Minn. AG weighs next move on Asian carp

Bighead carp
In this Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006 file photo, a bighead carp, front, a species of the Asian carp, swims in a new exhibit that highlights plants and animals that eat or compete with Great Lakes native species, at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.
M. Spencer Green/Associated Press

Minnesota and four other states are discussing their next move after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit asking that government officials be ordered to place barriers in Chicago-area waterways to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

U.S. District Judge John Tharp said Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania could try a different legal argument, but for now he said Congress — not the courts — should take action.

Attorney General Lori Swanson said the dismissal is disappointing. She said she and the other attorneys general are discussing whether to re-file the lawsuit, appeal, or take a different route.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 because the states felt the threat of Asian carp in the Great Lakes should not get caught up in congressional gridlock, she said.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

"Once they get a breeding population, they take over, and that if they take over it would be a train wreck for the environment. It would be a train wreck for the economy. It would take this wonderful American natural resource, our Great Lakes, and really turn it upside down," Swanson said. "That's why we took action three years ago as we did and have been trying to battle this out in the courts — because we didn't feel that the federal government or Congress was doing enough to remedy the situation."

The judge acknowledged that Asian carp in the Great Lakes would be a major problem, so Swanson said she hopes Congress will take notice and act.

She said time is running out.

"Action has to happen one way or another. It would be a travesty in this country if Asian carp did take over the Great Lakes," she said.

The states want to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes because the fish could alter the ecosystem, hurting fishing and tourism. In Minnesota, Swanson said officials are worried that Asian carp in the Great Lakes could make it to inland waterways, damaging the state's $2.7 billion fishing industry.

They argued that the federal government should have to place dams or other structures in Chicago waterways to prevent carp from passing through. But Illinois officials said such action would damage the local economy and cause flooding.

Tugboat and barge operators applauded the judge's decision to dismiss the case.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

— Follow Elizabeth Dunbar on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/edunbarmpr