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Asian carp policy: Is it keeping Obama and Romney up at night?

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This summer, the Illinois Department of Commerce provided $2 million toward building a new carp processing plant in Grafton, Ill., which is expected to employ 39 people and provide new opportunities for fishermen. That’s part of at least $10 million in state investments into the carp fishery in the past two years.

“We want to move these fish out of the river – and we’re going to attract people that have large boats and want to go out and work hard and bring in a lot of weight,” Ben Allen, owner of American Heartland Fish, told Michigan Public Radio this week. With the state’s help, Mr. Allen struck a deal with Chinese investors to ship tons of “wild-caught upper Mississippi carp” to Chinese food markets, where fresh, healthy carp are popular but difficult to find.

Kirby Marsden, former president of the Illinois Commercial Fishermen’s Association, told The New York Times last year that the US carp harvest could soar to 100 million pounds annually – a catch that could create as many as 200 jobs.

Some ecologists aren’t keen on the fishery idea, saying it is in effect an abdication to the invasion, which is expected to deplete native fish species, and could entrench the carp not only in US waters, but also in local business, tradition, and culture.

But others see efforts to boost the carp fishery idea as a partial relief valve for the pressure building on Washington to address the potentially devastating impact of voracious Asian carp on native fish.

While Congress has spent more than $1 billion since 2009 on a Great Lakes restoration plan championed by Obama, some have criticized the president for not committing to a proposal to physically block the Mississippi River from the Great Lakes at several points near Chicago.

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