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Entries in Lake Michigan (40)

Wednesday
Feb052014

Asian Carp DNA Found in Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan now has joined Lake Erie as a fishery where Asian carp DNA has been discovered.

A single positive sample for silver carp was found in Sturgeon Bay this past summer, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which conducted the research along with the University of Notre Dame and The Nature Conservancy.

The water sample wasn’t screened for the presence of carp DNA until recently. It was collected originally in a search for evidence of Eurasian ruffe, another exotic fish species.

Is the finding cause for concern? That’s debatable. But it is reason enough to begin regular sampling of Sturgeon Bay.

“When we start talking about evidence for Asian carp in a system and the use of DNA, we talk about repeated sampling events and repeated detections,” said Chris Jerde, a Notre Dame scientist.

This latest discovery was from just one of 50 water samples taken in Sturgeon Bay and 282 total from the state’s portion of Lake Michigan.

But Jerde added that if Asian carp DNA were commonly spread by bird feces, boat hulls, and other means besides live fish, other positive samples would be noted from across the Great Lakes.

"We can talk about alternative pathways (for DNA to get into a water body), but we still have thousands of negative detections throughout the Great Lakes and we have one positive here."

DNR’s Bob Wakeman added, “It is what it is. We just need to clarify what it means.”

Despite the discovery of positive DNA in Lake Erie and even a couple of live carp over the years, no evidence has been found of a breeding population.

Monday
Jan272014

Indiana Moves to Reduce Pollution of Lake Michigan

Guide Dale Stroschein fights a Lake Michigan smallmouth. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Anglers, environmentalists and many others are pleased with a recent decision by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to reduce pollution of Lake Michigan and its fisheries.

A stricter IDEM permit requires BP’s Whiting oil refinery, just outside Chicago, to lower its mercury discharges from 23 parts per trillion to 8.75.

“We are pleased the agency responded to our recommendation by strengthening the mercury requirements and requiring BP to submit and update its stormwater plan,” said Lyman Welch of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Still, we are disappointed that IDEM did not go as far as we’d hoped to protect the waters of the Great Lakes.”

At BP, meanwhile, spokesman Scott Dean said that new technologies for pollution reduction are promising.

“BP is committed to protecting Lake Michigan and we are cautiously optimistic that our recent investment in new water treatment equipment will further reduce the Whiting Refinery mercury discharge,” Dean said. “Having said that, the mercury limit in the revised permit has decreased by more than half and the refinery needs to gain experience operating the new equipment before we will know if the refinery can successfully and consistently meet this revised limit.”

The company has almost completed a $3.8 billion expansion that will make it a top processor of heavy crude oil from Canada’s tar sand deposits. Following announcement of construction in 2007, IDEM allowed BP to increase its discharge of mercury, ammonia, and suspended solids.

Public outrage over that decision convinced BP to abide by stricter standards for ammonia and dissolved solids. But Indiana allowed an exemption for mercury as the company worked on technology to scrub its waste of that pollutant.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Friday
Dec272013

Electric Barrier Isn't Keeping Fish Out of Lake Michigan

 

You know that expensive electric barrier erected to keep carp out of the Great Lakes?

Uh, well, that isn’t working so well, according to a new report from the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s because small fish can ride in on the flow behind barges crossing the barrier.

In a new report, the Corps says the following:

"Initial findings indicate that vessel-induced residual flows can trap fish and transport them beyond the electrical barriers, and that certain barge configurations may impact barrier electric field strength. Additionally, the preliminary (sonar camera) findings identified the potential for small fish (between 2-4 inches in length) to pass the barrier array in large groups, or schools."

Crews dropped in a camera 10 minutes at a time to see what was happening. In 61 percent of the 72 samples, they saw entire schools of fish, “not believed to be Asian carp,” swimming through.

But not to worry:

"There is no evidence that Asian carp are bypassing the barriers. Nor is there any indication that Asian carp are in the vicinity of the barriers," states the report. "The closest adult Asian carp found in the Illinois River are about 55 miles from Lake Michigan, and no small Asian carp have been observed closer than 131 miles from Lake Michigan."

So . . . it’s okay that we are spending millions of dollars to maintain a barrier that doesn’t work because, well, it doesn’t have to work because the Corps says the invaders are far, far away and don’t pose a threat.

Gee, that makes me feel so much better. I have to wonder, though, if the Corps is as competent at estimating the threat as it is at defending against it. 

Monday
Dec232013

Prescription Drugs Contaminating Lake Michigan

Prescription drugs and other chemicals are contaminating Lake Michigan as far as two miles from the Milwaukee sewage discharges, according to researchers. That’s an unpleasant surprise for those who had theorized that water was diluting the pollutants to non-threatening levels.

With 14 chemicals found at levels of “medium or high ecological risk,” scientists don’t know what effect they are having on fish and other aquatic life. But they are concerned.

“You’re not going to see fish die-offs but subtle changes in how the fish eat and socialize that can have a big impact down the road,” said Dana Kolpin, a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. “With behavior changes and endocrine disruption, reproduction and survival problems may not rear their ugly head for generations.”

The chemicals’ ability to travel and remain at relatively high concentrations means that aquatic life is exposed, so there could be “some serious near-shore impacts,” added Rebecca Klaper, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and senior author of the study published in the journal Chemosphere.

Of the 27 chemicals found, the most prevalent were caffeine, metformin (an antidiabetic drug), sulfamethoxazole (antibiotic), and triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal compound found in soaps and other consumer products. The latter is known to be toxic to algae and can act as a hormone disruptor in fish.

The real problem, though, is the witch’s brew created by the contaminants blending together in the fishery. “It’s going to be hard to ease out which of these compounds may do harm,” Kolpin said.

Klaper added that the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District does a better job than other plants at removing many compounds. But its facilities are just not equipped to handle the volume.

“For example, we found quite a bit of caffeine in the lake, and they’re removing about 90 percent of the caffeine that comes in for treatment. They can’t remove everything.”

Capturing these pollutants is a challenge not just for Milwaukee’s treatment plants but for those across the country, according to Kevin Shafer, executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

“At the time wastewater treatment plants were developed, these compounds were just not an issue,” he said.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)

Monday
Oct212013

As Mussel Threat Moves West, Feds Sit Back and Watch

The federal government is doing a pitiful job of protecting our waters from invasions by exotic species. And I’m not talking about its reluctance to remove the manmade connection between the Mississippi River basin and Lake Michigan. Yeah, that’s a problem, but its failure is more all-encompassing.

During the 1980s, Asian carp escaped aquaculture facilities in the South, riding into the Mississippi and other rivers on flood waters. Within a decade, we knew that bighead and silver carp were crowding out native species, with the latter also a serious threat to recreational boaters because of its tendency to go airborne when frightened.

Yet, incredibly, the silver carp was not listed as an injurious species under the federal Lacey Act until 2007 and the bighead carp until 2011.

With the zebra mussel, the feds were a little more prompt. After it was discovered in Lake St. Clair in 1988, it was listed in 1991.

But the quagga, identified as a separate species about that same time, still is not.

What’s the big deal?  Well, invasive species don’t respect boundaries, and, under the Lacey Act, those who transport injurious species across state lines can be both fined and jailed for misdemeanors or felonies. Felony trafficking violations are punishable by a maximum of fine of $20,000, five years in prison, or both, and property used to aid the offense may be subject to forfeiture.

Had the weight of that law been hanging over his head, whoever carried quagga mussels across the Rockies in 2007 might have been a little more conscientious about cleaning his boat and trailer before beginning the journey to Lake Mead.

And if listing of both species had been combined with a more aggressive publicity and enforcement campaign by the feds, the two invaders might not now be threatening waters all over the West.

Already in the East, they’ve crowded out native species, disrupted food webs, fouled recreational beaches, and cost taxpayers billions of dollars in maintenance costs because of their tendency to clog water intake and delivery pipes and infest hydropower infrastructures.

“The little critters are a serious threat to the United States,” said Larry Dalton, recently retired invasive species coordinator for Utah, where mussels already have forced $15 million in repairs to water-delivery systems.

In a 2010 report, the Western Regional Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species (WRP) estimated that zebra mussels already had been responsible for $94,474,000 in direct and indirect costs for Idaho.

And the Pew Charitable Trusts warned, “Their rapid spread threatens water supplies and energy systems in the West, a region heavily dependent upon hydropower and often gripped by drought. In response, state officials have stepped up boat inspections and cleaning efforts . . .”

Right now, western states are trying to protect their waters from quaggas with a patchwork of rules and regulations. But anecdotal evidence suggests the piecemeal strategy isn’t effective, especially as a deterrent.

For example, a trucker was stopped last fall as he entered Washington State, towing a boat that with about 100 zebra mussels attached. The offender had been caught doing the same thing in 2010. And during questioning, he said that he also had been detained in another state with a contaminated boat.

So why isn’t the quagga mussel listed under the Lacey Act? You’ll have to ask the bureaucrats at the U.S.  Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) about that and why Pew estimates the agency could take as long as 10 years to take action.

“It basically takes an act of God to put something on the injurious wildlife list,” said Leah Elwell, WRP coordinator.

Or an act of Congress. That’s why Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada is sponsoring H.R. 1823, the Protecting Lakes from Quaggas Act of 2013.

And that’s why the Western Governors’ Association is supporting it.

“This (the act) would invest federal and state authorities with an important tool for containing and eradicating quagga mussels by providing for increased inspections of boats cross state lines,” they said.

The act makes sense, of course, and thus should pass with bipartisan support. But that doesn’t mean it will.

Nor would its passage ensure that federal officials would vigorously prosecute offenders.

If past performance is an indication of future actions, the feds will continue to sit back and watch as quagga and zebra mussels spread throughout the West, as they have in the East.