Last week brought welcome news that much of Minnesota’s congressional delegation has renewed its push for a federal bill to fight the aquatic invasion of Asian carp that threatens Minnesota’s $11.3-billion-a-year tourism industry.

But the bill’s dispiriting progress during the last Congress doesn’t inspire confidence about its prospects this session, either, especially with high-profile looming conflicts over budget cuts, the debt ceiling and cabinet appointees.

On Wednesday, influential state policymakers and conservation advocates will gather in St. Paul for Gov. Mark Dayton’s fourth Asian carp summit. It should be clear to attendees that they can’t bank on federal action any time soon to take one of the most potent steps possible to halt the carp here — closing the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock on the Mississippi River.

The congressional bill, which is championed by both of Minnesota’s senators and half its House delegation, would expedite the process to consider the downtown Minneapolis lock’s closure. It would also trigger closure if the carp are found at certain points downstream. (Federal authorization is needed because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the lock.)

It’s a solid piece of legislation, but its uncertain passage means that­ ­Minnesota needs a backup plan at the state level to accomplish the same thing as a federal lock closure — making this metro river landmark the region’s strongest bulwark against carp swimming upstream.

That’s why one of the Dayton summit’s top priorities on Wednesday should be identifying, then pursuing state alternatives to dramatically reduce the already limited barge and boat traffic through this segment of the Mississippi.

Each use of the lock is an opportunity for this voracious fish to catch a ride in the water that moves vessels from one part of the river to another. Once the carp are above the lock, the risk dramatically increases that they will invade rivers and lakes in the Mississippi’s vast watershed.

That would be a disaster for a state known as an angling mecca. It would also put at risk the 239,000 jobs in Minnesota dependent on tourism. Once established, this aggressive species vacuums up the food supply, leaving little but aquatic crumbs for native fish. In addition, the leaping ability of one type of Asian carp is a boating hazard. Retroactively eradicating the fish is not an option at this time.

The summit should give careful consideration to the needs of the small number of businesses still reliant on shipping products such as aggregate and scrap metal through the Upper St. Anthony lock. Compensating these firms for the economic loss of the lock could be a more cost-effective carp-fighting strategy than deterrent barriers the state is considering downstream. State officials with economic development expertise should take a lead role in reaching out to these firms and calculating costs vs. benefits.

Dayton and the state’s lawmakers are to be commended for their leadership on this critical economic and environmental issue. Invading carp have long moved faster than policymakers’ actions to stop them. Minnesota must make sure that doesn’t happen here.


An editorial of the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)