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Great Lakes Article:

Invasive species migrate to Great Lakes
Paula Evans Neuman
The News Herald

Alien species are invading the area.

Even their names - tube-nose goby, bighead carp, spiny water flea - are out of this world, seemingly more suitable for Muppets than creatures of the deep.

But the more than 160 invasive aquatic species brought to the Great Lakes in the ballast water of ships from foreign ports are no laughing matter.

They imperil the health and productivity of the Great Lakes.

"Weíve got this million-dollar walleye fishery here, and itís in danger," said Trenton resident John Hartig, navigator of the Greater Detroit American Heritage River Initiative and a Wayne State University professor of environmental management.

"So is our perch fishery. Our economy is based on the fisheries, and itís our way of life. We need to be tackling this."

Hartig is a former president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research, a group of 900 scientists from the U.S. and Canada.

The scientists are calling for a 10-year target to eliminate new introductions of exotic species to the Great Lakes, and at least $30 million a year more in federal funding to reach the goal.

"Compared with the amount of money thatís gone into researching exotic species in other areas of the country, we are woefully underfunded for the Great Lakes," Hartig said.

The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater ecosystem on earth, not counting the polar ice caps.

Last month, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced that $600,000 from the stateís Great Lakes Protection Fund would go to studying invasive species.

"Aquatic nuisance species are one of the greatest threats to the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem," DEQ Director Russell Harding said.

But $600,000 is a mere "drop in the bucket" compared to whatís needed, Hartig said.

Over the last 85 years, 79 varieties of alien species have cost the U.S. economy nearly $100 billion, according to a 1993 report by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment.

"The piecemeal and relatively small annual funding requested by the (Bush) administration and provided by Congress, and the funds available through Canadian agencies, are not sufficient for substantive progress," says a recent report by the IAGLR.

The scientists want to develop better systems of treating ballast water discharged by ocean-going ships that enter the Great Lakes.

Last month, attorneys general from four states including Michigan sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force the feds to regulate ballast water discharges.

If the EPA doesnít regulate ballast, individual states will each have to craft their own legislation, according to court documents from the suit.

Federal agencies monitor in-bound goods and products to North America to prevent alien species from arriving as "hitchhikers," the IAGLR report says.

But no similar programs exist to evaluate risk from vessels entering the Great Lakes, other than "mandatory ballast exchange for vessels carrying fresh or brackish water."

The scientists of the IAGLR also are calling for more research on the bait, aquarium and aquaculture industries.

Accidental releases of baitfish, aquarium species, and aquaculture species such as the bighead carp are another vector for alien species that enter the Great Lakes.

"Three species of Asian carp - bighead, silver and black - are poised to move from the Mississippi River into the Great Lakes," the IAGLR report says.

"These species (were) originally raised in farm ponds primarily in Arkansas for plankton and mollusk control in aquaculture."

An electrical fish-repelling barrier in a canal is the only thing preventing the alien carp from entering Lake Michigan.

Asian carp grow to 4-feet-long and 100 pounds, eat native fish and have no known predators in North America.

The earliest record of an aquatic species invasion in the Great Lakes is the sea lamprey, first introduced from the Atlantic Ocean via the Erie Canal during the 1820s, the IAGLR report says.

By the 1950s, the sea lamprey, eel-like fish that suck the body fluids out of large fish, had reduced the lake trout population in Superior and Huron from 15 million pounds caught each year to 300,000 pounds.

By 1992, the cost of controlling the sea lamprey rose to $10 million a year, according court documents from the statesí lawsuit.

Also of concern are alien bacteria, viruses, parasites, protozoans and microalgae, which have received little attention so far, the IAGLR report says.

Zebra mussels, introduced from the ballast water of European vessels in the 1980s, apparently are responsible for the decline in Lake Michiganís yellow perch population, although more research is needed, the report says.

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