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Asian carp debate takes center stage

WSU holds seminar to educate public about threat of invasive species

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Posted: Monday, December 6, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 11:07 am, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

Asian carp, which were first brought to the U.S. as water cleaners due to their immense appetite, have become an ever-increasing risk to the Great Lakes.

The International Joint Commission, which monitors U.S. bodies of water, held a seminar Dec. 1, co-sponsored by the WSU Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, to discuss the potential hazards of the current invasive species in the region.

Mark Burrows, physical scientist of the IJC said the fish were “introduced into the sewage treatment ponds … with the idea of being able to help out with that.”

During heavy rains, the water levels elevated and the carp escaped. The fish are now slowly moving their way up the Mississippi River toward the Great Lakes.

In open waters, the carp eat so much that other fish cannot survive. Burrows referred to Asian carp as “the poster child” of invasive species, due to their popularity. There are several other invasive species that have already taken root in the Great Lakes, such as the European Ruffe, Sea Lamprey and Round Goby.

Most of the time, fish from foreign areas are brought to America in the ballast tanks of trade ships. Ballast tanks fill with water when these ships are emptied, in order to help them keep balanced.

“Ballast water has been attributed ... to as much as 70 percent of the invasive species that have been introduced into the Great Lakes,” Burrows said.

There are methods in development that will prevent potential invasive species from surviving in ballast water, he said.

Other speakers at the seminar included Dr. Jeff Ram, professor of physiology and associate at the WSU Center for Molecular Medicine & Genetics and the Department of Immunology and Microbiology, and Nick Schroeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and adjunct professor at the WSU Law School Environmental Law Clinic.

Ram is currently running a project, in-part funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, which hopes to improve these prevention systems.

“Our project is on verification that these systems are working,” Ram said.

His project will focus on being able to identify dead and living organisms in ballast water.

Schroeck spoke about the legal issues that surround closing the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal, the connection between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes.

Several businesses in the area, such as tour boats and water taxis, are against the closing since they “depend on that for their livelihood,” Schroeck said.

He didn’t believe any firm judicial decision would happen soon.

“I would be surprised,” Schroeck said, “if we got an order from a federal judge saying that (the canal) has to be closed down.”

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