DETROIT — When the producers of PBS series “Constitution USA” were fishing for an expert to help them with the legal issues snarled around the invasion of Asian carp, they reeled in Wayne State University Law School Associate Professor of Law Noah Hall.
“Pete Sagal (of NPR’s ‘Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!’ fame) is the show’s host,” Hall said. “His field producer tracked me down because he had heard about the Asian carp issue and my involvement and commentary in the media. The producer met me in Michigan, and I gave him some background on the issue. A few months later, the crew invited me to travel with them to Peoria, Ill., to film the segment on the Illinois River with the Asian carp jumping all around — much better film footage than interviewing me in front of a bookshelf or something like that.”
So Hall, an expert on environmental and water law who speaks and publishes widely on related topics, including those surrounding Asian carp, set sail with a film crew aboard an Illinois Natural History Survey boat last fall on the Illinois River, where Asian carp have “taken over,” he said, and discussed the invasive fish — which can grow to 100 pounds and four feet long — amid a background of large, leaping carp.
The fish jump several feet into the air when motorboats vibrate the water, and in infested areas like the Illinois River, the carp endanger recreational boaters and also take over the ecosystem, gobbling all available food and starving out native fish species.
The episode featuring Hall, the fourth and final one in the “Constitution USA” series, will air at 9 p.m. May 28. It won’t be the first time Hall has been featured on PBS. He was interviewed by Jim Lehrer on PBS “Newshour” a few years ago about the infamous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Constitution USA” features Sagal traveling across the country on a Harley exploring the meaning of the Constitution, historical events that have defined it and some of today’s major Constitutional debates.
One of those debates is hampering control of the carp infestation, which began in the South, where the fish were imported to clean catfish ponds and control weeds. Flooding of the ponds introduced them to the Mississippi River. The voracious fish made their way up the Mississippi over a span of 10 years, and now are on the brink of entering the Great Lakes via Chicago area waterways that connect to Lake Michigan.
“If the Asian carp get into the Great Lakes, it will be an ecological disaster caused by a failure of Constitutional federalism,” wrote Hall in his Great Lakes Law blog. “The states cannot solve this problem on their own. They need the federal government’s help to keep the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes through the many connecting interstate waters. But so far, all three branches of the federal government aren’t doing the job.
“While politicians and legal scholars debate the role of federal versus state control in environmental protection, everyone agrees that the federal government must resolve disputes between states, protect interstate resources and uphold its duties under treaties with foreign governments. But with the Asian carp approaching the Great Lakes, all three branches of the federal government have failed miserably in upholding their Constitutional duties. The Supreme Court has refused to hear the dispute brought by the Great Lakes states. Legislation to solve the problem has gone nowhere in Congress. And President Obama has ignored our obligation to Canada under the Boundary Water Treaty and has punted the issue to the Army Corps and other bureaucrats.”
He added that anyone who doesn’t think Asian carp pose a crisis should spend a little time on a boat in the Illinois River — something PBS viewers will see on May 28.