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New evidence of destructive Asian carp even closer to Great Lakes demands action

Time is running out in the effort to prevent the destructive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

The carp is an invasive species. It causes quite a stir with its ability to leap into the air, startling boaters and anglers. That’s nothing compared to the harm it causes to the habitat of native fish.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it has found bighead or silver carp DNA throughout the Chicago waterway system. As News reporter Jerry Zremski wrote, this has long been seen as the most likely gateway for entry to the Great Lakes.

Some of that DNA was found near a lock in the Chicago River, less than one city block from Lake Michigan. Although the presence of DNA does not verify the presence of live Asian carp, it is enough to be of concern.

The carp is a major threat to the burgeoning blue economy of the Great Lakes, with its $7 billion commercial fishing industry. Lake Erie’s blue economy includes some of the best fishing around, especially walleye at the western end.

Lake Erie’s warm and shallow waters would offer a generous food supply to the invaders. The threat needs to be taken seriously.

At least Congress is listening.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, both D-N.Y., have been strong advocates of federal action.

They helped push through a new funding formula in a compromise water resources bill. Part of the bill included provisions designed to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes and destroying the fishing industry.

Given the high environmental and economic stakes involved, drastic measures may be called for. Environmental organizations such as the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper are urging creation of a hydrologic separation of the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes.

That must be explored, but we can’t just stand by while that controversial plan is being hashed out. Work should begin now on some smaller steps, including a new channel in a key lock in the Chicago River that could divert invasive species from the lakes, increased water controls at that lock and research to see if reconfiguring other locks in the river would help prevent Asian carp from moving into the lake.

Much work has gone into cleaning up the lakes. That effort can’t be allowed to be destroyed by an invasive species when there are ways to keep it out.