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Great Lakes Article:

Reports cite economic perils of lake invaders
Tom Henry
Toledo Blade
10/24/2002


Invasive aquatic species cause billions of dollars of damage per year to North Americaís economy - especially the Great Lakes region.

Fears are rising as to the amount of havoc those invaders could wreak upon the sport and commercial fishing industries, which are worth $4.5 billion a year and are responsible for 81,000 jobs.

Dire economic warnings were issued in separate reports yesterday by the U.S. General Accounting Office and Canadaís Environmental Auditor Generalís Office. The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

Those well-versed in biological impacts said they are glad the pocketbook effects are being laid out more clearly.

"Weíre particularly pleased theyíve catalogued the economic harm and not just the ecosystem harm because those two are linked," Andy Buchsbaum of the National Wildlife Federationís Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, said.

Citing varying reports by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment and Cornell University, the GAO agreed the cumulative effect is well into the billions, but said the total is so staggering itís virtually impossible to quantify.

For a glimpse of the Great Lakes problem, consider this: Zebra mussels alone cost municipalities and industries in this region some $69 million to remove and keep away from their water intakes from 1989 through 1995.

The mussels are only one of 146 types of invaders that have entered the lake chain since the early 1800s - more than a third of which arrived in the past 30 years. Control costs do not begin to address the money spent trying to protect native fish populations or revenue lost by motel operators, bait shops, and the tourism industry built around those fish.

Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a U.S.-Canada government agency in Ann Arbor, said more than $250 million has been spent over the past 50 years trying to combat the vampire-like sea lamprey. The lamprey, which suck blood and other body fluids out of native fish, nearly wiped out the valuable lake trout.

On the horizon is a battle with Asian carp, a voracious eater that escaped Arkansas hatcheries after being brought to this continent to combat algae. The carp, which grow to 50 pounds, have migrated north along the Mississippi River and are poised to enter Lake Michigan at Chicago.

"I havenít seen biologists this scared in a long time," Mr. Gaden said.

The GAO report said that federal inspection regulations arenít strong enough to prevent invasive species from slipping into U.S. waterways in the residue at the bottom of incoming shipsí tanks.

The solution might rest with eco-unfriendly ideas, such as chlorinating the tanks. But, as Mr. Buchsbaum noted: "We are concerned about solving one problem by creating another."

Invasive species were highlighted in last monthís biennial report to the U.S. and Canada governments by the International Joint Commission, a 93-year-old agency that helps the two nations resolve boundary water issues.

The problem was a running theme of last weekís biennial State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference in Cleveland hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada. The EPAís Chicago office said invasive species are Lake Erieís biggest issue.

"The question is, are we really taking this seriously enough, and it sounds like the GAO thinks we are not," said Dr. Jeff Reutter, Ohio Sea Grant director.

Jeff Busch, executive director of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission in Toledo, said that western Lake Erieís sport fishing remains popular - so far.

"I donít think the end point [with invasive species] has been reached yet. Itís difficult to tell where itís all heading," he said.


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