The funding of a project to stop the introduction and spread of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species continues to enjoy bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, but Great Lakes advocates also see many obstacles in the way of construction and completion.
For the Great Lakes ecosystem and the region's economy, “the stakes are really high,” says Anna-Lisa Castle, water policy manager for the Alliance for the Great Lakes says.
“You think about all of the boating, angling, and tourism and recreation in the Great Lakes, the $7 billion fishing economy,” she says. “And the other thing about [Asian] carp is that they won’t stop there. You could see carp make their way to the waterways that connect to the Great Lakes.”
The next big step in control efforts is the placement of new barriers at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, which is part of the Chicago Area Waterway System, a mix of natural and engineered waterways that connect the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan. This system is the most likely pathway for Asian carp to reach the lake.
In July, the U.S. House passed the Water Resources Development Act (HR 7575), which authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Brandon Road Lock and Dam project at a cost of $863 million. The U.S. Senate also has passed a measure with authorization language in it.
In the decades of battling invasive species and trying to mitigate their economic and ecological impacts, one point has become abundantly clear to Mike Weimer and other fish biologists. “Prevention is by far the most effective strategy,” he told legislators at this fall’s Great Lakes Legislative Caucus meeting in Buffalo, N.Y. So ever since Asian carp appeared to be dangerously close to entering the lakes via the Chicago Area Waterway System, states and the federal government have been pouring millions of dollars into a wide range of prevention plans.
New electric fish barriers have been built. The movement and presence of Asian carp continues to be intensely monitored, in part through cutting-edge eDNA technologies. Commercial fishing operations (hired by the state of Illinois) have removed more than 3 million pounds of Asian carp.
As co-chair of the state-federal Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, Weimer is helping oversee these and many other prevention strategies. In 2015 alone, he told lawmakers, the committee will fund a total of 43 projects at a cost of $74 million. Its goal: Protect a Great Lakes fishery that has an estimated value of $7 billion.