Invasive Species Problem Extensive

Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The Great Lakes are not the only waters flooded with foreign critters: From New York's Hudson Bay to Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, scientists and government officials are looking for answers.

``Nonindigenous species are having dramatic effects on marine, estuarine and fresh water ecosystems throughout the world,'' the Chesapeake Bay Commission warned in a 1995 report.

More ship ballast water is dumped into the Chesapeake than anywhere else on the East Coast, the report said. About 90 percent of the ships calling at Chesapeake ports carry live organisms in their ballast, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center found.

In San Francisco Bay, an Asian clam is chasing away native bivalves and clearing plankton essential for nourishing a host of creatures. A strain of cholera was discovered in ballast water off Mobile, Ala., in 1991.

The International Maritime Organization and the U.S. Coast Guard recommend that ships exchange ballast at sea to flush out at least some unwanted exotics. The Coast Guard is considering making it mandatory in U.S. waters, as it already has for ships entering the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile, some states are taking action on their own.

California's legislature last year required ballast exchange for ships en route to its ports from the Pacific. A fee is levied on each ship to pay for salinity tests that monitor compliance.

Ballast exchange is required under a law that took effect this summer in Washington state, where a European crab is attacking native shellfish.

The law calls for developing methods over the next two years to remove as many live organisms as possible from ballast, says aquatic nuisance specialist Scott Smith of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

``We'll set a standard ... as high as technology will get us,'' Smith says. He expects ballast exchange to be phased out eventually in favor of more effective treatments.

For the most part, West Coast shippers have accepted the Washington law, says Harry Hutchins, executive director of the Puget Sound Steamship Operators Association.

``We're being given some time to get the ship operators up to speed with what they need to do,'' Hutchins says.

He says the industry may as well get used to ballast treatment, which national or international rules are likely to require sooner or later.

``I see it as a coming wave,'' he says. ``As long as competing port areas are doing the same thing, it won't give one ... an advantage over the other.''