REP. CURT VANDERWALL: Aquatic invasive species pose a serious threat to the Great Lakes State

By State Rep. Curt VanderWall
Guest Columnist

As a state defined by the Great Lakes, the threat aquatic invasive species pose to Michigan is very real and concerning.

Alarm bells should be sounding after a live silver carp was recently caught just nine miles from Lake Michigan. Asian carp are highly invasive, and once they take over a lake or waterway they are known to displace native species, disrupt fisheries and even injure boaters.

If Asian carp are allowed to enter the Great Lakes, they will likely have a detrimental effect on the fishing and tourism industries, as well as power generation, manufacturing and municipal drinking water systems.

Last week marked Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week in Michigan, and I encourage all Michiganders to increase their understanding and awareness of aquatic invasive species, as well as the environmental and economic impact they have on our state.

Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes and 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, many of which are already impacted by aquatic invasive species. Studies indicate that past invasions of sea lampreys, Eurasian milfoil, zebra/quagga mussels and other aquatic invasive species likely cost the Great Lakes region more than $100 million each year.

Michigan has more than 900,000 registered boaters, and we all need to do our part in stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species by complying with laws and best practices. Using equipment in multiple bodies of water without properly cleaning it easily spreads many invasive species. It’s required by law in Michigan to remove aquatic plants from boats and trailers before placing the equipment in the water. It’s also against the law to release live bait into the water or transfer fish to bodies of water other than where they were caught.

Additional precautions boaters and anglers can take include washing boats and trailers before leaving the access area or at a nearby car wash; drying boats and equipment for at least five days before launching into a different body of water; and disinfecting live wells and bilges with bleach solution.

I recently hosted a number of my colleagues from the Legislature along with staff at the Department of Natural Resources to highlight the importance of the Great Lakes fishing industry with a morning on the water. We discussed the fishing industry, stocking of fish, the health of our Great Lakes, and the impact aquatic invasive species could have on our natural resources.

The commercial fishing industry generates more than $10 million each year for the Michigan economy, and recreational anglers spend another $2 billion more here on trip-related expenses and equipment. A national study completed in 2009 showed that more than 1.5 million jobs were directly connected to the Great Lakes, generating $62 billion in wages.

As the numbers show, we can’t afford not to take aquatic invasive species seriously. It’s critically important to continue efforts to prevent the introduction of new aquatic species into the Great Lakes from the Chicago Area Waterway System and to consider new research and technologies.

I’m eagerly awaiting the results of a study conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to examine establishing a point to control the spread of Asian carp beyond the Brandon Road Dam. As a member of the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus, I signed a letter last month urging the federal government to release the results of the study, which have been delayed since February.

It’s time for the report to be released so action can be taken because every day that goes by increases the likelihood of severe damage to our Great Lakes ecosystem and economy.

State Rep. Curt VanderWall, of Ludington, serves Michigan’s 101st District, which includes Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Mason counties. An avid outdoorsman, VanderWall serves as vice chair of the House Tourism and Recreation Committee and as a member of the Natural Resources Committee.

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