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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Asian Carp and the Great Lakes Region

Eugene H. Buck
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Harold F. Upton
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

Charles V. Stern
Analyst in Natural Resources Policy

James E. Nichols
Law Clerk

Four species of non-indigenous Asian carp are expanding their range in U.S. waterways, resulting
in a variety of concerns and problems. Three species—bighead, silver, and black carp—are of
particular note, based on the perceived degree of environmental concern. Current controversy
relates to what measures might be necessary and sufficient to prevent movement of Asian carp
from the Mississippi River drainage into the Great Lakes through the Chicago Area Waterway
System. Bills have been introduced in the 111th Congress to direct actions to avoid the possibility
of carp becoming established in the Great Lakes.

According to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Asian carp pose a significant threat to
commercial and recreational fisheries of the Great Lakes. Asian carp populations could expand
rapidly and change the composition of Great Lakes ecosystems. Native species could be harmed
because Asian carp are likely to compete with them for food and modify their habitat. It has been
widely reported that Great Lakes fisheries generate economic activity of approximately $7 billion
annually. Although Asian carp introduction is likely to modify Great Lakes ecosystems and cause
harm to fisheries, studies forecasting the extent of potential harm are not available. Therefore, it is
not possible to provide estimates of potential changes in the regional economy or economic value
(social welfare) by lake, species, or fishery.

The locks and waterways of the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS) have been a focal point
for those debating how to prevent Asian carp encroachment on the Great Lakes. The CAWS is the
only navigable link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, and many note the
potential of these waterways to facilitate invasive species transfers from one basin to the other.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has constructed and is currently operating electrical barriers to
prevent fish passage. However, in light of recent indications that Asian carp may be present
upstream of the barriers and in Lake Michigan, increased federal funding to prevent fish
encroachment has been announced by the Obama Administration, and calls to permanently
separate the two basins have grown. The potential closure of existing navigation structures in the
CAWS and the permanent separation of the basins are currently the most contentious issues
related to Asian carp control in the region, and a long-term solution has yet to be decided.

On January 19, 2010, the Supreme Court refused to order emergency measures sought by the
state of Michigan to stop the migration of invasive Asian carp toward Lake Michigan from the
Mississippi River basin via the CAWS. Michigan's renewed motion for a preliminary injunction
was also denied by the Supreme Court on March 22, 2010. In response to the Supreme Court's
denial, Michigan (along with Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) filed a complaint in
the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago on July 19, 2010.

In the 111th Congress, Section 126 in Title I of P.L. 111-85 directed the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers to implement additional measures to prevent invasive species from bypassing the
Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Dispersal Barrier Project and dispersing into the Great Lakes.
Other bills have been introduced to list additional Asian carp species as injurious under the Lacey
Act (H.R. 48, H.R. 3173, S. 237, S. 1421), and to direct various federal agencies to take specific
actions to increase control over and restrict the spread of Asian carp (H.R. 51, H.R. 4472, S. 237,
S. 2946).

Date of Report: August 6, 2010
Number of Pages: 27
Order Number: R41082
Price: $29.95

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