The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act

Since its passage in 1990, a single law has been the nation’s chief protection against new aquatic invaders, especially those that arrive in ballast water. That law—the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990—was revised in 1996 and Congress is considering a second revision now.

Congress passed the 1990 law in response to the invasion of the zebra mussel and other species that damaged the Great Lakes. That law brought much-needed attention to the global movement of aquatic species. It also established the federal interagency Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, which became a key resource for regional and state efforts. The 1990 law’s strictest and most detailed provisions required that ships headed for the Great Lakes exchange their ballast water at sea.

The law was reauthorized, renamed the National Invasive Species Act, or NISA, and expanded slightly in 1996. Then all ships arriving from outside the 200-mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone were encouraged to exchange their ballast water, but required to report whether they had. NISA also authorized important research and linked its results to decisions about whether further ballast water regulation was needed.

Despite its successes, NISA has considerable room for improvement. Federal agencies have ignored important provisions; the law neglects important pathways of introduction other than ballast water; all the nation’s waters deserve protection equal to the Great Lakes; and reliance on ballast water exchange to reduce organisms in ballast water doesn’t work—even in the Great Lakes where exchange is mandatory.

NISA expired in September 2002, so Congress must reauthorize the law. This is an opportunity to address NISA’s shortcomings. A broad group of stakeholders has been working with members of Congress since early 2002 to draft and revise a stronger version of NISA, titled the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act (NAISA). While versions of this bill were introduced into both chambers of Congress in 2003, neither chamber voted on the measure.

On April 13 2005, the NAISA was re-introduced into the U.S. Senate by Senators Collins (R-ME), Levin (D-MI), and Stabenow (D-MI). Senators Akaka (D-HI), Bayh (D-IN), Dayton (D-MN), DeWine (R-OH), Jeffords (I-VT), Kennedy (D-MA), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Leahy (D-VT), Reed (D-RI), and Warner (R-VA) co-sponsored the measure. If passed, NAISA would “reauthorize and strengthen the National Invasive Species Act of 1996. It contains provisions to: regulate ballast discharge from commercial vessels; prevent invasive species introductions from other pathways; support state management plans; screen live aquatic organisms entering the United States for the first time commercially; authorize rapid response funds; create education and outreach programs; conduct research on invasion pathways, and prevention and control technologies; authorize funds for state and regional grants; and strengthen specific prevention efforts in the Great Lakes.” This bill, which has not yet been assigned a number, has several improvements from the 2003-2004 version.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Representatives Gilchrest (R-MD), Ehlers (R-MI), Kirk (R-IL), DeFazio (D-OR), and Blumenaur (D-OR) introduced complementary legislation. Differing from the Senate version, the House effort is comprised of two bills—the Aquatic Invasive Species Research Act (H.R. 1592) and the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act. The Aquatic Invasive Species Research Act proposes to create “a comprehensive research program that supports federal, state and local efforts to prevent non-native organisms from ever entering our waterways, as well as research into detection, control and eradication efforts once they are here.” The House’s National Aquatic Invasive Species Act “deals with implementing the rules and regulations based on the research results so that we can avoid further problems. Specific attention is paid in both bills to the ballast water of ships, a primary pathway for water-borne plant and animal pests to enter an ecosystem.” Both bills are much the same as their previous versions.

UCS believes NAISA is the most significant of a number of bills on invasive species before the current Congress. Its passage is urgently needed but by no means assured. Therefore, we continue to devote considerable resources to improving its text, gaining additional congressional co-sponsors, and helping it move smoothly through the necessary congressional committees.

For More Information

For details on the pluses and minuses of the proposed legislation, see Phyllis Windle’s congressional testimony on invasive species.

For more on how the provisions of NISA and NAISA help states solve problems, see:

For more on the history of this legislation: