The fight to stop Asian carp from overwhelming the Great Lakes has reached a critical juncture. For years, Asian carp have made their way up the Mississippi River and smaller tributaries, inching closer to the Great Lakes — including Lake Erie. Now is the time to stop them, before it is too late.
Protecting our Great Lakes is of great importance, and not just for environmental reasons. The spread of nonindigenous aquatic species is also a major threat to our fishing and boating industries, and in turn our overall economy. Tourism, and fishing in particular, is critical to the economy of the many Ohio communities along Lake Erie’s shores.
Visitors to the Lake Erie region spend more than $10 billion a year — nearly 30 percent of our state’s tourism dollars. Fishing alone supports 100,000 Ohio jobs, with anglers coming from around the country to enjoy Lake Erie’s walleye sports fishery, considered to be one of the best in the world.
When I was walleye fishing on Lake Erie this summer, I met anglers from all over Ohio, and a large group from Kentucky. This industry is simply too valuable and too important to continue to let environmental threats undermine it. Asian carp are voracious eaters, and they can quickly wipe out the food sources of other species such as the walleye.
In some parts of the Mississippi River, 97 percent of the fish are Asian carp. They can grow to incredible sizes; boaters on the Mississippi have suffered broken bones when silver carp—some of which weigh more than 100 pounds—leap out of the water at the sound of a boat motor.
In June, 2012, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and I joined forces to pass bipartisan legislation intended to prevent Asian carp from destroying the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. That law, the Stop Invasive Species Act, forced the Army Corps of Engineers to accelerate its efforts to develop a plan to address this threat, and to broaden its scope to all significant Great Lakes tributaries.
There are 18 possible entryways, and if the Asian carp find their way through any of them, stopping their spread throughout the Great Lakes will be virtually impossible. Last month, fish from a related species of carp were found that were born and raised in the waters of the Sandusky River, a tributary of Lake Erie. That discovery serves a clear warning that we must act quickly.
Thanks to the Stop Invasive Species Act, a final version of the Army Corps report, known as the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study, is due to Congress in January. With this in mind, I recently coauthored a letter with Senator Stabenow that was signed by a bipartisan group composed of every Great Lakes senator.
We requested that the Corps work with Congress, our staff, and regional stakeholders before and after the report is issued, so that we can quickly determine how best to move forward with a comprehensive approach to address the problem of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species.
Ensuring that the Great Lakes are not further harmed by Asian carp and other threats is a shared responsibility of us all. This issue transcends politics and party.
I am committed to working with all stakeholders to identify quickly the best approach to a problem that could otherwise have devastating effects on our region’s economy, environment, and way of life.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is a Republican from Ohio.