Invasive Species

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The unchecked spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) is one of the most significant threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem. Invasive species are not native to the ecosystem, and by definition cause harm to human health, the environment and the economy. Zebra and quagga mussels now coat the floor of Lake Michigan, Asian Carp are infiltrating rivers and are at the doorstep of Lake Michigan, and efforts to control sea lamprey cost $16 million per year with limited success. The discovery of the Zebra Mussel showed that prevention is critical, as controlling an invasion is nearly impossible.

The unloading of ballast water–meant to balance a ship’s weight–is a main source of introducing invasive species into the Great Lakes. One study estimated ~$200 million is lost annually due to invasions caused by shipping, and ballast discharge is expected to increase with a boom in liquid natural gas exports. The Vehicle Discharge Act, under consideration by Congress, would further weaken ballast water control by transferring regulatory authority from the EPA to the Coast Guard, which lacks water pollution expertise. It would also create ballast exemptions from the Clean Water Act that are intended to protect water quality, public health, and native species.

Key Points

1) The estimated damage from invasive species worldwide totals more than $1.4 trillion, or five percent of the global economy.

2) Invasive species create a loss of agricultural productivity—about one fourth of U.S. agricultural gross national product is lost each year to foreign plant pests and the costs of controlling them.

3) The annual U.S. cost from invasives was estimated to be $120 billion, with more than 100 million acres affected (i.e., about the size of California)

4) Invasive species are the second leading cause of animal population decline and extinction worldwide. Invasive species have contributed directly to the decline of 42% of threatened and endangered species in the United States.

NCEL’s Invasive Species Factsheet


Each state has the ability to enact laws and rules related to invasive species within its boundaries and to define those species. Below are four strategies states have employed to address AIS and ballast water issues.

  1. Formal or informal legislative caucuses, such as the Ohio Lake Erie Caucus, offer dedicated attention to water issues, including AIS.
  2. Coordinated monitoring between states coupled with increased management funding both federally and in state budgets.
  3. Updating and strengthening state Aquatic Invasive Species Action Plans
  4. Increased awareness of AIS and the importance of strong ballast water standards for ecosystem and economic health.

Sample Policy

National Sea Grant Law Center has a model state watercraft inspection law and a comparison of all existing state laws and the model here


Science & Reports

The National Sea Grant Law Center produced this report on western state watercraft inspection and decontamination (WIP) programs to stop aquatic invasive species. A companion report provides comparisons of all 50 states, model state legislation, and multi-state reciprocity recommendations. The reports and an infographic map of the nation can be found here.

This article describes research and strategies being used to slow aquatic invasives. The full article is available here.

This seminal study analyzes the existing state laws and regulations that address invasive species, provides policy-makers with information on how to strengthen invasive species control programs, and includes an appendix of state-specific invasive species laws and regulations. The recommendations have been incorporated into state invasive species management plans in New Jersey and in other states.The study can be accessed here

This companion publication to “Halting the Invasion” provides the statutory framework for a comprehensive state program to detect, control, and manage the threat of invasive species across all taxa. The model law has been introduced by legislators in California and used to support reform efforts in the Caribbean. The complete publication is available here

This report reviews state laws and policies of 11 states from 2002 to 2009. The full report can be viewed here


Download the NCEL Fact Sheet with key points and links to legislation here

Download the NCEL information sheet with key points and links to legislation here

This website explains what makes a species invasive, provides specific examples, and offers suggestions for addressing the emerging threat. You can view the website here

This website outlines invasive species threats in the Great Lakes region, as well recent news about the issue. You can access the website here

The USDA National Agricultural Library houses a National Invasive Species Information Center. The Center maintains this interactive map with state statutes and regulations that pertain to invasive species. The map is available here

The National Plant Board maintains this list of state laws and regulations on plant quarantines, noxious plants, plant pests and plant disease vectors. The complete list is available here

This USGS interactive map shows zebra and quagga mussel invasions down to the county level. The map is available here

The Early Detection & Distribution Mapping (EDDMaps) project provides an exhaustive interactive list of invasive species of plants, insects, wildlife and diseases with national, county, and GIS point maps for individual invasive species. The full list is available here


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