Louisiana's most powerful business lobby is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider the toll on the shipping industry when evaluating measures aimed at stopping the spread of Asian carp.
The call for added scrutiny, by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), comes at a time when carp appear to be expanding their range within the Mississippi River and Ohio River Basins, sparking fear that the invasive species could make their way into the Great Lakes and wreck havoc on the commercial fishery.
LABI asked that the corps consider the potential impacts to the shipping industry when evaluating measures that would close waterways to ship traffic, according to a public comment submitted by the group.
"This commercial navigation trade is the crux of our economy, and a main artery that allows the continued free-flow of commodities such as petrochemicals, agriculture, metal, plastics and machinery from the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes," the group's issue council director, Courtney Baker, wrote in the public comment. "It is not only vital to our member companies, but to the consumers and the overall heartbeat of the U.S. economy."
Asian carp refers to four invasive species of fish that can be found within the Mississippi River basin: Bighead Carp, Silver Carp, Black Carp and Grass Carp. All four varieties of the fish can grow up to four or five feet and weigh more than 100 lbs, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet.
Three of the species were intentionally brought to the U.S. in attempts to control nuisance varieties of aquatic plants. The fourth was introduced to keep a parasite hosting snail in check in aquaculture facilities.
But Asian carp have become problematic as they compete for food with native varieties of fish. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study found that if Asian carp invaded Lake Eerie they would cause a decline in other fish populations in the lake, including those that the commercial and recreational fishing industrydepend on, such as walleye.
The Mississippi River basin connects to Lake Michigan through a manmade waterway called the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates three electric barriers in the channel aimed at preventing Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes, according to the 2017 Asian Carp Action Plan. The barriers produce an electric field that deter fish from passing further through the field.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began operating an electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to deter the spread of invasive species in 2002. (Graphic by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
In its comment, LABI asked that the Corps avoid measures that would impede ship traffic "that may or may not solve the problem" without supporting evidence of the effectiveness of the measures and a full understanding of the costs of implementation.
The public comment period for the potential control options closed December 8. The Corps of Engineers is expected to reach a decision on which projects to implement by June 2018, according to a Corps report.