Remarks at the
Windsor AIS Conference
Monday, June 9, 2003
always an honor to share the podium with the Rt. Honourable Herb Gray, and it
is an even greater privilege to serve with him as co-chair of the International
I might also add that
coming to Windsor with Chair Gray is always a special treat.
It’s like going to the Vatican with the Pope…or
going to Graceland with Elvis.
thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this conference and to spend
some time learning from the world’s leading experts on invasion biology.
When it comes to protecting, sustaining and
conserving our shared waters, your work is second to none in importance and
is so appropriate that we are gathered here in Windsor, in the heart of the
Great Lakes basin . . . because the Great Lakes are on the bleeding edge of the
battle against invasions.
Our goal must
be to make the Great Lakes the leading edge of research, technologies and
policies to solve the problem – to defeat them at the door, to eradicate the
ones that are here and to protect and restore our native species.
So, please forgive me for a
somewhat local and parochial focus on the Great Lakes.
I understand that the scientists and policy
makers in this room come from a dozen countries all across the globe, but my
concern and my focus is on the Great Lakes.
We can think globally, but let’s act locally.
I am quite passionate about this
issue because I love the lakes.
lived among them all my life.
IJC’s responsibility resides with the Great Lakes.
But above all, this is a problem we can
We can be as successful in
preventing high-impact invasions as we have been in preventing toxic discharges.
As you’ll hear from Dr. Tony Ricciardi later
this week, even marginal gains in prevention may have substantial benefits to
biodiversity and ecosystem health.
My goal this morning is to make the
case for the Great Lakes . . . the Great Lakes can be the laboratory – the
model – for the rest of the world to follow in preventing invasions.
We can do it here.
We don’t need to wait.
can’t afford to wait.
We must take advantage of the great
relationship between the U.S. and Canada to develop and implement an effective
invasive strategy for the Great Lakes because these are binational resources –
the most precious in the entire world.
There is no question in my mind and hopefully there
is none in yours – invasive species are the number one threat to the biological
integrity of the Great Lakes.
They are the number one threat to biodiversity,
pushing native species to the brink of extinction.
They are the number one threat to our biosecurity,
putting cultures, lifestyles and jobs at risk.
In short, invasive species are the number one
threat to the economy and the ecology of the Great Lakes.
Let me share one stark example.
The near-death of Lake Erie more than 30
years ago (June, 1969) was the crisis that triggered a ban on phosphate
Later, bans on certain toxic
chemical discharges were also adopted.
As a result, Lake Erie came back.
But now, many scientists believe that Lake Erie is
in mortal peril again due largely attack by alien invaders that are wreaking
havoc on the lake ecosystem, threatening native species, disrupting the food
web, and changing critical processes that maintain a stable, healthy lake.
That’s why this is the most pressing problem facing
This is a crisis.
Indeed, many say we are confronting an “invasional
meltdown,” an unstable ecosystem precariously perched, waiting for the next
invader to tip the balance.
I am talking about . . .
Costs in the billions of dollars to governments at
all levels and to industry, especially energy providers.
$10 billion in economic costs for the zebra
mussel alone and untold ecological damage since 1988. …
That means higher water costs and higher
electricity bills for the 40 million people who live in the basin….
Potential devastation of a $4.5 billion fishery.
And serious threats to our way of life and to the
lifestyles of the diverse cultures that call the Great Lakes home.
Part of my job as an IJC commissioner is to convey
the essence of this crisis to nonscientists – to people who simply care about
the lakes and love them the way we do.
This responsibility includes informing and alerting elected leaders and
So, I’d like to offer a simple model to picture the
many ways these alien invaders enter our lakes.
Think of three doorways to invasion.
Throughout this conference, you will have many opportunities to study
each in detail, so I will just briefly outline them here.
First, the Front Door – the primary pathway for
invasion is the discharge of untreated ballast water brought in by foreign
vessels and spread by intralake traffic.
To address the problem of ballast-mediated
transfers, we need all parties at the table.
And in the Great Lakes, we are fortunate that shippers want to be a part
of the solution.
I am talking about
ships like the Aspiration – a salty provided by Stolt Nielson and the Algonorth
– a laker provided by Algoma Steel.
am grateful to those companies and to Rick Harkins and the Lake Carriers
Association for their willingness to help, and I urge them to continue and to
do even more.
In the days to come here in
Windsor, you’ll hear from top scientists like Dr. David Reid and Dr. Hugh
MacIsaac concerning a number of interesting and creative ideas for treating
ballast water, ranging from heat, to filtration, to deoxygenation.
While the techniques may be complicated, at
its core, this is about something very simple – killing critters.
That’s why I have no doubt the scientists in
this room can figure it out.
The ideas that you’ll hear about
this week need to be tested on real ships out on the lakes.
We must make the transition from bench scale
to full scale and make it fast.
But what we need to drive treatment
technology is a standard that challenges engineers to develop that technology.
Just last week, I met with key IMO
officials at the State Department, and read the draft convention that is being
prepared for discussion next month in London.
Here is what we know.
Scientific consensus seems to be emerging
that ballast water discharge standards should be expressed as “Allowable
concentration of organisms.”
we need to stop what we can.
can’t let the perfect block the way to the possible.
They are also saying that at a
minimum, the initial standard should be set as an allowable concentration of
organisms larger than a specified size – either 50 microns or 100 microns,
depending on the expected capabilities of technology.
Is this progress?
But it is painfully slow.
even if this standard is adopted, the best-case scenario is that it will be a
decade before it is fully implemented.
With a new invader being identified in the Great Lakes every six months,
10 years is too long to wait.
That’s why I often say that waiting for the IMO is
like waiting for Godot.
And that’s exactly why the Great Lakes should forge
ahead with or without the IMO.
friends, here’s the case for the Great Lakes.
First and foremost, the lakes are the single most
valuable freshwater resource on the planet, providing drinking water for 40
Moreover, compared to the rest of the world, the
situation of the Great Lakes has clear boundaries and limited variables.
There are a handful of ports of origin and
And the number of ships, ship designs, shippers,
customers and cargos is very limited and easily managed.
Finally, all those ships share the common feature
of coming from a freshwater port across a cold ocean to a freshwater port
through a single gateway – Massena, New York and Cornwall Ontario.
It is at that gate that the IJC can make a
The bottom line is that we don’t have to wait for
So let me tell you what I have
told both governments and everyone who will listen – the IJC stands ready to
play our role in coordinating and harmonizing a common enforceable standard and
the enforcement of it.
Let’s get on with
Now, the second way invaders get in is through a
Side Door to our shared waters – the Chicago Canal – a manmade hydraulic
connection between the two largest basins in North America, the Mississippi and
the Great Lakes.
Invaders move through
that door both directions, so some call it a revolving door.
In fact, the zebra mussel moved down it
eventually getting all the way to New Orleans.
And as Chair
Gray noted, the Asian Carp is on the way up from the south, looming in this
doorway – large aquatic vacuum cleaners that are swimming up the Mississippi
toward the Great Lakes.
They suck up
plankton like George Foreman sucks down burgers and the process, disrupt the
food web upon which all other fish life depends.
to 100 pounds, this piscatorial poster child for invasive species has no
We cannot let them decimate
fishing in the Great Lakes.
cannot let them turn the Great Lakes into a carp pond.
Later this week, you’ll hear from experts like Dr.
Phil Moy about the extraordinary efforts being taken in Chicago to prevent the
passage of the carp, matched by extraordinary leadership provided by Mayor
Daley and including tremendous support form the Army Corps of Engineers and
Chicago District Engineer Col. Mark Roncoli.
If it weren’t for the hard work of these people and many others, the
Asian Carp would be in Lake Michigan right now.
So take the time to thank them.
Despite all this progress, however, we know that
the current barrier is imperfect.
Because it’s electrical, power disruptions can shut it down and have
shut it down.
Please understand that for
now, this is still a baling wire and chewing gum fix.
That’s why we need to pull it all together
under a new bill that is pending in Congress to strengthen the barrier,
strengthen the leadership, and to secure the basin from future damage.
Back to my model:
The third doorway to invasion is what I call the Back Door to the
By this, I mean the sale of
bait, aquarium fish and especially live sales in fish markets in cities like
Chicago and Toronto.
In this regard, we
should be grateful to states like Indiana and Michigan and to cities like
Chicago that are taking action to ban the sale and transport of these invaders.
Speaking of action, back in February, Chair Gray,
Commissioner Robert Gourd and I appeared before the Fisheries and Oceans
committee of the Canadian Parliament to brief the members about this
Just hours before our appearance,
our staff bought a 25 pound Asian carp from a fish market just blocks away from
The entire IJC was very impressed by the work the
Committee and Chairman Tom Wappel in preparing an outstanding, unanimous
report, calling for immediate and decisive action to close the doors to
Just last week, we heard that
the Environment Committee has joined the call.
The IJC joins both committees in urging both governments to act.
Twenty-five years ago, Canada and the United States
agreed to a standard calling for the zero discharge and virtual elimination of
persistent toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes.
Today, we must be guided by that same vision as we develop strategies to
stop biological pollution that is just as persistent and just as dangerous as
We must shut the
doors to invasion in order to keep them open to commerce, culture and
Finally, let me
the grassroots organizations who are the ground troops in our war
on invasive species – groups like Michigan United Conservation Clubs and the
Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
And I remember that it was grassroots environmental groups that made the
difference in the fight against chemical contamination.
But let’s face the facts.
The same people who raised the alarm back then, the environmental
community, aren’t fighting with us today.
It is my point of view that with very few exceptions, environmental
NGO’s have been MIA on AIS.
That’s why we need to bring the same sense of commitment
and passion and motivation to the fight against biological pollution that they
brought to battle against chemical contamination.
For me, the
passion to be a good steward of the lakes and to fight for them has grown over
And when I think about what
motivates me, I remember back when I was in 4th grade in Essexville, Michigan,
on the shores of Saginaw Bay.
One day, I
caught a 25 lb. carp – of the common European variety, not Asian – with a
sizeable sea lamprey attached.
lamprey was already older than I was.
killed that critter after it latched itself onto my bare arm and took it to
"show and tell" in a jar of formaldehyde.
Today, we have the
sea lamprey under control, but we paid a price both economically –
in lost incomes and control costs (some $15 -
$20 million a year) –
for the extirpation and now, the restoration of the Lake Trout.
For the most part, since my 4th grade show and tell, we've turned the
tide in the battle against the lamprey, but we continue to pay the price.
Given the persistence of invasions, or rather
the "occupation of our ecosystem" we are likely to carry these costs
and those of others for generations to come.
That’s why we must take a stand today – to fight this threat head on
and defend our Great Lakes.
what it says on Michigan’s state flag – Tuebor – Latin for I will defend!
By grace and good
fortune, I am in a position to do something about the problem, and I see it as
I believe in solutions and
this is a problem that is solvable.
What the IJC can do is what we've always done best:
Identify threats to the integrity of the
Great lakes, advise our governments of the problem, and offer our help to solve
And that’s what we are doing here
today, and I thank you.