News (AP) - American Indian tribe wants to join Asian carp lawsuit

By John Flesher

AP Environmental Writer

TRAVERSE CITY (AP) -- An American Indian tribe based in northern Michigan requested permission Tuesday to join a lawsuit demanding stronger action to prevent Asian carp from infesting the Great Lakes.

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians said it fears that five states suing the federal government and Chicago officials over the carp issue will not devote enough attention to the tribe's interests -- particularly fishing rights provided under an 1836 treaty.

In a brief filed in U.S. District Court for northern Illinois, the tribe contended those rights are "paramount" to the economic needs of Chicago-area businesses that favor continued operation of navigational locks and gates through which the carp could gain access to the lakes.

A lawsuit filed by Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania accuses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago of creating a public nuisance by refusing to close the locks and gates. A hearing on the suit resumes Sept. 7.

The states want Judge Robert M. Dow Jr. to issue a preliminary order to shutter the locks and take other steps to keep the carp out. The Grand Traverse tribe's motion asks to intervene on the states' side -- first as an observer, and later as a full participant if the case advances beyond the preliminary injunction stage.

"Historically, fishing played a central role in the spiritual and cultural framework of Native American life," the tribe said in a brief filed by attorney Bill Rastetter of Traverse City and Matthew Fletcher, a Michigan State University law professor. "Not only are the Great Lakes fish culturally important to the tribes, these communities depend upon fisheries resources for their livelihoods."

Bighead and silver carp, both Asian varieties, have been migrating up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Biologists fear if the ravenous fish get into the lakes, they could decimate a $7 billion-a-year fishing industry by gobbling plankton, a key link in the food chain that supports prized species such as salmon and walleye.

DNA from Asian carp has been detected past an electronic barrier designed to prevent them from reaching Lake Michigan through Chicago waterways. A single 20-pound carp was found in one of the waterways in June, the first seen above the barrier system, although scientists say it's unclear whether the fish got there by eluding the devices or by some other means.

The Obama administration, the state of Illinois and business groups there say closing the shipping infrastructure would damage the area economy with no guarantee of keeping the carp out of the lakes.

Published: Thu, Sep 2, 2010