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Minnesota officials says the time is here for Minnesota to stop Asian carp

Asian carp swim in an exhibit at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. AP Photo/M. Spencer Geen, File

ST. PAUL -- Fast-growing and destructive Asian carp could take over Minnesota streams and lakes if the federal government does not act soon, a U.S. senator, the state attorney general and conservationists warn.

Only the small part of Minnesota drained by the north-flowing Red River would not face a direct carp attack, said Luke Skinner, who supervises the state Department of Natural Resource's invasive species program.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, both Democrats, could offer no specific hope that federal help is on the way.

Swanson said "everybody knows" about the problem, but federal authorities are doing little to fight the carp. "We don't want Minnesota to become the land of 10,000 Asian carp-infested lakes."

"Decisive action is critical," added Dave Zentner of Duluth, a former national Izaak Walton League president.

While Zentner said he supports lawsuits and legislation to fight the carp, he said state and federal authorities need to take a stronger approach in dealing with such threats. He recalled that on a 1986 trip to Iceland, authorities required proof that waders and other clothing and equipment he would wear while fishing were not contaminated.

A week ago, Swanson joined four other states in a federal court action demanding that the connection between a Chicago canal and Lake Michigan be closed to fish to prevent the carp from invading the Great Lakes, including Lake Superior, which has 140 miles of Minnesota shoreline. Swanson said she expects an initial court hearing within weeks.

Some money is available to fight the carp's advance, and senators last month passed a bill to prohibit transporting the fish, but Klobuchar said more significant carp-fighting legislation is meeting resistance.

Asian carp have been found in the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota, although not in large numbers, and one was found near Lake Michigan, beyond a Chicago barrier that was supposed to stop them.

The carp were imported from China in the 1970s to help clean up water, but they escaped from what were supposed to be confined areas and are advancing up the Mississippi and its tributaries.

Asian carp eat 40 percent of their body weight a day, and weigh up to 100 pounds. Their huge appetites mean food is not available for native species.

The silver Asian carp became famous in videos showing them leap up to 10 feet out of the water, at times hitting boaters.

"They are a major threat to our way of life in Minnesota," Klobuchar said of Asian carp.

Swanson said that the carp threatens Minnesota's $2.7 billion annual fishing industry. Klobuchar said that $50 million is spent on worms and other bait each year.

It is not just anglers who would be hurt by Asian carp, Swanson said. Because many small fish would disappear, game that depends on those fish would suffer, she said, so hunters also would be affected.

Skinner said efforts must be made to prevent the fish from getting in Minnesota waters because it would be much more difficult to get rid of them once they establish themselves.

Nearly all Minnesota watersheds flow into the Mississippi or Superior, Skinner said, making those tributaries susceptible to an invasion.

Swanson said the Great Lakes danger comes because Chicago-area shipping interests hold enough political power to prevent plugging an opening between Lake Michigan and Chicago waterways that do not naturally join with the Great Lakes.

Klobuchar said she has not spoken to President Barack Obama, who comes from the Chicago area, about the carp problem but has talked to some of his Cabinet officials and she said the Obama administration knows the feeling of Great Lakes members of Congress about the need to fight carp.