In this age of caustic and divisive party politics, Democrat U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo and Republican Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine make strange bedfellows indeed. The two, however, set aside partisan differences last week in a show of unity over their common anguish and scorn toward snail-speed federal efforts to control the destructive spread of Asian carp in the Great Lakes.
Such bipartisan unity shines as one sign of clear hope in an otherwise long, persistent but unproductive and mucked-up battle by our Great Lakes region to reel in meaningful action to eliminate or minimize the economic and environmental perils posed by these monstrous fish.
And monster predators they clearly are.
Scientists say if the voracious carp gain a solid foothold into the Great Lakes, they could eventually threaten native species and severely damage the region’s ecosystem and economic livelihood. After all, the Great Lakes provide nearly 35 million people with drinking water, and they support tourism and fishing industries, which generate an estimated $7 billion in annual economic activity.
The Asian carp breed of fish can grow as large as 4 feet long and can weigh as much as 100 pounds. These underwater enemies devour anything in their path, including the plankton and other elements that keep the underwater ecosystem thriving. In fact, the Great Lakes Commission and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative call the carp the greatest damaging invasive species that has threatened the Great Lakes in the past century.
Last year, Asian carp DNA was found in Lake Michigan. A live Asian carp was caught in a lake next to a river that feeds into Lake Michigan. Closer to home, the United States Geological Survey just last month confirmed that four grass carp were born and raised in the Sandusky River, a tributary of Lake Erie.
The time for concerted federal action to stop this attack has long passed. Last week’s release of a multi-year Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could have provided a springboard for congressional action to control the ominous spread. Instead, it offered a grab bag of eight proposals to mitigate the threat. It essentially threw the problem back into congressional ballpark without any clear-cut solution.
Kaptur was rightly tiffed, in saying the corps “has done this region a disservice in failing to make a firm recommendation about the best course of action. … Preventing the Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes system demands immediate attention and action, not waiting 25 years.”
DeWine shares Kaptur’s disgust over the lack of urgency federal government regulators have given the dilemma. “We want complete separation, and it must move quickly,” the attorney general said last week.
WHAT CONGRESS CAN DO
Now that the Corps of Engineers has failed to give Congress a clear-cut singular plan to stop the carp advance, it is up to U.S. senators and representatives to play hard ball. They can do so by ordering the corps to promptly narrow its recommendations to one clear-cut course of action. Short of that, Congress can take the matter into its own hands. A coalition of Great Lakes legislators, including Kaptur, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson and others from Northeast Ohio and the Great Lakes region, can work independently to parse from the disappointing report the best course of rapid remediation.
With each passing day, the threat of Asian carp’s sickening impact on Lake Erie looms larger. Let the bipartisanship demonstrated by Kaptur and DeWine last week serve as a springboard for broader, more cooperative and aggressive action on Capitol Hill to tame the Asian-carp beast.