Asian Carp solution: Use science, not scare tactics

Legislation now under review in Congress demands the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers complete a five-year study on hydrological separation in less than 18 months — ensuring an inadequate report. As members of the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources meet today to discuss next steps in the federal response to Asian carp, they would be well served to keep a statement Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) spokesman Chris McCloud in mind: “We have to do what we do based on science."

The Great Lakes ecosystem is diverse and it is important to maintain that diversity. However, the factual evidence and science used to back up particular arguments in this debate are most certainly in dispute. The decisions made regarding invasive species and the Great Lakes have serious, long-lasting implications and should be made based on solid facts — not conjecture or fear.

The use of eDNA testing to definitively prove the presence of Asian carp populations in the waterways is speculative. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers most recent report states eDNA “as an emerging technology being applied in a field setting for the first time, USACE cannot conclude that water samples testing positive for eDNA evidence confirms the presence of Asian carp.” This testing method is new, theoretical and has not been subjected to peer review. Until this method is further scrutinized and accepted by the scientific community, it is imprudent to rely solely upon it.

Furthermore, the presence of one Asian carp does not indicate a threat of a reproducing, self-sustaining population. Scientists with IDNR will examine the specimen to determine if it is of appropriate age to reproduce should it find a favorable environment — a vital yet unlikely precondition.

Asian carp need water rich in plankton to thrive and long rivers with brisk currents to spawn and establish breeding populations. Lake Michigan is too cold, too deep and does not have enough of the proper food supply to be a viable environment for a reproducing population of Asian carp. Therefore, the supposed threat of thousands of hundred pound fish taking over the Great Lakes, eating everything in sight is pure fiction.

It is unclear how this one fish entered Lake Calumet as there are numerous means including flooding and human introduction. A recent risk assessment by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) based on findings from a panel of experts reports lock closure will not lower the risk of Asian carp entering Lake Michigan. In considering lock operation impact, biological, ecological and risk management factors, USFWS concluded additional barriers downstream such as air bubble curtains, strobe lights and supplementary electric barriers will be most effective.

A long-term, comprehensive solution will only be achieved through open, careful deliberation among responsible government agencies and regional stakeholders. As the Senate subcommittee discusses next steps in the federal response to Asian carp, lawmakers must consider the full impact of proposals before them. Reliance upon eDNA alone is not only suspect, it is grossly irresponsible. Before the discovery of this one fish causes an entire region to panic and elicits a knee-jerk economic and ecological reaction, let’s first determine how it arrived in its current location and what it means. We must base a decision, such as this, with far-reaching, long-lasting effects on sound science and common sense.

Lisa Frede is the director of regulatory affairs for the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, and serves as a biologist and science adviser to the UnLock Our Jobs coalition.