Brown introduces bill to protect Ohio River from Asian carp

January 23, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) outlined his efforts to prevent the spread of Asian carp in the Ohio River basin during a news conference call Wednesday.

Brown announced plans to reintroduce bipartisan legislation that would help prevent the invasion of Asian carp to the Ohio River basin. The Strategic Response to Asian Carp Invasion Act would enable the federal government to have a more effective partnership with state and local entities that are fighting to end the spread of Asian carp. Brown first introduced the legislation with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) in November 2012.

Asian carp is a catchall name for species of silver, bighead, grass, and black carp from Southeast Asia. The huge, hard-headed silver carp also pose a threat to boaters. The fish can leap out of the water when startled by boat engines, often colliding with people and causing injuries.

“Fishing and tourism are threatened by Asian carp,” Brown said. “They significantly alter the habitat with their voracious appetite. In effect, they crowd out native species by their eating habits.”

Voracious filter feeders, Asian carp consume up to 20 percent of their bodyweight per day in plankton and can grow to over 100 pounds. Plankton are small floating organisms that form the foundation of the aquatic food chain and are vital to native fish.

Brown said it is crucial to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes. Once established in an ecosystem, they are virtually impossible to eradicate. Adult Asian carp have no natural predators in North America and females lay approximately half a million eggs each time they spawn.

“We know the importance of the Great Lakes Basin and the Ohio River Basin, and how important they are to driving our economy and shoring up Ohio’s multi-million dollar fishing recreation industry,” Brown said. “We know what the lake means in terms of drinking water. We know what the river and the lake together mean to our state.”

Brown said hundreds of thousands of people fish in Lake Erie annually, adding $600 million to the state’s economy, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“Asian carp have already been identified in the Ohio River at the confluence of the Little Miami and the Ohio at Cincinnati,” Brown said. “Major Ohio River species, such as catfish and walleye are threatened by Asian Carp.”

He said federal agencies have already been working to combat Asian carp, but the government has yet to designate an agency as the lead in those efforts.

“Plain and simple, we need a more coordinated federal response,” Brown said. “Last June I helped to pass the bipartisan Stop Invasive Species Act to expedite a strategy to block Asian carp from entering into the Great Lakes.”

Brown said that legislation was signed into law last summer. And while it dealt with the Great Lakes region, he believes more needs to be done to deal with other bodies of water including the Ohio River Basin.

“The bill would coordinate a new federal effort with Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Army Corps of Engineers and State Wildlife agencies to share best practices in technology to stop the threat,” Brown said. “The bill would require a yearly report to Congress on the efforts in the movement of Asian Carp within the Ohio and Upper Mississippi.”

The bill has the support of those who would be impacted the most by it.

“Personally and on an organizational basis, we fully support this bill, and I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Jeff Thomas, Biological Programs Manager at the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), said. “Not only for the potential for stopping the Asian carp from getting to the Great Lakes, but also for the potential of flowing, hopefully at least, or stopping their spread up the main from the Ohio River, and creating the conditions that we have seen in the Mississippi River and tributaries down there, such as the Illinois River.”

Thomas said the Ohio River is currently being recognized by people as a valuable resource.

“We see a lot of people out there kayaking, swimming events, things like that,” Thomas said. “All could be greatly jeopardized if the silver carp moves in, and the numbers that they could move in. There have been events in other parts of the Mississippi River Basin and even the lower Ohio River Basin that have been canceled due to silver carp and the hazard of people coming in contact with them.”

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com