Column: Stop Asian carp for good

Debbie Stabenow

As anyone who grew up in Michigan knows, there are no Republican lakes or Democratic lakes. There are only our amazing Great Lakes.

Maybe it’s because all of us – no matter our politics – share the same memories. We remember summers spent on the water – boating, fishing, camping under the stars. We cherish making more memories with our children and grandchildren. The Lakes are in our DNA, and the drive to protect them brings all of us together.

This bipartisan unity has led to some true Great Lakes success stories.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has cleaned up beaches so families can swim, restored our wetlands, opened up waterways for boating and made the fish in places like Deer Lake safe to eat again.

In 2015, President Obama signed bipartisan legislation I led that banned the fish-harming plastic beads in body washes and soaps. And the very first piece of legislation I passed in the Senate – with support from Democrats and Republicans – banned oil drilling in the Great Lakes.

In all of these cases, we were successful because we put politics aside in service of a larger goal: Protecting our Great Lakes. And with the biggest threat to the Lakes in generations swimming our way, it’s time to do that once again.

Back in June, an eight-pound silver carp was captured only nine miles from Lake Michigan and above the electrical barrier meant to stop them. And in 2010, a bighead carp was captured in Lake Calumet, only six miles from Lake Michigan.

As we’ve learned the hard way, invasive species push out native species and forever change ecosystems. You can try to control them, but the cost is astronomical.

Take the sea lamprey, which invaded our Great Lakes and now preys on salmon, trout and walleye. The federal government spends about $24 million every year to control them or our fisheries will collapse.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s certainly the case with invasive species.

That’s why I’m so pleased that this month, the White House listened to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to finally release a critical study in the fight against Asian carp. This draft proposal provides an opportunity for elected officials and other stakeholders to consider structural changes and other countermeasures at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a crucial chokepoint in the Chicago waterway system.

The Brandon Road study was supposed to be released in February but had been delayed indefinitely. In June I introduced the Stop Asian Carp Now Act, which required the Brandon Road study to be released within 30 days of our bill being signed into law. Companion legislation introduced by Reps. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Bill Huizenga of Michigan – fellow co-chairs of the congressional Great Lakes Task Force – gained strong bipartisan support.

In such a politically polarized time, why did Democrats and Republicans support this legislation? Because there is something about our Lakes that unites people – even in Washington, D.C.

When the Trump Administration’s budget eliminated GLRI funding, lawmakers of both parties stood up. Even better, people stood up. Thousands of Michigan residents have shared Great Lakes stories on my website. It’s inspiring to see people who might disagree on everything else unite around their shared love of these waters.

It’s time to do that again. We need to face the facts, find consensus and move as quickly as possible on permanent solutions to stop Asian carp. We have the opportunity to be proactive, not reactive.

Invasive species are a complex problem, but I have no doubt we can meet the challenge if we work together. We’ve done it before. On behalf of our Great Lakes, let’s do it again.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow is a Democrat from Michigan in the U.S. Senate.