Fishing enthusiasts and state representatives rallied on the banks of Traverse City’s Boardman River Saturday against Illinois’ opposition to the closure of Chicago-area locks.
By Steve Kellman
Circle of Blue
As owner of a Traverse City-based charter fishing company and captain for another local charter outfit, Steve Huston fears Asian carp invading Lake Michigan.
Huston spent the past 33 years working in the charter and tournament fishing industry around northern Michigan. If the fish that have infested Chicago-area waterways get into the lake, he says he and his fellow charter captains will lose their jobs.
“If they do replace the sportfish, the salmon and the trout, we can’t make a living,” Huston said. “If they displace the small fish, the feeder fish, it’ll end sportfishing in Lake Michigan.”
Fears about the invasive species lurking on the lake’s threshold—and anger over the failure of state and federal officials to stop the carp in their tracks—prompted Huston and a hundred other people to brave 20-degree temperatures for a Saturday morning rally on the banks of the Boardman River. Several carried signs bearing slogans like “Close Chicago Lock,” “Cap the Carp” and “Lock out the Carp… Not the Boaters.”
Also in attendance were Michigan representatives Dan Scripps (D-Leelanau), Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City), Andy Neumann (D-Alpena) and Gary McDowell (D-Rudyard), who threatened the possibility of economic sanctions and a boycott of Chicago businesses if protective action isn’t taken soon.
The rally came two days before Great Lakes governors, including Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, are scheduled to be in Washington on Monday to talk to White House officials about the carp invasion and the threat to the regions fisheries and environment.
The International Joint Commission, the bilateral agency overseeing Great Lakes policy, also is scheduled to convene its second public meeting on Asian Carp in Ypsilanti, Michigan on February 17.
Rep. Schmidt, who said he learned to fish on the Boardman River, noted that the pressure to close the locks is bipartisan and spans both state and national boundaries. Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, along with Ontario, Canada, have all announced their support of a legal effort by Mike Cox, Michigan’s attorney general, to seal off the Great Lakes from the invasive species. The fish have already overrun portions of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, driving out game fish and upending ecosystems. They were originally imported to clean southern fish farms in the 1970s, but escaped into the rivers. The bighead variety of the fish can grow up to four feet long and weigh 100 pounds. Meanwhile the silver carp variety is known for jumping out of the water at the sound of boat motors, knocking people out of their boats and causing serious injuries.
Saturday’s protest comes three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Cox’s motion to order an immediate closure of the locks that connect Lake Michigan with the carp-infested waters of the Chicago Waterway System. Cox filed a new Supreme Court motion to close the locks Thursday, citing new evidence that carp may already have entered the lake as well as a study that has found Illinois’ estimates of economic damages from closing the locks to be “seriously exaggerated.” Cox, a Republican, is also running for governor.
Wearing a Big Kahuna Charters baseball cap and carrying a handmade placard that read “No Carp!”, Huston said Saturday that he worries the effect of an Asian carp invasion will not be limited to sportfishing.
“You think alewives are a problem?” he said, referring to the small fish that die by the millions each summer and foul Great Lakes beaches with their carcasses. “Just wait until the Asian carp start dying off when they run out of food.”
Ryan Matuzak, captain of his own charter boat and guide service and president of the Grand Traverse Area Sport Fishing Association (GTASFA), took a break from ice fishing Saturday to attend the rally. He planned to head back out on the ice after the rally was over.
Fishing is “everything to me,” Matuzak said. “I’ve fished the entire state, all of its waters, all the way from Lake Superior down to Lake Erie and both sides.”
GTASFA helped sponsor Saturday’s rally, Matuzak said, and urged Michigan’s attorney general to take legal action over the locks.
“We’ve been involved in the push for this lawsuit probably since the first of November,” he said. “We need to make sure our voices are heard.”
Rep. Scripps, an environmental attorney, told Circle of Blue that he knows the sportfishing industry firsthand, having fished Lake Michigan with charter captains from Leelanau County’s century-old Fishtown village. Scripps said that while on the campaign trail before his 2008 election, he often kept a fly rod and a set of waders in the back of his truck.
“After a long day of door knocking, there’s nothing better than jumping in a stream and throwing a couple of lines in and hoping to find something coming back at you,” he said.
Scripps added that the carp pose a threat to the region’s entire recreational boating industry, not just the sportfishing industry.
“If you go to some of these rivers where the Asian carp already are, you just don’t see boat traffic anymore… These are just silent rivers at this point because it’s too dangerous to boat on them,” he said. “And to know that that could happen here unless we take action shows why we need to act.”
Scripps also agreed with Rep. McDowell’s calls for more drastic action if Illinois officials don’t act now.
“If we need to ratchet up the pressure to get their attention, then we need to ratchet up the pressure,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t go that far, but we’re talking about a tourism industry that it’s hard to put a price tag on, a $9 billion boating industry, and $7 billion sportfishing industry… That’s real money and real jobs.”
Rally organizers took the occasion of Saturday’s event to announce the launch of a new Web site, No Asian Carp, where concerned residents can sign a petition urging Gov. Pat Quinn and other Illinois officials to close the locks. The site, which is being promoted by Michigan House Democrats, joins Stop Asian Carp – Protect Our Great Lakes, a project of Attorney General Mike Cox, as a forum for concerned residents to sign a petition calling for immediate action to stop the carp’s spread.
“I don’t care what petition you sign, frankly,” Scripps told the crowd at Saturday’s rally. “We need action, and we need it now.”
Steve Kellman is a Circle of Blue writer and reporter. Reach him at circleofblue.org/contact.