Restore Our Great Lakes
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is accepting written comments through March 31 on its Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin Interbasin Feasibility Study (GLMRIS). The way this study is conducted will determine how quickly and how effectively the federal government will act to stop Asian carp and other invasive species from entering the Great Lakes basin, potentially devastating the more than $7 billion Great Lakes fishery. The study was authorized by Congress in 2007 requiring that the Corps determine options to prevent invasive species from moving between the Great Lakes and Mississippi basins through the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal and other pathways. The Izaak Walton League encourages you to submit comments in support of a permanent hydrologic separation between the basins, which will restore natural conditions and be the most effective way to prevent the migration of Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species. For more information, click here.
Natural and Economic Resource
Something about the Great Lakes evokes a sense of timelessness. Each grain of sand on their wave-swept shores shares a 10,000-year-old legacy that started with the retreat of glaciers during the last Ice Age. Together, the five lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario—make up the largest surface freshwater ecosystem on the planet. Life-giving tributaries, prairies, sand dunes, forests, and wetlands are some of what make them such a rich landscape for fish and wildlife.
The Great Lakes also provide abundant opportunities for outdoor recreation. Boaters explore the inland waters, islands, lighthouses, and city harbors. Anglers come for the abundance of lake trout, salmon, steelheads, walleye, muskellunge, and other game fish. Together, the eight states bordering the Great Lakes hold one-third of the nation’s total registered boats and more than 1.8 million licensed anglers. Commercial and sport fishing contribute a combined $4 billion to the region’s economy.
Outdoor recreation isn’t just limited to boating and fishing. The high dunes along Lake Michigan’s shoreline attract hikers and hang gliders. Lake Superior’s wilderness and colorful sandstone cliffs invite campers and nature lovers. The resident and migrating waterfowl and shorebirds make Lake Erie a prime bird-watching spot. In Lake Huron, Mackinac Island State Park allows cross-country skiers free reign. And the trails and waterways of Lake Ontario are perfect for biking or paddling. Altogether, more than 70 million people recreate in the Great Lakes each year, spending $15 billion.
The Great Lakes basin is home to 25 percent of all Canadian agricultural production and 7 percent of all U.S. agricultural production. The region also hosts half of Canadian manufacturing and one-fifth of U.S. manufacturing. Of course, nothing defines the Great Lakes economy more than shipping and trade. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System is one of the largest shipping routes in the world, stretching 2,343 miles to connect the heart of North America to international ports and markets. About 80 percent of the annual cargo is iron ore, coal, grain, and steel. More than 200 million tons of cargo are moved on the lakes each year.
Entry Point for Aquatic Invaders
Beneath the majestic, rolling waves of the Great Lakes lurks a hidden menace. At least 183 non-native aquatic species—animals like zebra mussels and round gobies and fish diseases like viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS)—are established in the lakes, with a new one discovered on average every eight months. They arrive to the lakes via maritime commerce, aquaculture, canals, recreational activities, and the pet trade. Safe from the predators and diseases of their native habitat, they reproduce exponentially.
Invasive species are turning the Great Lakes food chain on its head. Consider the zebra mussel. One mussel can filter about a quart of water each day as it feeds on plankton. Multiply that by a million zebra mussels and the result is substantially reduced plankton. Algae and plankton, the basis of any aquatic food chain, are being devoured faster than they can replenish themselves. As a result, the waters are increasingly becoming devoid of native fish and other life. The University of Wisconsin’s Sea Grant Institute has found that since 1990, when zebra mussels really began to take hold, Lake Michigan’s yellow perch population has decreased by about 80 percent.
Newly introduced species such as the round goby, sea lamprey, and spiny water flea are teaming up to overwhelm the native lake trout, walleye, yellow perch, and muskellunge populations that have helped to make the Great Lakes both a commercial and sport fishing.
Untreated ballast water remains a critical major conduit for the introduction of invasive species into major waterways; however, recreational boaters and anglers have also contributed to the spread of aquatic invaders into our lakes, streams, and rivers. In fact, more than 230 small lakes in the Great Lakes region have thriving populations of zebra mussels that were unintentionally introduced by folks on a recreational boat ride or fishing trip.
The Izaak Walton League's
Great Lakes Conservation Efforts
League members in each of the Great Lakes states have joined together to promote restoration of our beautiful Great Lakes. The League’s current priorities are stopping aquatic invasive species and protecting water supply. Our Clean Boats Campaign engages boaters, anglers, and other water recreationists in stopping the spread of aquatic hitchhikers by properly cleaning equipment after each use.
For more information on the League’s Great Lakes restoration efforts, read the Great Defenders and Great Expectations articles from "Outdoor America" magazine. To receive action alerts and legislative updates, please visit our Advocacy Center.
We are also working toward better legislative protection of the Great Lakes on the federal and state levels. The League suggests several steps to halt the invasion. First, there needs to be better coordination between the agencies responsible for managing Great Lakes shipping. Many invasives arrive in the ballast water of seagoing vessels. The League believes that one agency should be assigned the lead for developing and enforcing ballast water regulations. In addition, the Coast Guard should begin enforcing the ballast water regulations it is responsible for under the National Invasives Species Act, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should regulate ballast water discharge as a nonpoint source pollutant under the Clean Water Act. One technique for treating ballast water that the League thinks should be used more is known as “swish and spit.” Basically, anytime a ship enters the lakes, its ballast tanks are flushed with chlorinated water to kill any hitchhikers. For more on this topic, read the League’s "Position Paper on Ballast Water Management in the Great Lakes" (PDF). For information on proposed solutions, read "Bridging Ballast Water Treatment Technology Gaps (Discussion Draft)" (PDF) by Phyllis Green, National Park Service, and Scott Smith, U.S. Geological Survey.
Second, the Lacey Act should be amended to include all non-native species to the Great Lakes. This legislation already makes it illegal to trade animals or plants taken in violation of any U.S., Indian tribal, or foreign law, treaty, or regulation. Adding exotics to the list would help reduce the likelihood of invasives being introduced through pet, bait, and live fish markets.
Finally, the Mississippi River and other watersheds should be completely separated from the Great Lakes. Currently, they are connected through canals, allowing invasive species to travel from the Great Lakes into other watersheds.
Great Lakes Water
As climate change, development, and other factors cause water shortages in some parts of the country, there is growing pressure to divert water from the Great Lakes to alleviate these problems. To make sure the lakes wouldn't be exploited at the expense of the 40 million people living in the Great Lakes watershed, governors from the eight Great Lakes states endorsed the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact in 2005. This compact would bank new and increased diversion of water from the Great Lakes unless approved by the governors of all eight Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The compact has been ratified by each of the eight states and is in review in the two Canadian provinces.
Partner Efforts To Restore the Great
The Izaak Walton League joins Healthy Lakes, Healthy Lives in support of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, a comprehensive regional plan that dedicates funding to protect our drinking water, economic future, and way of life. For more information, updates on specific pieces of legislation, and ways to get involved, visit the Healthy Lakes, Healthy Lives Web site.
Learn more about the Great Lakes and other actions you can take to protect our waterways on the Great Lakes Forever and Great Lakes United Web sites. The Great Lakes Sea Grant Network is a partnership of public and private sectors that combine research, education, and technology transfer for public service. The site has a wealth of information about the Great Lakes region, including many educational resources.