Governor Jennifer Granholm and Attorney General Mike Cox don't like each other much, but they have a few things in common. Both came out of nowhere to be elected Michigan attorney general, and soon started thinking about running for governor.
And both think the federal government isn't doing nearly enough to stop Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes.
Yesterday, the White House held what was billed as an Asian carp summit, to figure out how to deal with these fish, they've been migrating north ever since they accidentally got into the Mississippi River in Arkansas, about twenty years ago.
It would be hard to exaggerate their potential threat to the Great Lakes. There are two varieties. The bighead carp is an ugly fish that can get up to four feet long and weigh a hundred pounds. The silver carp are slightly smaller, but have a distressing habit of jumping. They have knocked boaters unconscious and broken bones. Worse, these fish multiply rapidly, and suck up most of the plankton other fish need to survive.
Experts differ on how quickly they could establish themselves in the Great Lakes. But it is clear that if they do, it could wipe out the fishing industry, which is worth something like $7 billion a year.
We can't take chances, in other words. Now, we should have seen this coming. For years, Asian carp have been working their way north. But now, silver carp DNA has been found in Lake Michigan near Chicago, though no fish themselves have been found yet.
Michigan officials wanted a series of artificial locks connecting the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to Lake Michigan closed, permanently. Illinois and Chicago officials oppose this, saying that would hurt their economy. President Obama is from Illinois, and he sided with them. Ever since, Attorney General Cox, a Republican, has been bashing the President. Governor Granholm has to be far more circumspect about this, but it is plain she disagrees too. However, it is worth noting that the U.S. Supreme Court, which can hardly be accused of doing Obama's bidding, also refused to close the locks.
Yesterday, the federal government did propose a $78 million plan to try and keep the carp out. This would not in fact be new money, but money intended to improve the lakes in other ways. The government intends to build new barriers to try and stop the fish.
They also intend to improve efforts to search for the carp. While it seems likely that some fish have strayed into Lake Michigan, experts say it would take several hundred to establish a permanent breeding population. So it may still be possible to stop them.
I am by no means an expert in aquatic biology, but I do know something about politics and people, and here's what I think.
Our only hope to save the lakes ecology from being destroyed by these creatures is eternal vigilance; we need to forget political grandstanding and stop looking for one-step solutions.
We need to fund and put in place a host of federal, state and regional measures designed to keep out the carp. That is, unless you would rather explain to your grandchildren over one more carp dinner that there were once perch and walleye in the Great Lakes too.