Asian Carp’s Threat

Asian Carp’s Threat

The Advancing Threat of Asian Carp

Much attention is focused on the potential introduction of two Asian carp species – bighead and silver – into the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin through the Chicago Area Waterway System. Asian carp, considered an invasive species by the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, are a significant threat to the Great Lakes’ recreational fisheries. Carp populations have the potential to expand rapidly and change the ecosystem composition of the Great Lakes. This will significantly harm the $7 billion annual sportfishing economy in the Great Lakes region.

In recent years, legislation has been signed into law by President Obama that will expedite current efforts to stop the spread of the Asian carp. However additional funding and interagency programs are still needed.

A physical barrier – in the form of an “aquatic nuisance species” lock at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam as a control point for passage to Lake Michigan – was suggested and has the support of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Opponents of this strategy claim that the lock would hinder shipping routes.

ASA supports legislation to stave off economic and environmental consequences of aquatic invaders and continues to monitor and support such efforts in 2016.

Several bills were introduced in the past two years to fund Great Lakes fisheries research, water quality and invasive species monitoring, and recreational opportunities. These include: The Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act of 2016  S. 2569 and H.R. 4595), a reauthorization of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million (H.R.223), and a bill to reauthorize the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act (GLFWRA) of 2016 (H.R. 5765) to extend the program through 2021. ASA is supportive of these bills.

Our Position

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) has been involved in aquatic invasive species issues for many years, including numerous written and oral communications with the Executive and Legislative branches about the importance of taking specific and timely steps to control Asian carp. In addition to commenting on and supporting various bills in Congress, ASA has worked with the Department of the Interior to assure that actions available to the Department are taken in a timely manner.

ASA has advocated for appropriations for the electric barrier on the Chicago Sanitary Canal since it was proposed and has supported all efforts to minimize the threat that Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes system.

ASA has spoken in support of legislation to control Asian Carp numerous times before both the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works’ Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water.

Issue Background

Asian carp escaped into the Mississippi River from southern aquaculture facilities in the early 1990s when the facilities were flooded. Steadily, the carp made their way northward, becoming the most abundant species in many areas of the Mississippi; displacing native fish and causing severe hardship to the anglers who fish the river. Asian carp are voracious feeders and if allowed to enter the Great Lakes, they will quickly out-compete the forage base of valuable sport fish such as walleye, trout and salmon, creating the potential for large-scale ecosystem devastation.

The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes. Currently, the only barrier to prevent carp from entering Lake Michigan is an electric barrier along the canal. Recently, however, an Asian carp was found beyond the electric barrier – just six miles from Lake Michigan and Asian carp DNA has been collected in Lake Erie, suggesting that they may have already entered the Great Lake system.

A physical barrier – in the form of an “aquatic nuisance species” lock at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam as a control point for passage to Lake Michigan – was suggested and has the support of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Opponents of this strategy claim that the lock would hinder shipping routes.

On December 14, 2010, President Obama signed the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act (S. 1421) into law. The bill, which was sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate on November 17, 2010, and approved in the House of Representatives on December 1, 2010. This legislation lists the bighead carp as an invasive species under the Lacey Act, prohibiting the interstate transportation or importation of live bighead carp without a permit.

On April 19, 2012, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.) introduced the Stop Invasive Species Act into both chambers of Congress (S. 2317 and H.R. 4406). These bills will help protect the $7 billion Great Lakes sportfishing industry by requiring the Army Corps of Engineers, within eighteen months, to prepare an action plan to prevent Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. This bill was signed into law by the President in July 2012, as a part of the larger Transportation Bill, and will expedite current efforts to stop the spread of the Asian carp.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, with the help of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, released a major, peer-reviewed study in July 2014, assessing the potential risk of Asian carp to the Great Lakes. The study concluded that that a small number of Asian carp can establish a population, and if Asian carp do become established in the Great Lakes, their impact would be severe. Suitable habitat exists in all five Great Lakes, though Lakes Erie and Ontario, and many large and small bays throughout the system, would be particularly hard-hit.  For more information on this study, click here.

In early 2013, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) introduced the Strategic Response to Asian Carp Invasion Act in both chambers of Congress (S.125 and H.R. 358). These bills, that did not progress, would have directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Geological Survey to act together and lead an effort to slow the spread of Asian Carp.

Similar legislation, the Defending Our Great Lakes Act, was introduced by Sen. Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Miller (D-Mich.) in February 2015 to combat invasive species spread, specifically of Asian carp. The companion bills contain short- and long-term solutions to invasive species movement between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds through canals in the Chicago area. It directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work with other authorities to take immediate steps to control invasive species using chemical and physical barriers.

Bipartisan legislation was introduced in February 2016 that would guarantee funding for science-based initiatives to improve Great Lakes fisheries and recreational opportunities. The Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act of 2016 – S. 2569 and H.R. 4595 – was led by Congressman Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Congressman Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) along with 10 other cosponsors in the House and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in the Senate. The companion bills would authorize the work of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center Despite its many achievements, the Center has never been authorized by Congress, which has left the Great Lakes at a significant disadvantage in funding for the essential operations and in the application of new technology.

In April, the House of Representatives passed three water related bills including one authorizing funding for an initiative to benefit Great Lakes fisheries. The bill – H.R. 223, authored by Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) – would reauthorize the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) at $300 million, equivalent to the funding level it has been authorized at in the past. GLRI monies are used to control water quality and stem the spread of invasive species. Later this year, the Senate and House will conference their bills into a single budget request to the President.

On July 13, Great Lakes House Members introduced a bill to reauthorize the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act (GLFWRA) of 2016. GLFWRA was first passed in 1990 but hasn’t been reauthorized since 2006. It authorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide assistance to Great Lakes fish and wildlife agencies to encourage cooperative conservation, restoration, and management of the fish and wildlife resources and their habitats. Projects are selected through a competitive review process from proposals submitted by states, tribes, and other interested entities at a 25 percent non-federal match. H.R. 5765, introduced by Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), and Candice Miller (R-Ill.), extends the program through 2021, reduces the authorization from $16 million to $8 million, and makes changes to the matching rules. Since 1998, GLWFRA has provided more than $22.8 million in federal funding to 148 research and restoration projects. ASA is supporting this bill.