Critics: Proposed ship ballast
limits won't halt invasive species
By Jen Degregorio
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Lawmakers and environmentalists argued Thursday
that an international plan to limit the introduction of
invasive species in ships' ballast is not nearly stringent
enough to protect U.S. waters.
The rules adopted last month by the International Maritime
Organization of the United Nations are the first attempt
at regulating and measuring organic output in ships' ballast
- the water drawn into or released by a ship for balance.
But while the rules are an important first step, critics
said Thursday that the international standards are still
1,000 times less stringent than U.S. officials wanted,
leaving the door open to the continued introduction of
foreign species that travel in ballast of ships from abroad.
Such species have upset the health of the Great Lakes,
the Chesapeake Bay and other U.S. waterways.
The bay, which receives the second-largest volume of
ballast water in the nation, has seen the introduction
of about 160 invasive species, like the parasite MSX and
the predatory Japanese shore crab.
Those invaders are blamed for the destruction of the
Chesapeake's native oyster population and commercial fishing
"I think it's very important to tighten up those
(ballast water) regulations. We have so many problems
in the bay, we don't need anymore by introducing something
else that might come through ballast water," said
Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association.
The new rules, which would fully take effect in 2016,
would require ships to exchange 95 percent of ballast
water in mid-ocean, instead of in port, and to clean ballast
water before discharging it.
They would limit the number of organisms in the cleaned
ballast to 10 organisms larger than 50 micrometers per
cubic meter of water. For organisms between 10 and 50
micrometers, the limit would be 10 per milliliter.
The United States had proposed a limit of .01 organisms
in the same amount of ballast. But Coast Guard officials
noted Thursday that the current proposal is better than
the international group's original call for a 100-organism
Coast Guard Rear Adm. Thomas Gilmour testified that the
United States should first try to achieve the international
standard and worry about mandating a stricter one after
"It's not an exact science," Gilmour said,
noting that industrial organic-output controls are still
developing and nothing can be done without more studies.
Witnesses testifying before two subcommittees of the
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure estimated
that implementing even the current international proposal
could cost about $1 million per ship.
Not only is ballast water an "expensive problem,"
but witnesses differed on whether the technology for any
organic-output control even exists.
Roger Mann, a scientist with the Virginia Institute of
Marine Science, testified that it is "easy"
to limit organisms larger than 50 micrometers from seeping
through the water by using a simple filter.
But Joseph Cox, president of the Chamber of Shipping
of America, testified that Mann's assertion only worked
in experimental situations with thousands of gallons of
water, while industrial ships can filter as much as 16
million gallons per day.
Mann was not dissuaded.
"I do think we can do better and I do think that
we should do better," he said.
The only current restrictions on ballast water come from
the 1990 National Invasive Species Act, which requires
ships going into the Great Lakes or the Hudson River to
exchange ballast 200 miles from shore. It only recommended
that other ships do the same.
But the Coast Guard is now in the process of making the
ballast-exchange rule mandatory for all ships, after a
2002 study showed that a voluntary program was ineffective
at stopping invasive species.
That rule could take effect as early as this summer.
"This is a problem more urgent than many people
would expect," Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville,
Md., said at Thursday's hearing.
Despite the debate, Gilchrest said he was heartened that
some standard was finally established. Any standard is
better than no standard when it comes to decreasing the
spread of invasive species, Gilchrest said.
"I think it can significantly improve our economy,
especially in those areas like the bay that depend on
natural resources for economic viability," he said.
"What the United States needs to do is take a leadership
role and accelerate that process and have stricter standards."