Proposal targets invasive species in the Great Lakes
By Ellyn Ferguson, email@example.com
Green Bay Press Gazette
Posted January 17, 2008
WASHINGTON — To curtail the influx of invasive species into the Great Lakes, the federal government wants oceangoing ships using the St. Lawrence Seaway to flush even empty ballast tanks with saltwater to kill stowaway organisms.
The tank cleanout would have to take place 200 nautical miles from any North American shore. U.S. and Canadian ships would not be affected by the rule.
"Things that are not good can live in the sediment of a tank that doesn't have any ballast water in it," Collister "Terry" Johnson, administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., said Wednesday. The seaway is a 2,340-mile system that provides ships on the Atlantic Ocean access to inland ports on the Great Lakes.
Canada and the United States, which jointly operate the seaway, already require the so-called "swish and spit" practice for oceangoing ships with full ballast tanks.
More than 180 invasive aquatic species live in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration estimates non-native species such as zebra mussels, sea lamprey, round goby and others cost the region $5 billion a year in lost tourism and lower commercial fishing revenue.
A June 2007 study found that the organisms picked up at freshwater European ports where ships took on ballast managed to live in ballast tanks even after the water was discharged. The study was funded by the Great Lakes Protection Fund in Chicago.
The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concluded that a limited amount of saltwater in a tank provides a "salinity shock" to freshwater organisms.
"This is not a panacea," Johnson said.
However, he called it "a very responsible way" to protect the Great Lakes.
In 2006, the Canadian government began requiring oceangoing ships with empty or nearly empty ballast tanks to flush the tanks with saltwater before heading to Canadian ports on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Johnson said the proposed rule would make U.S. and Canadian requirements the same.
He said the two countries will increase the number of ballast tank inspections they now conduct in Montreal, the first port on the seaway.
In Montreal, ships that have not done a saltwater flush would either return to the open ocean to do so or be barred from discharging ballast water it picks up while in the Great Lakes on the St. Lawrence Seaway. Ships could be fined as much as $36,325 for each violation.
All ships entering the seaway would be required to measure salinity levels in their ballast tanks to make sure the concentration of saltwater remains high enough to kill invasive species.
Johnson said a final rule should be ready by the start of the 2008 shipping season in either late March or early April.
The rule, if adopted, would not preclude Congress from passing legislation to regulate ballast water, Johnson said.
The public has until Jan. 30 to submit comments on the proposed rule.
— Tony Walter/Press-Gazette