A poisoning operation in a Chicago-area river near Lake Michigan has not turned up any Asian carp, alleviating fears the voracious invasive species is poised to enter the Great Lakes ecosystem.
Threatening the Great Lakes
Asian carp were originally imported to clean ponds in commercial fisheries, but flooding in the early 1990s gave them access to the Mississippi River. They have been migrating north ever since. The fish consume up to 40 percent of their body weight daily, and they frequently grow to more than 100 pounds. Should they enter the Great Lakes, it is feared they will jeopardize survival of the lakes’ indigenous fish population.
After spreading a toxic chemical known as Rotenone in a 2.5-mile stretch of the Little Calumet River near where it empties into Lake Michigan, Illinois state officials collected more than 100,000 pounds of dead fish but no Asian carp.
Great Lakes states disagree about how to best prevent Asian carp from entering, and likely decimating, the Great Lakes ecosystem. Michigan and other states are pushing to close locks that connect Lake Michigan the Mississippi River system. Illinois opposes that as an unnecessarily drastic measure, arguing closing the locks will harm the local economy and increase risks of flooding in the state.
Dueling Economic Studies
In April the Illinois Chamber of Commerce released a study by DePaul University economist Joseph Schwieterman concluding lock closures could cost the Chicago-area economy $4.7 billion over the next 20 years. Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox disputed the study’s findings, claiming it inflated the costs to Illinois businesses and local governments.
The DePaul University study refutes findings published in Michigan’s Taylor and Roach report, which estimated the financial loss for the Chicago area would reach no more than $69 million a year. The DePaul study examines not only the economic impact on the shipping industry using the canals but also its effect on income derived from recreational boaters, river tourism, storm water management, and businesses indirectly reliant on Chicago waterways.
Schwieterman and members of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce failed to respond requests for comment regarding the DePaul study.
Comparing Potential Losses
Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for Michigan Attorney General Cox, says comparing the DePaul study and the Taylor and Roach report deliberately obfuscates the more immediate issues.
“If you focus on the shipping industry—as ours [report] did—you will find that their study found nearly the same cost to shippers as ours, about $70 million per year in exchange for saving the Great Lakes economy.”
Yearout reiterated previous assertions that incursions of Asian carp into the Great Lakes would endanger hundreds of thousands of jobs and $7 billion in annual losses to the fishing industry. She also claimed the DePaul study disingenuously increases the risks of flooding in areas near the channels.
“They are trying to raise the pricetag and stoke peoples’ fears with the threat of flooding,” Yearout said. “However, our lawsuit already allows for flood control measures, and they know it.”
Yearout stresses her belief that the threat of financial hardship to Michigan is far greater than those potentially faced by Illinois.
“Even if you accepted their study, their 20-year loss estimate pales in comparison to the $7 billion the Great Lakes fishing industry generates every year, and is a drop in the bucket for Chicago’s $520 billion per year economy,” she said.
Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is a Michigan-based writer and publisher of the Mackinac Center’s MichiganScience magazine.