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Editorial: U.S., Canada must join to fight invasive species in Great Lakes
The Oakland Press
Web-Published January 18, 2007

Lost amid the recent holiday rush and revelry was news that Michigan has received yet another unwanted gift from Europe. Scientists have discovered thousands of red mysid, an invasive species of shrimp, in the channel of Muskegon Lake, which empties into Lake Michigan.

Researchers believe the shrimp, scientific name Hemimysis anomala, could compete with fish native to the lakes for zooplankton as a source for food. Zooplankton is the very basis of the lakes' food chain. If the foreign invader spreads to threaten the elemental base of sustenance for all life in the lakes, that does not bode well for Great Lakes species.

And what is not good for Great Lakes species can spell a massive economic threat for Michigan.

The half-inch-long shrimp were likely introduced to the Great Lakes through a discharge of ballast water by an oceangoing freighter.

Steve Pothoven, a fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the shrimp come from the Ponto-Caspian region, the same region that brought other invasive species, such as the zebra mussel, quagga mussel and goby, to Michigan waters.

In fact, more than 180 so-called "exotic" species, courtesy of ballast dumping by overseas ships, now call the Great Lakes home. A new invasive species is discovered every eight months in the Great Lakes system.

Another threat, one tenuously held at bay so far, is the Asian carp, an alien species encroaching upon Lake Michigan via the Illinois River. Carp weigh up to 100 pounds each and would join the zebra mussel in decimating salmon, whitefi sh and trout populations in the Great Lakes.

These foreign invaders may not sound like a serious threat, but consider that Michigan's economy relies heavily upon the Great Lakes and the sport fisheries they provide.

Damage those fisheries, and millions of recreational dollars go elsewhere, hurting thousands of small-business owners, from gas station owners to charter captains. Those small-business owners employ thousands more Michiganians. When they suffer economically, we all suffer.

Since the Great Lakes were opened to oceangoing vessels by creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway 50 years ago, 180 foreign species have been carried into our once-sheltered waters. The erection of legal and physical barriers against contamination of various types is long overdue.

It is not enough to enact feel-good legislation that makes it illegal for the captains of oceangoing ships to dump ballast or that requires they treat that ballast before releasing it.

If we are to get serious about preserving the lakes and their economic impact, we must insist that American pilots - perhaps the Coast Guard - board those ships upon their entrance into the St. Lawrence Seaway and be present to inspect and oversea the treatment of ballast.

Canada has similar economic interests in the Great Lakes, and so its help should be sought.

Tough stands by the United States and Canada are the only way to protect these fragile water resources.

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