Thursday, February 11, 2010

Excerpts and Ideas from Tuesday's Congressional Carp Hearing

On Tuesday the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a Congressional hearing on the asian carp. This came the day after federal officials released their Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework that details plans and funding details of how the asian carp will be dealt with.

While there were not any huge revelations in the Congressional hearing on Tuesday, there were requests to expand the debate beyond just the asian carp. There were calls to close the shipping locks not just for the asian carp but to protect other invasive species from going to the Great Lakes to the Mississippi watershed.

There were also other calls to finish federal ballast water regulations that were passed in the House of Representatives in April of 2008. The bill has not been taken up in the Senate since. James Oberstar (D-MN) joked that the bill had fallen into a Senate black hole.

The following are brief excerpts and highlights of things that were said by the presenters at the meeting.

Major General John Peabody US Army Corp of Engineers

"Actively exploring all options"

"Any assertions that the barrier system is or has been ineffective in restricting upstream movement of bighead and silver carp are speculative. The facts are that the fish barrier system has been in continuous operation since 2002 and has performed as designed as far as we can tell."

Peabody asserted in his testimony that though environmental DNA of asian carp is an important emerging technology, since it has not been independently peer reviewed the results should be considered preliminary. An external peer review is being done and should be completed by June.

Rebecca Humphries Director of Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment

Humphries pointed out that the annual costs each year for the zebra mussel is $100 million and $30 million for sea lamprey.

"I cannot stress the following in simpler terms: once an invasive species gets established in the lakes, we cannot eradicate it."

"The threat of asian carp must be treated as a crises, and steps must be implemented immediately to address it. As early as 2003, scientists, government officials, and stakeholders were calling for ecological separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi watershed. But we did not act quickly enough, short-term fixes have become long-term projects, for example the installation of the second electric barrier took over six years and is still not fully operational."

Humphries Recommendations:

"Closing and ceasing operation of the O'Brien lock and the Chicago lock until a permanent ecological barrier is constructed between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi watershed. The Army Corps of Engineers must have the authority to close the locks on the emergency basis, and also a permanent basis if necessary."

We must initiate studies to seek out alternative ways to move cargo past the locks

"We must install interim barriers at other locations this year. Including barriers between the Des Plaines River and the canal and the Indiana harbor and Burns Ditch from the Grand Calumet and Little Calumet rivers to eliminate the potential for flooding between these two watersheds."

Additional studies of the biology and ecology of carp and predictive models of the areas most at risk for carp infestation.

We also will need additional dollars for monitoring based on risk analysis.

Reserve funding for rapid chemical response as needed.

We will need to operate the barriers at full voltage.

Being proactive with the citizens, so they do not unknowingly transport the species.

Matt Frank Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

"We may not have much time."

"We need to get the second barrier up." It should be up and running this year (Later on in the Q & A, Gen. Peabody said the second barrier would be fully operational by October).

We need to look at ecological separation.

"We need to move faster"

Frank also brought up the issue of ballast water and how it was passed in the House overwhelmingly but not the Senate. Frank urged the committee's oversight to move on the issue. We need to get strong federal standards on this issue that goes beyond the International Maritime Organization (IMO) standards.

"We need to move from talk to action"

David Lodge Director for the Center for Aquatic Conservation and professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame:

On how close the carp are:

"Silver carp are not only at the doorstep of the lake up at Wilmette and northern Chicago but in fact appear to be in Lake Michigan or at least in Calumet harbor opening to Lake Michigan."

Bighead carp are not yet detected in the lake.

"It's a numbers game, and if the goal is to prevent invasions in Lake Michigan, then the proximate management goal has to be to prevent additional individual fish of either species from entering Lake Michigan. It is not inevitable that an invasion by either one of these fishes will occur and our most recent results, finding Silver Carp in the lake make it even more urgent that steps are taken to prevent additional fishes from entering the lake."

This canal has already been a dangerous pathway for other species such as zebra and quagga mussels for spreading across the country. Other species such as the spiny water flea and water chestnut have also spread via the Chicago canal. New Zealand mud snail and bloody red shrimp may spread from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi system. Other species in the Mississippi system may spread to the Great Lakes via the canal such as the Brazilian waterweed and the northern snakehead.

Dr. Mike Hansen Chair of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission

"The goal must be ecological separation."

Del Wilkins Vice President of Terminal Operations and Business Development of the Canal Barge Company, Inc.

Testifying on behalf of the American Waterways Operators (AWO) National trade association for the tugboat and barge industry

"Inland waterways navigation is essential to our economy, and it is the safest most economical mode of domestic fright transportation with the smallest carbon footprint of any mode."

9 proposed actions by AWO:

1. Expedite the construction of the second electric barrier.

2. Design and implement bubble and acoustic fish barriers.

3. Immediately complete structures to stop carp during flooding.

4. Conduct research to determine the effectiveness of the electric barriers as well as the bubble and acoustic barriers.

5. Employ consistent measures to locate the fish species such as electro-fishing, netting and commercial fishing that do not interfere with the flow of commerce.

6. Fund research on biologic control agents of asian carp.

7. Sampling barges for juvenile carp and their eggs.

8. Impose further restrictions on the importation of asian carp.

9. Conduct more scientific studies on the ability of asian carp to survive in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The AWO strongly opposes permanently closing the locks or even periodically closing the locks.

Q & A

Major General Peabody stated that the second barrier would be ready in October of this year.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering acoustic and bubble barriers.

Discrepancies between Joel Brammeier (President and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes) and Wilkins

Wilkins said that the locks won't be a permanent barrier since they leak. They wouldn't be an ecological barrier.

Brammeier clarified that he was talking about the long-term need to separate the lakes. He cited that the volume of commerce moving through the locks is less than one percent of the total for the Chicago metro area.

What are different pathways that the asian carp could be distributed into the Great Lakes?

What are the potential impacts of asian carp on the Great Lakes?

Lodge responded by saying that the silver and bighead carp are abundant south of the electric barrier so the biggest way that they could get in the lakes is through the electric barrier, especially if it is less than 100 percent effective and flooding occurs where the carp could breach the canal. Lodge said that it makes the most since to focus on the canals for now.

Other ways that the carp could invade the lakes are fishermen using young carp for bait, or the intentional release of the bighead or silver carp. There are some cultural practices that encourage releasing live carp into the lakes.

Nobody knows for certain what the impact would be on the Great Lakes, though it would probably not be a positive impact.

Will it satisfy Michigan that all of the agencies are cooperating together?

Humphries responded by saying: "Is it our goal to biologically, ecologically, and physically separate these watersheds or is it not?"

What are the long-term goals? This will direct how we deal with it short-term.

Here is a link to the asian carp Congressional hearing courtesy of The Great Lakes Town Hall:

Video of Tuesday's Asian Carp hearing

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