DETROIT, Michigan, December 21, 2009 (ENS) – The State of Michigan filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court today to close canals near Chicago to prevent invasive Asian carp from gaining access to the Great Lakes through Lake Michigan.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox asked the U.S. Supreme Court to order federal, state, and local officials responsible for Chicago-area locks and waterways to close them immediately to stop the Asian carp.

The fish are an aggressive invasive species that could quickly devastate Great Lakes fish populations, causing severe damage to Michigan’s economy by ruining the Great Lakes’ $7 billion fishing and tourism industries.

“Stopping Asian carp is an economic and environmental necessity for Michigan,” said Cox. “The Great Lakes are an irreplaceable resource. Thousands of jobs are at stake and we will not get a second chance once the carp enter Lake Michigan.”

“The actions of Illinois and federal authorities have not been enough to assure us the Lakes are safe,” Cox warned. “That’s why the waterways must be shut down until we are assured that Michigan will be protected.”

Cox today filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking closure of the locks at the O’Brien Lock and Dam and the Chicago Controlling Works

He requested operation of the sluice gates at the Wilmette Pumping Station, the O’Brien Lock and Dam, and the Chicago Controlling Works in a manner that will prevent carp from passing into Lake Michigan.

Dead carp lies on the shore of the Des Plaines River. July 2009. (Photo by Daisy Joe)

Cox is seeking a court order for the creation of new barriers to prevent carp from escaping from the Des Plaines River into the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal during flood events, and from getting to Lake Michigan through the Grand and Little Calumet Rivers.

Comprehensive study of the Chicago waterway system to define where and how many carp are in these waters, and to eradicate them is necessary, Cox says. Finally, he seeks action to permanently separate these waterways from the Great Lakes.

Henry Henderson, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest Program and a former commissioner of the environment for the City of Chicago, said, “Michigan has made a smart move with this bid to re-open the U.S. Supreme Court’s review of threats posed by the Chicago Diversion to the well-being of the Great Lakes ecosystem. The other Great Lakes states should join Michigan in pursuing all available legal steps to permanently separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.”

“Throughout this slow-motion disaster we have seen a decided lack of urgency in the actions taken to fend off the carp threat,” said Henderson. “Hopefully, Michigan’s action will light a fire.”

“Temporary emergency closure of the locks will not fix the problem, but it will provide breathing room while real, scientifically sound, legally binding solutions are installed and public processes are engaged,” Henderson said. “This will not be a quick long-term fix.”

All four species of invasive Asian carp in U.S. waters – silver and bighead carp, as well as grass and black carp – are an urgent threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem, said the Natural Resources Defense Council in comments provided Friday to Susanne Davis of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The comments address a proposal by the Army Corps to construct a series of semi-permanent concrete barriers and chain-link fencing between the Des Plaines River, where the presence of Asian carp was detected in September, and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to prevent flooding in the Des Plaines River from allowing Asian carp to bypass the dispersal barrier to the north.

“Asian carp are voracious eaters and rapid breeders with a well-documented ability to out-compete native fish species and take over ecosystems,” the NRDC warns. “They can grow up to 100 pounds and can eat 40 percent of their body weight in plankton daily, directly attacking the bottom of the food chain in an ecosystem.”

Carp caught in the Chicago River, which flows through Chicago but has been diverted away from Lake Michigan, July 2008. (Photo by Skaughtybee)

“If Asian carp are allowed to establish themselves in the Great Lakes, it could have a devastating effect on Great Lakes fisheries and irrevocably change the ecosystem,” commented the NRDC, adding, “Silver carp also present a threat to recreation and tourism on the Great Lakes because of their tendency to leap from the water when startled by passing boats, putting at risk the health and safety of boaters.”

While the NRDC supports the Corps’ barrier proposal, the group is concerned that “it does not also directly address the most urgent aspect of the problem: the fact that Asian carp DNA have already been detected in Chicago waterways north of the barriers.”

Also, the group questions the effectiveness of chain-link fencing as a means of excluding carp, saying, “The Army Corps acknowledges, however that chain link fencing would not prevent Asian carp eggs and larvae from passing through it during flood events.”

“More action is needed, and more quickly, if we are to ensure that the catastrophe we all agree is possible – but not yet inevitable – is averted,” the NRDC warns.

Michigan’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court comes after Illinois and federal authorities reportedly executed the largest fish kill in Illinois history earlier this month in response to the discovery of Asian carp DNA just a few miles from Lake Michigan.

That action uncovered a carp near the electrical fish fence built specifically to deter the invasive carp, causing Cox to call for immediate action to once and for all address the potential devastation of the Great Lakes, before it is too late.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has itself admitted allowing Asian carp into the Great Lakes would be an “ecological and economic disaster,” said Cox. “Michigan families whose jobs and way of life depend on the health of the Great Lakes deserve to know there is a long-term solution to this crisis.”

Common carp, brought to the United States from Europe in 1831, were soon propagated and distributed throughout waters of the Upper Mississippi River System, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Grass carp were imported from eastern Asia in 1963 to control algae in catfish farms and were first documented in the Mississippi River along Illinois in 1971.

Silver carp and bighead carp were imported from China in 1973 to improve water quality of aquaculture ponds, initially in Arkansas. These species have invaded Midwestern rivers, through pond escapement or by deliberate introductions and were first documented in the Upper Mississippi River System as early as 1982. Reproducing populations of all four species are now present in the Upper Mississippi River System.

There are proposals to start business ventures harvesting the carp that have infested the Mississippi River system over the last few years, to use for food, fertilizer, and biofuel, turning a pestilence into an opportunity.

Carp are good to eat and they are considered a delicacy in many countries. One of the problems with carp, however, are two rows of small floating bones above and below the lateral line. Another problem is that due to their long life span, feeding habits, and fat content, carp are more likely to take up and accumulate environmental contaminants than other species.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.