Bill seeks to halt carp invasion at Minneapolis

Legislation would include Minnesota waters in federal plan to stop carp spread.

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St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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In a long-awaited step considered critical for protecting Minnesota's northern lakes from the spread of Asian carp, members of the state's congressional delegation introduced a bill Tuesday that could close the lock and dam at St. Anthony Falls if the invasive fish are found north of Hastings.

The Upper Mississippi Conservation and River Protection (CARP) Act would also let Minnesota and other Midwestern states tap into a $50 million federal fund for controlling the spread of Asian carp. The bill would require the federal government to include all rivers north of Illinois in its national carp strategy, instead of limiting it to the Great Lakes.

"We are focusing on what we can do federally -- get this lock closed and attempt to make sure that the funding is not just about the Great Lakes," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who introduced the bill along with fellow Minnesota Democrats Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. Tim Walz, as well as Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn.

"I'm proud that we've come together as a congressional delegation to take decisive action," said Ellison, who has taken the lead on the issue in the U.S. House.

Closing one of the lock-and-dam barriers along the Mississippi is considered the best strategy for stopping the movement of carp upriver. Yet it risks a fight with Minnesota's barge industry, which still uses the river to ship grain, sand and other heavy commodities.

"If we can't barge it, we have to truck it," said Bob Bieraugel, manager of environmental and land services for Aggregate Industries, a company that each year ships 400,000 tons of sand and gravel upstream to its plant above the falls in Minneapolis. "It will cost this business more, it will cost jobs. It will have an impact on highways.''

But Bieraugel said he recognizes that the business is small in contrast with Minnesota's multibillion-dollar recreational fishing industry, which will be at risk if Asian carp reach popular recreational lakes such as Lake Mille Lacs.

The lock at St. Anthony Falls, the northernmost on the Upper Mississippi, was chosen because it would have the least economic impact and would attract bipartisan support, Klobuchar said.

Disruptive species

Asian carp are voracious eaters, consuming 5 to 20 percent of their body weight each day. They feed on algae and other microscopic organisms at the base of the food chain, often disrupting aquatic ecosystems.

Now, the species are concentrated in Missouri and southern Illinois. But enormous efforts are underway to prevent their movement from the Mississippi into Lake Michigan, including the possibility of closing a shipping canal that is the only connection between the nation's two largest watersheds.

The proposed CARP Act would give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authority to close the Minneapolis lock and dam if an adult Asian carp is found above the dam at Hastings, or if juvenile carp are found above the dam in Alma, Wis.

So far that hasn't happened.

Last week a silver carp and a big-head carp were netted by commercial fishermen in the Mississippi River near Winona, but the invasive fish have been found sporadically in the river for years. At this point, the fish are not reproducing in this part of the river, state wildlife officials say. But the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and many environmental groups have been clamoring for state and federal governments to take action before they start. Though other ideas are in the works, creating a barrier to stop the carp's movement has been a priority.

"It's one of the key ways to prevent the spread," said Luke Skinner, director of the DNR's invasive species program. "It was an actual barrier for thousands of years."

The Legislature is also considering $13 million for electric fish barriers farther south, and last year it provided $16 million in bonding to rebuild the Coon Rapids Dam as a barrier.

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394

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