The Minnesota governor appealed to congressional representatives, federal agencies, the state of Wisconsin, and even the government of Canada today, to build support for a plan to confront the invasion of Asian carp. The plan includes a request for the temporary closing of some locks along the Mississippi River.
Last month environmental DNA testing showed silver carp are likely present in the St. Croix River. However, no fish have been captured so far. But the discovery spurred the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to plan to stop the spread of the invasive species. Gov. Mark Dayton outlined the steps to representatives from the congressional delegation and a half-a-dozen federal and state agencies.
Dayton said there's no time to wait for a perfect answer.
"We don't want to just be willy-nilly," he said. "These are expensive undertakings, so it's a combination of getting the research and the facts together. And on the other hand, taking the initiative and see what works and what doesn't, especially if they're not adverse consequences."
Research is underway on technologies that might work to stop the carp, or divert them from one river into another. But there's no off-the-shelf gadget that would fit Minnesota's wide and fast-flowing rivers. Currently, many of the proposals under consideration don't have clear price tags.
The DNR's Steve Hirsch said when it comes to invasive species there is no silver bullet. But he says the Upper St. Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis gets pretty close. For10,000 years it has kept downstream fish from the Upper Mississippi.
"So this provides Minnesota, I think, a unique opportunity to stop Asian carp from getting into the Upper Mississippi River River watershed, perhaps permanently, but at least as close to permanently as human beings can imagine anyway."
The plan requests congressional action to give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority to close the St. Anthony Falls Lock, and Lock and Dam Number 1, if Asian carp are detected nearby. The Corps is authorized currently to close a lock only in an emergency related to river navigation.
Barges use those locks regularly, and the city of Minneapolis is concerned about possible economic losses if the lock is closed.
River advocacy groups say the legislation should be written carefully to require the lock closed if the DNR requests it.
Another item in the plan calls for Congress to pay for a feasibility study for making the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock a permanent fish barrier. The DNR stresses that this wouldn't require closing the lock permanently; it's theoretically possible to install an electric barrier that could operate when the lock opens for a barge.
The plan also calls for a study of deterrent barriers at the mouth of the St. Croix River, such as an acoustic-bubble barrier, which are designed to discourage the fish from swimming further up river.
Several people at the meeting stressed the importance of creating redundant barriers since no one barrier cam be fully effective.
Rep. Rick Hansen of South St. Paul said the state should ramp up educational efforts; he says anglers and boaters can be part of the first line of defense.
Many experts say it's probably impossible to stop Asian carp in their tracks; the intent is to slow down the invasion to give scientists time to discover ways to suppress the population, as they do now with sea lamprey.
Dayton said he will call another meeting next month for members of Minnesota's congressional delegation.