News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

January 11, 2014

EDITORIAL: Attack Asian carp problem with or without the feds

State, local strategy most prudent approach

TERRE HAUTE — Asian carp do not belong in Indiana’s beloved Wabash River.

Yet, the invasive fish are thriving in it, to the detriment of the river’s natural aquatic wildlife. The bighead and silver carp species devour the plankton and algae crucial to the native Wabash fish, threatening to break its centuries-old food chain. A generation ago, boaters often towed water skiers, skimming atop the Wabash for fun. Few people attempt skiing on it these days, lest they get hit by the leaping carp.

Their exploits make entertaining YouTube videos. Agitated by boat motors, the carp — which can measure 4 feet in length and 90 pounds in weight — pop up, often landing inside the watercraft, colliding with the pilot or passengers. After one or two encounters, though, the novelty of Asian carp wears off. People who love to experience the Wabash waters regularly do not enjoy their presence.

Nobody invited them into this river. The carp were imported to clear fisheries in the South, escaped into the Mississippi River valley in the 1980s and ’90s, and migrated north to the Wabash about a decade ago. The jumping, aggressive critters have made themselves at home here, starving out native fish.

They are, like the John Belushi character in an old “Saturday Night Live” skit, “the things that wouldn’t leave.”

Thus, we share the disappointment of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who criticized a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report on options for controlling Asian carp in the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basin. The study details possibilities for keeping the carp from entering the Great Lakes through Mississippi River tributaries. It provided no remedies for the already-invaded Wabash.

The Army Corps responded to Zoeller’s complaints by pointing out that Congress authorized the study, mandating it focus on the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. The study does explain preventive work done at Eagle Marsh, a Fort Wayne area site where Wabash flooding could send Asian carp into the Maumee River, a Lake Erie tributary, Dave Wethington, an Army Corps project manager, told the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Wethington acknowledged Zoeller’s argument that Indiana inherited the problem and deserves federal help to fix it, but added an important suggestion. Indiana might get more efficient results by organizing a state and local strategy.

Given Indiana leadership’s recent track record of refusing to participate in federal programs, the phrase “what goes around comes around” comes to mind. Let’s stick to the virtues of the high road, though. Zoeller is absolutely correct about the harm caused to the Wabash by Asian carp and the urgency to eradicate them. He delivered one of the most admirable, hands-on examples of Hoosier public service ever last summer when he toured the Wabash by boat on his vacation time, studying the situation firsthand and talking with people in river communities. His concerns should be heeded.

The snub in the Army Corps report should be met with action. Members of the Indiana Legislature, especially those from Wabash communities, should lay the groundwork for a strategy to save the river from an aquatic menace during the 2014 session that began Tuesday. They should invite members of the Wabash River Heritage Corridor Commission and Purdue University biologists to the Statehouse to share information and prepare a plan of attack. The governor and lawmakers need to get familiar with the predicament, adhere to the experts’ advice and commit funds to carry it out.

If federal money is absolutely necessary, then lawmakers should go to Indiana’s congressional delegation and find a senator or representative willing to fight for those dollars. Otherwise, the state should grab the Asian carp by the fins and handle this itself, full-throttle.

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