Candice Miller for Congress, Michigan

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OUTDOORS: Are Asian Carp a threat to fisheries?

by Candice Miller on July 26, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011
Special to The Oakland Press
Calling Lake St. Clair “one of the most beautiful regions” found anywhere in the United State, Congresswoman Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said that distinction can only be true based on how the lake’s fishery performs.
“I’m a lifetime boater,” said Miller, a native of Harrison Township. “I’ve used these waters my entire life.”
Miller said Southeast Michigan faces a lot of challenges as aquatic invasive species and sewage treatment plant overflows continue to wreak havoc on Lake St. Clair.
Yet, legislation protecting the waterway, along with grass roots water quality groups has helped the fishery, according to Miller, who hosted a panel of experts for the State of Lake St. Clair and Great Lakes Fisheries report held June 30 at Metro Beach Metropark in Harrison Township.
“We have 27 percent of the fresh water – drinkable water – in the world,” Miller said referring to the Great Lakes. “We have to make sure we continue to protect the Great Lakes.”
Miller hosted the informal discussion with biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to talk about the health of various fish species in Lake St. Clair and the Great Lakes.
Audience members from the community were able to ask the experts questions, who obliged them with their best answers. Topics included a discussion on invasive species and their impact on the fish populations such as perch, walleye, muskie, salmon and lake sturgeon.
Miller called invasive species “salties,” and said many ocean-going freighters small enough to get through the St. Lawrence Seaway in the past came into the Great Lakes and “dump their ballasts.”
“Now they are checking every ocean-going salty to make sure certified holes are shut,” Miller noted. “Should have been done a long time ago, but at least now it’s getting done.”
Miller said state and federal governments share authority over the regulation and management of fish and fishing in the U.S.
Miller’s panel included James C. Boase, who was the lead the presenter from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Todd Grischke, who was the lead for the MDNR Fisheries; and Brian Pannepacker, a staffer for State Senator Brandenburg and Rep. Miller. Brandenburg could not make the discussion as he was called into Lansing the day of the event.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a bureau with the U.S. Department of the Interior. Their mission is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the U.S.
The agenda also featured a general update from the DNR on the status of area sport fisheries; the status of the walleye fishery; recently funded Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program projects; and salmon stocking.
Among the items discussed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service included: Partnership building (HEC Work Group); Lake sturgeon spawning; Lake trout stocking; Aquatic invasive species control efforts; and recently completed fish passage and habitat restoration projects.
To get things rolling, Miller, a Republican from Michigan’s 10th District, said she’s been an advocate of protecting the Great Lakes from the Asian Carp since she was supervisor in Harrison Township. Miller applauded efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep electronic barriers up on rivers leading to the Great Lakes to prevent the spread. “Hopefully, to keep them out of the Great Lakes, it’s not going to be a partisan battle,” Miller said. “It’s a geographic battle.”
Miller, who is Chairman on the Subcommittee on Border & Maritime Security, said Asian Carp in the Great Lakes will have a “negative economic value to the state.”
“The difference is night and day,” she told a packed audience attended by a wide range of people ranging from health officials to water quality advocates to fishing club members. “Agree to close these locks. The attorney generals are following through with lawsuits filed. Illinois and Indiana are fighting this.”
Miller said the Asian carp battle is in the Supreme Court. “We want to make sure the fisheries thrive here,” Miller said before giving way to a panel of experts.
Todd Grischke, the DNR Lake Huron Basin Coordinator, was joined by Jim Johnson and Jim Francis of the DNR Fisheries Division. Grischke said he has witnessed first-hand the impact of invasive species.
“In Lake Huron its unprecedented damage,” he said. “There are things we can and can’t do. We try to get that information and analysis it.”
Grischke said zebra mussels eat the bottom of the food chain. “They affect what’s left for forage fish,” he noted.
Because alewives are the primary forage fish, they are now almost gone, Grischke said.
“Looking to make significant change,” he said.
Grischke said steelhead are being planted in local rivers like the Clinton River in that runs through Oakland and Macomb counties and into Lake St. Clair. But he was more excited about Brown trout. “It’s the second year of stocking Brown trout in Lake Huron. Many of these rearing programs are through the Fishing Restoration Act. Use that money to put back into the resource.”
Grischke said native species like walleye and lake trout are “going through the roof.”
“But with the absence of alewives …,” he said.
Still, Grischke said “catch rates are their highest in years despite the alewives decline.”
Another good report for fishermen was the rise in native largemouth bass in Lake Erie, the sturgeon population in the St. Clair River, and a rise in yellow perch catches from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie.
A “huge increase in sea lamprey,” meanwhile, has the DNR stumped. “We want to know why,” Grischke said of the increase in lamprey. “Concerned it could affect other species.”
Meanwhile, Boase, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official who heads up the Midwest Region Fisheries Program, said the Great Lakes is both “used and misused.”
“But some good things happening,” he said.
“So many partners,” Boase said, noting he took Macomb County Commissioner Don Brown out for a day on the water with biologist Mike Thomas of the DNR to witness up close the Sturgeon Assessment Program. “There were some interested people, and the Fish & Wildlife Service trying to learn as much as we can for the Great Lakes Restoration Act.”
Boase said specifically the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is doing a mass marketing initiative to invest into mass marketing strategies.
“It’s a comprehensive fish tagging program,” he said. “The goal is to get production up for sportsmen anglers to provide salmon and trout, and analyze the data.”
Boase said three strains of lake trout were stocked in Lake Huron from April 12 to May 4 this year with 1.3 million fish released. “We have lake trout spawning surveys,” he said. “The state can manage and do research in Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River and St. Clair River.”
Boase also told the audience about the spawning reefs at Belle Isle that started producing in 2003. “Fourteen species were using that site,” he said. “Walleye is one of the success stories.”
There was also lake trout spawning in the Detroit River near Zug Island starting in 2008. “Up to 16 species utilizing the Fighting Island Reef,” Boase said.
Boase talked about other fish restoration successes, including the Middle Channel Reef at Dickinson Island located between the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair. “Spawning habitat applications to other locations is what we hope to pull from here,” he said.
Also, the Cascade Dam Habitat Restoration project conducted with help from the Clinton River Watershed Council discovered 22 mussel species in Macomb County, Boase said.
Many groups in the audience were represented, including the Lake St. Clair Walleye Association which had nine members attend. Other questions ranged from cormorants (too many of them eating too many fish) to VHS disease to sewage overflows to aquatic invasive species

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