Safeguards Long Overdue for Asian Carp Threat

Wikimedia | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

PERSPECTIVES


Op-Ed by NATHAN INKS

The Great Lakes are a major source of environmental and economic benefits to the state of Michigan, but Asian carp are posing an increasing threat to the lakes, which could have disastrous consequences for the state. Imported in the 1970s, several species of Asian carp made their way from controlled fish farms into rivers in the South in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and they have slowly been moving further north ever since.

If Asian carp made it to the Great Lakes and began reproducing, it would have disastrous consequences on the lakes’ ecosystems. Asian carp would out-compete native species for food, leading to significant decline in the populations of native fish species. Because of their large size, Asian carp have few natural marine predators, and their population could rapidly increase if they began reproducing in the Great Lakes.

Although lawmakers and regulators have focused increased attention on the risk Asian carp could pose to the Great Lakes, implementation of proposed safeguards has been slow, and conflicts between Great Lakes states has been an additional source of delay. If Asian carp became established and began reproducing in the Great Lakes, it would not only have a significant impact on Michigan but the entire region. Significant federal action is long overdue, and as the state with arguably the most to lose, Michigan lawmakers need to be at the forefront of pushing for such action.

Posing the most immediate threat to the Great Lakes is the risk of Asian carp migrating to Lake Michigan from various tributaries of the Mississippi River in Illinois, and Asian carp have already been found within a few miles of Lake Michigan. The Army Corps of Engineers has developed a plan to implement additional protections to keep Asian carp from migrating into Lake Michigan, but current federal law requires the participation of Illinois in order to implement the plan. Although the Governor of Illinois has expressed interest in participating, he wants to see changes to the plan to lessen the impact on shipping and other economic concerns specific to the state of Illinois.

Of the eight states (plus Ontario) that border the Great Lakes, Illinois arguably has the least skin in the game, as much of Illinois’s waters have already been affected by Asian carp. When one state is acting in a way that will cause detrimental harm to its neighboring states, it is the duty of the federal government to step in and either protect the neighboring states or allow them to protect themselves.

If Illinois is unwilling to cooperate to ensure that the overall environmental and economic concerns of the entire Great Lakes region is protected—even if it comes at the expense of the local Illinois economy near Lake Michigan—the other states and Ontario need to push forward to find a solution. As the state with the most to lose, Michigan needs to be at the forefront of pushing the federal government and other Great Lakes states to act with a greater sense of urgency.

The Great Lakes have already seen the disastrous consequences of invasive species; zebra mussels and sea lamprey are just a couple examples. Asian carp pose a significant threat to the environment and economy of the Great Lakes states—especially Michigan—and too much time has gone by with too little action. For the sake of our state and the entire region, Michigan lawmakers need to increase the pressure on the federal government and other states to begin implementing additional safeguards to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.