Feds ignore ballast issue
Written by The Plain Dealer   
Friday, 17 November 2006 14:24

Federal officials trying to halt a deadly fish virus in the Great Lakes ignored both a request by Ohio fisheries experts to deal with ballast water and criticism from the Great Lakes states over an emergency order that could put bait dealers and fish farmers out of business.

The order to ban the interstate shipment of live fish from Great Lakes states is one that state officials don't want, no one can enforce, and if businesses comply, will force many to shut down.

"We're stuck with this order and can't do anything about it," said Ray Petering, fisheries supervisor of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

"How can you fight this by banning shipments of Lake Erie minnows from New York to Ohio, but not dealing with ballast water?" Petering said. "An ore boat sitting high in the water in Cleveland, will take on ballast water and head to Lake Superior. That is how this virus will spread."

The shipping industry's battles to escape ballast water restrictions have been successful, despite the billions being spent to combat the invasive species ocean freighters have brought to the Great Lakes. Joining the parade of zebra mussels, round gobies and other invasive species now is viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), a saltwater virus that has plagued European waters.

Federal officials have moved to ban shipments of fish, harming small businesses in Ohio, but continue to bow down to the powerful shipping industry. A $100 million per year international shipping industry has put a billion-dollar sport fishing industry in peril and changed the ecology of the Great Lakes, and beyond, as invasive species spread to America's waterways.

The emergency order from the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently banned interstate shipments of 37 species of live fish from eight Great Lakes states, as well as Ontario and Quebec. It is designed to stop the spread of VHS, which reached the lower Great Lakes two years ago, most likely in the ballast of ocean freighters. VHS is blamed for killing sheepshead in Lake Erie, round gobies in Lake Ontario and muskies in Lake St. Clair.

APHIS agreed this week to amend the order to allow shipments of fish which have been certified as disease-free, mostly trout and salmon. It also lifted a ban on fish being shipped to processors or research facilities. The ban on emerald shiner minnows, the most popular baitfish for Ohio sport anglers, will stand.

Private fish producers reportedly told APHIS that without a workable plan, they would simply cheat and continue shipping fish. If they comply, they will be out of business.
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