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Document Type

Article

Abstract

The emergence of aquatic nuisance species in the Gulf of Mexico has created repercussions not only on the environment and economies of the Gulf states, but has crept into the Southern culture, as well. The nutria is a rodent that was introduced into the United States from Argentina in 1937, an addition to the collection of the Avery Island nature preserve on the southern fringes of Louisiana. A hurricane resulted in the release of the animals into the surrounding marshes, and the nutria became widespread across south Louisiana in only five years. It eventually spread across the State, causing the rapid decline of the native muskrat. The Louisiana Nature Center earned international headlines with its 1993 and 1994 Nutria Festival, which featured this theme: "If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em." Local chefs presented innovative recipes for preparing the critter. One member of New Orleans society probably not in attendance was Boudreaux the Nutria, the furry life-sized mascot for the minor league baseball team, the New Orleans Zephyrs. Though the citizens of the Gulf states may face aquatic nuisance species (ANS) like the nutria tongue-in-cheek, developing and implementing plans for their control is an immense task. In March of 1998, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, the national entity directed to assist in developing and implementing state plans to control exotic or nuisance species, released its draft Guidance for State and Interstate Management Plans. The draft Guidance noted that one of the goals of a state management plan for aquatic nuisance species (ANS) is to "paint a picture of NIS problems and concerns." This is a daunting task for state legislatures and marine resource managers across the United States. In many cases, the current "picture" is composed of a patchwork of statutes and regulations prescribing a permitting scheme for possession, sale, transport or release of a species that is found on the state's "dirty list," that list of species known to be harmful to the state's waters or ecosystems. When Congress passed the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Species Prevention and Control Act in 1990 and called for states to assess the risk of ANS, as well as the methods to curtail and prevent the introduction and spread, most states were aware of the high risk species in their waters those that threaten economies and ecosystems such as the sea lamprey or zebra mussel in the Great Lakes states. These high risk species are easier to target, however, after they have made true nuisances of themselves. The statute itself was the result of zebra mussel infestation across the lower Great Lakes and the emerging day-to-day crisis propelled the bill forward: "[M]ussel encrustation of intake pipes shut down the Monroe, Michigan water supply for two days, bringing the impact of the zebra mussel directly to the homes of basin residents." As states and regions throughout the United States took notice of the economic and ecosystem devastation resulting from the introduction of one species, they began to reevaluate their own methods of aquatic nuisance management. State legislatures and marine resource departments had to assess the state interests and resources that are at risk. Once a state legislature determines that the people of the state have a primary interest in regulating the placement and planting of any nonindigenous live fish, fresh or saltwater animal, or aquatic plant in the waters of the state, it must then determine how to prevent further introduction, halt the spread of aquatic nuisance species already present, and eradicate or reduce such populations to acceptable levels. The Gulf of Mexico is an area with numerous ports, important commercial and recreational fish and shellfish species, and estuarine and wetland resources valuable to the Gulf ecosystem. While aquatic nuisance species are present in the Gulf waters, the Gulf states have been slow to implement protections for a variety of reasons: lack of funding, lack of research on preventative measures, and lack of an "exotics crisis" with a widespread economic magnitude similar to the zebra mussel crisis in the Great Lakes. Without an immediate call for help, state resource departments find it difficult to convince their legislatures of the need for resources to develop management plans. In addition, how does a resource department create a preventative plan for threats which may or may not exist? This article will give the background of aquatic nuisance species in the Gulf states and legal methods used to control the spread of such species. Part I provides background about ANS in both a national and international context and presents the federal response to the transport and introduction of these species. Part II provides background of state management plans. Part III introduces the legal methods to control ANS in the Gulf of Mexico, including the state laws and their effectiveness and suggestions for creating state management plans and a Gulf-wide management plan that can address the problems of current aquatic nuisance species and present preventative measures for possible future invasions. Part IV analyzes the challenges facing state management plans. Part V concludes with the future of ANS control in the Gulf.

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