While lawmakers focus on remaking the Chicago waterway system to prevent Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan, the feared invasive species is quietly making its way toward the Great Lakes through Indiana.
An official with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources on Thursday confirmed the recent discovery of an Asian carp spawning bed in the Wabash River in central Indiana, near Logansport. The carp were found about 120 miles downriver from a roughly half-mile wide natural wetland that separates the Wabash River from the Maumee River, which crosses into Ohio and feeds directly into Lake Erie.
Indiana officials, who have been tracking movement of Asian carp in their state since the mid-1990s, are now trying to figure out whether heavy rains in that region could allow Asian carp to move into the Maumee River and create another entry point in the Great Lakes.
“We’re looking at how much flooding would be needed to create an adequate passage” from the Wabash to the Maumee, said Phil Bloom, spokesman for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
The discovery comes as lawmakers from Illinois and around the Great Lakes push for a more coordinated federal response to the Asian carp crisis. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin urged President Barack Obama last week to appoint a type of federal carp czar to oversee the day-to-day carp monitoring and eradication efforts.
A native of China with no known predators in the U.S., certain varieties of Asian carp can reach 100 pounds and have a near bottomless appetite for plankton and other food crucial to native fish, a frightening prospect as they inch closer to the Great Lakes and their estimated $7 billion commercial and sport fishing industry.
Environmental advocacy groups have pushed for closing Chicago-area shipping locks and now want to re-engineer Illinois’ 100-year waterway system. They said the Indiana findings bolster the need for federal action. But the most imminent threat is still in Illinois, they said.
“This doesn’t change the fact that Chicago’s waterways still offer the greatest threat for carp entering the Great Lakes,” said Josh Mogerman, spokesman for the Midwest region of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But we know now this is a regional problem, not just an Illinois problem.”