Thursday, January 6, 2011

Asian Carp DNA Found: Nothing Between Them and Great Lakes

The thing I've heard about capitalism and business for most of my life is how dynamic it is as a system of distributing goods and services. Far more adaptable and dynamic than, for example, the lake sturgeon...a creature with a very long reproductive cycle and dependent on clean waterways and safe spawning areas. I would hope capitalism is more rapidly adaptive than, for example, a salamander mussel or the protected Michigan lady slipper orchid. I would hope.

Yet we tread so softly around commercial interests when there's a conflict between business and ecology as though capitalism is the more delicate dance. Breathe on it too hard, look at it funny, hurt the feelings of the CEOs and it's going to crumble to dust.

We've seen these priorities play out in the fight to keep Asian carps out of the Great Lakes as national leadership drags its feet on taking decisive, potent steps to halt the threat for fear of pausing a relatively small shipping interest.

And now, it seems, there's clear evidence Asian carps have spread to Lake Michigan.

The answer was pretty simple: close the locks of the Chicago shipping canal and build a mound of dirt, or berm, on the land between the Calument River and Lake Michigan.

Easy. Elegant.

That door there? Close it.

Michigan wanted it closed. So did Wisconsin, and Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and New York, and Minnesota, and Canada.

Who didn't want it closed? Mayor Daley of Chicago and a couple of shipping companies.

And now it's likely too late. The argument was "consider the shipping companies!" and now the argument is bound to be "well, it's too late now!"

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Scientists whose genetics-based research became a lightning rod in the debate over protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp have made their case in a newly published article that says at least some of the dreaded invaders have gotten beyond an electric barrier meant to block their path to Lake Michigan.

In the paper released Wednesday, the four-member team reports Asian carp DNA was detected in 58 water samples taken from Chicago-area rivers and canals past the barrier over nearly a year. They caution that while the findings suggest the presence of live bighead and silver carp, it's unclear how many were in the waterways because individual fish could be responsible for multiple positive hits.

What's at stake? The remains of a what precarious ecological balance the Great Lakes has, the rare and struggling native species in the rivers and streams, and of course a 7 billion dollar Great Lakes fishing industry.

It really is the same old story repeated time after time.

When the St. Lawrence Seaway was opened, alarms were eventually sounded that ballast water of incoming ocean-faring vessels were introducing invasive species into the Great Lakes at an astonishing rate. The warning was sounded nearly a decade that these ships were loaded with zebra mussel larvae, but the reports were tabled. The oversight was loopholed away, or deferred, or ignored. Then, in 1988 zebra mussels were introduced into the Great Lakes and spread like wildfire...of course they would. 1 female can release up to a million larvae.

The mussels spread from one ship in the Great Lakes across America in just 20 years...all because a single agency couldn't find it in its heart to make shipping companies adapt to more stringent ballast water cleansing requirements.

They chose to make countless aquatic species nationwide adapt because asking the free-market to do so is forbidden...even though adapting is supposedly the capitalism's strong suit.

It's a damn shame. A tragedy. Perfectly predictable and entirely preventable. But for the lack of will to do it. Eventually, Ocean-faring shipping companies will load up on ballast water here in the Great Lakes and then carry the Asian Carps to other ports around the world, South America and Europe.

The State of New York has the right idea. They're looking to unilaterally create strict ballast water requirements. And since they are a thoroughfare for the St. Lawrence Seaway those requirements will be in effect by default for the rest of the states.

A New York State Supreme Court Justice dismissed a challenge brought by shipping interests against the state’s tough new ballast water requirements, which are designed to limit the introduction of more invasive species into the Great Lakes. Legal experts at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) hail the win as a huge victory for states in the region that have taken an aggressive stand to limit dumping of water containing biological pollution from ocean going vessels. Alien species have already cost the Great Lakes economy billions of dollars.

“These rules don’t just protect the ecosystem, they help defend multi-billion dollar tourism, fishing, and recreational boating industries in New York and throughout the Great Lakes,” said Thom Cmar, an attorney at NRDC. “New York is facing an alien invasion of its waters. By putting up these rules as a strong first line of defense, the state has joined Michigan and California as leaders in the fight to protect our waterways. It is time for the federal government to step up and join them.”

No comments: