July 17, 2008

Invasive Species Costing Great Lakes Region Millions

A new study published Wednesday reveals that 57 species carried into the Great Lakes since the lakes were connected to the sea are responsible for $200 million in annual damages. The conservative estimate does not include harm done to other parts of the U.S. or to the Canadian economy, said the report from the Center for Aquatic Conservation at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

The report said the various species, which includes the round goby and the zebra mussel, have been carried into the Great Lakes in the ballast water of oceangoing vessels since the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959.

But even if the parade of organisms stopped tomorrow, the costs "would unfortunately continue" because the estimates are based on events that have already happened, according to ecologist David Lodge, director of the Notre Dame center.

The report said that as of 2006, the annual losses to sport and commercial fishing, tourism, and impacts on water treatment and supplies was in excess of $200 million. Although the study did not extend beyond 2006, it is safe to assume the costs were ongoing, Lodge said.

"Considering that new invasive species are being discovered every year, and species already present are spreading, it is likely that the losses experienced in 2006 will increase in following years," the researchers wrote.

Zebra mussels, which can clog water pipes and deplete small plankton on which other species rely, have spread throughout North America as California, the report said. Just as troubling are species such as the Eurasian ruffe, which compete for survival with native yellow perch and walleye. And species such as the round goby prey on nests of smallmouth bass.

The recreational fishing sector, with $1.5 billion in total annual spending, experienced the largest of the estimated losses, $123.6 million. Those who enjoy Great Lakes wildlife spend $9.3 billion each year, a sector that is now seeing a loss of $47.7 million. The study also found that water use facilities, including 13 nuclear power plants, suffered $27 million in losses.

The conservation group Great Lakes United called the problem a "growing national crisis."

"Before the U.S. Congress adjourns for the elections, the Senate must agree to legislation already passed by the House of Representatives that puts in place protections against invasive species," group representative Jennifer Nalbone told Reuters. Such legislation would require ocean vessels arriving at any U.S. port to come equipped with treatment technology to clean their ballast water as early as next year, she said.


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