Statement of Sen. Lisa A. Murkowski
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Fish, Wildlife and Water
Mr. Chairman, thank you once again for choosing to hold a hearing on a matter of great concern to my State of Alaska. I look forward to hearing from all our witnesses today, and to the Committee’s consideration of specific language.
We in Alaska have been relatively fortunate, thanks to distance, climate and foresight. Alaska has had strong laws regarding the importation of exotic species for many years. Despite that, a number of invasive aquatic species – and I might add, at least one non-aquatic species of significant concern – have hitchhiked to my State. Still others are near our border, and still others appear to be working their way in our direction.
The port of Valdez, in Prince William Sound, receives the third-largest volume of ballast water of any U.S. port, due to the regular arrival of very large oil tankers, many of which arrive from ports already infested with invasive species. This is a significant and continuing threat, although to date only a small number of problems have been detected.
Work is continuing on technologies and practices that will meet this challenge. Among the most promising is a new method of introducing ozone into ballast water both when it is pumped aboard and when it is discharged, which has so far shown excellent results in removing biological hitchhikers. I want to note also this is research that has been funding by the oil and gas industry – British Petroleum to be precise. The industry’s willingness to step forward on this issue should be recognized and applauded, but the government’s obligation to address this issue should not be overlooked. I hope that this committee will agree that research of this kind is worthy of its strong support.
A variety of both animal and plant organisms already have shown up in Alaskan waters. Some, such as Northern Pike, which has been introduced illegally into areas where it is not native, are a serious threat to native Pacific salmon and other fish. Atlantic salmon escaping from salmon farms in other areas have also been found in streams from Southeast Alaska to Prince William Sound, and in ocean waters as far north as the Bering Sea. Natural reproduction of escaped Atlantic salmon has been observed in British Columbia, and it is possible this species could find a foothold in Alaska, posing a serious threat to native stocks. Plants such as Japanese knotweed, Reed Canary grass and Foxtail barley are also colonizing, posing a threat to naturally occurring species.
Several other species have not yet been observed in Alaska, but are considered to be a danger, and officials are watching carefully in the hope of intercepting them before they become a problem. The European green crab is an example; it became established in California and has already moved as far north as Vancouver Island. Although small, it is highly aggressive, and preys on juveniles of other crab species, as well as on clams, mussels, urchins, other fish and plants. In Alaska, all the major crab species – king, Dungeness and Tanner – could all be at risk.
Another small crab of concern is the Chinese mitten crab, which has become established in the San Francisco area and may be moving northward. One specimen has been found near the mouth of the Columbia River. Because this creature comes into fresh water to spawn, potentially moving hundreds of miles up rivers, it is a serious threat.
This is by no means an exhaustive list – it is not meant to be. However, I would be remiss in not mentioning one other creature that has become a serious problem. Although not considered an aquatic animal, the Norway rat shares one characteristic with many aquatic nuisance species – its mode of travel. Rats arriving via shipwrecks and in transferred cargo are now considered a significant threat to seabird colonies in the Aleutian Islands Maritime Wildlife Refuge. I hope that when we begin work on specific changes to the Act it is possible to address this matter, perhaps in the same way the Brown Tree snake – another terrestrial species – was were addressed in the original Act.
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.