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Ships May Bring Unwanted Cargo to Minnesota

March 20, 2008

Ann Arbor, MI - The 2008 shipping season gets underway today on Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes, attracting ships from around the world. Andy Buchsbaum with the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office says it's a milestone, in more ways than one.

"Today marks not only the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, but also the 20th anniversary of something that we all wish would never have happened -- the introduction of zebra mussels and invasive species into the Great Lakes. It's well past the time that we took action, to ensure that other invasive species aren't able to cause the same devastation."

Buchsbaum explains zebra mussel has been incredibly destructive, because it clogs water supply systems, fouls beaches and parks, and causes disease. The impact on the economies of the Great Lake states amounts to more than $1 billion a year. He says federal legislation is pending that would require ships to clean their ballast water before discharging it, but many believe Congress is not moving quickly enough.

"There are technologies available today that would clean the ballast water discharges from oceangoing ships. That would take the biggest bite out of this invasive species problem. The challenge is that, so far, ship owners have not been willing to put those on voluntarily. Thus, we need Congress to take action."

The legislation, sponsored by Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar, would require the U.S. Coast Guard to check ships before they enter the country's waterways. Buchsbaum says continued delays are costly, both to states' budgets and to the environment.

"The problems are environmental because of the devastation of fish populations such as whitefish, trout, salmon, and the changes to the shoreline and the ecosystem. Invasive species are begging to get a hold now on Lake Superior. They're economic problems, too, because many industries rely on the health of the Great Lakes -- fishing is the obvious one, but also the tourism and recreation industries."

More information can be found online at

Jim Wishner/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - MN