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US to spend $50 million to help stop carp invasion of Great Lakes

By Mark Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –

MILWAUKEE — As federal researchers search for long-term solutions to the threat of an Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes, the Obama administration on Thursday said it would commit $50 million to DNA sampling, underwater cameras, tracking systems and projects to poison the ravenous invaders without harming native species.

John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the new efforts “will strengthen our defenses against Asian carp and move even more innovative carp control projects from research into implementation.”

The White House announcement drew praise in some quarters as a sign that federal agencies take the threat seriously, are coordinating their efforts and are putting a significant amount of money to solve the problem.

“I’ve been doing this work for 34 years, and this is as well as I’ve seen state and federal environmental agencies working together,” said Charles Wooley, deputy regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Minneapolis. “We want to do everything humanly possible to prevent Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes.

“Having that singular goal has really focused all of us.”

Thom Cmar, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, was not impressed.

“From my perspective it’s more of the same,” he said, arguing that the new plan still amounts to throwing resources “into these high-tech quick fixes instead of a long-term solution. In our view, the priorities are all wrong.”

Cmar said the difference in priorities is spelled out by the funding disparity: $46 million for what he characterized as short-term fixes; $3.5 million or so for long-term solutions. His organization favors establishing a physical separation between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, a natural divide eliminated more than a century ago by the city of Chicago to allow city sewage to be flushed down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Biologists fear that if the carp get into the Great Lakes, they will gobble up food that sustains native species and hurt a commercial and sport fishing industry worth an estimated $7 billion a year. Bighead carp can grow to 100 pounds, and they feed on plankton, food that in one way or another supports every other fish species in the lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the midst of a study on long-term solutions to the carp problem, but is not expected to finish until 2015.

The Obama administration’s update to the Asian Carp strategy developed in 2010 includes:

—A radio tagging system that will allow the Corps of Engineers to track other species of fish near the electric barrier to determine whether any are able to cross. A similar tagging system will be employed on Asian carp themselves around their spawning grounds about 150 miles from the barrier.

—An effort to refine and evaluate water guns used to repel the carp.

—An underwater camera system that would allow biologists to watch fish in and around the barrier.

–Research to develop toxins that would harm the carp without hurting native species.

—A carp control system tailored to its digestive system that might, for example, gum up the carp’s gills, again without harming other species.

Marc Gaden, a spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, said he was pleased with the administration’s latest response to the Asian carp threat, but “I wouldn’t complain if they moved the decimal point one position to the right.”

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