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Great Lakes Article:

Bill targets invasive fish species
People who release them into state waters to face fines, prison time if measure passes
By Gene Schabath
The Detroit News

CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP - People who release invasive aquatic species such as bighead carp or snakefish into state waters could go to prison for five years and pay as much as $250,000 in fines, under a bill approved last week by the state House.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Dan Acciavatti, R-Chesterfield Township, will go to the state Senate, which is considering a similar measure.

Invasive species have been a problem in the Great Lakes and in Lake St. Clair for 20 years, with the introduction of exotic species such as the zebra mussel, round goby and river ruffe.

Frank Schoonover, 73, of Harsens Island said he welcomes the legislation but thinks a more serious threat is posed by foreign freighters discharging their ballast waters into the Great Lakes.

"They should be chlorinating their ballast waters to kill invasive species they pick up in foreign waters," Schoonover said. Legislation covering foreign ships has been proposed in Lansing.

The most dramatic example of foreign species invading state waters is the zebra mussel. Introduced into the St. Clair River in the mid-1980s, zebra mussels are now in all of the Great Lakes and many of the state’s inland lakes and have spread into the Mississippi River chain, causing billions of dollars in damage and the decline of some native aquatic species.

"I do a lot of scuba diving in Lake Huron and the St. Clair River and the number of zebra mussels is unbelievable," Acciavatti said.

But Acciavatti said a new generation of non-native fish poses a more serious threat in the Great Lakes, such as the bighead carp and Asian carp.

The bighead carp, which can grow to 100 pounds, have caused environmental havoc in rivers and lakes in the South and Midwest because they devour huge volumes of food. Fish scientists fear they could cause a steep decline in native fish species and wipe out large volumes of zooplankton, a food source for young fish.

Two bighead carp were caught in fishing nets in 2001 off Pointe Pelee in Lake Erie, about 25 miles from Lake St. Clair. Bighead carp escaped from fish farms in Arkansas in 1994 and ended up in many tributaries of the Mississippi River.

Bighead carp are close to entering Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Boat Canal. Electrical barriers have been installed in attempts to thwart the invasion.

Foreign species are such a problem that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will open a national center in Ann Arbor in the spring to research invasive species.

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