“The flying fish,” one of four species of Asian Carp, the silver ones that jump out of the water when startled, are on their way. Their DNA has been found for sure in the St. Croix River. And there are only three locks and dams on the Mississippi River that, if closed, are “100 percent efficient” at keeping them from traveling upstream. One is at the Upper St. Anthony Falls.
“It’s hard to maintain a constant state of alarm when the threat seems far away,” said John Anfinson, resource chief for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area of the National Park Service, at a panel discussion forum Oct. 25 sponsored by the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership and the Above the Falls Citizen Advisory Committee (AFCAC), at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board headquarters building.
Anfinson noted that plans have been on the shelf for dealing with the invasive species since 2007, and Minnesotans are anxious to put plans into action. He is co-chairing an Asian Carp Task Force. Its key points are: early detection and response, prevent and deter, mitigate and control, and communications.
Between the four Asian carp species (silver, grass, bighead and black), the fish that can weigh 100 lbs. and span four feet made recreational fishing and boating hazardous in states south of Minnesota. They’re so thick in the water that, in a recent water level draw-down near St. Louis, Missouri, Mississippi River beaches were stacked up with rotting, stinking fish corpses for as far as one could see.
Sonic bubble barriers have proved effective, and the State of Minnesota gave $16 million in state bond funds to put one at Coon Rapids Dam as a backup to closing the locks at Upper St. Anthony Falls.
The fish surmount most river barriers, escape upstream during high water periods. They feed through the winter, and can travel over barriers when water backs up in an ice jam.
Organizations who’ve typically used the Upper St. Anthony Falls locks for recreational tours have already started voluntarily re-routing their tours to not use the locks. Commercial uses remain, though there are only two businesses using the Port of Minneapolis, down to 600,000 tons of cargo annually. To close the locks permanently would take Congressional approval, said Russel Snyder, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager for the for the St. Paul District.
Brian Nerbonne, stream habitat specialist at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said they’re considering a barrier at the mouth of the St. Croix, and noted that such systems work best when the fish are given a place to deflect to.
Don Arnosti, Policy Director for Audubon Minnesota, said it’s not too late to stop the fish in Iowa at another of the locks. He said a $3 billion fishing industry is at stake, as well as recreation. The carp feed on plankton and mussels, the two lowest parts of the food chain, starving out other species that would feed on the same things. They’ve grown so fast because they “left their predators back in Asia.”
Asian carp were brought to America for a specific aquaculture purpose but then escaped during a flood, according to the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission website.
Someone asked whether the fish could be caught for food (they’re on the menu in Asia). Nerbonne said, “In Illinois, they do, 20,000 to 30,000 lbs. a year, but that barely makes a dent. “It’s not realistic to fish them down.” Because they filter plankton, traditional angling doesn’t catch them. Using gill nets, native fish also get trapped, which, even if released, have a low survival rate. He also reasoned that if the taste of the fish caught on, then there would be a demand for it and pressure to not wipe out the species.
Greg Genz, Vice-President, Upper Mississippi Waterway Association (“waterway operators, shippers and other waterway and other interests working together to promote the economic and environmental benefits of water transportation in the upper Midwest,” according to their website) was also on the panel. He said active recreation would be lost if the locks were closed. He said rail is no longer an alternative for shipping what goes by barge, and that the cost of moving traffic off the river to roads would be quantifiable.
Susan, a resident of Riverview townhomes, said “there are other options for those businesses. One could move. They’re also costing us more for trails, having to go around them.”
Genz asked why, if this is such a concern, were other businesses allowed to rebuild and expand, such as Graco and the Xcel Energy Riverside plant.
Third Ward Minneapolis City Council Member Diane Hofstede and State Representative Phyllis Kahn both talked about tapping Legacy Amendment and Environmental Trust Fund money to deal with the issue. Peter Wagenius from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s office said, “where Legacy money goes is jaw dropping. Most of it comes from the metro area and very little comes back.”
Attendees were urged to contact their elected officials and say “we expect you to act on this” Asian carp issue.