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International Joint Commission
   United States and Canada


IJC Chairman Dennis Schornack

Remarks at the Windsor AIS Conference

Monday, June 9, 2003

 

            Thank you, Minister Wallace.  

            It is always an honor to share the podium with the Rt. Honourable Herb Gray, and it is an even greater privilege to serve with him as co-chair of the International Joint Commission.   I might also add that coming to Windsor with Chair Gray is always a special treat.   It’s like going to the Vatican with the Pope…or going to Graceland with Elvis.

            I am thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this conference and to spend some time learning from the world’s leading experts on invasion biology.   When it comes to protecting, sustaining and conserving our shared waters, your work is second to none in importance and impact.

            Indeed, it is so appropriate that we are gathered here in Windsor, in the heart of the Great Lakes basin . . . because the Great Lakes are on the bleeding edge of the battle against invasions.   Our goal must be to make the Great Lakes the leading edge of research, technologies and policies to solve the problem – to defeat them at the door, to eradicate the ones that are here and to protect and restore our native species.

So, please forgive me for a somewhat local and parochial focus on the Great Lakes.   I understand that the scientists and policy makers in this room come from a dozen countries all across the globe, but my concern and my focus is on the Great Lakes.   We can think globally, but let’s act locally.

I am quite passionate about this issue because I love the lakes.   I’ve lived among them all my life.   And the IJC’s responsibility resides with the Great Lakes.   But above all, this is a problem we can solve.

We can be as successful in preventing high-impact invasions as we have been in preventing toxic discharges.   As you’ll hear from Dr. Tony Ricciardi later this week, even marginal gains in prevention may have substantial benefits to biodiversity and ecosystem health.

My goal this morning is to make the case for the Great Lakes . . . the Great Lakes can be the laboratory – the model – for the rest of the world to follow in preventing invasions.   We can do it here.

We don’t need to wait.

We can’t afford to wait.

We must take advantage of the great relationship between the U.S. and Canada to develop and implement an effective invasive strategy for the Great Lakes because these are binational resources – the most precious in the entire world.

There is no question in my mind and hopefully there is none in yours – invasive species are the number one threat to the biological integrity of the Great Lakes.

They are the number one threat to biodiversity, pushing native species to the brink of extinction.

They are the number one threat to our biosecurity, putting cultures, lifestyles and jobs at risk.

In short, invasive species are the number one threat to the economy and the ecology of the Great Lakes.

Let me share one stark example.   The near-death of Lake Erie more than 30 years ago (June, 1969) was the crisis that triggered a ban on phosphate detergents.   Later, bans on certain toxic chemical discharges were also adopted.   As a result, Lake Erie came back.

But now, many scientists believe that Lake Erie is in mortal peril again due largely attack by alien invaders that are wreaking havoc on the lake ecosystem, threatening native species, disrupting the food web, and changing critical processes that maintain a stable, healthy lake.  

That’s why this is the most pressing problem facing our lakes.   This is a crisis.   Indeed, many say we are confronting an “invasional meltdown,” an unstable ecosystem precariously perched, waiting for the next invader to tip the balance.

I am talking about . . .

Costs in the billions of dollars to governments at all levels and to industry, especially energy providers.   $10 billion in economic costs for the zebra mussel alone and untold ecological damage since 1988. …

That means higher water costs and higher electricity bills for the 40 million people who live in the basin….  

Potential devastation of a $4.5 billion fishery.

And serious threats to our way of life and to the lifestyles of the diverse cultures that call the Great Lakes home.

Part of my job as an IJC commissioner is to convey the essence of this crisis to nonscientists – to people who simply care about the lakes and love them the way we do.   This responsibility includes informing and alerting elected leaders and government officials.

So, I’d like to offer a simple model to picture the many ways these alien invaders enter our lakes.   Think of three doorways to invasion.   Throughout this conference, you will have many opportunities to study each in detail, so I will just briefly outline them here.

First, the Front Door – the primary pathway for invasion is the discharge of untreated ballast water brought in by foreign vessels and spread by intralake traffic.   

To address the problem of ballast-mediated transfers, we need all parties at the table.    And in the Great Lakes, we are fortunate that shippers want to be a part of the solution.   I am talking about ships like the Aspiration – a salty provided by Stolt Nielson and the Algonorth – a laker provided by Algoma Steel.    I am grateful to those companies and to Rick Harkins and the Lake Carriers Association for their willingness to help, and I urge them to continue and to do even more.

In the days to come here in Windsor, you’ll hear from top scientists like Dr. David Reid and Dr. Hugh MacIsaac concerning a number of interesting and creative ideas for treating ballast water, ranging from heat, to filtration, to deoxygenation.     While the techniques may be complicated, at its core, this is about something very simple – killing critters.   That’s why I have no doubt the scientists in this room can figure it out.

The ideas that you’ll hear about this week need to be tested on real ships out on the lakes.   We must make the transition from bench scale to full scale and make it fast.

But what we need to drive treatment technology is a standard that challenges engineers to develop that technology.

Just last week, I met with key IMO officials at the State Department, and read the draft convention that is being prepared for discussion next month in London.

Here is what we know.   Scientific consensus seems to be emerging that ballast water discharge standards should be expressed as “Allowable concentration of organisms.”   That means we need to stop what we can.   And we can’t let the perfect block the way to the possible.

They are also saying that at a minimum, the initial standard should be set as an allowable concentration of organisms larger than a specified size – either 50 microns or 100 microns, depending on the expected capabilities of technology.

Is this progress?   Yes.   But it is painfully slow.   Because even if this standard is adopted, the best-case scenario is that it will be a decade before it is fully implemented.   With a new invader being identified in the Great Lakes every six months, 10 years is too long to wait.

That’s why I often say that waiting for the IMO is like waiting for Godot.

And that’s exactly why the Great Lakes should forge ahead with or without the IMO.   My friends, here’s the case for the Great Lakes.

First and foremost, the lakes are the single most valuable freshwater resource on the planet, providing drinking water for 40 million people.

Moreover, compared to the rest of the world, the situation of the Great Lakes has clear boundaries and limited variables.

There are a handful of ports of origin and destination.

And the number of ships, ship designs, shippers, customers and cargos is very limited and easily managed.  

Finally, all those ships share the common feature of coming from a freshwater port across a cold ocean to a freshwater port through a single gateway – Massena, New York and Cornwall Ontario.    It is at that gate that the IJC can make a difference.

The bottom line is that we don’t have to wait for the IMO.   So let me tell you what I have told both governments and everyone who will listen – the IJC stands ready to play our role in coordinating and harmonizing a common enforceable standard and the enforcement of it.   Let’s get on with it!

Now, the second way invaders get in is through a Side Door to our shared waters – the Chicago Canal – a manmade hydraulic connection between the two largest basins in North America, the Mississippi and the Great Lakes.   Invaders move through that door both directions, so some call it a revolving door.   In fact, the zebra mussel moved down it eventually getting all the way to New Orleans.

  And as Chair Gray noted, the Asian Carp is on the way up from the south, looming in this doorway – large aquatic vacuum cleaners that are swimming up the Mississippi toward the Great Lakes.   They suck up plankton like George Foreman sucks down burgers and the process, disrupt the food web upon which all other fish life depends.

  Reaching up to 100 pounds, this piscatorial poster child for invasive species has no predators.   We cannot let them decimate fishing in the Great Lakes.   And we cannot let them turn the Great Lakes into a carp pond.

Later this week, you’ll hear from experts like Dr. Phil Moy about the extraordinary efforts being taken in Chicago to prevent the passage of the carp, matched by extraordinary leadership provided by Mayor Daley and including tremendous support form the Army Corps of Engineers and Chicago District Engineer Col. Mark Roncoli.    If it weren’t for the hard work of these people and many others, the Asian Carp would be in Lake Michigan right now.   So take the time to thank them.

Despite all this progress, however, we know that the current barrier is imperfect.   Because it’s electrical, power disruptions can shut it down and have shut it down.   Please understand that for now, this is still a baling wire and chewing gum fix.   That’s why we need to pull it all together under a new bill that is pending in Congress to strengthen the barrier, strengthen the leadership, and to secure the basin from future damage.  

Back to my model:   The third doorway to invasion is what I call the Back Door to the lakes.    By this, I mean the sale of bait, aquarium fish and especially live sales in fish markets in cities like Chicago and Toronto.   In this regard, we should be grateful to states like Indiana and Michigan and to cities like Chicago that are taking action to ban the sale and transport of these invaders.

Speaking of action, back in February, Chair Gray, Commissioner Robert Gourd and I appeared before the Fisheries and Oceans committee of the Canadian Parliament to brief the members about this issue.   Just hours before our appearance, our staff bought a 25 pound Asian carp from a fish market just blocks away from Parliament House.

The entire IJC was very impressed by the work the Committee and Chairman Tom Wappel in preparing an outstanding, unanimous report, calling for immediate and decisive action to close the doors to invasion.   Just last week, we heard that the Environment Committee has joined the call.   The IJC joins both committees in urging both governments to act.

Twenty-five years ago, Canada and the United States agreed to a standard calling for the zero discharge and virtual elimination of persistent toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes.   Today, we must be guided by that same vision as we develop strategies to stop biological pollution that is just as persistent and just as dangerous as chemical contamination.   We must shut the doors to invasion in order to keep them open to commerce, culture and recreation.

Finally, let me thank the grassroots organizations who are the ground troops in our war on invasive species – groups like Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.   And I remember that it was grassroots environmental groups that made the difference in the fight against chemical contamination.

 

But let’s face the facts.   The same people who raised the alarm back then, the environmental community, aren’t fighting with us today.   It is my point of view that with very few exceptions, environmental NGO’s have been MIA on AIS.  

 

That’s why we need to bring the same sense of commitment and passion and motivation to the fight against biological pollution that they brought to battle against chemical contamination.

 

For me, the passion to be a good steward of the lakes and to fight for them has grown over the years.    And when I think about what motivates me, I remember back when I was in 4th grade in Essexville, Michigan, on the shores of Saginaw Bay.   One day, I caught a 25 lb. carp – of the common European variety, not Asian – with a sizeable sea lamprey attached.   The lamprey was already older than I was.   I killed that critter after it latched itself onto my bare arm and took it to "show and tell" in a jar of formaldehyde.

 

Today, we have the sea lamprey under control, but we paid a price both economically –

in lost incomes and control costs (some $15 - $20 million a year) –   and ecologically for the extirpation and now, the restoration of the Lake Trout.  

 

For the most part, since my 4th grade show and tell, we've turned the tide in the battle against the lamprey, but we continue to pay the price.   Given the persistence of invasions, or rather the "occupation of our ecosystem" we are likely to carry these costs and those of others for generations to come.

 

That’s why we must take a stand today – to fight this threat head on and defend our Great Lakes.   Let’s do what it says on Michigan’s state flag – Tuebor – Latin for I will defend!

 

By grace and good fortune, I am in a position to do something about the problem, and I see it as very fixable.   I believe in solutions and this is a problem that is solvable.    What the IJC can do is what we've always done best:   Identify threats to the integrity of the Great lakes, advise our governments of the problem, and offer our help to solve it.   And that’s what we are doing here today, and I thank you.