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 control.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

Yes, I'll touch on that.

In fact this morning we had a meeting with one of our senior MPs, Tony Clement, on this very topic. We're very worried that governments at both levels—provincial and federal—are retreating from the environmental oversight of the Great Lakes at a time when this perfect storm is picking up some speed, or we're worried that it's picking up some speed. That's why John says that we're really looking at that next round of the Canada-Ontario negotiations as critical, because when the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is made public, assuming that what we saw in draft form actually makes it through cabinet and through the U.S. process, you're going to see some very strong words about nearshore issues and nutrient-loading issues on the near shore.

What these zebra mussels and quagga mussels are doing is rebalancing the whole nutrient-loading system of the Great Lakes. The words are going to be there and the strength of the words will be there, but money is what it's going to come down to. If we don't have the money to keep the scientists in place to make sure we're on top of this thing, it's a free-for-all.

We understand that the Fisheries Act is being retooled. It's going to be a bit more selective and a bit more cabinet- and minister-directed as far as how they're going to go about this is concerned. We believe there is a case to be made for the Great Lakes commercial and recreational fisheries to be protected under the new model, but time will tell whether the bucks flow. That's what it's going to take: sustained scientific support.

4:55 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

The Canada-Ontario agreement works.... It's actually the Ministry of National Resources and the Ministry of the Environment that do a lot of the work on the Great Lakes. That's kind of Ontario's part of it, in that they actually have the scientists in the boats. They collect the data, do the analysis, and feed that information back up for the scientists to work with.

We go and talk to them now, and they say they don't know what's going to happen now, that they're waiting. There isn't funding any more, so we're waiting for the Canada-Ontario agreement. If there's going to be scientific research and we're going to start to keep finding a way to understand how this regime change is going to play out and what we can do about it—or how we deal with it and adapt to it—we're going to need to have the science done.

So their last hope is that agreement. That's why we encourage this committee and DFO, if they can help with that process, to make sure there's funding that's going to happen. Otherwise, we're going to find ourselves wondering.

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

I'd like to build on that a little bit. As the federal regime changes to the oversight of the fisheries and the environment in general, and there seems to be a retreat to avoid duplication.... Everyone can agree that duplication in tight financial times is an important thing to look at, but at the same time, as you may have read, the Ontario government is going through its own belt-tightening and is cutting—guess what?—MOE and MNR.

So our point, which we make whenever we can, is that we hope both levels of the government—the federal and the provincial—are making sure that as they simultaneously retreat there isn't this massive hole left in the middle that leaves us all vulnerable. There has to be a high level of coordination. In addition to just the negotiation of the Canada-Ontario agreement, there has to be coordination between the levels of science to make sure that somebody is keeping their eye on the ball.

5 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Just to continue on that thought real quickly, in line with Mr. Toone's questioning and the cuts that you've pointed out, I very much appreciate your presentation and the fact that you've laid it out with five recommendations here.

Do you have costing to these recommendations? Is there an idea of what kinds of amounts we're looking at for each of these recommendations?

5 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

Certainly for the ballast water standards, I don't think it's going to cost you a lot of money to do that. In reality, you're just synchronizing yourself with the U.S. Ships are going to have to do it anyway. They're going to have to be doing it globally, too—and that's coming—under the IMO.

On the science, from the costing side I think $8 million was the Canada-Ontario agreement, but much of that money did not go to the science. It went to areas of concern, to those particular spots around the Great Lakes—Hamilton Harbour and others like it—that had a lot of chemical/metal history behind them and needed to be cleaned up. That's where the vast majority of it went.

A portion, though, has been used in the past to be able to do the research on the Great Lakes, and that is the part you need to keep. If they decide to cut it and only do areas of concern, we will stop learning about what's happening.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

Mr. Sopuck, go ahead.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you very much.

I would like to make a comment.

As a strong supporter of what the government is doing to the Fisheries Act, I would recommend that you look at things in a different way, unlike my colleague was alluding to. A focus on fisheries of importance such as yours should be welcomed by you. What's being done under the Fisheries Act, the changes to the Fisheries Act, is getting the government out of very unproductive fisheries work and refocusing on fisheries of importance, which yours obviously is. I wouldn't call it a retreat by any means. It's a refocusing, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised over the months to come with what will be happening.

Concerning Lake Huron, you talk about an increase in water clarity. With the increase in light penetration, are you seeing more plant growth and weed beds? You talked about algae, but what about the taller plants and the weed beds, have those come back?

5 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

It's a very rocky bottom on certainly a lot of the lakes. In essence, there's not a lot of silt.

It's interesting. If you talk to the commercial fishermen who are still using nets for their catches, what they've seen is tremendous growth in the amount of algae. It literally blows on the bottom. It fills their nets and it takes forever…. In fact, the Ministry of Natural Resources has been working with them and they're now developing these new nets that will have a space from the bottom up, before the netting actually starts. Algae is becoming more prevalent and it's hurting the industry a lot, so they're trying to adapt their net techniques to get as good a quantity of catch as in the past but not have all the fouling taking place with the algae on the bottom.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Concerning the fish population itself, one species you did not discuss is the steelhead or rainbow trout populations. I know that Georgian Bay had, or maybe still has, thriving steelhead runs. Are those still intact?

5 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

I don't think they are.

Most of the rainbow trout in Georgian Bay and in the North Channel come from aquaculture operations. They are escapes, and we have a huge volume of escapes from these operations. What happens, actually, is that mussels grow on the side of the nets, which eventually rip.

It's interesting. There's a study being done now by a researcher, and she's about to publish it, but parts of it were presented at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission conference. What it shows is that along the North Channel the genetic makeup of the rainbow trout is now changing completely to that of escapes. The native wild rainbow are now disappearing. There's a genetic changeover taking place.

This is always the great fear: when you introduce a fish that has only one genetic form, they start to take over. If they do, if something happens, be it weather or disease or whatever, you can lose them all. You lose the diversity you find in wild genetic makeup.

So that's where we would see most of the rainbow within Georgian Bay and the North Channel—they really come from escapes from aquaculture operations.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

The rainbow trout originally were an introduced species. They're not native to the Great Lakes to begin with.

5:05 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

No, you're right.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

You made a comment early on, and I think I caught it right, that Lake Erie’s water quality was going to a situation similar to Lake Superior’s.

5:05 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

No, the middle lakes: Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Georgian Bay. The charts presented show the biomass, the amount of energy in the lakes. What you see is this drop that took place around 2003, the big change that went down, and since then those lakes have been running at the same biomass level as Lake Superior’s. It's quite surprising. That was not the tradition. These lakes had a lot of biomass, had a lot of fish in them. What you're seeing is you take the food source out and you have this break in the food chain. But if you remove the filter, if you start to take the microscopic plants and the microscopic animals out of it, you start to lose that biomass. That's what we have right now, that change.

Can you still have a fishery? Yes, Lake Superior still has a fishery. But it's a very different kind of fishery from what we had in the past in those middle lakes.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

How about the insect abundance in the lake? You talk about the diporeia being gone. Have mayflies taken over? What are you seeing in terms of mayflies?