Keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes

Apr 11, 2017 Issues: Environment

It’s a beautiful morning in northern Michigan, the kind that promises a sunny day with a nice breeze. You remember there are usually sailboats or fishing boats out at this time, but you don’t see any today. You wander around the town’s marina and notice a plethora of empty slips. Those weren’t here a few years ago. The hut where fishing tours are based has a big closed sign on it.

You’ve been coming to this town every few years since you were a kid, and this time the feeling is different. The Asian carp appeared a few years ago, and they’ve quickly taken over the lake. Fishing tours don’t run anymore, since there are few other species of fish left. Jet Skis can’t be rented, because it’s too dangerous. Many folks are even selling their boats or taking them to lakes further inland, where the carp haven’t yet infiltrated. Even the beaches are less full; people don’t like coming here to swim anymore.

This isn’t our reality, but it could be.

The Great Lakes are Michigan’s most valuable natural resource, and are fundamental to the state’s identity and quality of life. But if we don’t protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp, enjoying the lakes could be a thing of the past. The 800,000 jobs and the $4 billion in commercial and sport fishery industry supported by the lakes also will become only a memory.

Last month, President Trump made the shortsighted recommendation of gutting funding for the incredibly successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) in his budget request to Congress. Since its launch in 2010, the GLRI has invested $2.2 billion in the region, implementing 3,400 restoration projects and successfully de-listing six “areas of concern.” In my congressional district, the GLRI recently invested $15 million in cleaning up the Clinton River watershed.

But what’s more, the GLRI has been the front line of defense against Asian carp invading Lake Michigan and the surrounding lakes and waterways. Right now, the GLRI provides funding to the Army Corps of Engineers to build and maintain both lock and dam systems, and electric barriers, along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

Without this funding, it’s likely that Asian carp could soon make their way into Lake Michigan, beginning their immediate devastation of the ecosystem. As an invasive species, Asian carp are predatory, and would starve out native fish populations by out-competing other fish for food and space. They would also lower the water quality by killing off sensitive organisms, like native freshwater mussels, that are imperative for water filtration. Furthermore, one type of Asian carp, the Silver carp, are known for jumping out of the water at high speeds which would put those on boats and engaging in watersports at risk of being seriously hurt.

This year, like every year since 2010, I co-led a bipartisan letter to support $300 million for the GLRI. Nearly every Michigan member of Congress, and many from the surrounding Great Lakes states, signed on. The Trump administration has argued that such programs should only be the responsibility of individual states. But Michigan alone cannot fight the spread of Asian carp or clean up areas damaged by pollution. The interconnected nature of the Great Lakes waterways necessitates national coordination and support.

It’s up to Congress to provide the actual funding. Be assured that I will continue to fight so my colleagues in Congress understand, and fund, this critical program.

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, represents Michigan’s 9th District.

To read the original op-ed, click here.