Evidence of meeting #42 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

  • Robert Lambe  Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
  • Chris Goddard  Executive Secretary, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
  • Marc Gaden  Communications Director and Legislative Liaison, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

4:05 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

I'll let Dr. Goddard or Dr. Gaden speak to the relationship between the advisers and the commission. They have much more experience with it than I do.

In terms of the resolution, we support the resolution, but the key part of the resolution that you read was the request for consultation, and I think that's what they're really responding to. There isn't the clarity that a lot of people in the community would like to have with the proposed changes that are coming forward. There are things in there that I think people are excited to see and there are things that are causing concern. I think the areas that are causing concern are more to do with a lack of understanding as to the specifics of what those changes would be, so I think that's the key thing that we focus in on there—the requirement for further consultation.

Habitat is really critical. The healthier the habitat is, the healthier the fisheries are. That's one of the things you'll hear across the board on invasive species. The more vulnerable your ecosystem is, the more vulnerable it is to attack from invasive species. It doesn't matter if you're talking about terrestrial or aquatic invasive species.

Habitat is extremely critical, so any time that we talk about legislative changes to habitat, it raises awareness. I think that's what people are looking for—that level of clarity about the specifics about what would be in the act.

4:05 p.m.

Communications Director and Legislative Liaison, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Marc Gaden

I have a little background about the committee of advisers, too, and this goes back, actually, to a few of the points Mr. Hayes brought up about partnerships. Back in the days of the formation of the fishery commission, it was very much envisioned that this commission would be a focal point for discussion, not just among the states and the province but also among the stakeholders of the region, because we don't have an illustrious history, up until the 1950s, of actually working together, not just across political jurisdictions but with the various interests in the basin.

On the U.S. side, it's right in the law. In the fisheries act of 1956, which created the fishery commission, it is said that we shall support a U.S. committee of advisers that has to be heard on issues of importance, and they represent the sport fishery, the commercial fishery, the state agencies, and the public at large.

On the Canadian side, it's not written into law, but the fishery commission formed—informally—a committee of advisers in the 1980s. It was a committee of two: sport fishing and recreational fishing. In the late 1990s, it formalized the committee and expanded it to include, not just sport and recreational fishing but academia, the environment, the public at large, and aboriginal communities.

So we have formal mechanisms now to get that input, and it's important to us because it's not just a way for the fishery commission to receive the input from the advisers, but it also sometimes gives us sober second thought on issues of importance. We have a sounding board, and we get an understanding of where they're coming from.

In this particular case with the resolution, we actually would not have had a good idea of the level of consultation that was occurring on this had the advisers not come to us and said, “You know what? This Fisheries Act is pretty important. We would like to have some time to study it, but also some input into what exactly is being proposed”. That's what they were communicating to us.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Goddard.

4:10 p.m.

Executive Secretary, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Chris Goddard

I have nothing further to add to that.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

This resolution went to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Fisheries, I believe. Is that true?

4:10 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Have you had any response from the resolution?

4:10 p.m.

Communications Director and Legislative Liaison, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Marc Gaden

I believe it was sent last Thursday or Friday, so I haven't seen a response yet.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Okay. This is from the committee of advisers. Has your commission likewise communicated?

You said that the value of the committee of advisers was that it brought to your attention that this was going on and needed further investigation. So the question would be, has the commission itself communicated, or is the commission itself intending to communicate with the Government of Canada?

4:10 p.m.

Communications Director and Legislative Liaison, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Marc Gaden

Our staff at the fishery commission actually did the faxing of the resolution to the Prime Minister's Office. We facilitated that communication. We have not had a chance, given that we drove back from the meeting last Friday, to follow up on that.

But it did come from our committee of advisers. We have an obligation to make sure that the recipient of that is aware of how that committee works and of the interests of this fishery commission in that. It goes without saying, at least from our end, that if the advisers who are advising on these issues feel they haven't been heard, it's something we take seriously.

4:10 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

It's an evolving issue and it's fairly current, so we haven't had a formal approach or strategy for dealing with the changes thus far. As Dr. Gaden said, we're learning more from what the advisers are bringing to us than from any other source.

So certainly at this point we're waiting to see what the response is to the resolution that the advisers brought forward. They've raised some interesting questions, not in the resolution but in the discussions with us, about the degree to which wetlands would be protected going forward. Wetlands provide critical habitat, not only in terms of the wetlands themselves but in terms of the headwaters that they provide for fish habitat downstream. The specialists on that advisory body, in particular, are concerned that wetlands might not be as protected with the changes. Again, it may be premature to jump to that conclusion. We just need to know more about what the legislation is about.

So we do support the resolution and we're anxiously awaiting what the response will be, because we all need to know more about what the spirit and the content of the legislative changes are.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

Ms. Davidson.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thanks to our presenters here this afternoon. Certainly, it's a pleasure to have you here, and thank you very much for coming.

We've been hearing from a lot of different people, people who have been intimately involved with the aquatic invasive species and the issues that they present for both sport and recreational fishing, as well as total economic impacts that they may be having in many ways. It certainly spreads out across the communities that would be involved.

I know that your fishery commission is involved and works with many other groups, and you've talked a bit about it and you've talked a bit about your advisers, but what groups in fact do you work with?

Do you work with the IJC? Do you have any formal relationship, other than the advisers, with the sport fishing and recreational fishing groups? What is your direct role with the Canadian government?

4:15 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

I'll let my governance expert speak to that in more detail, but there is a formal network and an informal network. I think one of the things that we can say about the commission—it being slightly older than I am—is that it has forged incredible relationships over the years. People don't think anything of picking up the phone and phoning the commission or the commissioners or the advisers about issues. We hear it from people who are happy and unhappy, whether they're part of that network or not.

Before I turn it over to my colleagues, I would say that, to my knowledge—and they can correct me if I'm wrong—despite the fact that we actually have eight U.S. states that have a stake in the business of the commission and have to decide amongst themselves how to allocate the fishery resource, and we have one or two provinces, depending on the issue, and tribal fisheries and aboriginal fisheries, there has been only one incident that I'm aware of in the 50-odd years where they weren't able to reach agreement on how to allocate that very valuable resource and that was resolved within the commission. When you consider that they bring pretty sound science to the table to base their arguments on, I guess that's part of the reason why there have been few conflicts. But that particular one was resolved on the basis of science as well.

So there's a formal and an informal network, but I'll defer to Dr. Gaden.

4:15 p.m.

Communications Director and Legislative Liaison, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Marc Gaden

Maybe I'm the governance expert.

We have, let me say, a mature assortment of institutions in the Great Lakes basin to deal with governance, and you're looking at one of them, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which operates under a treaty. We have the International Joint Commission, which operates under a treaty. We have other institutions that operate under various types of agreements, like the Great Lakes Commission, which is an interstate compact. Part of the U.S. Constitution allows for the formation of state alliances in a formal way. There is a compact, for example, that governs the allocation of water and diversion of water in the Great Lakes basin, which the provinces have also agreed to.

We do have an assortment of institutions to deal with the varying problems in the basin. It's a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we have a wealth of expertise to deal with the issues that exist out there. On the other hand—and let's use invasive species as an example, because this is the subject of the hearing today—if there is nobody specifically in charge of something, or if everybody is in charge of something and interested in it, you're in the same place: nobody is really accountable for it.

That's why these cross-linkages need to occur in the Great Lakes basin. We're in charge of lamprey. It's right in the treaty. The buck stops with us. We're accountable for it, and the control program works. You can come and ask us questions on how we're doing. You can't ask the same question for any of the other invasive species in the Great Lakes basin, even though there is a wealth of institutional arrangements that exist.

Speaking specifically about the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and our relationship with other institutions, we do not have a formal relationship with the International Joint Commission, our sister treaty organization, but we do have a longstanding informal relationship with that commission, because it's absolutely essential that our two commissions work together. We have differing missions, but we have the same vision for the Great Lakes. Our commissioners meet with the International Joint Commission commissioners from time to time. The staff interact on a regular basis, and we try to work together to articulate what our shared goals are.

With the fishery institutions of the Great Lakes basin, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission does not have direct management authority or even the ability to compel any jurisdiction, whether it's Ontario or any of the eight Great Lakes states or the U.S. tribes, to do anything with respect to their fisheries. Because of the fact that the political authority is diffuse in the Great Lakes basin, that means that the institutional partnership part of our vision is vital. If we want something to happen with fisheries, it has to be done on a consensus basis under a non-binding agreement. And as Mr. Lambe said, the instances when the states and the province have not been able to reach agreement—in this case he was referring to the allocation of walleye and yellow perch in Lake Erie—are extremely rare. We try to maintain a process whereby these decisions can be made, while at the same time respecting the sovereignty of the provinces and the states and the tribes to manage their fisheries.