Evidence of meeting #35 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was lamprey.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

Dr. Imre, on behalf of the entire committee I want to say thank you very much for your time here today, your presentation, and taking the time to answer our questions. It's been very informative, and we do appreciate it very much.

4:25 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

Thank you very much.

I apologize to the gentleman who was translating for me. Sometimes I tend to talk very fast. I've been told to slow down, but when I get turned on I just shift gears. I very much appreciate your time and the honour of being able to talk to you. I apologize if I've been a bit too passionate about things.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Cardigan, PE

It's good that you are.

4:25 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

Thank you.

If you need any information about sea lamprey or anything at all, please do not hesitate to contact me. I'd be more than happy to help.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

We will take a short break while we allow our other guests to set up.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

We'll begin.

I want to thank you gentlemen for coming to meet with our committee today. We certainly appreciate your taking time out of your schedules to meet with us, and we look forward to your presentation.

The clerk has probably informed you that we allow about ten minutes for presentations, and each member has an allotted time for questions and answers. If I interject at some point, please don't be offended. It's just in the interest of fairness to ensure that all members have the opportunity to ask questions and have them answered.

The floor is yours.

4:30 p.m.

Robert Duncanson Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Thank you very much.

Good afternoon. My name is Bob Duncanson. I'm the executive director of the Georgian Bay Association. I'm joined today by my colleague John Wilson, who's a director of our organization and the chair of our fisheries committee.

I have a few slides, just to give you a bit of background on where we come from on the invasive species issue. Then we'll get into some specifics on species of concern to us.

The Georgian Bay Association is a not-for-profit umbrella group representing 20 community associations along the eastern and northern shores of Georgian Bay and the North Channel. We've been speaking out in the interest of property owners in this area since 1916.

There are about 10,000 families who own land along the shores of Georgian Bay collectively. Through their taxes and the goods and services they purchase, and such, they contribute about $100 million to the local, provincial, and federal economies every year.

Approximately one-third of our members are U.S. citizens, so that's new money to our country. That's for just the Georgian Bay Association. We don't propose to speak for other landowners on the rest of the Great Lakes, but there are 42 ridings that touch on the Great Lakes and we happen to touch on two of those ridings. You can see that the multiple effect is quite significant.

The Georgian Bay Association is an incorporated organization, with shareholders and an annually elected board of directors. We are fully accountable to our members, who are all property owners. At the direction of our shareholders we have committees that focus on key issues, including fisheries, and monitor aquatic invasive species, which is why we are here today.

The Georgian Bay Association is proud of our heritage of providing quality input and feedback to all levels of government. We're actively involved on committees such as the advisory panel to the Canadian re-negotiators of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the International Upper Great Lakes Study Board; and in Ontario, the source water protection committee.

I'll now turn the floor to my colleague John Wilson.

4:35 p.m.

John Wilson Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

We would like to address three issues in our presentation: the need for ongoing research on invasive species in the Great Lakes; how to deal with the threat of the Asian carp; and the need for ballast water standards.

I'd like to share with the committee the latest research on aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes, which was presented by U.S. and Canadian scientists at last month's Great Lakes Fishery Commission conference. The main message presented was that the ecosystem of the Great Lakes is undergoing what senior biologists call “a regime change”—that's a case in which the ecology of the fishery moves from one stable state to another stable state over a number of decades—and that the particular regime change we're going through has been brought on by the impact of aquatic invasive species.

The chart I am showing shows what the stable state in the middle Great Lakes—Michigan, Huron, and Georgian Bay, which we focus on—looked like in the 1990s. The lakes had a relatively healthy stable ecosystem, and you'll notice that invasive species dominated many of the levels of the food chain—the salmon, the alewife, zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels were introduced through ballast water in the late 1980s and had spread through the near shores of the Great Lakes, causing problems with water intake systems but not with the overall ecology of the lake. It was the later introduction of another invasive specie, the quagga mussel, also through ballast water, that precipitated the ecological change in the lakes. Unlike the zebra mussels, which only survived on rocky bottoms to maybe 30 feet deep, the quagga mussels could survive on sandy or silt bottoms down to a level of 350 feet. The quagga mussels have now replaced the zebra mussels in the near shore and have carpeted the bottom of the lakes. This quantum growth in the number of mussels filtering phytoplankton and zooplankton out of the lake water has resulted in a serious break in the food chain.

This reduction in food at the lowest level of the food chain created a domino effect up the chain. The tiny shrimp diporeia, of which within a square metre you'd find thousands, have now pretty well disappeared from the middle lakes, the issue being that they are without the phytoplankton to feed on. The alewife crashed without their main source of food, which was the diporeia, and as you move up, so did the salmon, which were the next to fall—that once-prized recreational sport fishery.

The chart titled “A Regime Change is Underway” shows us where we are now, in the midst of the regime change. The native fish of the Great Lakes—the lake trout and the walleye—have actually returned to be the top predators. Another invasive specie, the round goby, is now their main source of food. The overall energy level, however, of the once vibrant lakes has now dropped to the same level as that of Lake Superior.

The scientists at the conference have also reported on a new side effect from the introduction and spread of quagga mussels and round goby. It turns out that the round goby like to eat quagga mussels. The problem is that quagga mussels filter and retain bacteria. When they die, their bodies act like an incubator, producing botulism and toxins. When round goby eat the dying quagga mussels, they act as a conduit to carry the botulism and toxins up the food chain to all the fish and birds that now rely on these round goby as their main source of food. We're now experiencing mass die-offs of fish and waterfowl from botulism types C and E around the Great Lakes.

In order to better understand the significant ecological changes that are still taking place in the Great Lakes as a result of invasive species, it is our recommendation that more scientific research be done. With the completion of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement now awaiting approval by both governments, the negotiations of the Canada-Ontario agreement will soon begin. This funding is critical to support the scientists and the biologists who carry out the necessary research on the Great Lakes. We would urge the committee to support the federal government in this funding.

I'll turn the floor back over to Bob.

4:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

I'm going to spend a few minutes talking about the Asian carp. I know that you've heard substantial things about it in the past, but we're here to tell you our perspective as Canadian taxpayers and voters.

When we attend events such as the biennial meeting of the International Joint Commission, which we did in Detroit last year, we hear scientist after scientist stand up and talk about the damage done and the cost to control invasive species such the sea lamprey, about which you just heard earlier this afternoon, and zebra mussels. But when the conversation turns to Asian carp, we seem to be resigned to letting history repeat itself. We don't think that the lessons that were learned—that it's very expensive to control these things once they are in and a lot less expensive to keep them out—are being met with open arms by the IJC, among others.

As you'll likely know, there is an internal struggle going on in the U.S. as how to prevent Asian carp from entering Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie from the Mississippi River system. Several states have taken the State of Illinois to the Supreme Court to try to get a permanent barrier built in the Chicago River. This has been rejected by the Supreme Court.

The White House tends to side with Illinois on this; meanwhile, they are spending over $50 million per year on electric barriers, poisons, and such. The stakes on this are high, including a $7 billion commercial and recreational fishery and untold damage to tourism and recreational property owners.

What should Canada do? We think that the federal government should lobby as hard as possible for a permanent barrier on all potential river access points—not just the Chicago River: there are other entry points that lead into Erie and, further up from Chicago, into Michigan. Simultaneously, the government should review its Canada-U.S. dispute resolution mechanism. We say this not to be cheeky, but this invasion is going to result in a countless number of lawsuits between the two nations. We had better be prepared for that.

I'll now turn the floor back over to John Wilson.

4:40 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

I'll talk about ballast water regulations. The largest source of aquatic invasive species and pathogens entering the Great Lakes is through ballast water out of ocean-going vessels. It was recognized over a decade ago that ballast water exchanged with salt water offshore was not effective in killing aquatic invasive species. The International Marine Organization developed water quality standards for ballast water and promoted a whole new industry to have companies develop ballast water treatment technology for ocean-going vessels.

Last month, the U.S. Coast Guard issued new ballast water regulations which conformed with those sanctioned by the U.S. EPA and the IMO that will take effect this June. As of 2014, any new vessel entering the Great Lakes or any vessel that has had a dry dock since 2014 will be required to have approved ballast water treatment technology on board. The U.S. Coast Guard will determine by 2016 whether there is a need for stronger ballast water standards and wheether there is technology available that could deal with it. Transport Canada has made no comment about adopting the U.S. standards.

It is our recommendation that DFO should work with Transport Canada to bring in new ballast water regulations that align with those of the U.S. This will alleviate concerns that Canada will retain less stringent standards in order to increase the volume of trade through its ports at the expense of the environment.

That concludes our presentation.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you very much, gentlemen.

We'll move right into questions at this time.

Ms. Davidson.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks, gentlemen, for being here with us this afternoon.

This is a topic that we're finding to be very interesting, and we're learning a lot about it. It's a huge concern to those of us who live on the Great Lakes. I come from the Sarnia--Lambton riding. Certainly it's something we hear a lot about.

I want to ask you, Mr. Wilson, about the ballast water regulations. We had some people before us last week, a couple of professors. I want to read to you what they said.

In 2006 Canada took an important step in controlling this vector by requiring all ballast water entering the Great Lakes to be at a salinity of 30 parts per thousand.

Then they went to on to say that

Over the past five years since the regulation went into effect, there have been no reported invasions attributable to overseas shipping.

Do you agree with that, or do you think there are still issues with the ballast water?

4:45 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

I would agree, very much so. Canada had adopted a voluntary ballast water and saltwater exchange program long before that, as had other countries. This is not a leading-edge activity that was done by Canada.

It was back about 10 or 12 years ago that the IMO, as a global organization, decided that they needed to look at this. They needed to find a solution, and they too recognized that saltwater exchange is not good enough. That's what led them down the path to say let's set standards that would be high enough, from a water quality point of view, to deal with what they hoped were most of the invasive species that would be found in ballast water. They started that, setting the standards, working with different crating companies around the world, as well as many companies....

We have a company in London, Ontario, Trojan Technologies, that has developed a tremendous product that is going to be used in vessels, and it's being tested on ocean-going vessels right now, to treat ballast water.

The world has been moving for ten years to get to this point. Maybe part of it is the justification of the U.S. Coast Guard in also implementing these ballast water standards and the need for technology. Neither the International Marine Organization nor the U.S. EPA nor the U.S. Coast Guard believe that saltwater exchange is good enough to prevent invasive species from getting into freshwater.

On the other side, the statement that they haven't found an invasive species in five years is always a very tough one. There has never been a way of determining this is the day in which an invasive species arrived in the Great Lakes. There is a day when it's found. An invasive species may be deposited in one port on the Great Lakes, but what will happen is that we have all of these lakers that move freight between the various ports on each of the Great Lakes, and they become one of the major conduits for moving the invasive species further. A zebra mussel that's let go in Toronto would take 50 years to get up into Lake Michigan, but the lake freighters, because they're constantly moving freight and moving ballast water around the Great Lakes, are a conduit to move it effectively around.

If you wanted to look at a precautionary principle, if we felt that the cheap way of exchanging saltwater with ballast water was sufficient, none of these organizations would be putting in the need for ballast water technology. Ballast water technology is about a $2.6 billion industry. It's a brand-new industry with large global players that have developed and are testing and are now installing ballast water technology in ships. I would tend to rely on that, that there is a need for this technology. It's not something that's a wish and a prayer, but an actual need.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

So this is coming into force in June in the United States, in American waters.

4:45 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

The Great Lakes, on American waters.