Transport Canada today announced new regulations under the Canada Shipping Act to reduce the introduction of aquatic invasive species and pathogens into Canadian waters through ship ballast water discharges. The regulations, which have been under development since 2000, set new ballast water management requirements for all ships entering waters under Canadian jurisdiction, and represent Canada’s first step towards implementation of the International Maritime Organization’s Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments.
Three major conservation organizations support the step being taken to curb the introduction of invasive species into Canadian waterways. However, they are highly critical of exemptions for ships entering the Great Lakes loaded with goods, as well as with the lack of enforceable deadlines for treatment standards and the glacial pace at which Canada is responding to the invasive species crisis. It is estimated that invasive species currently costs Canada billions of dollars each year. The economic cost associated with the invasion of just one species, the zebra mussel, has been estimated at over $1 billion for the Great Lakes region alone.
“Over the past fifty years, aquatic invasive species have been one of the greatest threats to Canada’s aquatic ecosystems, and ships’ ballast tanks have been the primary pathway,” says Francine MacDonald Invasive Species Biologist from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. “Given the enormous scope of this problem and the rapid rate at which Canada’s waters are being invaded, Canada needs to pick up the pace to protect our waterways.”
The new regulations mandate that all transoceanic ships entering Canadian waters must manage ballast water by employing open-ocean exchange, treatment, discharge to a reception facility, and/or retention on board the ship. However, the open-ocean exchange requirement remains the only available option for ships.
“Although these regulations are an important step towards curbing aquatic invasive species, the federal government failed to commit to an enforceable deadline for compliance with more effective management requirements,” says Justin Duncan, staff lawyer for Sierra Legal Defence Fund. “Without an aggressive standard and timeline, the invasion of Canada’s waterways will continue.”
Further, an exemption to these regulations outlines specific requirements for ships entering the Great Lakes loaded with goods (otherwise called “No Ballast on Board), that are unenforceable and will not stop invasions. NOBOB ships are ships heavy with cargo and subsequently carry little or no ballast water for stabilization purposes, but can carry unpumpable water and sediment that can harbour invasive species.
“Only mandatory regulations for NOBOBs would have resulted in improved protections for this closed freshwater ecosystem,” says Jennifer Nalbone, Campaign Director from Great Lakes United. “Instead, with this exemption, the Canadian government has failed to improve protections for the Great Lakes.”
According to recent academic research, a new invasive species is detected in the Great Lakes every 28 weeks. Since 1959, 73% of new invasions in the Great Lakes have been attributed to transoceanic shipping. More than 90% of transoceanic ships entering the Great Lakes are NOBOB, due to their predominance scientists recognize that these ships pose the greatest threat for new invasions.