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Canadian Diplomat Weighs in on Great Lakes Issues

S Bence
Consul General Roy Norton and scientist Harvey Bootsma discuss invasive species altering Great Lakes ecosystems.

Roy Norton is Consul General of Canada in Chicago. Wisconsin is one of three states, along with Illinois and Missouri, in his purview.

This week the Consul General is visiting communities around Wisconsin. Much of his visit involves strengthening business ties between the state and Canada.

But Monday, Norton was in Milwaukee at the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, discussing another key issue – invasive species plaguing the Great Lakes.

Norton shared the podium with scientist Harvey Bootsma.

He says more than 180 invasive species have impacted the Great Lakes, from the sea lamprey and alewife, to zebra mussels and round gobies.  They have radically altered the ecosystem.

The U.S. and Canada are working together to control some of these invaders. The binational Great Lakes Fishery Commission was created to control sea lamprey and to carry out fisheries research and management of the Great Lakes.

Roy Norton says despite existing challenges and potential ones, such as Asian carp, progress is being made to impede the next unwelcome species.

He points to strides made in controlling ballast water. It is the water used to fill tanks around cargo holds in make a ship stable at sea.

Fednav, a major Canadian shipping company on the Great Lakes, purchased twelve new ships with state-of-the-art ballast water treatment capability.

However, Norton says the U.S. and Canada have not settled on a uniform ballast water standard to governs the entire system.

“We’ve (Canada) ratified the International Maritime Organization standard, the United States has signed it, but not ratified it. If you were to do so, we would perforce instantly have an agreed standard,” Norton adds, “in the meantime, we have a standard, there are two U.S. ones – the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. EPA and there are eight state standards and it makes management of all of this from a ballast water treatment point of view somewhat challenging.”

What did Norton think about Canada has a newly-elected government’s stand on Great Lakes issues? (Canada’s Liberal Party experienced a landslide and the triumph of Justin Trudeau as prime minister.)

“I think they’ll be highly committed to Great Lakes protection, frankly, as the previous government was. This is not a partisan issue in Canada. There was next to no debate, there might have been no debate at all during our recent federal campaign on what needs to be done in the Great Lakes. Everybody committed to the resources that are necessary, within reason, and to the highest possible standards. They’re a precious resource that needs to be protected for generations going forward,” Norton says.

He reflected on the importance of the science shared by School of Freshwater Sciences’ Harvey Bootsma.

Norton calls the data overpowering and adds, changes introduced to the Great Lakes are difficult to reverse.

“I’m not a scientist, at least that kind of science. My area of expertise is in policymaking and diplomacy. And I think there is scope for both of us to play a role in trying to improve the situation,” Norton says.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.<br/>