Evidence of meeting #41 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 great.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Joe Comuzzi  Canadian Chair, International Joint Commission
  • Camille Mageau  Secretary, International Joint Commission
  • William Taylor  Co-Chair, Science Advisory Board, Work Group on Aquatic Invasive Species Rapid Response, International Joint Commission

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

I will call this meeting to order.

I'd like to thank our witnesses, our guests, for coming back. I apologize for the interruption the last time. I really appreciate your accommodating us and coming to join us again. I know committee members are anxious to hear your presentation, and anxious for the opportunity to ask questions of you as well.

Mr. Comuzzi, the floor is yours, whenever you're ready to proceed.

3:35 p.m.

Joe Comuzzi Canadian Chair, International Joint Commission

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for asking us back. I thought that after the first time we were here you took a look at us and said we shouldn't ask those guys back. That's quite an honour for us for you to extend the invitation again.

I'm very happy to introduce to you our heavy hitters at the International Joint Commission: our secretary, Camille Mageau, and Dr. Bill Taylor, who is the co-chair of our science advisory board and a professor at the University of Waterloo. He serves on these institutional bodies in his professional capacity. As you know, when we bring people into the IJC, they come with their credentials, and it's not necessarily always the dictum of the person who's attending to put the IJC's position forward. They have their own responsibilities.

For some of you who may not know, the International Joint Commission resolves disputes or is supposed to resolve disputes between the United States of America and Canada. Ms. Mageau will provide an overview of our work.

We work under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty. If any of you studied law at any time, you'd read that document and realize that the people who structured the 1909 agreement had a lot of wisdom. They foresaw so many of the events that we face today. It's quite an impressive document. It became part of the Statutes of Canada in 1937. The treaty itself was attached to the document for clarification.

When you do those things, Mr. Chairman, it's not always easy, and it wasn't easy to try to convince some of the people who had been ingrained with the IJC philosophy to realize that they were subject to all the rules that most of us who have served in the House of Commons or ministries were subject to, the rules of the governance of Canada. What I'm talking about is subject to the Financial Administration Act and the Public Service Employment Act. Those are areas that, when you accept this responsibility, I hope—and we're having a difficult time sometimes convincing people of this—we're accepting the responsibilities that all of us have if we try to serve the public in Canada.

We pride ourselves on being able to offer the best science available. We have a staff that works very hard at trying to get to the facts and taking the facts and applying them to the problems at hand. We're involved in settling disputes between the countries on the quantity of water. You don't hear a lot about this, and the reason you don't hear about it is it's really running very well and there are no disputes. There might be the odd dispute in Montana, with some water going across, but very few disputes. When you get two countries of this size, and the border we have between Canada and the United States, and you don't have problems with water, that goes to the success of these structures and the institutions that are in place to avoid these serious problems that sometimes cause wars.

So I think we've got something admirable, and we work at it to make sure it continues to be so. We also do it with.... I'll let Camille talk about the quality of the water. But it's working out very well. We have our problems, as all governmental agencies do, but we try to correct them.

Camille.

3:40 p.m.

Dr. Camille Mageau Secretary, International Joint Commission

Thank you, sir.

As the chair mentioned, in addition to the 1909 treaty, the IJC has specific responsibilities under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. As I think you have probably heard from other witnesses, the agreement is being renewed in order to incorporate a more ecosystem approach to the way in which the water quality issues of the Great Lakes are addressed, again recalling that the main purpose of the agreement is to help both countries work toward the restoration and the maintenance of the biological, physical, and chemical integrity of the Great Lakes. Clearly, with respect to aquatic invasive species, one talks of the biological integrity of the lakes. That's how the IJC has become involved, has tracked and has been concerned with respect to aquatic invasive species.

The International Joint Commission has been extremely interested in the issue of invasive species for a long time. In 1988, both the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the International Joint Commission studied the matter and alerted both governments that aquatic alien invasive species in ballast water posed a significant threat to the Great Lakes. That's when the two commissions urged the nations' coast guards to take immediate steps to end the ongoing introduction of exotic organisms via ballast water discharge, and to investigate other vectors of introduction.

The commission is pleased to note that now both Canada and the United States have adopted a ballast water treatment standard for the Great Lakes for “salties”, that is, those ships that enter the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean, in other words, that use the St. Lawrence River as a gateway. The standard which the United States has just adopted, and which Canada committed to adopting as well, when it signed the International Maritime Organization agreement, is more or less the same.

The discharge of ballast water is believed to be the cause of the introduction of 80 non-native species or more into the basin since 1959. The good news is that no non-native species have been seen in the Great Lakes since 2006, and this success is attributed in great part to the measures which were implemented, certainly in Canada, in 2006. These measures require that vessels empty their ballast elsewhere, or take specific measures to prevent new species from being introduced.

However, the commission also remains concerned about other pathways for introduction, including the live food fish industry, the aquarium trade, recreational boating, recreational fisheries enhancement, the bait business, and horticultural practices. And of course, canals, which brings me to the issue of Asian carp.

Ten years ago the commission was one of the first to recognize and raise the threat of Asian carp with the governments. The commission has advanced the position that there should be an ecological separation between the Great Lakes basin and the Mississippi River system, which would help prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes and devastating the ecosystem. An ecological separation need not necessarily be a complete hydraulic separation, but it could be achieved through the use of other types of barriers.

I am sure you have been briefed on the alternates that are being studied for the Asian carp, and have also been made aware that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has foreshortened the delay by three years, I think. They were supposed to deliver options by 2015. Now they have been given the order to have their solutions or options ready by 2013, again targeting Asian carp control.

One of the fundamental roles of the IJC that we try to deliver with diligence is to advise governments on the challenges that need to be met, and we offer up some solutions.

As early as 2004, in one of our biennial reports, we recommended to the governments that they give us, the IJC, a reference to coordinate and harmonize binational efforts to counter the threats of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes. In fact your committee endorsed that recommendation in 2005.

Now, although the governments chose not to give us such a reference, the commission has continued to do work in this area in order to continue to inform not only ourselves but also the governments through our biennial reports and through various assessment reports.

The commission undertook the development of the biennial aquatic invasive species rapid response policy framework—we haven't tried to put an acronym on that one, because it would sound horrible—which was a priority that we set in 2007-09.

We again, in 2011, in the 15th biennial report, reported to governments on the need for this rapid response approach. Since that report was tabled, the IJC has received more than $143,000 in U.S. Great Lakes restoration funds to develop a pilot binational AIS response plan for the boundary waters, specifically for the Detroit and St. Clair corridor. That plan is nearing completion.

As we're getting into more detail of what the nations are doing with respect to AIS, I think I'll turn the presentation over to Dr. William Taylor, who is, as the chair said, the Canadian co-chair of the science advisory board that provides scientific advice to the commission and therefore to government.

June 6th, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.

Dr. William Taylor Co-Chair, Science Advisory Board, Work Group on Aquatic Invasive Species Rapid Response, International Joint Commission

Thank you, Camille.

What I'd like to do is brief you on our efforts to develop that binational response plan and where we're at with it.

I'd like to preface those remarks by saying that the very attempt to develop a rapid response plan is somewhat controversial among Great Lakes scientists. Many of them believe that it's unlikely that a new species found in the Great Lakes could be eliminated after it's discovered. The reason is that by that time, it might well be too well established for anything to be done. And if that's the case, we'd either be learning to live with it or would be adopting another very expensive control measure, as we have for the lamprey. So everyone in the Great Lakes community, certainly in the scientific community, agrees that prevention should be the highest priority and that rapid response is a second level of defence.

However, I think it is plausible that a harmful species could be discovered at an early stage of its invasion. If we are going to have a chance to do anything about it, we need to have a plan in place. The reality is that without a plan in place, by the time a response is planned and the diverse parties that need to be consulted are consulted and resources are obtained and the like, it would be too late. We have a negative example of that already in the history of AIS in the Great Lakes.

When we talk about a rapid response plan, there are several elements of it. One is a monitoring program that will increase the likelihood that we'll detect something at an early stage.

A second element is risk assessment. Those species that are most likely to get here and damage our ecosystem will be known in advance and we will be ready for them.

A third requirement is what we call an incident command system so that we know who's responsible and who's in charge when the situation arises.

A fourth element is what we call a tool box—the methods and the materials that will be brought to bear in the case of an incident.

Last is a commitment from those agencies that work around the Great Lakes. They will be asked to drop what they're doing to meet the event and carry out the rapid response.

We've recently done some things towards this end. In our last work cycle, we did a gap analysis of Operation Silver Screen. That was not a rapid response effort. It was an international effort to remove the Asian carp from the area just downstream of the carp barrier that keeps them out of Lake Michigan. Essentially, the electric barrier had to be turned off. We wanted to make sure that there were no carp in the area, so there was an international, multi-agency effort to kill all the carp in the vicinity of that barrier. Since that has some of the components of a rapid response, we did a gap analysis, as we called it, to learn from the issues that arose during that effort.

We've also recently done an assessment of the monitoring programs around the Great Lakes, looking, again, for gaps and shortcomings. We did an assessment of the available tools to see if there were missing components that would be needed in the case of a rapid response.

The current activity we're working on is a rapid response plan for the St. Clair River and Detroit River corridor. We think that's a likely place for an invasive species to show up. It's a complex area ecologically. Of course it's international, with multiple jurisdictions in the area, including state governments, provincial governments, and tribes. It has all of those complications.

We're developing a plan in that area that we think will have all the elements to advise on plans for other parts of the Great Lakes. I think that plan will be completed in the near future, in late summer or early fall. Following that will be attempts to implement the plan. First will probably be tabletop exercises with all the agencies that will eventually be involved. Probably after that will be field exercises.

We're going to work up to it so that we don't trip too badly on our first attempt. Anyway, we hope to develop this plan and demonstrate that it can work.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

We'll move right into questions. We'll start off with Mrs. Davidson.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I thank the witnesses for making another trip back here to see us. We're sorry we didn't get to hear you the last time, but we're certainly glad that we're getting to hear you today.

We probably all have heard about the IJC, but I'm not so sure we know a whole lot about it. We hear about it. We hear about the work. Joe, we hear about things that you're doing and announcing. We appreciate the fact that you keep us up to date on your announcements and so on.

I think it's good to hear directly from you. I'm interested in—I don't know if you're calling it a pilot project—the development of the rapid response plan for the St. Clair River and Detroit River area in particular. Do you look on that as a pilot project? Okay.

I'm certainly interested in that area, since it's right in my backyard. Definitely, a tremendous number of jurisdictions play a role there. There have been a lot of meetings and discussions over the past number of years with different organizations on both sides. I've taken part in some of those discussions as we've gone back and forth in national meetings and so on. Is the cooperation good with the IJC when it comes to trying to set up this? Could you talk a bit about that?

You said that you received $143,000 from the U.S. Great Lakes restoration initiative funding, but there was money, $17.5 million, announced last week on the Canadian side, on the four key activities for prevention, early warning, rapid response, and management and control. Do you have any sense whether the IJC is going to get funding from this? Could you talk about that, please?

3:55 p.m.

Secretary, International Joint Commission

Dr. Camille Mageau

The intent is not for the IJC to get that money. This is, again, the government's investment. DFO has a dominant responsibility with respect to prevention and control. A lot of the scientists are with DFO, and the information we rely on is generated by DFO. It would be their contribution to a common issue we're working on. We're working with them, but this would be their wherewithal to continue collaborating with us.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Would the information they collect be available for you to use when you're setting up your rapid response plan? I suppose your pilot will be done before theirs is under way much further.

3:55 p.m.

Secretary, International Joint Commission

Dr. Camille Mageau

Again, as you pointed out, there are multiple initiatives they're involved with. This certainly would be their contribution, or it would allow their scientists to participate, to present the monitoring information, and so on, un apport that they would bring to us. It wouldn't be a distinct study. Again, the responsibilities are much broader.

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Chair, International Joint Commission

Joe Comuzzi

It's important to know that the IJC alerted both governments some years ago about the threat of the Asian carp. Not to get political, but we alerted, and we don't think there was much done about it.

I don't know how many people in the room know that the Asian carp is not brought in by some absence of ballast water cleanliness in ocean-going vessels. The Asian carp was brought in to the Louisiana Delta, I think--if you could correct me, Doctor....

3:55 p.m.

Co-Chair, Science Advisory Board, Work Group on Aquatic Invasive Species Rapid Response, International Joint Commission

Dr. William Taylor

Somewhere in the Mississippi system.

3:55 p.m.

Canadian Chair, International Joint Commission

Joe Comuzzi

It was brought into somewhere in the Mississippi system to prevent something else from happening. It was working out fairly successfully until a huge flood came and released all of the dikes and so on, and the Asian carp got loose and started swimming north. That's how the Asian carp became an invasive species in the Great Lakes system.

From all reports and from the coast guard, those electrical wires are doing a very good job. When you hear what can happen, it's a bit frightening. When they come in, they just clean everything out. They're a scourge. It's a real challenge to make sure that we keep it under control.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Is it the IJC's thought or belief that it needs to be a physical barrier? Is that what the IJC feels?

3:55 p.m.

Secretary, International Joint Commission

Dr. Camille Mageau

No. Our position has been that an ecological barrier would be more useful, in that there are air bubbles and a number of things, like a series of electrical barriers. There have been a number of proposals that have been put forward, and that's one of the things that the Army Corps of Engineers is going through, the full spectrum, to see which are the ones they believe would be the most effective and the ones we could invest in.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Does the IJC have a list of preferences? When you talk about the ecological separation, exactly what are you talking about?