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Council of Canadians supports New York’s regulations on ballast waters to protect Great Lakes from invasive species

As the marine shipping industry releases their report The Economic Impacts of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System 2010 today, the Council of Canadians is reaffirming their support for stringent regulations on ballast waters to prevent further spread of invasive species in the Great Lakes Basin.

Since the seaway was opened in 1959, over 185 invasive species have entered the lake in ballast from ocean-going vessels, many doing great damage to both native species and commercial activity. In 2006, Anthony Ricciardi of McGill University noted that a new invasive species is discovered every 28 weeks in the Great Lakes Basin.

The state of New York is slated to introduce tough regulations in 2013 aimed at preventing invasive species to enter the Great Lakes from the St. Lawrence Seaway. The regulations require ships passing through New York State to install miniature treatment plants on board the ships.

While the report focuses on jobs and revenue generated by marine commerce, the Ontario government has warned that “every year invasive plants cost the agriculture and forest industries in Canada about $7.5 billion. In the Great Lakes, damage associated with zebra mussels has cost between $3 billion and $7.5 billion.”

“We commend the state of New York for taking the lead on preventing invasive species to enter the Great Lakes,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson for the Council of Canadians, “The Great Lakes are under threat from a number of risks. We need strong leadership from governments that considers the impacts invasive species have on water protection, public health, local economies, the fishing industry and local food supply.”

The International Joint Commission held its Biennial Meeting last week in Detroit in conjunction with several other Great Lakes conferences. Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, opened the Great Lakes Joint Meeting and highlighted the need to prevent threats instead of attempting to clean up pollution or restore degraded areas.

“At the Great Lakes conferences in Detroit, participants stressed that ignoring threats to the Great Lakes such invasive species would deal a significant blow to both the U.S. and Canadian economy,” says Emma Lui, Water Campaigner for the Council of Canadians.

The Council of Canadians is calling for the Great Lakes to be declared a commons, public trust and protected bioregion. This requires a shift in Great Lakes governance to prioritize the human right to water, public consultation and decision making to include First Nations, Native American and other communities. Under this framework, the Council is calling for a moratorium on all ocean-going vessel access to the Great Lakes until a fool-proof plan is put in place to stop the influx of invasive species into the Basin.