July 10, 2006

New regulations enhance protection of marine environment from invasive species

New regulations under the Canada Shipping Act for control and management of ships' ballast water will further reduce the risk of harmful aquatic species and pathogens being introduced into Canadian waters from this source. Published in the June 28, 2006 edition of the Canada Gazette, Part II, the regulations make mandatory several of the existing voluntary measures Transport Canada formerly had in place and build upon Transport Canada's existing regulations prescribing how ships bound for Canadian ports must manage their ballast water.

The new rules stipulate that ships must exchange their ballast water at least 200 miles from shore and in waters at least 2,000 metres deep before entering waters under Canadian jurisdiction. When ships do not travel beyond 200 miles from shore or cannot exchange their ballast water in mid-ocean because of weather or other related safety issues, they will be required to follow other best management practices. These practices include treating the ballast water, or retaining it onboard.

The regulations set out standards for ballast water exchange and specify alternative zones, within waters under Canadian jurisdiction, where ballast water can be exchanged. These alternative exchange zones have been determined on the basis of scientific advice provided by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Included as well are limits to be met for specified organisms in treated ballast water, and a prohibition on the discharge into waters under Canadian jurisdiction of sediments settling out of ballast water.

In addition, all ship operators will be required to develop a ballast water management plan for each ship subject to the regulations. This plan, to be completed within six months after the regulations come into effect, must outline the measures and procedures established by the operator to ensure that ballast water is being managed safely and effectively.

The regulations are intended to reduce the risk of foreign species being introduced into Canadian waters through the inappropriate discharge of ballast water while continuing to protect the safety of the ship and crew. They have been harmonized as far as possible with the U.S. Coast Guard requirements and with the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments. Transport Canada inspectors will use portable devices to measure the salt content of ballast water carried by ships arriving at Canadian ports when monitoring and enforcing compliance with the new regulations.

A cost-benefit analysis indicates that the new regulations will not impose undue costs on the shipping industry. The relative ease and low cost of ballast water exchange make it the method most commonly used to prevent the introduction and transfer of invasive aquatic species carried in ballast water. Provisions governing this method are not expected to adversely affect its continued use. The one-time cost to ship owners of developing the required ballast water management plan is estimated at $1,200.

The costs to the government associated with the new regulations are also considered low, and the overall benefits are deemed to far outweigh the costs to either industry or government. The regulations will help protect commercial and recreational fisheries, both on Canada's coasts and in the Great Lakes. These sectors contribute over $2 billion and $450 million per year, respectively, to the Canadian economy. By preventing further invasions of alien aquatic species, the regulations will help protect the environment and control the continuing costs of dealing with those already introduced, such as zebra mussels.

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