Testimony of Senator Susan M. Collins

Submitted to the Committee on Environment and Public Works

Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water

on the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act

June 17, 2003

 

 

            From Pickerel Pond to Lake Auburn, from Sebago Lake to Bryant Pond, lakes and ponds in Maine are under attack.  Aquatic invasive species threaten Maine’s drinking water systems, recreation, wildlife habitat, lakefront real estate, and fisheries.  Plants, such as Variable Leaf Milfoil, are crowding out native species.  Invasive Asian shore crabs are taking over Southern New England’s tidal pools, and just last year, began their advance into Maine – to the potential detriment of Maine’s lobster and clam industries.

           

            Maine and many other states are attempting to fight back against these invasions.   Unfortunately, their efforts have frequently been of limited success.  As with national security, protecting the integrity of our lakes, streams, and coastlines from invading species cannot be accomplished by individual states alone.  We need a uniform, nationwide approach to deal effectively with invasive species.  For this reason, Senator Levin and I have introduced the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (NAISA) of 2003 to reauthorize the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act.  This bipartisan legislation would create a comprehensive nationwide approach to combating alien species that invade our shores.

 

            I want to thank Chairman Crapo and Ranking Member Graham for holding a hearing on this issue of national importance.

 

            The stakes are high when invasive species are unintentionally introduced into our nation’s waters.  Invasive species endanger ecosystems, reduce biodiversity, and threaten native species.  They disrupt people’s lives and livelihoods by lowering property values, impairing commercial fishing and aquaculture, degrading recreational experiences, and damaging public water supplies. 

            In the 1950's, European Green Crabs swarmed the Maine coast and literally ate the bottom out of Maine’s soft-shell clam industry by the 1980's.  Many clam diggers were forced to go after other fisheries or find new vocations.  In just one decade, this invader reduced the number of clam diggers in Maine from nearly 5,000 in the 1940's to fewer than 1500 in the 1950's.  European green crabs currently cost an estimated $44 million a year in damage and control efforts in the United States.         

 

            Past invasions forewarn of the long-term consequences to our environment and communities unless we take steps to prevent new invasions.   It is too late to stop European green crabs from taking hold on the East Coast, but we still have the opportunity to prevent many other species from taking hold in Maine and the United States.


 

            Six months ago, in the Town of Limerick, Maine, one of North America’s most aggressive invasive species – hydrilla – was found in Pickerel Pond.  Hydrilla can quickly dominate its new ecosystem – already hydrilla covers 60 percent of the bottom of Pickerel Pond from the shoreline out to six feet deep.   Never before detected in Maine, this stubborn and fast-growing aquatic plant threatens Pickerel Pond’s recreational use for swimmers and boaters, and could spread to nearby lakes and ponds.  Research in Vermont shows that invasive plants can cost shoreline owners over $12,000 each in lost property values on infested lakes.  Unfortunately, eradication of hydrilla is nearly impossible, so we must now work to prevent further infestation in the state.

           

            The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act of 2003 is the most comprehensive effort ever to address the threat of invasive species.  By authorizing $836 million over six years, this legislation would open numerous new fronts in our war against invasive species.  The bill directs the Coast Guard to develop regulations that will end the easy cruise of invasive species into US waters through the ballast water of international ships, and would provide the Coast Guard with $6 million per year to develop and implement these regulations. 

 

            The bill also would provide $30 million per year for a grant program to assist state efforts to prevent the spread of invasive species.  It would provide $12 million per year for the Army Corps of Engineers and Fish and Wildlife Service to contain and control invasive species.  Finally, the Levin-Collins bill would authorize $30 million annually for research, education, and outreach.

 

            The most effective means of stopping invading species is to attack them before they attack us.  We need an early alert, rapid response system to combat invading species before they have a chance to take hold.  For the first time, this bill would establish a national monitoring network to detect newly introduced species, while providing $25 million to the Secretary of the Interior to create a rapid response fund to help States and regions respond quickly once invasive species have been detected.  This bill is our best effort at preventing the next wave of invasive species from taking hold and decimating industries and destroying waterways in Maine and throughout the country.

           

            One of the leading pathways for the introduction of aquatic organisms to U.S. waters from abroad is through transoceanic vessels.  Commercial vessels fill and release ballast tanks with seawater as a means of stabilization.  The ballast water contains live organisms from plankton to adult fish that are transported and released through this pathway.  NAISA would establish a framework to prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species by ships.   Since the last reauthorization of this legislation in 1996, there has been growing consensus about the value of a mandatory national program to prevent movement of organisms by ships.  NAISA will require all ships to prepare Aquatic Invasive Management Plans, carry out Best Management Practices, and document all ballast operations and management activities related to this legislation.  The legislation establishes interim standards for Ballast Water Exchange and Ballast Water Treatment, which will apply to 2010 at the latest, and requires that a final standard be implemented by 2011.  These measures will ensure  that the United States is taking the most effective actions possible to protect our waters, ecosystems and industries.


 

            While introduction of aquatic invasive species through ballast water poses the greatest threat to our waters, non-native species imported for live food, aquaculture, or the pet trade can escape and become invasive.  The snakehead fish that invaded a Maryland pond last summer is one example.  Currently, there is no uniform, systematic process for screening or regulating the proposed importation of live organisms to prevent the introduction of harmful invasive species.  The NAISA legislation creates a screening process for planned introductions of non-indigenous species not already in trade.  The legislation would prohibit the importation of species that are determined to pose a high risk of becoming invasive or species with insufficient information to determine the risk.

 

            Prevention is key, but when it fails, we must respond rapidly to detect invasive species and stop their spread.  This legislation will help states and regional organizations detect and respond to future invasions through early detection and rapid response.   The bill provides funding to support ecological surveys to rapidly detect recently-established aquatic invasive species and to develop and implement rapid response plans to eradicate or control aquatic invasive species.  This provision would support efforts, such as those being undertaken by the New England Invasive Plant Group, to compile an invasive plant atlas for the region and create an early warning system to alert states to invasive plants.

 

            The legislation also takes precautions to ensure that the methods we use to manage and control invasive species do not adversely affect health, public safety, or the environment.   Ensuring the environmental soundness of our response is critical if we are to avoid unintended consequences.  In the 1990s, biologists in Maine found DDT and other pesticides in the mudflats of Maine.  In an attempt to eradicate the green crab, the state and individuals had applied pesticides to the flats about 50 years earlier.  We must be careful that our current attempts to remove invasive species do not cause even more serious problems.

           

            Information and education are essential mechanisms to inhibit the spread of aquatic invasive species.  The bill provides funding for education and information programs to prevent the spread of invasive species through boating and other activities.  This funding will augment aggressive state efforts to stop the invasion of aquatic species.  For example, Maine has passed two laws to prevent the spread of invasive species and ban the sale or introduction of eleven invasive aquatic plants into the state.  In October 2002, Maine also adopted an action plan for managing invasive aquatic species.  Educating the public about the introduction and spread of species is a primary goal of the state’s program.  NAISA will support federal, state and local efforts to raise public awareness about invasive aquatic species and teach how individuals can help prevent or stop the spread of these species.

           


            Underpinning this bill is research.  The legislation supports research into the prevention, control and eradication of aquatic invasive species.  Finding effective methods to combat aquatic invasive species depends on good science.  The legislation would provide funds for research on ecological surveys to assess the rate and patterns of introductions; pathway surveys to analyze how non-native species may be introduced into aquatic ecosystems and determine practices that contribute to the introduction of these species; and technology development into environmentally sound methods and treatments to detect, prevent, control and eradicate aquatic invasive species.

 

            Each year, invasive species cost the United States $138 billion.  Nonindigenous species infest and degrade U.S. waterways and coastal areas in virtually every region of the United States.  We are losing the fight to protect the nation’s waters from expensive and environmentally damaging invasions by aquatic nuisance species.  Every day that passes without protections to prevent new invasions increases the threat that another exotic species will establish itself, altering the ecosystem in our great waters.

 

            The NAISA legislation provides the framework for a comprehensive and coordinated response at the federal, state and local levels to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.  I urge my colleagues to cosponsor this legislation and work to move the bill swiftly through the Senate.