Steps taken to stop spread of invasive species
By Michael Purvis
The Sarnia Observer (ON)
Published March 11, 2008
A Sarnia-based federal expert on Great Lakes invasive species is reacting with caution to a Minnesota proposal to stop their spread through new shipping regulations.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency held meetings recently to gauge public response to a proposed permit that would put ballast water releases from commercial ships under the same state rules as wastewater.
Chris Wiley, a Sarnia-based official with both Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said he is concerned the Minnesota plan is a political solution to a problem that needs further study.
"The problem with (aquatic invasive species) is that politicians want a really easy fix, and there are no easy fixes on this one," he said.
Wiley is manager of environmental issues for Transport Canada's Ontario region, and aquatic invasive species co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' central and Arctic region.
He said salt-water vessels are already tightly policed by Canadian and U.S. authorities, and freshwater, or domestic, vessels, have yet to show they are a threat in terms of transferring invasive species from one part of the Great Lakes to another.
"The one thing I've learned in dealing with this issue is let the scientists do their job, get the politics out of it, and actually do the science, and if the science actually supports doing something with the domestic fleet then we'll do something with the domestic fleet," said Wiley.
DFO faced criticism recently from the federal environment watchdog for allegedly falling behind in tracking and responding to new threats of aquatic invasive species on the East Coast and the Great Lakes.
Both ocean-going ships and freshwater freighters pump in and release vast quantities of ballast water to improve stability on voyages. That water is thought to be one of the major contributors to the spread of invasive species.
Jennifer Nalbone, campaign director for a binational coalition called Great Lakes United, conceded salt-water ships are the primary concern when it comes to invasive species, but domestic vessels should face scrutiny until they are proven not to be a problem.
"Until lakers demonstrate they're not transporting viruses, of course it's a threat," said Nalbone, who is based in Buffalo, N.Y. "That's really what Minnesota is dealing with here."
Nalbone said federal action from the U.S. would be preferable, but until that comes, efforts from states like Minnesota and Michigan are positive moves, particularly in light of the threat from the fish-killing viral hemorrhagic septicemia.
"I'm sure none of these states actually want to regulate ballast, but they're doing it because the federal government has failed to act," she said.
Wiley said he sees the Minnesota action, like a recent Michigan prohibition from off-loading ballast water around Isle Royale National Park, as flawed and largely unenforceable.
"One of the requirements in that bill is that you can't ballast in Minnesota ports, as in you can't take, you can't discharge that is against the law (for safety reasons) in both Canada and the U.S.," said Wiley.
Wiley said studies underway are analyzing 100 per cent of the domestic fleet's movements on the lakes, sampling tanks aboard ships for the last three years.
"We are specifically looking for VHS (viral hemorrhagic septicemia) and I'll be quite honest, so far we haven't found any," said Wiley. One of the problems is that shipping is only one factor in the spread of AIS, he said. Wiley estimated more than 70 per cent of invasive species are brought in by other means, including live bait, recreational boating, and the water bombers used to fight forest fires.
While some have suggested ballast water be treated, Wiley said there is no way the aging domestic fleet will be able to handle the "extremely" stressful process of ballast exchange without risking disaster.
"The stresses and strains on those hulls is pretty much going to guarantee they're not going to survive too long," he said.