From the Daily: Carpe diem

BY FROM THE DAILY

Published October 20, 2009

Anyone who has seen a license plate from the Great Lakes State knows that the lakes are an integral part of Michigan’s identity. But the Great Lakes’ ecosystem is often in danger due to sewage and invasive species. Currently, the latter problem is most concerning — the lakes face a potential attack from the Asian carp, a violent, invasive species of fish. The carp are only one scaly bound away from harming the Great Lakes and Michigan industries. To protect Michigan’s lakes and economy, President Barack Obama and the Army Corps of Engineers must act quickly to stop the carp.

Thirty years ago, Asian carp were imported by southern fish farms to control algae. But several species escaped into southern waterways and migrated north. According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the carp, which are voracious eaters, now represent 98 percent of the biomass in parts of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Rainfall could cause the Des Plaines River to flood into a neighboring canal connected to Lake Michigan, giving the carp a path around the Army Corps of Engineers's electric fences that were created to stop the migration of the carp. A bill headed to Obama’s desk would allocate funds to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to study existing barriers and build new ones between the waterways to stop the carp’s progress.

Invasive species have far-reaching ecological consequences. The lakes have already seen the negative effects of the presence of other invasive species like zebra mussels, which upset the balance of the ecosystem by interrupting the food chain and interfering in breeding practices. Asian carp, which consume disproportionate amounts of food, would displace native species on a massive scale. The ripples from such a change would impact aquatic plants, fish and water-dependent birds and mammals, dramatically disrupting the ecosystem around the Great Lakes.

Damage to the ecosystem would also have effects on the economy. Michigan’s second-largest industry is tourism, and it’s based upon the appeal of the Great Lakes. Recreational fishing and boating entices tourists to the state every year. The carp, which can grow to four feet in length and weigh more than 85 pounds, pose a safety risk to water-bound tourists. Though it may sound like an urban myth, the fish have a history of leaping out of the water and harming boaters and skiers.

Michigan’s commercial fishing industry is also at risk. The fishing industry is already struggling to survive under the economic recession, and the decrease in native fish will damage the industry even further. As the ecosystem of the lakes falters and fish die, these industries won’t be able to function.

But disaster can be averted with the help of the federal government. The bill currently on its way to Obama’s desk will expand the effort to stop the carp’s progress. This bill is vital to the safety of the lakes, which is in turn vital to not only the Michigan economy, but the entire Great Lakes region. This is something that Obama, a native of Illinois, should be well aware of.