Michigan Opening the Door to the Great Lakes for Potential Invaders

by Jhunt08 on November 10, 2017 - 6:26pm

Michigan Opening the Door to the Great Lakes for Potential Invaders
Justin Hunt

          Currently there are believed to be 180 aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes. Of these, 55%-70% are estimated to have arrived from ballast water (Lawler, 2017). Ballast water is used to provide stability to ships but it can also harbour species that are potentially harmful to the Great Lakes’ ecosystem. Invasive species such as the round goby and zebra mussels are believed to have originated from ballast tanks and upon their arrival have outcompeted numerous native species. In order to prevent another potential invader, Michigan passed legislation in 2005 that requires oceangoing vessels to treat their ballast water.  Due to the cost of this process, many businesses have left Michigan ports in favour of alternatives that are more lenient on their control of ballast water. Unable to influence or compete with other states, Michigan recently approved legislation to revoke their guidelines in favour of the U.S Coast Guard’s more flexible procedures. This decision comes with great relief to many Michigan port owners, while many environmentalists claim this legislation is not worth putting the Great Lakes at risk of another invasion.

            In my opinion this decision is extremely short-sighted and will only cost Michigan in the long term. The great lakes provide immeasurable benefits to the region in terms of biotic diversity and recreation. Legislators are risking major devastation to the ecological and economic value of the lakes in favour of short-term gain. To any who view this statement as hyperbolic, consider the population explosion of sea lamprey in the 1950s. This population explosion was a major factor in the collapse of the lake trout and whitefish fisheries. In just 10 years the annual catch of lake trout in Huron and Superior declined from 15 million lbs to 300 thousand lbs (Canada Fisheries and Oceans, 2016). Together Canada and the United States have been spending $22 million annually since 1955 in order to just restrain this species (Canada Fisheries and Oceans, 2016). The problem with invasive species is once they invade it is too late to act; at this point, you are obliged to pay a never-ending fee that will only ebb the damage that has already been done or ignore the problem and incur even greater costs.

            The only way to successfully combat invasive species is by prevention. As someone who has worked in educating the public about invasive species I would argue that awareness is the only thing lacking in the public. Hobbyists such as anglers and hunters will often put in the extra effort to prevent invasive species if they’re educated on the proper steps. Unlike environmental issues such as climate change the short-term effects of invasive species aren’t subtle. Almost everyone I interacted with in my position had a story about invasive species to share such as their cottage’s lake being taken over by zebra mussels. When it comes to business however, profit is king and legislation is often necessary in order to enforce the public’s interests. I feel sympathy for Michigan ports that are being outcompeted for their forward thinking policies but I don’t think this legislation is the answer. As a state that is so dependent on the Great Lakes I believe it is in Michigan’s best interests to stand their ground on this issue. Rather than accepting the norm, Michigan legislators should push for the inclusion of their policy in agreements such as the Great Lakes accord.   



Canada Fisheries and Oceans. (2016). A Canadian Action Plan to Address the Threat of Aquatic         
Invasive Species. Retrieved November 10, 2017.

Lawler, E. (2017, November 10). Invasive species a concern as lawmakers change ballast water rules. Retrieved November 10, 2017, from             http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/11/invasive_species_a_concern_a...