BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published December 5, 2010
Fish rarely seem like an aggressive adversary. But Asian carp, an invasive species of fish, are currently migrating north toward the Great Lakes and could spell disaster for the local ecosystem. But last week, the U.S. Congress finally approved an act banning the interstate transport of the invasive species to stop further migration of the Asian carp and protect the Great Lakes region. Now, all that stands between the legislation and enforcement is President Barack Obama’s signature. Given the imminent environmental and economic threat to the Great Lakes region posed by the spread of Asian carp, Obama should sign the bill into law immediately.
Asian carp can weigh as much as 100 pounds and grow up to four feet in length, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They pose a serious environmental and economic threat to the Great Lakes region. The carp consume an inequitable amount of resources, which would disrupt the Great Lakes ecosystem by starving local species like trout and salmon. This would be a heavy blow to the $7-billion Great Lakes fishing industry. Asian carp also pose a threat to tourism, including the $16-billion recreational boating industry.
On Nov. 30, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act with a unanimous voice vote. The act would regulate Asian carp under the Lacey Act, a century-old bill that prohibits the trading of banned or illegally acquired fish. In October, the U.S. Senate passed a companion measure proposed by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R–Mich.), which directs the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to block off several key waterways in Illinois to prevent the spread of Asian carp into the Great Lakes.
An Asian carp was caught in Lake Calumet in June, which lies past the electric barriers currently set up in the Chicago Area Waterway System meant to contain the fish. The discovery occurred just six miles from Lake Michigan, highlighting the need for the federal government to act quickly to stop further migration.
It’s unacceptable that it took so long for the federal government to act. Earlier this year, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox and several other Great Lakes region attorneys general sought an injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court to shut down the Illinois locks. Their request was refused — twice. Now that Congress has taken a clear stance on the issue, measures to stop the carp should be implemented immediately.
Some Illinois officials have criticized the plan to close some locks in the Chicago area. But though some adverse economic effects may result from closing some locks and re-routing shipping lines, the interests of the entire Great Lakes region must take precedence over the concerns of one state. In the end, the recently-passed legislation balances the costs and benefits.
By signing the bill into law, Obama has an opportunity to protect the Great Lakes economy and environment by finally responding to the very real threat that the Asian carp pose. The federal government shouldn’t hesitate any longer — it should close the Illinois locks immediately.