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Thursday, June 13
The Indiana Daily Student

Supreme Court denies hearing of invasive fish problem

Despite a campaign by many Midwestern states to keep invasive Asian carp out of Lake Michigan, the U.S. Supreme Court has again rejected an injunction to close the locks leading to the lake until the case is decided.

The fish, known for their ability to leap several feet out of the water when scared, are at the center of an interstate battle that spans the Midwest.

In December 2009, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox requested that an injunction be issued to force the closing of shipping locks just outside of downtown Chicago and along the Calumet-Sag Channel, which runs between Illinois and Indiana. These locks, which control shipping and boat traffic between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, are the most likely route that the fish could take to the Great Lakes.

Supporters of the measure contended that closing this connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system is the only way to ensure a permanent solution to keeping the fish out. The Court is scheduled to review the court case on April 16.

If the Asian carp do infiltrate the Great Lakes, the potential effects are unknown, but could be devastating.

The fish feed mostly on zooplankton, and in some areas along the Mississippi River where the fish have traveled upstream, zooplankton have seen a 90 percent decline. Such a drastic loss of that food source could cause a chain reaction that would resonate up the food chain, from the bait fish that feed on the zooplankton to the predatory fish that feed on the bait fish.

The Supreme Court originally rejected the injunction in January, but Michigan renewed its motion upon new DNA evidence that suggests the carp have infiltrated Lake Michigan. On March 22, however, the Supreme Court again refused to grant the request. Representatives from several states, including Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, said they supported Michigan’s effort to keep the fish out of Lake Michigan.

“Everyone agrees that if Asian carp reach Lake Michigan, they could have a very damaging impact on the Great Lakes’ ecosystem and the sport fishing industry,” Zoeller said in a statement.

Although Zoeller supported the ultimate goal of keeping the fish out of the Great Lakes, he did not support Michigan’s proposal to close the locks.

According to a study done by Conexus Indiana, approximately 160 million tons of commodities valued at $13 billion were shipped between the U.S. ports on the Great Lakes system in 2007. Indiana was responsible for about 19 percent of that activity. If the locks were to close, the economic efficiency of shipping bulk commodities via barge would be lost.

“I would support them closing the locks,” said Craig Koepke, a charter boat captain who runs Into the Outdoors Fishing Charters in Michigan City, Ind. “If the Asian carp get into Lake Michigan, they will be in all five lakes in 20 or 30 years.”

It is possible the fish have already reached the Great Lakes. Currently, electric fish barriers in the waterways near Chicago are in place as a temporary solution to keep the invasive species out.

The barriers send out an electric current that repels the fish, and their installment has been part of an $80 million federal program to control and research Asian carp. However, nobody is sure the electric barriers have been 100 percent effective. A study from the University of Notre Dame showed that Asian carp DNA has showed up within miles of Lake Michigan, along various rivers.

“Anybody in the charter industry or the bait shops are following this very closely because they make their living on the lake,” Koepke said.

Those opposed to closing the locks argue that even completely blocking off the link to Lake Michigan will not ensure that the fish do not get into the Great Lakes.

David Holt, vice president of operations and business development at Conexus Indiana, said that closing the locks will not guarantee that Asian carp stay out of the lakes and could have a large negative effect on Indiana jobs.

“Locks do not stop certain things from moving through the water, the carp could still get into Lake Michigan,” Holt said. “So the question is, does it do any good to close it?”

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