By Don Davis
Minnesotans fighting Asian carp think they may have temporary and permanent ways to slow the advance of the voracious eater.
Organizations at a Wednesday Asian carp summit hosted by Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar agreed they would try to convince boaters to stop using a Mississippi River lock in Minneapolis so it can remain closed and act as a barrier to fish that can eat so much food that they push out native species. The hope is if the lock is not used this summer, or at least not used often, that could be a temporary solution.
For the long-term solution, the state Department of Natural Resources will spend $500,000 to study whether an electric barrier would be effective. That could not be installed until next year, at the earliest.
At the same time, federal officials such as Klobuchar are working on Congress to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to permanently close the lock at St. Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis. While no barrier is completely fool-proof, experts say closing that lock would be the best solution to stopping the carp.
“Delaying and doing nothing just is not an option,” Dayton said.
A DNR consultant suggested that a combination of bubbles and lights would convince carp to turn around, but key legislators who would need to approve funding such a system were not convinced.
“A bubble and light show” is how Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, described the plan. Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, called it the “disco” proposal.
Most legislators at the summit agreed that an electric barrier should be the permanent solution, and Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said he would use $500,000 from his budget to write a formal proposal.
That proposal would go to the Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the St. Anthony Falls lock and dam. The federal organization would take more than six months to study the proposal, the Corps’ Tom Crump said.
In the meantime, work already is proceeding to stop use of the lock.
Minneapolis plans to close its port and two riverboats that used to go through the lock no longer use it. That leaves two commercial users and small recreational watercraft that go through the lock.
Those at the summit suggested that the Dayton administration work with the two businesses to stop using the lock to transport their products, such as scrap iron. Klobuchar said they use roads to move the products during the winter and did that after the nearby Interstate 35W bridge collapsed in 2007, so options are available.
The fiscal impact of Asian carp taking over northern Minnesota waters far outweighs the profits lost by closing the locks, Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said.
Conservationist and sportsman David Zentner of Duluth said quick action is needed.
“The carp keep swimming and our institutional relationships move at a glacial pace,” Zentner said.
Before Landwehr offered to pay for the electric barrier study, Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said an environmental committee he leads would vote to spend the money because it is such an important issue.
The fear is that as Asian carp move up the Mississippi River they will spread into most northern Minnesota waters.
Landwehr said two were caught in a net near Winona a few days ago. Others have been caught in the Mississippi, but there is no evidence of a breeding population in the area.
There also has been some talk but no solutions offered for ways to keep the carp out of the Minnesota River, which joins the Mississippi downstream of Minneapolis.