Federal legislation that would expedite action on a battle plan to stop the spread of Asian carp and other invasive species in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed highlights the urgency of a crisis that could threaten Ohio’s $1.1 annual billion sport fishery and $10 billion tourism industry, The Nature Conservancy said.
“There’s evidence that Asian carp already have found their way into the Great Lakes in small numbers, but effective controls could still prevent an ecological catastrophe,” said Josh Knights, executive director of the Conservancy’s Ohio program. “And we should also remember that the Mississippi River system is equally threatened by a host of non-native species currently in the Great Lakes.”
Knights spoke in support of Senate Bill 2317, sponsored by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), titled “The Stop Invasive Species Act,” and applauded the Senators for the leadership on addressing the escalating threat of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes. The legislation, if approved, requires the speedy creation of an action plan to block invasive species from moving between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi watershed through a number of rivers and tributaries across the Great Lakes region.
An existing directive from Congress calls on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to come up with a plan to permanently separate Lake Michigan from the Chicago Area Waterway System, which artificially connects the lakes to the Mississippi River watershed. The plan, due by 2015, could quite literally be both too little and too late.
“While Chicago is the most likely location for the fish to enter the Great Lakes there are many other possible routes,” Knights said. “These include Eagle Marsh in Indiana, where a chain link fence is the only barrier between the Mississippi River via the Wabash River system and the Maumee River and Lake Erie.” Lake Erie is known to be the most hospitable breeding ground for Asian carp because of its shallow depth and warm temperatures. Significant and irreparable ecological and economic damage could result if the carp establish themselves in Lake Erie.
The new bill calls for the Corps to expedite the project, with a progress report due to Congress in 90 days and a full report required after 18 months. It also would direct the Corps to devise barriers all across the lakes at 18 possible points of entry.
Knights urged lawmakers to support the legislation. In the Senate, Stabenow and Portman are the lead sponsors. Co-sponsors include Ohio’s Sherrod Brown and six other Great Lakes senators.
Congressman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced similar legislation in the House.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.