Spinal Column: Comprehensive legislation will combat aquatic invasive species

By Sen. Mike Kowall
15th Senate District
Aquatic invasive species present a significant risk to the ecosystem and overall health of the Great Lakes. As more and more invasions have been tracked in the region, it has become apparent that unless sweeping measures are taken, the health of the basin, its habitat and the fishery will continue to decline.
I am the lead sponsor of an eight-bill package that addresses continued threats posed by the illegal introduction, possession, use, transfer or sale of prohibited aquatic invasive species.
An invasive species is one that is not native to an area and whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
Senate Bills 795 – 802 would increase the fines for the illegal possession of aquatic invasive species; allow for the seizure of all equipment used in the introduction, possession and sale of these species; allow for the suspension of related commercial licenses; and suspend the responsible party’s right to fish and hunt in Michigan.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has reported that the invasive species bighead and silver carp are spreading to lakes, rivers and streams in the Mississippi River and Great Lakes region. They are not yet established here but are well-suited to the climate of the region.
Biologists expect that if these carp establish themselves, they will significantly disrupt the food chain that supports the native fish of the Great Lakes, diminish fishing opportunities and reduce the desire for recreational boating activities in areas inhabited by these fish.
Michigan law currently bans the possession of a select list of aquatic invasive species and expressly prohibits the possession, sale, transport or transfer of those prohibited species. However, there recently has been an increase in the trafficking of these species. 
Increasing the fines and enacting other penalties will help to serve as a serious deterrent for the recent increase in this activity.
My bill, SB 795:
  • Increases jail time from two to three years and maximum dollar fines from $20,000 to $100,000 for the possession of a prohibited aquatic invasive species;
  • Provides for the seizure and forfeiture of a vehicle, equipment or other property used in a criminal violation involving an aquatic species; and
  • Requires the court to order any commercial fishing license to be suspended for one year for a person who commits a criminal violation involving an aquatic species. For a second and subsequent violation, the licenses would be revoked.
SBs 795 – 802 have been referred to the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee for consideration.
I hope the committee takes up this package soon. The health and economy of the region may just depend on it.

This column first appeared in the Spinal Column.  Senator Mike Kowall, R-White Lake, is a member of the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee and the chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee. He serves the residents of the 15th Senate District, representing western Oakland County.