Ballast water blues

Posted: Sunday, April 06, 2003

Alaska depends on clean marine waters to sustain vital commercial, sport and subsistence fishing opportunities. In addition, maintaining clean water benefits tourism and protects the abundant marine mammals that swim in the waters of Alaska.

Alaska has been in the vanguard of protecting our territorial marine waters. For good reason, our state has banned commercial rearing of Atlantic salmon. Leaders of both political parties have worked cooperatively to halt cruise ship dumping in the waters of our state. The public expects and deserves continued protection of our marine resources.

While we have made progress protecting and preserving the marine waters of Alaska, much remains to be completed. Ballast water from ships sailing in Alaska waters has potential to introduce exotic invasive aquatic species. The shared waters of the Pacific Coast have already been impacted by this problem. The waters of San Francisco Bay, British Columbia and Puget Sound are experiencing foreign species invasions. Given worldwide commerce, the problem is accelerating. The magnitude of this resource issue requires a coordinated response from all West Coast states and British Columbia. Introduction of exotic aquatic species from ballast water will continue unless further actions are taken to prevent harm.

California, Oregon and Washington have enacted legislation to address ballast water discharge and to prevent the proliferation of exotic aquatic species. Alaska and British Columbia have not enacted ballast legislation pertaining to this topic. Because we share common Pacific coastline, it is essential that Alaska enact and fund a coordinated ballast management program in cooperation with our neighbors to the south. A weak and ineffective ballast management program in a single jurisdiction places us all at a higher risk of introducing new invasive aquatic species.

Gov. Murkowski and other political leaders in Alaska have demonstrated a willingness to address marine pollution problems in the past. For the sake of all of us who use the bountiful marine waters of Alaska, we hope and trust that the ballast water discharge problem can be addressed in a coordinated and intelligent manner prior to a catastrophe.

Joe Geldhof


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