Oakland Press: Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week reminds us to be diligent

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By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District

Here in Michigan, we are blessed with a superabundance of lakes, rivers and streams, and now that summer is here, many of us have already been out boating, fishing and swimming in them.

As we enjoy our time on the water, it is important to remember that Michigan still faces serious threats to our waters that could devastate our natural resources and economy.

Aquatic invasive species present a significant risk to the ecosystem and overall health of the Great Lakes. As more and more invasions have been tracked in the region, it has become apparent that unless sweeping measures are taken, the health of the basin, its habitat and the fishery will continue to decline.

The first week of July has been designated Aquatic Invasive Species Awareness Week. This week is a time to remind everyone of the critical role they can play in the fight against aquatic invasive species.

Residents are encouraged to increase their understanding and awareness of aquatic invasive species and their ecological and economic impacts, and to take preventative measures to help stop the spread and introduction of these species in Michigan.

An invasive species is one that is not native to an area and whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

A few years ago, I was the lead sponsor of a package of bills, now law, that addressed continued threats posed by the illegal introduction, possession, use, transfer or sale of prohibited aquatic invasive species.

That law has increased the fines for the illegal possession of aquatic invasive species; allows for the seizure of all equipment used in the introduction, possession and sale of these species; allows for the suspension of related commercial licenses; and suspends the responsible party’s right to fish and hunt in Michigan.

More than 180 nonindigenous aquatic invasive species have been introduced to the Great Lakes, many of which are displacing native species, disrupting habitats, and degrading natural, managed and agricultural landscapes.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has reported that the invasive species bighead and silver carp are spreading to lakes, rivers and streams in the Mississippi River and Great Lakes region. They are not yet established here but are well-suited to the climate of the region.

Biologists expect that if these carp establish themselves, they will significantly disrupt the food chain that supports the native fish of the Great Lakes, diminish fishing opportunities and reduce the desire for recreational boating activities in areas inhabited by these fish.

We must remember that we are the first line of defense in preventing the accidental spreading of invasive species. If we’re boating or fishing, we can take a few proactive steps to avoid accidentally spreading invasive species, such as washing boats and trailers before leaving access areas and drying boats and equipment for at least five days before launching them into a different body of water.

We all treasure the beauty of Pure Michigan. May we do all we can to keep it beautiful.

For more information about aquatic invasive species, visit www.michigan.gov/Invasives.

This column appeared in the Oakland Press. Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is the Michigan Senate majority floor leader. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.