Column: Preserve funding to protect Lake Erie

Lake Erie is a treasure for Ohio. In addition to being Ohio’s No. 1 tourist destination, Lake Erie provides drinking water for 3 million Ohioans and jobs for hundreds of thousands of families. We must protect this precious resource.

As co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force — a bipartisan group of senators who work on policies to help protect our Great Lakes — this has been one of my top priorities in the Senate. I successfully led efforts to pass legislation to combat toxic algal blooms, stop invasive Asian carp from getting into the lakes, and ban the use of plastic microbeads that slip through water treatment plants and accumulate in fish, causing a health risk to humans.

I have also successfully led efforts to fully fund what’s called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the past two federal budgets when the Obama and Trump administrations tried reducing its funding. Recently, I sent a bipartisan letter to the administration calling for full funding of $300 million for the program in next year’s budget.

This program needs full funding because the challenges facing the Great Lakes are constantly evolving. Lake Erie’s shallow water and warmer temperatures are both a blessing and a curse: They have made our lake the most biologically productive of the Great Lakes, but they have also attracted invasive species.

There is a growing invasive species risk to the Great Lakes that requires attention now. It’s called the sea lamprey. First found in Lake Erie in the 1920s, sea lamprey pose a significant threat to some of the most important native fish in the lake, including trout, walleye, whitefish, and salmon. Sometimes referred to as the “vampire fish,” sea lamprey feed by latching on to larger fish and draining their blood.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission recently reported that sea lamprey control programs have significantly reduced the number of sea lamprey across the Great Lakes since control efforts began 60 years ago. But they now see that progress being reversed by an increase in these invasive fish. They say thousands of sea lamprey must still be removed from Lake Erie in order to protect and sustain native fish populations that contribute to the region’s $7 billion fishing industry.

That is why the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and its partners continue to build upon its sea lamprey control program to prevent further migration and reproduction. They have received more than $17 million from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to perform additional research and develop new methods to combat sea lamprey in the Great Lakes.

The results are promising. For the first time in history, natural odors produced by sea lamprey are being replicated and used to lure adult sea lamprey into traps for removal. These innovative methods are crucial to controlling such a resilient species, and I will continue fighting to fully fund these programs that aim to protect our lake with real, tangible results.

In addition, to ensure that research on sea lamprey and other invasive species continues, I introduced the bipartisan Great Lakes Fishery Research Authorization Act with my colleagues Sens. Gary Peters (D., Mich.) and Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.). This legislation would authorize the Great Lakes Science Center for the first time and prioritize research and support for the Great Lakes’ sport and commercial fishery industry. Continued research on invasive species and how to control them is critical to ensuring the health of the Great Lakes’ fishing industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports.

Unfortunately, although sea lamprey are one of the most detrimental invasive species, they are not the only ones to have made their way into the Great Lakes. The commission and its partners are continuing to combat current predators and stop others from infiltrating our lakes’ ecosystem. There are species of Asian carp that we can still prevent from entering the Great Lakes, and I am working with my colleagues to do just that.

I take pride in working with my bipartisan colleagues to support Lake Erie and deliver results for Ohio. Just last year, four of my bills were signed into law to better preserve the Great Lakes, including measures to provide resources to address Flint-like water crises, prevent inappropriate disposal of dredged materials from the Cleveland Harbor, restore fish and wildlife populations, and renew the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

We have made progress in this endeavor, but we have much work ahead of us. I want the next generation of Ohioans to fully enjoy and experience the beauty of Lake Erie, and I work every day in Congress to protect the future of our lake.


Rob Portman is a U.S. Senator from Ohio. You may contact him through his website,