Statement about Senate Bill 955:
Great Lakes Regulation of Ballast Water
Senator Ken Sikkema
April 10, 2000
Great Lakes Fishery Commission Secretariat
The Great Lakes Fishery Commission is pleased to provide comments about exotic species introduced into the Great Lakes through ballast water discharge. We appreciate all you have done, Senator, to address this critical issue.
The fisheries of the Great Lakes are extremely valuable resources. The fisheries generate up to $4 billion annually for the region, support 75,000 jobs, provide recreation to nearly 5 million anglers, and are important to our natural heritage. It is imperative that we do everything possible to sustain the fisheries and to make them more vibrant.
Today, one of the biggest threats this valuable fishery faces is biological pollution. Organisms from all over the world, living in the ballast of ocean-going vessels, arrive in our Great Lakes every day. Through the discharge of ballast water, these organisms are virtually invited to make the Great Lakes their permanent home. Although most organisms introduced into the Great Lakes die or do not reproduce, some do make it, and the consequences are not only harmful to the environment and economically costly, but they are also permanent.
Nobody knows this better than the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The commission was formed in 1955 in part to address the devastating impact of the sea lamprey, an exotic pest introduced into the Great Lakes through shipping canals. Sea lampreys are enormously destructive to the fishery and, despite the successful control program which we deliver, they remain a constant threat to the prosperity of the fishery, should controls be relaxed. I use the example of the sea lamprey to illustrate that once an exotic species takes hold, the species is here to stay.
Sea lampreys, of course, are not the only pest species we contend with. Since the 1800s, 145 exotic species have become established in the Great Lakes aquatic ecosystem, with almost one-third of those being introduced since 1970. According to Dr. Ed Mills of Cornell University et al, in a landmark study of exotic species in the Great Lakes, ballast water discharge is the prime vector for the exotic species that harm our fishery. It is no coincidence, indeed, that the surge in exotic species introductions has been coincidental with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959.
High-profile introductions of the late 1980s—particularly the zebra mussel and the Eurasian ruffe—helped prompt the governments of Canada and the United States to pass legislation to regulate ballast water, in particular to call for exchange of ballast water prior to a ship’s entering the Great Lakes.
I am sad to report, Senator, that despite ballast control measures, the rate of new introductions has not slowed. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, in a letter being sent to the Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and to the Honorable Madeline Albright, the U.S. Secretary of State, has thus concluded that the ballast-water-exchange programs of Canada and the United States on their own do not adequately protect the Great Lakes from additional introductions of exotic species. The letter will be available shortly (http://www.glfc.org). The commission further concludes that while it is likely that some exotic species were denied access to the Great Lakes because of ballast programs, mounting evidence strongly indicates that additional controls need to be implemented.
These conclusions are based on the fact that since 1989, when government programs for ballast exchange began, seven new animal species, originating from areas previously associated with ballast-water introductions, have become established in the Great Lakes. These species include:
· The tubenose goby in 1990
· The round goby in 1990
· The quagga mussel in 1991
· The New Zealand mud snail in 1991
· The amphipod Echinogammarus ischnus in 1995
· The cladoceran water flea Cercopagis pengoi in 1998, and
· The amphipod Corophium mucronatum in 1997
The commission notes that juvenile specimens of Chinese mitten crabs and European flounder have also been reported in the decade since ballast exchange commenced. These two species can live but do not reproduce in freshwater, and, thus, biologists can reliably establish the date of introductions. I have with me today, as an example, a flounder that was caught just two weeks ago by an Ontario commercial fisherman in Lake Erie. This flounder is not native; it most likely came in through ballast as a juvenile and has been living in the Great Lakes for the past few years. The continuing discovery of specimens such as this further supports our contention that ballast water from oceangoing ships continues to threaten the integrity of the Great Lakes.
Anglers, commercial fishermen, and environmentalists—major stakeholders in the health of the Great Lakes fishery—are deeply concerned as well. Environmentalists note with alarm the long-term threats of this biological pollution to the Great Lakes ecosystem. Fishers are reporting decreased success, fish in poor condition, and major shifts in fish communities. Due to habitat loss and exotic invaders, North American aquatic ecosystems are said to be experiencing extinctions at a rate equivalent to that of tropical rain forests. Here in the Great Lakes, probably due to interactions with the ballast invader zebra mussel, we are currently witnessing the loss of major prey items such as the amphipod Diporiea and endangered species such as the northern riffleshell clam.
The Advisors to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission have weighed-in on this issue. Advisors—who are citizens nominated by state governors and appointed by the commission—represent the sport fishery, the commercial fishery, the public-at-large, and state agencies. Over the years, they have voiced concern about the influx of exotic species. Most recently, during last month’s Lake Committee meetings held in Ann Arbor, advisors from all states bordering Lake Michigan passed a resolution that commended Senator Sikkema for introducing Senate Bill 955 and urged other Great Lakes states to follow Michigan’s lead. I have attached a copy of their resolution to this statement, for your consideration.
Exotic species is a problem that also concerns management agencies basinwide. During the recent Lake Committee meetings, fishery managers from state, intertribal, and provincial agencies discussed the issue and supported efforts to control completely all the biological components of ballast within the Great Lakes basin. The lake committee members noted that non-native organisms have profoundly influenced native species and food webs. The next introduction could add to the devastation. So, state, tribal and provincial fishery managers agree that more needs to be done to address this priority problem.
Senator, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is encouraged by your efforts to eliminate future introduction of exotic species into the Great Lakes through ballast water discharge. Your legislation draws attention to this critical issue and serves to remind governments that bold action needs to be taken to address this problem. The commission feels very strongly that exotic species introductions threaten the very existence of our valuable fishery and must be stopped—now.
Thank you, again, for holding these hearings and for your action to address this serious problem. I thank you for considering my testimony and am pleased to answer any questions.