Ballast bickering

LM Ruhland

A University of Notre Dame study estimates that the U.S. has lost $200 million from invasive species in the Great Lakes.  The majority of the damage occurs in the recreational fishing sector, a $1.5 billion-dollar industry that lost an estimated $123.6 million.  The $9 billion tourism industry lost almost $50 million dollars, and “raw water users” ranging from treatment facilities to nuclear power plants make up the bulk of the rest.

In large part, the invasive species problem is attributable to European and Asian stowaways in the ballast water of international freighters.  According to the Detroit News, 57 of the region’s 84 known invasive animal species got in this way.  Notre Dame’s Center for Aquatic Conservation timed the release with the hope of pressuring the Senate to echo the House’s recent approval of ballast water restrictions.

Pragmatically, I’m not strongly opposed to new restrictions or mandatory adoption of ballast containment technologies, though it does make me bristle a teeny bit.  If invasive species are causing widespread ecological and economic disruption as a direct result of bad ballast water management, it’s up to the shipping companies to improve their practices.

Of course, some don’t think we should give them the chance at all.  Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Initiative’s Jeff Skelding seems to indicate that ballast management reform won’t be enough and that closing off the St. Lawrence Seaway should at least be considered.

In the absence of immediate congressional action to control invasives, why would we take the option of closing the seaway off the table?

Perhaps because Great Lakes shipping is a multi-billion dollar industry that is more than capable of reducing the risk of invasive species contamination?  Yes, damage has been done, but walling ourselves off from the world would cause more harm than good.


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