U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, today announced Committee passage of her measure that authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to take emergency measures in the event of an imminent threat of Asian carp and other aquatic nuisance species entering the Great Lakes. In addition, the bill also includes the Harbor Maintenance Act, which would keep money in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund that could help dredge small harbors like those on the Great Lakes.
"The health of the Great Lakes, and all of our waterways, ports and harbors are key to the health of our economy, and the health of our families," Senator Gillibrand said. "The spread of Asian carp must be stopped before permanently disturbing the natural ecosystem. And we need to make key investments to strengthen our local ports and harbors so we are making the most of their potential to attract businesses and support new jobs, and grow our economy."
Asian carp are large, prolific and consume vast amounts of food -- weighing up to 100 pounds and ranging as long as four feet -- disrupting the food chain that supports native fish. Their large size, ravenous appetites and rapid rate of reproduction pose a significant threat to New York's ecosystem. This aggressive invasive species could destroy the Great Lakes fish populations, devastating the $7 billion recreational fishing industry, tourism industry and the general economic well-being of the entire region.
The economy and the ecosystem of the entire Great Lakes region are at risk because of the imminent threat of the invasive Asian carp. Current efforts to control the spread of Asian carp include two electrical barriers around Chicago where the Mississippi River links to the Great Lakes. However, these efforts have fallen short, as illustrated by evidence indicating that Asian carp may have migrated past the electrical barrier. The DNA evidence found implies that the Asian carp may now be as close as 6 miles from Lake Michigan, 20 miles closer than previously thought. The invasion of Asian carp into Lake Michigan is significant, since at that point they will have the ability to migrate to all of the Great Lakes.
Senator Gillibrand's amendment would permanently authorize the Army Corps to take emergency measures in the event of an imminent threat of aquatic nuisance species, which includes Asian carp, entering the Great Lakes. Specifically, it allows the Army Corps of Engineers to implement measures to improve the effectiveness of the Electric Dispersal Barriers at the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal to stop the flow of Asian carp into the Great Lakes. It would also allow the Corps to take emergency measures should an emergency situation occur in which Asian carp are threatening to enter the Great Lakes through any of the aquatic pathways from the Mississippi River Basin.
In addition, Senator Gillibrand's Harbor Maintenance Act was included in the bill. Currently, the Harbor Maintenance Tax is assessed on cargo shipped into U.S. ports and the revenue is deposited into the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to pay for the maintenance and dredging of harbors. However, funds in the HMTF have been consistently diverted to fund other things, leaving the HMTF with insufficient funding to maintain all of our harbors to their authorized width and depth. Due to the lack of full funding for dredging projects, many of our smaller and medium sized harbors are not receiving funding from the Corps to sufficiently dredge. This threatens their ability to stay open for business. The Harbor Maintenance Act creates a guarantee that all of the taxes collected by the Harbor Maintenance Tax are spent on maintaining harbors. This provision also includes language requested by Senator Gillibrand that would add priority for small harbors that have not been fully dredged in the previous five years. Fully funding the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund would provide additional funding to allow the Corps to also prioritize small harbors, and would help our Great Lakes ports, like Rochester and Oswego.