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Pioneer Editorial: Asian carp could harm Great Lakes

The health of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior in particular, is important to both the economic and social well-being of all Minnesotans. When the failure of a government entity to understand that its lack of action may seriously jeopardize a whole system, it's time to seek legal remedy.

That's what Minnesota and four other states did last week in filing suit against the federal government and a Chicago-area water control district for its failure to stop the spread of Asian carp to Lake Michigan and therefore the Great Lakes. Attorneys general from Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania filed the lawsuit in a lower court, even though the U.S. Supreme Court twice failed to give the states relief.

The threatened entry of Asian carp into the Great Lakes through Lake Michigan is possible with the U.S. Corps of Engineers failing to strengthen the Chicago-area lock and dam system to prevent the carp's spread from the Chicago River to the Great Lakes. In June, a bighead Asian carp was recovered 6 miles from Lake Michigan, past the electric barriers designated to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

Asian carp are extremely destructive. They weigh more than 100 pounds, consuming large amounts of food and reproduce rapidly. They pose a real threat to native fish by reducing populations of native plants, a staple for the native fish. Also, Asian carp learn to jump up to 10 feet out of the water when disturbed by the sound of watercraft, posing a public safety threat to boaters and water skiers.

While Illinois waters are not naturally connected to the Great Lakes, a manmade canal system built over 100 years ago does. Without proper stoppage of the Asian carp, it will reach the Great Lakes.

Minnesota has 140 miles of Lake Superior shoreline and that recreational and commercial fishing on Lake Superior, and tourism on the North Shore, are important to Minnesota's economy, said Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources states that the Asian carp is well-suited to the water temperatures and food supply of the Great Lakes and "could quickly become the dominant species. Once in the lake, it would be very difficult to control them."

Minnesota has similar problems with the fish coming up the Mississippi River, but electronic barriers are working at the state's borders. There is a fear of the fish broaching those borders, but if the fish got into Lake Superior, there would be new entry points through the St. Louis River and other tributaries to the lake.

Sooner or later, Asian carp could become a widespread problem in Minnesota.

A good result from the lawsuit with tougher action would be a good measure for protection.