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Michigan lawmakers head to Illinois to talk Asian carp, Great Lakes

Asian carp jumping out of water
A Michigan lawmaker wants to ban the use of federal money to open Chicago-area shipping locks in an effort to prevent the spread of Asian carp.

A bipartisan delegation of Michigan lawmakers from Congress are in Chicago today at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam. The delegation is there to see the facility and discuss possible solutions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

Brandon Road Lock and Dam is considered by many to be the last line of defense from preventing carp from entering the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers released a plan in May that proposed a number of deterrents to meet the carp as they swim through the waterway, including noisemakers, electric currents, and an air bubble curtain. Huge populations of Asian carp, particularly bighead and silver carp, are reported to be only four miles from the dam.


Several varieties of Asian carp threaten the Great Lakes including silver, bighead, and grass carp. Bighead and silver carp are believed to not yet be in the Great Lakes, but grass carp have been found in the Great Lakes basin. The grass carp, dubbed the “cow of the fish world” by scientists, is a ravenous herbivore imported to the U.S. in the 1980s to control algal growth in private ponds and golf course water features. It was assumed that the imported fish were sterilized, as is required by law in many states, but tests done between 2014 and 2016 show that as many as 85% of the fish currently living in the Great Lakes could be fertile. Bighead and silver carp are a threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem because they compete directly with native fish for food, but grass carp could decimate vegetation that is crucial to habitat for waterfowl and protection for juvenile aquatic life. In addition, lessened vegetation means quicker eroding for shoreline and coastal areas, as they then lack the roots to hold the soil in place. 

These ever growing threats have prompted lawmakers from several Great Lakes states to call for interstate solutions, but that hasn’t always been easy. The proposed plan from the Army Corps of Engineers comes with a nearly $800 million price tag, 35% of which must be paid by non-federal sponsors. Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker has committed Illinois to being a non-federal sponsor, but wants other states to chip in as well. The plan itself is considered to be a compromise among states: the Army Corps proposal has no plans for a physical barrier to block the carp, and Illinois opposes a physical barrier, citing concerns about disrupting commercial vessel traffic.


A bird's-eye view of the Brandon Road Lock and Dam, with illustrations of preventative measures to stop invasive species from entering the Great lakes Basin, as outlined in the USACE's "Tenatively Adopted Plan"
Credit U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Dan Kildee is a representative from Flint. He says the recommended plan from the Army Corps does not provide a full answer to the question of invasive Asian carp.


“They offer a variety of suggestions, we think a really aggressive approach is the right approach.” He adds, “It was difficult to get the report released, I think because there are some interests that are more oriented towards shipping than protecting our Great Lakes, and for us, this is a fundamental question of survival of the lakes. So we think the most aggressive approach, the most permanent approach, is a physical barrier.”

Kildee says the visit to Brandon Road Dam and Lock is a great opportunity for lawmakers to see the site of the proposed plan, and to visualize potential solutions like a physical barrier and the challenges it might pose.


“As policy makers, we have a responsibility to really understand something like this completely. So going there gives us a chance to learn firsthand what the challenges might be to implement a physical barrier to prevent those invasive carp from ever coming into the lake.”

He notes that this is an issue all Michiganders should be concerned about. 

“We have the greatest source of freshwater on the planet. It helps us move products to markets. It’s a critical part of our economy. It defines who we are, as a region and as a state.” He invites Michiganders to take action, saying, “Anyone who is fearful that their economic well-being, their social wellbeing, and the natural beauty of the lakes will be threatened: they should take this issue very seriously, and they should speak up to people in government who represent them, and ask them to do everything they can to protect the Great Lakes.”

In addition to this media tour, there will also be a round table discussion happening July 16-17 in Chicago, where the Army Corps plan will further be discussed.

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