Banning international shipping on the Great Lakes has long been an unthinkable solution to the problems posed by invasive species. But new information on the economic impact of invasive species has renewed support for a ban that would keep the ocean-going vessels known regionally as “salties” from entering the St. Lawrence Seaway.
A recent study from the Center for Aquatic Conservation at the University of Notre Dame found the economic cost of invasive species introduced to the Great Lakes region by salties to be $200 million annually. A 2005 study put the economic benefit of international shipping at $55 million annually. Despite objections relating to the accuracy of such studies, conservationists believe the studies support the need for immediate action.
Efforts are currently focused on getting the shipping industry to adopt technologies designed to rid ballast water of living organisms before entering the Great Lakes. The legislation was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives but is stalled in the Senate.
A ban on salties would be politically difficult to accomplish as the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes are also an international border with Canada. But conservationists and politicians are uneasy waiting for a solution while the next devastating invasive species could be introduced at any time.
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., would prefer the ballast water treatment solution but recently told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that a ban on salties is still a viable option.
“Hopefully it won’t come to that, but I would not completely take it off the table on the grounds that it’s politically unacceptable,” he said. “What’s unacceptable is the destruction of the Great Lakes.”