ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
The White House has given John Goss a really tough job. In a recent interview, Goss explained, quote, I'm leading the effort to fight the spread of an overeating, flying 100-pound fish that has the capacity to take over the biggest body of freshwater in the United States.
SIEGEL: The fish is the Asian carp. And Goss has been named Asian carp director, but everyone calls him the carp czar. According to Goss, the Asian carp was first raised in the U.S. in southern fish farms, but flooding allowed it to move into the Mississippi and its tributaries.
The Asian carp has since worked its way north to the outskirts of Chicago. And experts worry that if it moves into the Great Lakes, the carp could have a devastating effect.
Carp czar John Goss has a three-part strategy to make sure that doesn't happen.
Mr. JOHN GOSS (Chairman, Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee): That includes removal of carp from the Chicago area; strengthening the electric fish barrier system, also on the south side of Chicago; and a number of research projects into long-term solutions, hopefully some biological controls.
SIEGEL: Yeah, I'd like to ask you about some of those. One that's talked about is developing some sort of poison that would work on Asian carp but do no harm to other species, including our own, I assume. Is that realistic or is that many years off?
Mr. GOSS: It could be years off. But it also is very possible, and I believe that it's one of the best hopes that we have, that we can isolate something that would affect carp and not be a problem for humans and not adversely affect other fish.
SIEGEL: A toxin or some kind of genetic engineering? What would you be talking about in that area?
Mr. GOSS: Could be in either direction, possibly something in their reproductive system, possibly something that would change their digestive system. Or it could, in fact, be a toxin that was only directed at carp.
SIEGEL: I've also seen mention made of sonic barriers that might be used as opposed to physical or electric barriers. Are the carp turned off by sound?
Mr. GOSS: Yes. In fact, I witnessed the test with some high pressure sound waves and shockwaves recently. And it's definitely a deterrent. The carp could be turned back or possibly herded to areas where they could be rounded up.
SIEGEL: As the carp czar, will you have the authority to override local agencies? For example, we've heard that over the years, businesses in Chicago have not been all that keen on blocking off the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in order to stop the Asian carp coming through - it could do damage to business. Do you have the right to say no?
Mr. GOSS: Not directly. But, you know, I am reporting to an office in White House and there are studies to look at all the options. Closing the canal is one of the options that are included in the study, and certainly it will be fully evaluated as one possibility.
SIEGEL: But, you know, the governor of Ohio recently told me that he regards the potential threat posed by the Asian carp as a possibly greater environmental threat than the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for what it could do to the inland waterways.
Is there some principle akin to eminent domain or, you know, some emergency function by which Washington could say there's a danger approaching the Great Lakes, we're going to step in and we're going to tell you what to do?
Mr. GOSS: Yes, there are some emergency authorities. The Corps of Engineers has emergency authority over the Chicago waterways. Also, I think, we could have determinations that these are significant threats, enough to invoke some other emergency powers in other agencies.
But I believe that we have containment with the electric barriers. We're keeping them out of the Great Lakes with the barriers and with this aggressive fishing and monitoring on both sides of the barrier. And while we go ahead and evaluate all of the options for putting a permanent separation for invasive species moving from the lakes to the rivers, or the rivers to the lakes.
SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Goss, thank you very much for talking with us about the Asian carp.
Mr. GOSS: Thank you so much.
SIEGEL: That's John Goss, speaking to us from Indianapolis. He is the White House Asian carp director. Everyone calls him the carp czar.