Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. I am Matt Hogan, Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Fish and Wildlife Service). The Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service serves as a co-chair of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANS Task Force) and I thank you, on both his and the Department of the Interior’s (Department) behalf, for the opportunity to comment on S. 525, the “National Aquatic Invasive Species Act.” The Department, working primarily through the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), has a long history of aggressively working on issues related to aquatic invasive species.
There is no question that the introduction and establishment of aquatic invasive species have significantly impacted our natural areas. We have only to look at a history of invasions, from the sea lamprey to the zebra mussel to the snakehead fish last summer, to understand the broad scope of the problem. The United States continues to see a number of aquatic species, which may become invasive, crossing our borders, and we expect this trend to continue. The Department supports the overall direction of this bill and is encouraged by the leadership and foresight shown by Congress in addressing this difficult issue. However, we have some concerns with the bill, and offer to work with the Subcommittee on specific program details. We also note that new spending authorized by these bills is not currently included in the President’s Budget and, as such, these actions must be considered within existing priorities.
We agree with the continued focus on partnerships and cooperative efforts to address this nationally significant problem. One of the purposes of the original law, the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990, was to encourage federal and state agencies to work with partners to enhance our collective efforts. We believe that the partnerships and cooperative entities established through the ANS Task Force and the National Invasive Species Council (Council) have been instrumental in making significant progress to prevent and control aquatic invasive species.
We support inclusion of research agencies, such as the USGS and the Smithsonian Institution, as participants in the Task Force to encourage strong links between research and the management of non-indigenous aquatic species. The ANS Task Force, authorized by the original Act, met recently in New Orleans, Louisiana to discuss the aquatic invasive species issues specific to the Gulf of Mexico region. Over the last 12 years, the Task Force has held meetings throughout the country to better understand regional invasive species issues, increase awareness, and enhance coordination efforts with local and regional entities.
The Task Force has been successful in establishing additional Regional Aquatic Nuisance Species Panels, bringing together governmental and private entities to coordinate aquatic invasive species activities at a regional level. The 1990 Act authorized the Great Lakes Panel, and the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 (NISA) authorized the establishment of a Western Regional Panel. NISA also recommended that the ANS Task Force establish additional panels. Three additional panels have been established since 1997, the Gulf of Mexico Panel in 1999, the Northeast ANS Panel in 2001, and the Mississippi River Basin Panel in 2002. The ANS Task Force is also encouraging the establishment of a Mid-Atlantic Panel and a Pacific Islands Panel. The ANS Task Force is proud of many of the accomplishments made over the last decade including enhancement of regional coordination on aquatic invasive species issues. While invasive aquatic species continue to be a significant threat to our natural resources, we believe our efforts to prevent and control aquatic invasive species have resulted in fewer species introduced and reduced impacts from those that have become established.
Let me begin by saying that, while we have some concerns with the bill, we support reauthorization and want to work with you and your staff to address some technical details. As this bill is very comprehensive, we will limit our comments today to several general areas. One general area of concern relates to the number of reports and proposed deadlines required by
S. 525. We hope to have the opportunity to work with you and your staff to try to consolidate some of these reporting requirements to ensure that we can implement the activities outlined in the Act aggressively, but also that the timeframes established are meaningful and manageable.
We believe that substantial progress has been made regarding the management of ballast water; however, much remains to be done. Through NISA, Congress required that the Coast Guard develop voluntary guidelines for ballast water management, and that those guidelines be made mandatory if the industry did not comply with the guidelines or did not adequately report on compliance. In 1996, as required by NISA, the ANS Task Force provided the Coast Guard with a report outlining the criteria for determining the adequacy and effectiveness of the voluntary guidelines. The Coast Guard utilized the input from the ANS Task Force and submitted their report to Congress on the Voluntary Guidelines for Ballast Water Management, which outlined a process to transition to a mandatory program. The Department supports the Coast Guard’s ongoing efforts to transition from the voluntary national program to a mandatory program, as well as efforts to establish a standard to serve as the benchmark for ballast water management options, and we urge a continuation and emphasis for research on ballast water management to assure that the resulting standards are effective and environmentally sound.
While ballast water has been acknowledged as one of the leading vectors of introduction, we are encouraged to see that additional emphasis is being placed on other aquatic pathways. Some of these other pathways include bait fish, the aquarium and pet trade, horticulture, and live food. This additional emphasis will encourage the development of management actions, which may minimize the threats from new aquatic invasive species that have the potential to impact our fish and wildlife populations and associated habitats. We support interagency priority pathway research and management efforts to identify high risk pathways and develop management strategies to address them. In developing its strategic plan last year, the ANS Task Force also identified the management of pathways by which invasive species are introduced as a vital action to prevent future establishment of aquatic invasive species. A number of the actions called for in this bill are similar to those included in the “Prevention” section of the Council’s National Invasive Species Management Plan (Plan). A copy of that plan is available at the following web address: http://www.invasivespecies.gov/council/nmp.shtml
Screening of Planned Importations
The Department has recognized the need for the development of a screening process for planned importations of live aquatic organisms. Having the opportunity to evaluate new non-native species that are proposed to be imported into the United States is an invaluable tool to ensure that we are proactive in preventing the introduction of new aquatic invasive species into United States waters. An example of the need for such a tool is the discovery last summer of a population of snakehead fish in a pond in Maryland.
Snakehead fish are an aquatic invasive species that are sold live for food or as aquarium pets. Snakeheads are top predators that multiply quickly and have several special features that enhance their ability to survive in wild. In addition to the population found in Maryland, another population was found a year ago in Florida. After the discovery in Florida during the summer of 2001, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the USGS initiated a risk assessment to gather scientific information to determine the injurious nature, and potential impacts, of snakeheads. Data from this risk assessment indicated that the snakeheads were indeed detrimental and the Fish and Wildlife Service began the process of listing snakeheads as injurious wildlife. That process was completed when a final rule was published on October 4, 2002. That rule makes it illegal under the Lacey Act to import into the United States or transport across state lines all members of the Channidae family, including the 28 currently recognized species and any species that may be classified under the Channidae family in the future.
While the Injurious Wildlife provisions of the Lacey Act give the Fish and Wildlife Service the ability to evaluate and list species as injurious, the nature of the law makes our efforts more reactive than proactive. The screening process outlined in the proposed legislation is an example of a more proactive and effective approach to preventing introductions of aquatic invasive species.
Having recognized the need for improved screening, the Council’s Plan, which I previously mentioned, also calls for working with key stakeholders to develop and test a screening process for intentionally-introduced species. Preliminary work to develop this system has begun in conjunction with the ANS Task Force. We also recommend the development of risk assessment methods to evaluate the potential threat of species that have not yet been introduced. This will be critical in making our screening efforts effective. The Department, the Council, and the ANS
Task Force would like to work with the Subcommittee to consider whether the specifics of this proposal should be revised during the legislative process.
We are concerned about the provisions in section 105 (b) that delegate authority to screen species for use in aquaculture only to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because of the risk to native fish and wildlife, we believe that both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in the Department of Commerce, should also have a role in screening species imported to be used in aquaculture.
In addition to evaluating potentially invasive species through the screening process, the Fish and Wildlife Service would also be responsible for enforcement of the resulting regulations. Currently, the Fish and Wildlife Service has 92 uniformed Wildlife Inspectors at 32 staffed ports. In 2002, there were 121,171 wildlife shipments that were imported or exported through the United States. Of those, 27,218 or 22.5 percent were physically inspected. The added workload associated with developing the guidelines and regulations, conducting the evaluations, and ensuring effective compliance will be substantial. Given the comprehensive nature of this provision, it will be necessary to work cooperatively with other agencies that may also have responsibility for aquatic invasive species. We embrace the opportunity to work with these other agencies to develop an effective and efficient screening process that is protective of both the human and natural environment.
State ANS Plans
The State ANS Management Plan provisions have been very successful and we are happy to see that the program is continued. The ANS Task Force developed guidelines to help states develop ANS plans, and made those guidelines available to the states in 2000. As outlined in the bill, the ANS Task Force will update and enhance those guidelines to address additional components related to early detection and rapid response, aquatic plant control and screening of planned importations. We look forward to continuing collaborative work with the states on their efforts to more effectively address invasive species issues. The ANS Task Force provides us with an excellent venue to pursue these collaborative partnerships. In fact, the ANS Task Force and its Regional Panels have encouraged the continued development of State and Interstate ANS Management Plans. There are currently 13 State and Interstate Plans approved by the ANS Task Force and a number of other states are in the process of developing plans. The Fish and Wildlife Service provided cost-share grants to 15 states and tribes to implement those approved plans in Fiscal Year 2003. Several additional states are expected to submit their plans to the ANS Task Force for approval in 2004.
Cooperative Control/Management Plans
The ANS Task Force also has a long history of developing and implementing cooperative control and management plans. For example, plans for brown tree snake and Eurasian ruffe were developed in the mid-1990s, and the ANS Task Force is currently developing management/control plans for the Chinese mitten crab and Caulerpa taxifolia, a marine algae. The objectives of these plans are to outline strategies and actions to control or manage aquatic invasive species. These plans are developed and implemented cooperatively by federal, state, and regional entities where appropriate.
Early Detection and Monitoring
We support the objectives addressed in Section 301. An early detection network based on the best available science is important to reducing the impacts of invasive aquatic species.
Information, Education and Outreach
Education and outreach continue to be critical elements to the success of invasive species prevention and control. Within the Department, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been actively working for many years on a 100th Meridian Initiative to stop the westward spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic invasive species. The bill proposes to enhance these efforts through increased and targeted outreach and education efforts. The ANS Task Force and the Fish and Wildlife Service have established a public awareness campaign known as Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! that targets aquatic recreation users and promotes voluntary guidelines to ensure that aquatic invasive species are not spread through recreational activities. Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! complements the 100th Meridian Initiative and was designed to unify the conservation community to inform recreation users about the issue and encourage them to become part of the solution to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.
The National Park Service also provides information to millions of visitors every year regarding conservation of natural and cultural resources. The Act, as amended, recognizes the vital role that the National Park Service has in education and outreach on resource conservation and, more specifically, during the commemoration of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Expedition. Invasive species education and information, integrated within ongoing educational efforts, will provide critical context to increase understanding of the impacts of invasive species on natural resources.
Again, we applaud the legislation’s multi-agency approach to education and outreach as there are already significant efforts to coordinate the dissemination of information. One example is the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII), an extensive information network already in wide public use, which can be utilized as a means to facilitate public access to survey, monitoring, and risk assessment information.
Aquatic Invasive Species Research
We are encouraged by the increased emphasis on research and monitoring efforts in the bill. In its strategic planning effort, the Task Force determined that additional actions were needed and restructured its committees to better address these problems. Key areas addressed in the legislation, including pathways, ballast water management, early detection and monitoring and control, can only be successful if they are based on sound research.
We recognize the need for methods for rapid assessment of newly detected aquatic species, and recommend that adequate resources for conducting such assessments be included as an integral component of coordinated planning for rapid responses. We recommend that particular attention be given to expanding and coordinating existing databases, such as the USGS’s National Non-indigenous Aquatic Species Database, which provides basic scientific information for addressing invasive species threats. Finally, we recommend that the legislation ensure better coordination among the agencies and organizations that collect and store invasive aquatic species information, and we offer our assistance to the Subcommittee in this regard.
In closing, I want to thank you for providing the Department with an opportunity to comment on this legislation. As I stated earlier, we are happy to work with you and your staff on programmatic and other technical issues.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I am happy to respond to any questions you or the other Committee members may have.