DETROIT, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- On Thursday morning in Washington, D.C., Michigan lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced legislation intended to protect the Great Lakes from invasive Asian carp. The bill was simultaneously introduced by Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Congressman Candice Miller, R-Mich.
The legislation isn't so much a specific prescription for solving the problem as it as a mandate for federal agencies -- like the EPA, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers -- to get to work immediately. While the bill wouldn't allocate new funds, it would help clear bureaucratic hurdles and encourage federal officials to start working with state and regional entities to piece together a plan.
The name of the game remains hydraulic separation, keeping water contaminated with Asian carp -- a term used broadly to refer to species including grass, black, ugly, silver, and bighead carp -- from water free flowing into the Great Lakes.
That means locks and dams -- both building new ones and bolstering old ones.
"We cannot afford to take a cavalier approach when it comes to protecting our Great Lakes from Asian carp," Miller said in a statement. "This destructive species is quickly migrating north, destroying nearly every ecosystem along the way."
"In fact, just this week, we learned that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has identified nearly 30 of these aggressive fish just south of the Brandon Road Lock and Dam," Miller added, "which is why this bipartisan, bicameral legislation I am working with Senator Stabenow to advance is so important."
The legislation asks the Army Corps to take the lead on the redoubled efforts, and to come up with a plan, cost estimate and project schedule, within six months of the bill's passage.
"These are fish that get very large and will be a very dangerous problem for us if they get into the Great Lakes," Stabenow said. "Finding a solution to the threat from Asian carp and other invasive species is not easy."
Though many in the Midwest complain of the federal government's delay in addressing the threat, the current protections have proved largely effective until this point. Despite their presence in much of the Mississippi River basin, only one Asian carp has ever been found beyond the protective barriers in Joliet, IL and Chicago, and the Great Lakes continue to test negative for Asian carp DNA.
Still, a breach could be catastrophic for the lakes' lucrative commercial fishing industry. Quickly proliferating Asian carp species can outcompete native fish, including yellow perch, walleye, lake trout and others. Economists estimate that the commercial and recreational fishing industries in the Great Lakes is worth a combined $7 billion.