Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told nearly 100 attendees at the annual meeting of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association that significant progress was made in 2015 on issues that impact the marine industry, particularly on the Great Lakes and Lake Erie.
Citing the huge economic impact of recreational boating in Ohio, Portman noted “recent victories” for Lake Erie. But he also warned that threats like the summer algae blooms and the potentially disastrous entry of Asian carp into the Great Lakes have not been eliminated.
More specifically, Portman explained his success in gaining $300 million in annual appropriations through 2020 for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2015. He introduced the bill with Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
The act is intended to address issues threatening the ecological and economic well-being of the entire Great Lakes basin. The importance of the new law can’t be understated since one-third of annual sales for the marine industry are in the Great Lakes region. Portman also serves as vice-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force.
Say goodbye to microbeads. They will be eliminated under the Microbeads Free Waters Act of 2015 that was recently passed by Congress. These are tiny synthetic plastic particles used as an abrasive in many personal-care and beauty products, such as facial scrubs, soaps and toothpastes. When consumers use these products, the tiny microbeads never dissolve, wash down the drain, escape treatment by sewage plants and pour into the nation’s lakes and rivers. There they can absorb toxins and are eaten by fish. The bill was coauthored with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
In still other actions, preventing Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes and devastating Lake Erie’s annual $7.5 billion native fishery has also been a Portman priority. He and other lawmakers have given the Army Corp of Engineers emergency powers to expand the use of electric screens in the Mississippi watersheds. Electric screens are currently the most effective method of keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes system.
“The authorization enables projects outside of the Chicago area that could keep some of these carp from moving further north,” Portman said. Electric screens near Chicago are currently keeping the carp from entering Lake Michigan. Without the screens, carp would rapidly spread to all the Great Lakes.
“Sadly, I’ll tell you there is mounting evidence the carp could be moving in,” Portman said. Asian carp DNA has been found in Lake Erie. They are voracious eaters and would likely decimate native fish stocks. Lake Erie annually produces more fish than any of the other Great Lakes. The negative impact that would have on recreational boating is inestimable.
The Lake Erie trade group’s annual meeting was held in conjunction with its Progressive Mid-America Boat Show in Cleveland’s I-X Center. Portman also spent more than an hour on the boat show floor meeting dealers in their exhibits.