Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

November 27, 2006

Proposed ballast ban makes waves

Filed under: Ballast,Great Lakes Issues,Invasive Species,Michigan — nemo @ 4:31 pm

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel carries this update on the status of a Michigan proposal to ban ballast usage on all lake freighters (lakers and salties):

Now that the State of Michigan has floated what has previously been the unthinkable – a ban on Great Lakes freighters using ballast water on many of their traditional shipping routes to prevent the spread of dangerous invasive species – the debate is picking up steam across the region.

The Michigan commission’s request came in the form of a resolution to ban the uptake of ballast water in all Great Lakes waters infected by viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a disease that poses no danger to humans but causes fish to bleed to death.

The disease, first discovered in the Great Lakes in 2005, has been detected in Lakes Erie and Ontario, as well as Michigan’s Lake St. Clair and the lower St. Lawrence River.

Ballast water is used to stabilize freighters sailing without full cargo loads. The idea of a ballast ban is to prevent a ship from accidentally picking up VHS-infected water or fish in the eastern Great Lakes and transporting it to the presently virus-free Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron.

Ballast water is such a controversial issue because it is believed to be the pathway for most recent arrivals of unwanted species. The Great Lakes are now home to more than 180 non-native species, and research shows ballast water can be blamed for the majority of species invasions during the past three decades.

It is not the fleet of lake-bound “lakers” that are responsible for the problem. Rather, it is the oceangoing fleet of “salties” that arrive in the Great Lakes from foreign ports via the St. Lawrence Seaway that open the door to many of the invaders now in the region, including zebra mussels and round gobies.

The problem for lakers, however, is that they could be moving those unwanted species once they get a foothold in the lakes.

That’s why conservation groups are backing the Michigan ballast-ban request for the eastern Great Lakes.

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