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U.S. Gains Carp Czar, Court Hears Testimony on the Invasive Fish

While some environmentalists and academics tell a Chicago courtroom about Asian carp’s potential threats, the newly appointed czar says he’s undecided on separating the infested Mississippi and Illinois rivers from Lake Michigan.

The Obama administration has appointed an environmental activist from Indiana to head its response to the potential Asian carp invasion of the Great Lakes, as witnesses at a Chicago court hearing debated the threat posed by the invasive species.

John Goss, director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation and a former director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, has been chosen as director of the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. The group of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection agency and Illinois Department of Natural Resources, are charged with stopping bighead and silver carp from entering the Great Lakes.

Goss told the Detroit Free Press that he hasn’t formed an opinion on whether the carp-infested Mississippi and Illinois rivers should be permanently separated from Lake Michigan, a proposal recommended by many environmentalists to end decades of aquatic invasive species moving from one waterway into the other.

Meanwhile, a Chicago court hearing on a multi-state effort to force more immediate action against the carp ended Friday after three days of testimony on the threat posed by the fish and the damage that prevention efforts could cause to the local economy.

The states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania are suing in U.S. District Court to force the immediate closure of the Chicago-area shipping locks that could let the fish into the lakes, fearing that an invasion would devastate the region’s $7 billion sportfishing business as well as its $16 billion recreational boating industry. State leaders have been critical of the effectiveness of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in blocking the carp to date, and the timeframe being followed by the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee.

Notre Dame biologist David Lodge, who developed an environmental DNA test that has indicated the presence of Asian carp beyond the electric barrier designed to keep them out of Lake Michigan, warned that there is “a very imminent risk of invasion,” the Associated Press reported.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the locks, also presented witnesses to bolster its case that lock closures are unnecessary and could damage the region’s economy. One witness—a biologist from Italy’s University of Milan, testified by video that the environmental DNA test may not indicate the presence of live fish, according to the Associated Press.

An Army Corps biologist testified that carp haven’t established a breeding population around Lake Michigan while an economist asserted that closing the locks would have drastic effects on the region’s nearly $13 billion shipping industry, Chicago Public Radio reported.

The judge is expected to rule on the request after October 1.

Steve Kellman is a Circle of Blue writer and reporter. Reach him at steve@circleofblue.org.

Sources: The Associated Press, Chicago Public Radio, Detroit Free Press

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