Great Lakes Fishery Commission rep says Asian carp plan needs to go forward

American researchers have been tagging and releasing both sterile (triploid) and fertile (diploid) grass carp to study them. A female diploid grass carp can contain thousands of eggs, and they are known to be reproducing in the Great Lakes basin. photo by Ryan Hagerty/USFWS

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN—While the cost to prevent invasive Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes may have increased three times higher than US federal planners had earlier thought, a representative of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission says it is imperative the project moves  forward.

“When you put this in perspective, the Great Lakes fishery is worth about $7 billion a year; the impact by Asian carp in terms of risk assessment to the fishery would be quite substantial so it is imperative the steps to keep them out go ahead,” Marc Gaden, communications director with the GLFC, told The Recorder late last week.

The Associated Press reported on November 29 that fortifying an Illinois waterway to prevent invasive carp from using it as a path to Lake Michigan would cost nearly three times as much as federal planners previously thought, according to an updated report.

The US Army Corps of Engineers released a final strategy plan for upgrading the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois, last week. Experts consider the location good to block upstream movements of Asian Carp that have infested the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

Scientists warn that if the voracious carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could outcompete native species and harm the region’s $7 billion fishing industry, the AP reported .

The new plan by the USACE is similar to a 2017 draft (Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study) but the estimated price tab has jumped from $275 million to nearly $778 million. Additional engineering and design work changed the scope to bring it up the current cost.

“There is certainly sticker shock with the projected cost of the initiatives but we are talking about the very viability of the fishery,” said Dr. Gaden. “We can’t and don’t take this lightly.”

The biggest reason for the cost increase is due to building an engineered channel at  Brandon Road, said Mr. Gaden. The lock and dam complex is on the Des Plaines River, which forms part of the waterway link between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, a tributary of the Mississippi, according to AP. Under the plan, the channel would contain devices, including an electric barrier, noisemakers and an air bubble curtain to deter fish from swimming upstream and remove those that don’t turn back. The adjacent lock would be retooled to flush away unwanted species floating on the water.

Mr. Gaden said despite the increase in cost the GLFC wants the project to move forward. “Yes, this needs to be moved on; again, keep in mind we are talking about a $7 billion dollar fishery.” He said once Asian carp get into the Great Lakes they would become permanent and destructive to the fishery.

“This new study is the penultimate version of the Brandon Dam Road Lock plan and is a spinoff of the GLMRIS report,” said Mr. Gaden. “What I like about the plan is it relies on both structural and manned controls.”

“I know the support from congress is very strong for this work to be carried out,” said Mr. Gaden. The US Army Corps of Engineers is accepting public comments on the proposal until December 24, and the plan would be submitted to Congress in February. The timetable considers when congressional authorization would be provided and initial funding next year, and the singing of building contracts by July 2020, with work completed by March 2027.