Monday, August 23, 2010

Prepare for the Asian Carp Invasion

The battle over the Asian Carp is heating up -- but heat doesn't mean light. The latest story from the ongoing court battle continues the same theme that's been out there for months. Asian Carp will destroy the Great Lakes ecosystem, but if we try to stop the invasion by blocking the Chicago River we'll destroy commerce.

I doubt that either scenario is 100% correct. The Great Lakes ecosystem has been "destroyed" a few times over. The lamprey -- which traveled from the Atlantic via the St. Lawrence Seaway -- destroyed the Lake Trout; altering the Great Lakes ecosystem forever. (Not to mention the overfishing of the Great Laeks.) Growing up in Milwaukee I remember the rotting odor of dead alewives that ruined more than a few summers along the Great Lakes. The alewives followed the lampreys through the Welland Canal and up the seaway. They didn't belong in the Great Lakes any more than the Pacific Salmon stocked to eat them. Let alone the steelhead stocked to entertain me and thousands of other anglers.

Those creatures were followed by many other hitchikers that arrived aboard ocean going vessels, including a few kinds of mussels that now filter the turbid water of Lake Erie to the point that it is gin clear. That clarity is contributing to algae blooms and other troubles.

Suffice to say the Great Lakes ecosystem is messed up and has been for decades. Of course that is no reason to welcome the carp. I just wish blocking the Chicago River would be enough to keep the carp out. Unfortunately, humans have consistently shown a propensity for putting fish and other creatures where they don't belong without regard to the consequences. (See lake trout in Yellowstone Lake; not to mention didymo in all sorts of places.)

So my bet is the Asian Carp will arrive in the Great Lakes one way or the other.

Both sides of this debate have been messing with nature for decades (remember the flow of the Chicago River has been reversed). As Aldo Leopold said: A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

We've been doing the Great Lakes wrong for more than a generation. I have derived tremendous pleasure from some of the wrongs done to these blue jewels. Sadly, I doubt there is much we'll be able to do to prevent the next wrong. Perhaps this wrong will encourage us all to put more resources into restoring the integrity, stability and beauty of the Great Lakes (even if that means removing the steelhead I pursue) and (even better) restoring the Chicago River to its natural state.

1 comment:

John J. Polk said...

What you say is undoubtedly true from an ecological standpoint. Humans do tend to muck up ecosystems...then figure out how to profit from the wreckage...

But it seems to me that We Along Lake Erie have not made a sufficient political stink over the economic consequences of a massive Asian carp-like invasion. Fishing and water sports are a multi-billion dollar Ohio industry...and finding a way to recruit those who might be affected by such an influx...both from a business standpoint and from a quality of life standpoint (more boats in Ohio than anywhere else except Florida?) could popularize the issue.

Then again, in the game of Chicago politics vs. Cleveland/Ohio politics...Chicago wins...