Efforts to battle the ongoing assault on the Great Lakes ecosystem by invasive species such as Asian carp has diverged into two camps: clueless lawmakers and innovative thinkers.

State officials announced a few days ago that a contest they launched to find the most effective means of protecting the Great Lakes from invasive carp produced 353 entries from 27 countries.

At the same time, the state House, with relatively little input, last week voted overwhelmingly to water down restrictions on the international shipping industry that dumps harmful invasive species into our lakes when ocean freighters release their ballast water.

As for the competition of ideas, the Snyder administration, using a global crowd-sourcing website and a bit of reality TV show biz, netted new solutions that will be vetted, with the best rewarded handsomely.

Gov. Snyder announced the Great Lakes Invasive Carp Challenge during his State of the State address last January. The state pledged $1 million to seek innovative methods to prevent the movement of invasive carp species into Lake Michigan from the Illinois River through the Chicago Area Waterway System.

The governor expressed pleasure with the big response, saying that the contest had “unleashed the creativity and power of the entrepreneurial community.”

The solutions proposed will face review by a panel of expert judges, with eight finalists announced in February receiving awards of $25,000 each.

Finalists will present their sales pitches in March before an audience of judges, industry experts, university researchers, nonprofit organizations and venture capital representatives for additional cash awards totaling up to $500,000.

Invasive carp possess extraordinary leaping abilities that allow them to jump out of the water and eclipse barriers. In June, a 28-inch silver carp was caught approximately nine miles from Lake Michigan, beyond the Chicago area electric barrier system meant to keep invasive fish out of the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, the $7 billion fishing industry within the Great Lakes basin is also threatened by foreign aquatic species such as zebra and quagga mussels, plus the penetration of foreign plants that includes phragmites, which disrupt the lakes’ wildlife habitat, wetlands and freshwater deltas.

Yet, the state House voted 66-42 last week to weaken Michigan’s ballast water pollution standards on foreign cargo vessels. Those protections were passed in 2005 by the Legislature with near unanimous bipartisan support. The sponsor of this back-tracking legislation is Rep. Dan Lauwers, a Republican from the lakefront county of St. Clair.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters reacted with dismay to the news.

“As exemplified by Michigan’s experience with the invasive zebra and quagga mussels, it is incredibly expensive to manage and virtually impossible to eradicate invasive species once they are established in our lakes, rivers, and streams,” said Charlotte Jameson, government affairs director for the Michigan LCV.

“The absolute last thing we should be doing is making it easier for these invaders to get a foothold in the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, this short-sighted bill will do just that if it becomes law.”

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UPDATE: On Wednesday, other Michigan environmental groups weighed in, declaring that the bill’s intent of reverting back to federal Coast Guard standards for ballast water could be disastrous for the Great Lakes.

“Michigan has long been a leader in efforts to protect the Great Lakes from aquatic invasive species, passing statewide legislation in 2005 requiring oceangoing ships to install technology to clean up their ballast tanks. Rolling back the state’s rules, especially while federal ballast cleanup standards are under attack in Congress, is the wrong move at the worst time,” said Alliance for the Great Lakes President and CEO Joel Brammeier.

“This bill creates a loophole around Michigan’s current law which requires vessels to add ‘active treatment’ technologies that protect the Great Lakes from invasive species,” said James Clift, policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council. “By weakening these standards, the likely consequence is new invasive species entering the ecosystem which put our recreation and commercial fisheries at risk.”

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