Stabenow, Peters, Benishek Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Boost Great Lakes Funding, Modernize Research Capabilities

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (MI), Gary Peters (MI) and Reps. Dan Benishek, M.D. (MI-1) and Mike Quigley (IL-5) today introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to spur Great Lakes funding and research efforts and help support effective fishery management decisions. The Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization (GLFRA) Act gives the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) the clear legislative authority it needs to support the $7 billion Great Lakes sport and commercial fishery industry. This bill will provide better federal funding opportunities to update technologies and create new research projects to benefit the Great Lakes, which hold one-fifth of the world’s fresh water surface water. This legislation will help close the resource gap between the Great Lakes Science Center and other fishery research centers across the country. Despite the size of the Great Lakes and the value of the fishery, the Great Lakes science program does not have the same funding authorizations as science centers on saltwater coasts.

“Our Great Lakes and waterways are part of who we are and our way of life,” said Senator Stabenow, Co-Chair of the Great Lakes Task Force. “From water quality issues to invasive species, there are so many challenges facing our lakes and fisheries, which is why funding for cutting-edge research is so important.”

“The Great Lakes are an ecological treasure, not just for Michiganders, but for Americans across the country,” said Senator Peters, member of the Great Lakes Task Force. “The Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act will increase certainty for the Great Lakes by ending piecemeal funding and putting in place a pathway for steady, long-term federal support. Giving the USGS, Great Lakes Science Center the legislative authority that it deserves will assist research efforts and aid development of advanced data collection technologies, so that we can continue to protect the diverse Great Lakes ecosystem and the regional economies it supports.”

“The Great Lakes fisheries are a key source of economic activity, and support countless jobs and a way of life here in Michigan,” said Dr. Benishek, member of the Great Lakes Task Force. “By ensuring a dedicated source of federal funding to support research activities, this bipartisan initiative will help combat issues facing the Great Lakes like invasive species and allow the sport and commercial fishing industry to remain viable and vibrant.”

“Chicagoans understand the role the Great Lakes play as an economic driver for our region. In order to protect and improve this unique resource, we must support the necessary scientific advancements that help to develop new research technologies and enhance Great Lakes fishery assessments so we can better understand the health of the ecosystem,” said Congressman Quigley, member of the Great Lakes Task Force. “The Great Lakes Science Center is already conducting vital research, but they are limited by piecemeal funding from Congress. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act with Congressman Benishek to ensure the Great Lakes Science Center has the funding it needs to better manage the complex challenges of the Great Lakes ecosystem.”  

The legislation is supported by a broad coalition of environmental and conservation groups, including Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Council of Lake Committees, Council of Great Lakes Fisheries Agencies, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Shedd Aquarium, Trout Unlimited, and JMS Naval Architects.

“We must protect and improve the Great Lakes fishery, and science is the foundation of that mission,” said Great Lakes Fishery Commission vice-chair David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.  “A healthy fishery means a healthy environment and economy. The more we know about what is going on with the fishery, the more equipped we are to protect it and manage it well.”

“The Great Lakes are vital to the economy of all of the states bordering them, and they are an environmental treasure,” said Dale Tahtinen, Vice President for Governmental Relations, Michigan Technological University. “We must preserve them not only for today, but for future generations.”

Since 1996, the Great Lakes Science Center has been funded through the U.S. Geological Survey’s base appropriations with no dedicated funding source of its own. The USGS, Great Lakes Science Center needs authorizing legislation and a reliable funding stream to conduct and modernize fishery research throughout the five Great Lakes to support wise fishery management decisions. This bill gives the USGS Director more leverage to devote money to the Great Lakes and authorizes $17.5M for fiscal years 2017-2026.

Based in Ann Arbor, the USGS, Great Lakes Science Center maintains staff and field stations in five of the eight Great Lakes States, including Michigan, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin. It owns and operates five large fishery research vessels, and is the only agency that conducts lake-wide fisheries science assessments on each of the five Great lakes.

The USGS, Great Lakes Science Center has made significant research contributions, including advancing a suite of projects to support restoration efforts of native prey fish populations throughout the Great Lakes basin; leading world-class research on the most notable invasive species in the history of the Great Lakes: the parasitic sea lamprey; and helping to implement one of the largest freshwater telemetry fish-movement-tracking networks in the world. These efforts help scientists better assess the status of native fish populations or target invasive species control with more accuracy.