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Grr! How frustrating. Too many people dramatically underestimate the threat and impact of invasive species on the Great Lakes and fresh water waterways. That includes our President, unfortunately, and apparently the Supreme Court who refused yesterday to intervene in a dispute between states about closing the Chicago Locks to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

Absolute apathy or laziness. All they have to do is read Pandora's Locks by Jeff Alexander to get a clue. It's not like their inaction is new, bold, or unprecedented. It's shockingly common, even in light of a century of case studies of how damaging invasives can be, and where inaction leads us.  But it seems we're doomed to play the scenario out again with the Asian carp.

For 10,000 years there was this gigantic barrier to new species in the Great Lakes called Niagara Falls. And for 10,000 years humans have fished the Great Lakes and relied on them for a way of life and for sustenance. Some of the oldest evidence of human activity in North America can be found 100 feet below the surface waters of Lake Huron.

And then, about 180 years ago, we literally short circuited the barriers to invasive aquatic species with the opening of the Erie and Welland Canals around Niagara Falls, followed by ever escalating pathways for new critters to get in.

In 1825 - The Erie Canal opened, allowing boat passage from Lake Ontario past Niagara Falls into the upper four Great Lakes.

In 1829 - Canada's Welland Canal opened, competing with the Erie Canal...this is where the first lamprey eels got in after the canal was expanded in the 20th century.

In 1922 - The Sanitary and Ship Canal opened the Great Lakes to the Mississippi.

In 1959 - the St. Lawrence Seaway opened the Great Lakes up to the Atlantic Ocean and international shipping.

For 10,000 years the lakes were protected from invasive aquatic species. And just within the past 80 years we've seen 183 new, viable, invasive creatures make permanent settlement in the Great Lakes from countries around the world. And 50 just within the past 20 years.

We didn't learn our lesson after the lamprey eel found its way into the upper 4 Great Lakes and crashed the fish populations.

"Lake trout were a staple of the Great Lakes commercial fishery before sea lamprey invaded. Anglers harvested some 15 million pounds of lake trout each year in Lake Michigan, Huron, and Superior...The catch in Lake Michigan dropped from an average of 4.5 million pounds in 1946 to 402 pounds in 1953"

 

And 85% of all fish caught were found to have evidence of sea lamprey wounds. Now we spend $20 million per year trying to keep the lamprey at bay. We can only control them...never eradicate them. And the second we stop is the second they come back into the waters and eradicate the fish.


We didn't learn our lesson after the alewives made it to the upper 4 Great Lakes and mushroomed into 90% of the biomass of the Great Lakes.
They consumed the plankton in the waters and choked out other life, numbering in the trillions, dying en-masse when a cold front moved in and stinking up the shores of the Great Lakes with literally tons of rotting fish up and down the shorelines in the early 1960s.

We didn't learn our lesson when the spiny water flea moved in, or the inedible eurasian ruffe.

And we didn't learn our lesson when the zebra mussels moved in and choked up water pipes, and spread to all the Great Lakes in just 24 months numbering, again, in the trillions...each one filtering all the plankton out of a liter of water every single day, concentrating all the toxins, PCBs and other nasty things into their bodies in concentrations so high it kills loons an other water fowl who eat them....

We didn't learn our lesson when the round goby infested the Great Lakes. They eat the zebra mussels, who have high concentrations of toxins, and become even more toxic themselves...and then the goby get eaten by larger fish. Round gobies are so cancerous a fish, in some bordering lakes of the Great Lakes all you catch are gobies...

We didn't learn our lesson when the quagga mussels invaded... adding to the problems of the zebra mussels...living deeper in the water and filtering even more of the plankton, causing a concentration of phosphorous in their bodies and allowing light to penetrate deeper into the water making an ideal environment for huge algae blooms that wash up on the shores to rot.

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over...scientists and researchers sound the alarm, and varied interests push back against action, and politicians and committees opt for inaction, and over and over again the invasives take over while debate drags on and inaction wins the day...

We could have stopped the spread of the spiny inedible eurasian ruffe. It was discovered in the Duluth harbor and researches found that the same chemical used to control lamprey eels could control the eurasian ruffe. Scientists created a plan to stop the spread of the fish to the other Great Lakes and waterways around the US, keeping it contained in the region of the Duluth Harbor and their plan was shot down by municipalities and governing agencies as too expensive.

In 1981 a fellow named Joe Schormann conducted a study of ballast water from ships coming to the Great Lakes from other parts of the world and discovered hundreds of living, viable non-native species living in the ballast of incoming ships, including zebra mussels. He shared his group's findings with the US and Canadian Coast Guards who had the authority of act on ballast water dumping....and the agencies did NOTHING. They tabled the information. Seven years later the lakes were irreversibly infested with zebra mussels who had entered the lakes just two years before.

We could have stopped it.

Our agencies and government officials had the power and the information to stop it. Now the amount of money we spend controlling invasive species outweighs the amount of money we get from shipping...

This is not unprecedented. We know what's going to happen when we fail to act.

This is a no brainer.

We're finally starting to get a clue about ballast water coming in from international ships entering the St. Lawrence Seaway. But we still have invasives knocking at the door to the West at the Chicago Locks. The horribly invasive Asian Carp.

This is very simple.

Close the Chicago locks. Just zip them up. This is an ounce of prevention which will prevent hundred millions pounds of There Is No Cure. Close the damn locks.

Originally posted to Muskegon Critic on Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 10:39 AM PDT.

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