MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Despite an unresolved dispute over Asian carp, states that surround the Great Lakes hope to develop a common strategy for battling invasive species during a meeting of governors and other top officials that began Friday.
The sometimes contentious issue is among several up for discussion during a weekend gathering of the Council of Great Lakes Governors on this Lake Huron resort island. From New York to Minnesota, there’s broad agreement that invasive species — particularly zebra and quagga mussels — have wreaked havoc on the lakes’ ecosystems and the regional economy. But the states have largely gone their own way in dealing with them.
“We’re talking about the largest body of fresh water in the world,” said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the council’s co-chairman along with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. “It is important that we work hard to protect it.”
In addition to Snyder and Quinn, governors expected to attend the meeting included Mike Pence of Indiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Ohio sent Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. Environmental regulators and other officials from Minnesota, Pennsylvania and New York were on hand, along with Premier Kathleen Wynne of the Canadian province of Ontario and provincial officials from Quebec.
The council was established three decades ago during another Mackinac Island gathering inspired largely by concern that Great Lakes water might be piped or shipped to arid regions. Off-and-on negotiations eventually produced a compact prohibiting most water diversions.
Snyder, convening the first gathering of the governors since they signed the compact in 2005, said he hoped they could unite on invasive species policy as well but acknowledged differences remain.
Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit against Illinois over a Chicago-area network of canals and rivers that could provide a pathway to Lake Michigan for Asian carp. The huge, voracious fish have infested the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Scientists say if they reach the Great Lakes, the carp could damage the $7 billion fishing industry by crowding out native species.
Illinois officials, backed by the federal government, contend an electric barrier is keeping the carp at bay. The other states are pushing for separation of the Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds at Chicago.
Snyder told reporters no public negotiations were planned on the matter, although he and Quinn might discuss it privately. The meeting is designed to seek a strategy on which all the states can agree even if some issues remain unresolved, he said.
“This is a common-ground opportunity … to say where can we advance and where can we show progress,” Snyder said.
Marc Miller, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said his state had arranged for commercial fishermen to harvest 700 tons of Asian carp on the Illinois River in recent years.
“That takes the pressure off the electric barrier and buys all of us some time in finding a long-term solution,” which could include some type of watershed separation, he said.
The states also will look for agreement on the best way to regulate ballast water dumped by oceangoing cargo ships, the primary vehicle by which aquatic invasive species have reached the Great Lakes.
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