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Oberstar ‘hooks’ Asian carp at House hearing — and doesn’t let go


WASHINGTON, D.C. — There they sat, two dead Asian carp on a cart not unlike the ones used in schools to transport televisions from class to class, getting called names by the few members on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment who braved the snow today to show up to a hearing.

If one can berate a fish, Rep. Jim Oberstar did it — decrying the Asian carp as treacherous, dangerous, frightening and, perhaps most insulting of all, ugly. They are certainly that — with eyes below their mouths.

“Don’t worry, I’m not hurting their feelings,” Oberstar joked, though arguing that there must be a federal response to the problem of Asian carp, before again saying the carp are “a treacherous, dangerous species that we cannot allow to enter the lakes.”

The worry is that the voracious eaters, which feed on plankton, would mow through the food that such native species as trout and whitefish need to live. That, in turn, would compromise the folks who depend on catching the fish for their livelihood.

There’s also an auxiliary concern that the 3-foot-long, 100-pound fish like to jump out of the water and — quite frequently — will smack their bodies into an unlucky fisherman’s face. Fishing, you see, is not supposed to be a contact sport.

“Certainly with our ingenuity and know-how, we ought to be able to outsmart this fish,” said Republican Thomas Petri of Wisconsin.

Asian carp, which found the mouth of the Mississippi River in the 1970s, now sit on the precipice of entering Lake Michigan, and some fear they may already have done so. Michigan’s attorney general, backed by officials in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ontario and basically everywhere not Illinois, filed suit to close the Chicago river locks to stop the fish from crossing them and entering the Great Lakes — a request the Supreme Court refused to immediately grant.

The Obama Administration has been reluctant to close the locks but met on Monday with Great Lakes region officials on what to do about the fiendish fishes. The last line of defense — which may already have been breached — is an Army Corps of Engineers-run electronic barrier that stops fish progression exactly how you think it does.

But never mind the fish in the water — what about the ones stinking up the Rayburn House Office Building?

“The carp in the hearing are courtesy of witness Dr. Michael Hansen of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission,” said committee spokesman Jim Berard.

Hansen, in addition to serving on the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, is a professor of fisheries at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. His faculty profile picture shows him sitting outdoors in a snowbound winterscape, puffing on a cigar and holding an open bottle of what looks to me like whiskey. No cup.

And today he came to Congress bearing presents.