Senators from the Great Lakes states are raising alarm over a new government report that the invasive Asian carp species could be poised to infest Lake Michigan, signaling potential disaster to the entire Great Lakes region.
"Today's news is a wakeup call," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Friday. "We need to know how the silver carp came so close to Lake Michigan and whether there are any additional carp in the area."
A bipartisan program that Stabenow supported two years ago helped alert the federal government on Friday that an Asian carp, also known as silver carp, was caught only 9 miles from the mouth of a tributary that spills into Lake Michigan. Michigan and Illinois have struggled to keep the invasive fish out of the big lake, and want the federal government to step in with a new comprehensive strategy to rid the region of the pest.
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who also raised the red flag on Friday, is calling on the Trump administration to issue its plan on how it intends to deal with the Asian carp nuisance. The administration reportedly has a draft plan ready, but has not moved it forward either administratively or in proposed legislation.
"The administration should release its proposed plan they have drafted so there is no delay in protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp," Portman said. The senator said he is also fighting to ensure the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is fully funded, which was enacted in 2015 to address a number of concerns affecting the lake region, including the fish pest.
He said the Trump administration, like the Obama administration, is trying to defund the program. "I have fought proposed cuts from both the previous administration and the new one and I will continue to lead efforts in this Congress to ensure this critical initiative is fully funded."
Portman noted that the fishing industry in the Great Lakes is a $7 billion per year "economic engine" that would be "severely threatened if Asian carp are allowed into the Great Lakes." The carp reproduce quickly and dominate the water systems they inhabit, placing enormous strain on indigenous fish species and the ecosystem.
The fish species first made its way into U.S. freshwaters from China through shipping freighters and has become a rampant pest in the Midwest in just a few years. The carp is known for its ability to leap forcefully out of the water when startled. Footage of the fish jumping from the water has become popular on YouTube.
The fish swim in large schools and can weigh up to 40 pounds each, while being able to leap 10 feet out of the water. The carp can be dangerous to fishermen and boaters. Wildlife officials in Michigan and Illinois equip their patrol boats with steel cages to prevent the fish from knocking into the crew.
"It is deeply alarming that a live silver carp was found only 9 miles from Lake Michigan," Stabenow said. "While I'm glad the emergency protocols I helped create through legislation in 2015 played a role in this detection, the fact remains that we need a permanent solution."
Stabenow's office pointed out that the 8-pound silver carp was caught this week by a commercial fishing vessel whose activities to combat the Asian carp was funded under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers and state of Illinois will be working over the next two weeks "to detect and stop any additional silver carp in these waters near Lake Michigan," Stabenow's office said. The agencies' actions are called for under the Great Lakes restoration program.