Testing the waters

Sen. Portman talks lake’s health with local officials, environmentalists
Tom Jackson
Aug 21, 2013

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman pulled two fish out of Lake Erie Saturday morning, then went ashore to fish for information on what he can do to help improve Lake Erie.

The senator met with about 20 environmentalists and reporters Saturday at an informal gathering around picnic tables at Channel Grove Marina. He said he remains concerned about Asian carp getting into Lake Erie, and he said the Senate would likely support funding to clean up the Great Lakes. Scientists fear that if the Asian carp gets into Lake Erie, it would crowd out desirable local fish such as yellow perch.

Portman said he co-authored a bill, which became law, to speed up a federal study of how to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers had planned to spend years studying options, but Congress ordered it to finish the study in 18 months.

Bruce Manny, of the U.S. Geological Survey, told Portman there’s plenty of DNA evidence Asian carp have been getting into the Great Lakes system. “I frankly think they’re in Lake Michigan,” Manny said. But Manny doubts Asian carp are in Lake Erie yet. The

Asian carp DNA that has been found in a few samples from Lake Erie is probably “simply bird poop,” he said.

Jeff Reutter, director of Stone Laboratory, said Lake Erie has plenty of plankton for the carp to eat. “The other lakes, it’s a challenge for them to get enough to eat,” he said. The Asian carp also need a large tributary to spawn, and unfortunately the Maumee River appears to be ideal for that, Reutter said.

Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has become an issue in Congress. A House Appropriations subcommittee cut funding from $285 million this year to $60 million next year. The full Appropriations Committee then raised funding to $210 million. “I was surprised by the subcommittee’s cut,” Portman said. “I think there’s more support in the Senate.” But many programs face cuts as Congress struggles to try to trim the deficit, he said. “Let’s be honest. The budget is a problem,” he said. “It’s going to be tight.”

Before his meeting, Portman ventured out onto the lake on a boat run by charter boat captain Paul Pacholski, who pointed out that the senator didn’t have much time to relax and just fish because “everybody was bending his ear the whole time.”