News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 18, 2013

Attorney General Zoeller wants Wabash River included in federal Asian carp efforts

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana’s iconic Wabash River should be included in federal efforts to control the invasive Asian carp, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Wednesday at Fairbanks Park.

Zoeller this week is making a tour/part vacation and inspection of the Wabash River in a friend’s Zodiac boat. Zoeller took off from Fairbanks Park for his third day of the trip, expected to end today in New Harmony.

The concern is the carp will eliminate the food consumed by small bait fish. “If you don’t have small fish, you don’t have large fish,” Zoeller said. The carp could impact the sustainability of native game fish such as small and big mouth bass in the Wabash River.

The attorney general said Purdue University is researching a toxin that would only target the Asian carp. “They were very successful in an effort to address the lamprey eels that are in the Great Lakes,” he said.

“They are trying to disrupt the natural spawning, as they have millions of egg releases,” Zoeller said. Another effort under way in Illinois, Zoeller said, is for the state to employ commercial fishers to harvest the carp in the Illinois River.

A report to the U.S. Congress is expected later this year on a national strategy to address the carp, primarily in the Great Lakes, but also in rivers such as the Wabash, Zoeller said.

That report is being done by John Gross, director of the federal government’s Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, part of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Gross is a former director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Gross went on the river Monday with Zoeller, launching from Wabash and ending at Peru.

Zoeller’s interest stems from a 2010 brief that state of Indiana filled in a lawsuit the state of Michigan had filed against the state of Illinois. Zoeller urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take jurisdiction on a dispute of how to control the carp.

The high court declined. However, that led to the administrative appointment of Gross to report to Congress.

To prevent the spread of the carp into Lake Michigan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers currently operates electric barriers in waterways outside Chicago, and a chain-link fence was installed across Eagle Marsh near Fort Wayne to prevent the invasive fish from spreading through Maumee River tributaries into Lake Erie, Zoeller said.

Two populations of Asian carp — silver carp and bighead carp — are known to inhabit segments of the Wabash River. The largest of the Asian carp can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 90 pounds.

The silver carp jumps out of the river, often at the sound of a passing motorboat. On Wednesday, Zoeller saw very few of those fish on his journey to Merom.

Zoeller calls his trip the “Wabash River Adventure,” to not only focus on the Asian carp, but also to encourage people “to enjoy and appreciate the river,” he said. Zoeller complimented Terre Haute’s Year of the River event, which has year-long events that focus on the river.

Mayor Duke Bennett, who was at Fairbanks Park to meet with the attorney general, said efforts to control the carp would impact Terre Haute, but it must include federal funds. “We don’t have the expertise to deal with something like [the Asian Carp] nor the funding. I am hopeful they can come up with some way they can control the carp,” the mayor said.

“It will be interesting to see if commercial fishing is doing enough to thin the heard, the schools of fish. I don’t know if you can fish enough to do that,” Bennett said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.