The federal lawsuit, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, comes less than a month after a 20-pound Asian carp was found near the Lake Michigan shoreline, confirming fears that the species has moved past electric barriers meant to keep it out of the Great Lakes.
The lawsuit seeks an order to close Chicago shipping locks that provide a century-old pathway to the Great Lakes via the Mississippi River basin. The lawsuit was filed by Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
"President Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers have failed to fight Asian carp aggressively," Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said in a statement. "Asian carp will kill jobs and ruin our way of life. We cannot afford more bureaucratic delays -- emergency action must be taken to protect the Great Lakes."
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen added, "The time for action is now."
The invasion of Asian carp has been feared for years in the Great Lakes, where scientists believe that the monster fish -- which can grow to 4 feet and 100 pounds -- could starve out sports fish and destroy the region's $7 billion fishing industry.
Asian carp were originally introduced to clean catfish ponds in the South and in experiments to filter sewage. But they escaped during floods in the 1990s and headed into adjoining rivers. Eventually, they reached the tributaries of the Mississippi River system.
They have proved their destructive abilities there for years, damaging both commercial fishing and recreational water activities. Nothing naturally connects the Mississippi River basin to the Great Lakes, but a network of canals was designed in the late 1800s to reverse the flow of the Chicago River to keep waste from flowing into Lake Michigan.
Currently, the Asian carp are being held back from the Great Lakes by two electric barriers designed by the Army Corps of Engineers. These emit pulses to discourage the fish and shock them with an electrical jolt if they attempt to swim through.
But the Asian carp caught last month in a waterway about six miles from Lake Michigan has renewed fears that the system doesn't provide a long-term solution.
The lawsuit asks the court to force the corps and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago to close several lakeside navigation locks except as needed to protect public health and safety.
It also asks for more aggressive efforts to block any Asian carp that breach the electrical barrier, such as the use of nets, fish poison and physical barriers. And it asks the corps to speed up a feasibility study looking at ways to again permanently separate the Great Lakes Basin from the Mississippi River.
Federal lawmakers are pushing for legislation that would force the corps to hurry its study along.
Earlier this year, several Great Lakes states asked the U.S. Supreme Court to address the threat of Asian carp, but the court declined to take up the case based on procedural issues.