International Joint Commission
    United States and Canada

Rt. Hon. Herb Gray 's remarks at Aquatic Invasive Species Conference

I am very pleased to be with you this morning in Windsor, Ontario for this 12th International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species.

I have noted from the program that there are a number of the presenters from distant countries ranging from Argentina to China, and from New Zealand to the Netherlands, the Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

To me, this truly reflects the global nature of the problem and the urgent need for regional, national, and international, co-ordination and partnerships if we are to be successful at dealing with the threats from alien invasive species entering our native ecosystems.

Over the next several days you will be able to discuss, listen and make recommendations for action to deal with  the enormity of the alien invasive species problem both here in the Great Lakes St. Lawrence basin and worldwide - with modern, transport systems and extraordinarily complex global economic patterns, invasive species are piggy-backing free rides across countless borders and ecosystems at unprecedented rates.

The Union of Concerned Scientists in November 2001 said “Worldwide, at least 7,000 species, ranging from cholera and botulism bacteria to invertebrates and fish, are probably in motion each day in the ballast water of tens of thousands of ships (Carlton 1999;McCarthy and Crowder 2000)”.

This ability has brought with it the means for intentional and unintentional transfer of organisms from their native habitats to others where they do not have predators which control them in their places of origin.     

During the conference you will hear not only about the economic and ecological damages invasive species are causing worldwide but also what scientists, industry, government and non-government organizations are doing to address the alien invasive species crisis and it is a crisis.   As the Canadian Chair of the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes, and the issue of aquatic alien invasive species are among my major interests.  In my opinion,  the issue so far has received far less attention by political leaders and mainstream public opinion alike than is warranted by the facts.

        For over 90 years the Commission, has successfully assisted the Canadian and U.S. governments to deal with transboundary environmental and  water-resource issues through processes that seek the common best interests of both countries.

The Treaty, and the Commission, cover the whole Canada-U.S. border region; from the Atlantic to the Pacific - from New Brunswick and Maine all the way through to the Yukon and Alaska . Many people are not aware of that fact.

What has developed over time is a unique institution. This institution not only offers the two countries a flexible set of mechanisms to help them manage their relationship in the boundary region, but it also provides them with the assurance that it will reflect the shared system of principles and values recognized in the IJC’s mission statement. These principles are sustainable development, and using the precautionary approach and the ecosystem approach to environmental management.

Since the 1980s, the International Joint Commission has issued alerts to the governments and the public about the threat of aquatic invasive species to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin and its economy. 

Through responsibilities assigned to it under the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  The International Joint Commission helps implement the Agreement and assesses the progress being made under it by the governments “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem”.

Yet despite more than a decade of international attention and regional action, this biological pollution that is constituted by AIS continues at both great ecological and economic cost to both countries. To date there are believed to be 162 alien species in the Great Lakes.    There has been a degree of success at controlling some of them and I will deal with this point in a minute or so.  

The Great Lakes stand as a unique resource for Canada and the U.S..  Lakes Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior all rank among the 17 largest lakes in the world based on water surface area.

The Canadian and U.S. portions collectively comprise 20% of the world’s freshwater by surface area.  They supply water for drinking for upwards of 40 million people as well as industrial use and for recreational and shipping.   The Canadian portion of the Great Lakes alone comprises approximately 90,000 km2 of surface area.

The commercial fishery is the most valuable freshwater fishery in Canada representing 50% of Canada’s freshwater total with a value over $40 million dollars annually. The recreational fishery attracts over half a million anglers and is valued upwards of  $4 billion dollars a year  while employing nearly 20,000 people.

In the early 1800's, the eel-like, parasitic sea lamprey were discovered in Lake Ontario.  The newly constructed Erie canal that connected the Great Lakes and Hudson river drainage basins gave the lamprey a route into the Lakes from their native habitat in the Atlantic Ocean.  Then subsequently, in the mid-1950s, sea lamprey again migrated via the newly constructed Welland Canal from Lake Ontario to other Great Lakes.

Its attacks on native species caused tremendous economic losses to commercial, recreational and subsistence Great Lakes fisheries - today about 15 million dollars are spent annually on control of sea lamprey and research about it.  Presently as a result their populations are at approximately 10% of their historic levels.  If this control were terminated and populations of sea lamprey were allowed to expand, the total value of the lost of fishing opportunities plus indirect economic impacts could exceed $500 million annually- not mention the native lake trout populations including the only self sustaining trout population in Lake Superior would again be threaten into extinction.  So any cutbacks to the current budget for sea lamprey control and research could have very serious results and effects.

The Lakes are important not only in terms of the economic value of its fishery but also in terms of the cultural and way of life of many of the First Nations people residing in Ontario.

The damage from alien invasive species can be as much environmental as economic.  They can directly affect ecosystems by severely reducing habitat structure and diversity through direction competition for food sources for predation.  The zebra mussel the best known aquatic invader in the Great Lakes have excerted large and far reaching impacts on this freshwater ecosystem through biofouling and filter-feeding. They have severely reduced, and may yet eliminate native mussel species in the Lakes.  The latest AIS threat to the Great Lakes is the Asian carp that have been moving up the Mississippi River system.  If they are successful in getting by the electric barrier in the Illinois river near Chicago and into the Great Lakes, scientists believe they would wreak havoc on native species because of their rapid breeding and ability to consume large amounts of plankton  - the food source for the food - of many of the native species.  Asian carp can grow to 100 pounds and up to four feet in length. 

Biological pollution’s effects – the effects of AIS are usually irreversible.  A real risk remains that the next alien species, if allowed into the Great Lakes, adding to species there already together could permanently harm the biological and ecological diversity of the Great Lakes, the world’s largest surface freshwater ecosystem. 

The primary source of the aquatic invasive species threat to the Great Lakes is through the species entering the lakes through the discharge of ballast water from ocean going vessels when they are in the lakes.

The Commission,  for over a decade, has advised shippers and all stakeholders including the Federal, State and Provincial governments on the need to prevent further introductions into the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The U.S. has responded by developing regulations about ballast water and Canada has developed similar voluntary Ballast Water Guidelines as well.  These are administered by federal officials and require ships to do a mid-ocean exchange of ballast water before entering the Great Lakes ecosystem through the St. Lawrence River.

However, risks remain because the majority of ships entering the Great Lakes system can legally claim "no ballast on board" and may not be inspected.  Even if ships are inspected, they may still harbor alien species in the sludge remaining in supposedly empty ballast tanks, or in the bio-films contaminating their hulls or anchor chains.  When the ballast tanks are filled with Great Lakes water after the cargo is unloaded, and then subsequently emptied elsewhere in the lakes as new cargo is taken on the sludge that could be harboring alien invertebrates or fish fry may be discharge along with the ballast water.

Two other sources of introduction and spread of alien species are bait boxes and boats of sport fishers moving from another basin into the Great Lakes or between the lakes.  There is also the problem of the sale of live alien species of fish, like Asian carp, in some ethnic fish markets and restaurants in Great Lakes cities, such as Toronto.

In its 11th Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality, the International Joint Commission has urgently recommended the Governments need to take more aggressive steps to end the invasion of alien species by doing the following:

1.     Immediately make existing voluntary guidelines for ballast water management practices mandatory and provide for measures of enforcement and compliance for all ships capable of carrying ballast water, including those currently not carrying ballast water.

2.     Develop uniform protocols for performance testing of ballast water:

.       develop best practices and any improvements for ballast management operations

.       establish by the end of 2003 enforceable interim biological standards

.       concurrently, establish biological standards for ballast water discharges from all ships and for new technologies for ballast water treatment.

3.     Ensure all ships built after a certain date have a treatment technology incorporated in their construction as a condition for entry into the Great Lakes.

4.     Design and implement economic incentives to encourage shippers to continuously improve (ISO 14000) Ballast Management Practices.

5.     Fund research recommended by expert regional, national and binational panels, task forces and committees, especially focused on:

* research (including research for biological standards, criteria and indicators) for ballast water treatment necessary to drive technology, product development, and ship design

* research to develop alternative technologies including biocides to achieve new standards and criteria for the elimination of Alien Invasive Species in ballast water

*research and technology development to reduce entrained and accumulated sediment in ship ballast water and tanks, and

*research to develop analytical tools and procedures to permit the identification of new invasive species and to link these species to their possible points of origin and vessels of introduction.

6.      Issue the Commission a reference to coordinate and harmonize binational efforts for action to stop this ongoing threat to the economy and the biological integrity of the Great Lakes.

The Commission is encouraged by the recent attention given to aquatic invasive species by legislative bodies in both countries.  Reports by U.S. congressional General Accounting Office and the Canadian Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development both call for urgent action.  Two weeks ago, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans of the Canadian House of Commons released their report recommending that Canada (and the U.S.) give a permanent reference to – as asked for by -  the International Joint Commission to coordinate and harmonize binational efforts for action to counter the threat of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes basin.

The Commission continues to call for specific policies – as others are – that if carried out will substantially reduce the introduction and spread of invasive species in the Great Lakes, in Canada and in the United States and thereby decrease their impacts on native aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity.

I urge that you over the next few days to develop practical recommendations for action and how best we can all help bring about the creation of effective policies not only regionally, but nationally, and internationally to overcome one of the most serious threats to global bio-diversity - the spread of alien invasive species.

The International Convention on Biodiversity identifies exotics and genetically modified organisms as major threats to global biodiversity.  The convention states that exotics “cause fundamental, irreversible alterations in the structure of communities through predation, competition, disturbance and the introduction of disease and parasites.  No introduced marine organism, once established has ever been successfully removed or contained....”

Further to this, biologists no longer expect that undisturbed systems are safe from invasion.  For the International Joint Commission, the status quo cannot be accepted and the time for action is now.  Canada has ratified the convention  - which commits the Federal government adopting legislation to deal with alien species - one of the most serious threats to health and to ecological, social and economic well-being.

 I wish you success in your deliberations and look forward to receiving your conclusions.

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