Sunday, March 04, 2007

Levin Introduces Bills to Combat Invasive Species in Great Lakes

Source: Press Release from Senator Levin's office.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., introduced two bipartisan bills aimed at protecting U.S. waters from the threats posed by aquatic invasive species. The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act and the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act would help combat these harmful species that damage U.S. aquatic ecosystems and natural resources.

“Invasive species wreak havoc on our waterways and cost us billions each year,” said Levin, who is a co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force. “Because it has proven immeasurably difficult to fight invasive species once they have entered our waters, these bills are focused on preventative measures that will tackle the problem at the source.”

The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act would reauthorize and strengthen the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 to protect U.S. waters by preventing new introductions of aquatic invasive species. The legislation, which Levin is sponsoring along with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would regulate ballast discharge from commercial vessels; prevent invasive species introductions from other pathways; support state management plans; screen live aquatic organisms entering the United States for the first time in trade; authorize rapid response funds; create education and outreach programs; conduct research on invasion pathways, and prevention and control technologies; authorize funds for state and regional grants; and strengthen specific prevention efforts in the Great Lakes.

“What is so important about the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act is that it to takes a comprehensive approach toward the problem of aquatic invasive species rather than just focusing on species after they are established and a nuisance,” Levin said. “The bill deals with the prevention of new introductions of species, the screening of live aquatic organisms imported into the country, the rapid response to new invasions before they become established, and the research to implement the provisions of this bill.”

The Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act, which Levin is sponsoring with Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wisc., would list three species of Asian carp – the bighead, black and silver carp – as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act. By doing so, Congress would prevent the intentional introduction of these species into the Great Lakes by prohibiting the interstate transportation or importation of live Asian carp without a permit. Congress passed the original Lacey Act in 1900 and the Lacey Act Amendments in 1981, which make it unlawful to import, export, transport, buy or sell fish, wildlife and plants taken or possessed in violation of federal, state or tribal law. This legislation would not interfere with existing state regulations of Asian carp, and permits to transport or purchase live Asian carp could be issued for scientific, medical or educational purposes.

In addition to Levin, Voinovich and Feingold, other cosponsors of the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act include Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

Aquatic invasive species threaten biodiversity nationwide, especially in the Great Lakes. The leading pathway for these aquatic invaders is maritime commerce. In the late 1980s, zebra mussels were released in the Great Lakes after crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the ballast tanks of ships from the Mediterranean. Zebra mussels created such a problem for the Great Lakes that Congress passed legislation in 1990 and 1996 requiring ballast water management for ships entering the Great Lakes, which has reduced, but not eliminated, the threat of new aquatic invasions.

Invasive species are also an economic drain. Estimates of the annual economic damage caused nationwide by invasive species range as high as $137 billion. Because the Great Lakes fisheries are valued at $4 billion annually, preventing invasions into the Great Lakes from ballast water, hulls or the system of canals connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and Atlantic Ocean is critical. Once an exotic species establishes itself, it is almost impossible to eradicate and usually difficult to prevent from moving throughout the nation.


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