Bad news for Lake Superior

NWF   |   January 29, 2010

MinersCastle_LakeMI_250x167 Lake Superior is the latest casualty of the federal government's pathetic effort to slow a plague of ship-borne invasive species that is devastating the Great Lakes.

The Duluth News-Tribune reports that scientists from Cornell University have found the fish killing virus VHS at several sites around Lake Superior. VHS, or viral hemorrhagic septicemia, has killed tens of thousands of fish in the other four Great Lakes.

This discovery is troubling for two reasons: VHS can devastate fisheries and it thrives in cold water. Lake Superior's frigid temperatures could provide an ideal breeding ground for the disease, which has been called "Ebola virus for fish."

VHS in Lake Superior is yet another sad example of how the U.S. and Canadian governments' failure to effectively regulate ballast water discharges has allowed ocean freighters to infect the Great Lakes with 57 foreign species.

Invasive species that ocean freighters near certainly imported to the Great Lakes — including zebra mussels, quagga mussels, round gobies and VHS — are causing about $200 million damage annually on the U.S. side of the lakes, according to researchers at the University of Notre Dame.

The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed tough new standards for disinfecting ballast water, but the rules wouldn't apply to some ships for 22 years.

That timetable is unacceptable. Heck, it only took Americans 11 years to put a man on the moon — from the beginning of research to the first lunar walk.

What could possibly make disinfecting ballast water more difficult than rocket science?

We need action now, before more invasive species sneak into the Great Lakes in the bowels of ocean freighters and further disfigure the world's largest freshwater ecosystem.

-By Jeff Alexander, Great Lakes Regional Center

Published: January 29, 2010