2010-02-25 / Letters to the Editor

‘Carping’ on the Asian invaders

I don’t mean to keep carping on this (sorry), but the Asian carp story is reaching that pinch-point that most environment issues reach: Money and commerce versus the environment.

News articles describe the recent Ypsilanti meeting between those alarmed about the Asian carp and the Chicago boat companies which use the locks for tourism and commerce. On the other side, the people who want to keep the flying carp out want the Chicago River locks to be shut down. Closing the locks, say the companies, is based on faulty science, and would devastate their tourist and barge industry. The sportsmen and environmental people say the carp will ruin the lakes’ fishery, that the jumping alien fish are on the verge of entering the big lakes. People are lining up on both sides of this explosive issue.

Do tourist or barge companies in Chicago really care if these carp invade, jump up onto boats, and have no natural enemies, dashing to the top of the Great Lakes food chain, changing the fishery completely? So what? These people just move tourists along the skyline, or ship concrete on barges. Heck, once the fish are flying about like gulls over Lake Michigan, these companies might even create a lake boat tour with each tourist getting a butterfly net to try to grab “those wonderful flying fish.”

I am no expert on this but my instincts are that it is a very dangerous issue for the Great Lakes, and that it may turn into a real battle over the environment. Even more, this issue might set the template for others ahead.

Even more dangerous is the coming fight over the new gold: fresh water. Whatever happens with the carp may foretell actions on water rights, which may be Michigan’s real survival issue. The bone-dry states will appeal to Washington and someone there will shout the pledge that “Water is Everyone’s Resource.” If they win, Michigan (and its neighbors) will be floating great floods of water out of here for a cheap price, with little control. I can visualize a newly-cut river flowing west towards Phoenix and dry points after. Those thirsty people in the southwest need it to drink, and surely to water the greens and fairways.

Since the first Frenchmen canoed these edges almost 400 years ago, Michigan has hosted about four huge industries, all profitable: Furs, copper, lumber, automobiles, all now mostly gone. These industries had a shelf life of less than 100 years. They were boom/bust events. Intermingled among them since about 1880 has been fishing, hunting, and tourism. It is the last one standing.

I think what happens with Asian carp may well forebode what happens with our water, and hence our tourism.

I’ll bet you a box of old license plates that Michigan is going to get shafted. Meanwhile, I’m going to start filling the pantry with water jugs. And start making protest signs. “Hold Your Water” or “Our Fish Don’t Need to Fly” or “Lock the Locks.”

George Wylie Prudenville

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