March 25, 2004
IJC Calls on Congress to Protect the Great Lakes First
Action Needed to Prevent Ecosystem from Becoming "Invader Zoo"
[Washington, DC] – In a statement provided to a congressional hearing today, both the U.S. and Canadian co-chairs of the International Joint Commission urged the U.S. Congress to take swift action to protect the Great Lakes from the onslaught of aquatic invasive species in ballast water. The hearing followed action by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to adopt an international ballast water convention and considered the implications for reauthorization of the National Invasive Species Act.
"Aquatic invaders don’t recognize dotted lines on the map. That means policy makers in both the U.S. and Canada must reach across those lines to fight back," said Dennis Schornack, Chair of the U.S. Section. "It also means that what we need now is action by this Congress to put the Great Lakes first."
"We have learned from over 50 years of experience with the sea lamprey that it costs millions of dollars yearly in perpetuity to control these invaders. Once they get into the Great Lakes and establish a beachhead they can never be completely eradicated, so they must be stopped before they can get in," said the Right Honourable Herb Gray, Chair of the Canadian Section. "Whether they enter through a canal like the lamprey or through ballast water like the zebra mussel, prevention must be our first priority."
In the statement, the IJC co-chairs explained that action to protect the Great Lakes is critically important because the lakes are the lifeblood of the ecology and economy of North America’s heartland. Some scientists even theorize that invaders are causing a dramatic decline in the health of the Lake Erie ecosystem and are a top threat to aquatic biodiversity.
Over the last two decades virtually all of these invasive species have arrived in the Great Lakes by way of ballast water discharged by foreign ships when they take on cargo. The IJC believes these ship borne invaders are a source of great risk; therefore setting a standard for ballast water treatment must be the central focus of any plans implemented by both the U.S. and Canada.
"The day is close at hand when the tally of non-native species in the Great Lakes will total 200 invaders," said Schornack. "The bottom line is that these invaders are turning the Great Lakes into a zoo – not an ordinary zoo where the animals are safely confined but a zoo where they are unleashed to wreak havoc and devastation on the native ecological community."
The Commission also noted that an estimated 15 more invertebrates and fish in the Ponto-Caspian region of Eurasia have the special traits that could enable them to hopscotch from there to the Baltic to the Great Lakes. They stressed that the uncertainty of how much damage these new invading species might wreak upon the ecology and economies of the Great Lakes should drive both the U.S. and Canada into action.
"That's why the Commission believes that invasive species are the most pressing problem threatening the Great Lakes," said Schornack. "This is a borderless crisis for the Great Lakes. This committee, this Congress and this country should act and it should act now."
The IJC identified several key steps:
- Take the scientifically based, biologically protective standard advocated by the U.S. and Canada for the ballast water convention and make it U.S. law.
- Allow regions like the Great Lakes that are ready to speed up implementation of the standard.
- Establish an enforcement system to monitor compliance that includes sampling.
- Provide a reference to the IJC to asking it to study the issue and make recommendations to harmonize binational policies, rules and regulations.
The Commission statement concluded by noting that through this reference, the IJC could recommend to the governments of the U.S. and Canada how and when the ballast water discharge standard should be applied and enforced for foreign ships entering the Great Lakes.
The IJC is a binational treaty organization that operates under terms of the Boundary Water Treaty of 1909 whose mission is to prevent and resolve disputes between the U.S. and Canada with respect to our shared boundary waters. In addition, a reference given by the governments of the United States and Canada in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement asked the IJC to both assess the progress of the nations in Great Lakes restoration and to assist them in efforts to achieve the goal of restoring the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem.
The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee and the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee jointly sponsored the hearing.