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Osahon Okundaye/MEDILL

The GLEC discusses an action plan to enhance its detection of Asian carp.

Bi-nation committee fishes for Asian carp plan

by Kerry Cardoza and Osahon Okundaye
Jun 4, 2014


Kerry Cardoza/MEDILL

Illustrations in the meeting room depicted efforts the GLEC has taken to preserving the Great Lakes Basin.


The Great Lakes Executive Committee, in its biannual meeting Wednesday in Chicago, acknowledged the need for an action plan to enhance its response to Asian carp and other invasive species.

The GLEC, a binational effort to implement the 1978 Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Agreement, is divided into ten annexes, or subcommittees, covering topics ranging from climate change impacts to lakeside management.

An ongoing issue in Chicago, Asian carp are an aggressive predator that eats almost everything in the water and seriously threatens the native fish and plants in the Great Lakes, Mississippi River and associated waterways.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has constructed electric barriers outside Chicago in the Sanitary and Ship Canal in an effort to prevent additional invasive species now in the Mississippi River Basin from entering into the Great Lakes.

As audience members napped in the back row, the committee laid out a plan for a measured response to the invasive fish crisis, including implementation of an early detection and rapid response plan by 2015, as well as develop monitoring protocols to identify trouble spots before they get out of hand.

One tactic the annex is currently using is Environmental DNA (eDNA), a process used by the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, which uses genetic materials taken from water samples to detect the fish.

Coordinating this multi-agency, two-nation effort presents numerous organizational challenges.

"In the real world, the devil lies in the details," said Gavin Christie of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, to the committee. But Christie's plan was light on specifics.

Sharing information and resources and coordinating jurisdiction and governance of areas are some of the issues the GLEC faces.

The main challenge in moving ahead with controlling the invasive species population is protecting the waters while allowing important ecological processes to continue.

Christie spelled out plainly that if no further action is taken regarding the Asian carp, there is a dire overall risk to the environment.

He lauded Canada's ballast water regulations, which he said are one reason no new invasive species have been found in the Great Lakes in almost a decade. Ships take on water and deposit them in other waterways as they travel, inadvertently introducing invasive species. Canada started regulating the practice in 2006.

David Sweetman, executive director of the Canadian organization Georgian Bay Forever, believes the Asian carp problem is just one issue among a host of others. "There's not any data on the cost of inaction," he said in an interview. "Asian carp is just the poster child for this."

The group is emphasizing detection and monitoring because it's the easiest thing to agree on, said John Stine of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in an interview.

"Any response plan potentially could be a very expensive endeavor," he said. "This is where agencies, nations and governments are all in different places."

"Never would you say at all costs because at all costs is the point," Stine said.

The committee met in the Metcalfe Federal Building in the Loop.