Minnesota Ways and Means Committee eliminates funding for Asian carp barrier
The Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday eliminated funding for the rehabilitation of the Coon Rapids dam on the Mississippi River, which is seen as a crucial barrier to stop the spread of invasive Asian carp.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials say the dam is currently the best option for stopping the northward spread of Asian carp to inland waters in Minnesota. The $16 million improvements, which were taken out of a bonding bill (HF 959), would repair the dam's gates, raise its height and improve its foundation.
Without the needed improvements to the dam, there is no physical barrier between Asian carp in the lower Mississippi and the lakes country of central Minnesota.
"This is an extremely serious problem," said Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "The Coon Rapids dam is our current best option against Asian carp for inland waters of this state. If we don't act today – with funding that legislative committees had already recommended – we could lose the window of opportunity to stop this invasive fish that is wreaking havoc in other states."
Conservation groups, lake associations and local units of government had already lined up in support of the funding. The Ways and Means Committee removed the funding without public input, and without consulting the DNR.
Imported to the southern United States in the 1970s, Asian carp eat huge amounts of plankton and other microscopic organisms, upsetting the food chain and hurting native fish and mussels. They are widespread in Mississippi and Illinois rivers in the central U.S. and individual specimens have been found in the Minnesota waters of the Mississippi and St. Croix. A 27-pound bighead carp, a species of Asian carp, was caught by a commercial fisherman in the St. Croix River on April 18.
There is no evidence Asian carp are reproducing in Minnesota waters of the Mississippi or St. Croix Rivers, but Minnesota DNR officials are very concerned that without improvements to the Coon Rapids dam and other barriers, the fish would move upstream and eventually establish breeding populations.