Michigan Takes Aim at Asian Carp

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The Michigan Boating Industries Association chalked up a big win with the restoration of $8 million in funding to keep the dreaded Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed a bill that restores funds to support the Army Corps of Engineers plan to rebuild the Brandon Road Lock and Dam. The project is in Illinois, which raises an obvious question — why it’s being funded by Michigan? The simple answer: an investment in protection.

While the lock and dam are on the Des Plains River near Joliet, the river reaches Lake Michigan at Chicago, and therein could swim a potential disaster. The Corp of Engineers plan is to create a channel fitted with multiple Asian carp deterrents including an electric barrier, water bubble fence, acoustic deterrents and a flushing lock. But what exactly is the carp threat, and why Michigan money?

Nicki Polan, MBIA executive director explains: “Protecting the Great Lakes from the invasion of Asian carp is crucial to protecting Michigan’s recreational boating industry. We are the third largest marine market in the country with a $7.8 billion annual economic impact. And, Michigan is the only state that borders on 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, so the threat is very real for us and our industry.

“This funding,” she continues, “upholds Michigan’s commitment to the project and now it’s time for Illinois to sign the preconstruction engineering and design agreement to start the project without any further delay.”

Asian carp were imported to the U.S. in the 1960s and 70s as an “eco-friendly alternative” to poisons for ridding southern fish farms of weeds, parasites and algae. It worked very well because the carp voraciously eat up to 40 percent of their body weight per day. But flooding eventually let the carp escape into rivers, most notably the Mississippi, and the fish slowly made their way north, eating everything in sight.

Experts agree that if the carp get into the Great Lakes, what has already happened in the Mississippi and other connected waterways, the native fish populations cannot survive, and the $7 billion annual fishery in the Great Lakes will disappear.

To our boating industry’s interests, the overwhelming majority of that positive economic impact comes from sportfishing expenditures where, for example, Lake Erie is called the “Walleye Fishing Capital,” lakes Ontario and Michigan boast excellent Coho and steelhead angling, and so on.

More than the grocery store!

You’ll love this: In Wisconsin, a just completed study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a real eye opener. The study by Holly Embke, a graduate student with the Center for Limnology, confirms what more than a million anglers in the Badger state already know: Wisconsin’s lakes are a major source of food.

Recreational anglers there harvest about 4,200 of fish each year, according to Embke’s work. Notably, she and colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey took fish harvest estimates from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and scaled them to the state level. They then performed additional calculations to estimate the edible portion of the fish. It works out to about 2.5 pounds per fishing license, almost as much freshwater fish as the average American buys at the grocery store.

“People love to fish; they love to eat fish. The magnitude is surprising,” says Embke. No matter how you look at it, such news just documents what we in the boating industry already know — fishing is good for our business, and we must prioritize protecting and advancing it everywhere. 

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