MARSHALL - Asian carp have long had the attention of the federal government, but now, hopes U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the state will be on the receiving end of some federal monies that can help keep the invasive species out of southern Minnesota lakes and rivers.
Klobuchar, in Marshall on Tuesday to visit representatives of local veterans organizations, said in an interview with the Independent prior to that meeting that bipartisan work is under way that could potentially boost current pro-active efforts to battle carp in this region.
Klobuchar, a Democrat, is sponsoring a bill with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in the U.S. Senate that would require the immediate closure of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock if Asian carp are found there. The bipartisan bill, led by Democrat Rep. Keith Ellison in the House and cosponsored by Reps. Democrat Tim Walz and Republican Erik Paulsen, would also direct federal agencies to partner with Minnesota on efforts to root out infestations of Asian carp in Minnesota waters. She said the lock is seldom used and shutting it down would go a long way in the battle against carp in northern Minnesota.
But another part of the bill, she said, would benefit southwest Minnesota in that it would produce federal funding that would go toward carp issues for rivers, including the Minnesota. Tributaries of the Minnesota River include the Lac qui Parle, Chippewa, Redwood and Yellow Medicine rivers.
"(At the federal level) we're looking at locks, we've got the Army Corps (of Engineers), but the state is going to look at bubble barriers and other things that have been proven to work in other areas - electronic barriers," she said. "The idea is to figure out a way to stop these fish in Iowa, basically. We need to cover some of our rivers as well, including ones in the Marshall area."
"It's been helpful the last few years that Democrat and Republican legislators in this state have come together with the governor to start looking at this on a state basis, as well as what we're doing on the federal level," Klobuchar added.
Two bighead carp were caught in East Okoboji Lake in northern Iowa last August, and as recently as this past March, commercial fishermen caught 82 bighead carp and 55 silver carp in that area. A silver carp was also caught in Spirit Lake, just below the Minnesota/Iowa border. Some waters in Jackson and Nobles counties have already been designated as infested waters.
Imported from China in the 1970s to control plankton in aquaculture ponds, Asian carp have steadily made their way north up the Mississippi River from the southern United States. Not only can they jump up to 10 feet out of the water, they eat a massive amount of plankton, thereby posing an immediate threat to a lake or river's ecosystem. They can weigh up to 100 pounds and can consume about 40 percent of their body weight on a daily basis.
"One hope is, through research, you can figure out a way to feed them stuff that will make them die that wouldn't hurt other fish," Klobuchar said.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been working to slow the spread of the fish since the early 2000s. Gov. Mark Dayton's action plan released last fall includes seven points of action to fight Asian carp. That plan includes working with federal agencies to limit the spread of carp in Minnesota and its border waters, closing the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and developing an ad hoc Asian Carp Task Force, which started up in November 2011.
Wary of pending cuts, Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the U.S. Senate is working hard to keep a safety net in place in the 2012 Farm Bill with federally-subsidized crop insurance and a program that will look at multi-year losses. The bipartisan legislation ends direct payments to farmers and replaces them with more generous federal crop insurance subsidies. Direct payments can amount to up to $5 billion per year for farms regardless of how much they plant or earn.
"We also have kept in conservation programs, nutrition in school lunches," Klobuchar said.
The 2012 Farm Bill in April passed the Senate Agriculture Committee with a bipartisan vote of 16-5. The bill included four Klobuchar amendments, including amendments to help beginning farmers and ranchers gain better access to the crop insurance program as well as land for grazing cattle. It also includes Klobuchar's amendment requiring a feasibility study for insuring swine producers against catastrophic losses.
The Farm Bill also authorizes federal nutrition programs like food stamps that will see a $4 billion cut during the next decade in the Senate bill. The U.S. House has said it wants even deeper cuts in the food stamp program in its Farm Bill.