As a lifelong Ohioan, I know firsthand the value of our beautiful lakes and waterways.
Not only do they provide swimming, fishing and boating opportunities for Buckeyes, but the industries they support also add billions of dollars to our economy and provide thousands of jobs for hard-working Americans.
It’s next to impossible to overstate the importance of these natural resources to our state. That’s why, as the Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, as well as a co-chair of the House Great Lakes Task Force, I have made protecting the Great Lakes one of my top priorities in Congress.
I recently met with experts and stakeholders from Northeast Ohio’s environmental, natural resources and angling community to discuss the threat invasive Asian carp pose to Lake Erie.
It was a sobering conversation.
Asian carp are voracious filter feeders, capable of eating up to 40% of their body weight in a single day. They also spawn multiple times per year, making them a threat to native freshwater species and the industries they support.
Moreover, these fish are notorious for jumping out of the water at the sound of a motor and injuring boaters, water skiers and other recreational users.
The personal experiences of these community leaders who are at the forefront of the fight to preserve Lake Erie highlighted the danger that this invasive species poses to our regional economy and our way of life in Northeast Ohio.
Believe it or not, Asian carp have been fished out of the water just six miles from Brandon Road Lock and Dam, an important chokepoint for the carp located roughly 50 miles downstream of Chicago.
If we don’t act now, they could soon enter the Great Lakes, which would cause irreversible damage to the whole region.
While there are efforts underway to help keep the carp at bay, like fishing teams, unfortunately they are not enough.
To effectively combat this threat, Congressional representatives from the Great Lakes region must continue to show leadership on the issue and prioritize funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ newly finalized plan to fortify Brandon Road Lock and Dam, which could substantially reduce the risk posed by invasive Asian carp.
If approved, the plan would help prevent invasive Asian carp from moving from the Mississippi River basin to the Great Lakes basin through the Chicago Area Waterway System by constructing a system in Illinois with technology alternatives that include an engineered channel with an acoustic fish deterrent, air bubble curtain and electric barrier.
When we look at the places where invasive Asian carp have already moved in, we see them conquering habitats.
And once this invasive species arrives, there is little that can be done to stop them from taking over. Where Asian carp live, feed and breed, native fish species struggle to find enough food to grow or survive.
Believe it or not, in some parts of the Mississippi River, Asian carp now make up 70% to 90% of the biomass in the river. The Great Lakes already face a number of complex threats, including harmful algal blooms and high water levels that worsen coastal erosion.
Our lakes, especially Lake Erie, simply can’t handle invasive Asian carp on top of these other challenges.
The reality is that any threat to Lake Erie is a threat to the drinking water supply for 11 million people, our tourism industry, and all the plants and animals that are part of the lake’s ecosystem.
By installing protections at Illinois’ Brandon Road Lock and Dam, we can buy some time to carry out the rest of the plan to stop invasive Asian carp from creeping any closer to the Great Lakes.
Swimming and fishing in Lake Erie as a kid are still some of my favorite memories from growing up in Northeast Ohio, and I want to ensure that both current and future generations have that same opportunity.
I urge my colleagues to join me and move swiftly to authorize and approve funding so that the Army Corps can begin installing protections as soon as possible at Brandon Road Lock and Dam to stop invasive Asian carp from hurting our Great Lakes.
The News-Herald welcomes opinions so all sides of an issue may be aired. Dave Joyce represents Ohio’s 14th Congressional district. He lives in Bainbridge Township.