MTS stakeholders in Canada and the United States have developed new policies, partnerships, and technologies to prevent the introduction of new non-native species, or the spread of existing non-native species. Oceangoing ships entering the Maritime Transportation System (MTS) from foreign ports have the potential to introduce non-native species through transfer of ballast water, which is used to help stabilize unloaded or partially-loaded vessels. At the same time, ballast water transfers from vessels operating within the MTS could accelerate the spread of existing non-native species between different areas of the MTS.

Efforts to reduce the introduction and spread of non-native species include:

The U.S. and Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway agencies, Transport Canada, and the U.S. Coast Guard, are working together through the Ballast Water Working Group to coordinate ballast water regulatory, compliance and research efforts, including sampling and inspections, for vessels transiting the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway. 

Vessels entering the MTS from overseas must exchange ballast water and flush their ballast tanks before arriving in domestic waters. This program has been in place since 2008, and since its creation no new aquatic invasive species have been discovered in the Great Lakes region due to shipping.

The International Convention for the Control of and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments establishes standards for management of ballast water dischargesCanada is a Party to the Convention and Transport Canada will be updating its regulations to meet the Convention’s obligations.

The U.S. is not a party to the International Convention for the Control of and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, but implements regulations with similar provisions. On December 4, 2018, the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act was signed into law and requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard to promulgate new regulations replacing the existing regulatory regime. This process may take up to four years. In the interim, existing requirements of both agencies, and individual state requirements (where they exist), remain in place. Once new regulations are in place, states will no longer be able to set state-specific requirements for vessel discharges. The Act does provide for regionally specific requirements under certain conditions.

Canadian and U.S. agencies and shipowners are actively testing and evaluating ballast water treatment systems to best meet regulatory, environmental, and operational requirements. The selection of a suitable ballast water treatment system is an ongoing challenge for shipowners. Systems need to be approved by port states and should be evaluated under actual operating conditions of domestic waters. Systems must consistently meet agency compliance standards, whether the ship is in the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence or Canadian Arctic, and work within the voyage lengths and cargo operations required of the domestic trades market.

Transport Canada (TC) is proposing updated ballast water regulations that will implement Canada’s obligations under the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments. The proposed regulations attempt to accommodate differences between the U.S. ballast water regulatory regime and the Convention by providing sufficient time for vessel owners to install BWMS for use in the North American market, and certainty that capital investments would be respected given the challenging water quality conditions on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.