call for hydrological separation and U.S. authorities must listen, before it is too late.”

A copy of the NGO letter signed by 108 Canadian and U.S groups is can be found HERE.

The 22 Canadian signatories include: Algonquin Eco Watch; APT Environment; Canadian Auto Workers-Windsor Regional Environment Council; Canadian Environmental Law Association; Citizens Concerned for Michipicoten Bay; Ecojustice; Essex County Field Naturalists’ Club; Forest City Flyfishing Club; Friends of the Salmon River; Georgian Bay Association; Great Lakes United; London and District Labour Council- Environment Committee; Ontario Shorewalk Association; Ottawa Riverkeeper; Quinte Conservation; Sierra Club Ontario; St. Clair Region Conservation Authority; The Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation; Thunder Bay Salmon Association; Toronto and Region Conservation Authority; Upper Thames River Conservation Authority; Welland River Keepers

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