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Great Lakes Article:

Bill would limit exotic species in the Great Lakes


Sabrina Eaton
Ohio Plain Dealer


- Imported nuisances like sea lampreys and zebra mussels that afflict the Great Lakes have spurred lawmakers to try limiting the spread of non-native species around the United States.

Today, a group of lawmakers are introducing legislation to require federal screening of exotic imports like snakeheads and Asian carp that have escaped into waterways and endangered native fish. Their bill also would regulate ballast discharges by shippers who unwittingly introduce aquatic stowaways from abroad when they release water they have stored to balance cargo loads.

The bill also would finance research on ways to sterilize ships' ballast tanks, which could prevent the spread of live organisms picked up in foreign waters. Methods being examined include chlorination, ultraviolet light, ultrasound, filtration, and electric currents.

"Tons of scientific projects all over the world are investigating this," said Steven Fisher, executive director of the American Great Lakes Ports Association, which represents Cleveland's port authority and backs the bill.

"Even as foreign creatures are coming into the U.S., creatures from the U.S. are hopping rides into Europe and Africa."

Ohio lawmakers who support the bill include Republican Sens. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich, as well as Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Madison Republican, and Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland, Sherrod Brown of Lorain and Marcy Kaptur of Toledo.

"Invasive species have cost hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage to Great Lakes fishermen, boaters, manufacturers and shippers," DeWine said.

Conceding that it's late in the year to introduce legislation, LaTourette said the bill has wide bipartisan support and could pass without controversy after Congress completes its wrangling on spending bills. LaTourette and former Ohio Democratic Sen. John Glenn authored a bill six years ago that regulated ballast water exchanges before ships could enter the Great Lakes. The new bill would set national standards.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sam Speck said passage of the legislation was critical to protecting Great Lakes fisheries and water quality, and that Ohio Republican Gov. Bob Taft had urged members of Congress to support it.

"Given that Lake Erie is the most productive of the lakes in terms of fishing, invasive species pose a tremendous potential economic threat to Ohio," Speck said.

Other backers of the bill include the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the U.S. Great Lakes Shipping Association.

The Cleveland-based Lake Carriers Association agrees that exotic species must be controlled, but it may withdraw support if the bill ends up restricting ballast water transfers between the Great Lakes, said association president George Ryan.

Ryan's association represents 58 mammoth ships that travel the Great Lakes and use as much as 15 million gallons of ballast water each trip.

"If we're not allowed to discharge Lake Erie water in Lake Superior, we won't be able to move the ships," Ryan said. "There is no such thing as a Jiffy Lube on the Great Lakes where you can discharge 15 million gallons of water."

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