19.11.06

THE RAILROADS ARE CLOGGED. But the eastern Great Lakes are lousy with fish pathogens.

Viral hemorrhagic septicemia, known as VHS, was discovered in the Great Lakes basin just last year, and already it has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of fish in the eastern Great Lakes.

The virus, which bleeds its victims to death, doesn't pose a danger to humans. But the potential for it to spread into the nation's other waterways so spooked the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, that it ordered some fast and drastic steps to contain it.

Michigan is seeking an emergency order prohibiting boats bound for Lake Huron or further west from taking on ballast in Lake Erie.

Specifically, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission wants the federal government to order an emergency ban on freighters filling their ballast water tanks in the virus-infected waters of Lakes Erie, Ontario and St. Clair, as well as the St. Lawrence River. The idea is to protect the virus-free Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior.

Ballast water is necessary for freighters because it stabilizes and maintains the structural integrity of a less-than-full cargo vessel, so a prohibition against it could devastate the shipping industry.

Although I have noted the downside of the St. Lawrence Seaway before, this emergency order would disrupt the movement of ore to the remaining Ohio Valley steel mills as well as limestone and cement to the Northeast, which comprise the bulk of Lakes shipments.

The article notes that the virus is particularly deadly to one of the junk fish that previously made its way into the Lakes.
Indeed, one of the species that has been most susceptible to VHS die-offs in the eastern Great Lakes is the round goby, itself an invasive species from Europe that scientists believe was brought into the Great Lakes more than a decade ago by overseas freighters traveling up the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The virus, however, has the potential to wipe out the sport and commercial fisheries as well.

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