Groups raise alarms, but Illinois DNR downplays development

By Lee Bergquist of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Aug. 19, 2013

Environmental groups expressed alarm on Monday after detailing new evidence in Illinois that spawning Asian carp have been found nearly 100 miles upstream from their previous spawning sites.

The groups cited survey work from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in June that showed spawning Asian carp had moved to within 25 miles of an electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

The barrier is about 30 miles from the Lake Michigan shoreline.

“The fish are beating a quick path to the Great Lakes, and we need federal efforts to keep pace with the threat,” Joel Brammeier, president of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said in a statement. “Congress needs to take action now to support a permanent solution to the problem.”

Separation urged

Eight groups said the movement represented an increased threat from bighead and silver carp infiltrating the Great Lakes. They reiterated their call for a permanent solution to separate the lakes from the Mississippi River system, where the invasive carp first began their spread.

Bighead and silver carp are capable of consuming vast quantities of plankton, and experts fear their presence in the lakes could devastate the fishery of the largest source of fresh water in the world.

Chris McCloud, a spokesman for the Illinois DNR, acknowledged the agency verified signs of spawning carp farther upstream. He said it was likely due to record flooding.

While significant, he said, experts from several government agencies found no evidence of successful spawning in the form of eggs or larvae.

For the past seven or eight years, Asian carp have been found even closer to the the lake, about 15 miles from the electric barrier, according to McCloud.

“That would be considered the leading edge,” he said. “In terms of suggesting that there is this new increased population even closer to the electric barrier, by our indications, all the evidence that we have, does not suggest that.”

Duane C. Chapman, a research biologist and Asian carp expert with the U.S. Geological Survey, called the findings “troublesome,” although he said it was still early to gauge the significance of the push by the spawning carp.

“It was further upstream that anyone had ever seen them spawn,” Chapman said.

Last month, President Barack Obama’s administration unveiled its latest efforts to protect the Great Lakes from the Asian carp, including an upgrade of an electronic barrier in Illinois and an Indiana project that would serve as a buffer between the Mississippi River basin and the lakes.

But the efforts did not specify a permanent barrier, which is under study.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to complete a study in December on various strategies to protect the lakes from Asian carp that have long infiltrated the Mississippi River basin.

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