Evidence of meeting #43 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

  • David Ullrich  Executive Director, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

I'll call this meeting to order.

Mr. Ullrich, thank you very much for joining us today. I apologize for the delay.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Chairman, if I may, before we get into the committee, I just want to ensure the following. I passed around a notice of motion the other day and I want to indicate that I will be dealing with it on a future day. I just want to make sure that I have the opportunity to read it into the record before we move on to the committee.

The notice of motion is:

That because there continues to be a great deal of controversy over whether the government's plan to “modernize the fishery” means getting rid of the owner operator fleet separation policy on the East Coast; And since there are different views on whether fisheries management policy should be designed to maximize economic efficiencies or maximize jobs and promote the survival of coastal communities, we propose that the FOPO committee undertake a study into the owner operator and fleet separation policy, such study to involve consultations with east and west coast fishers and those dependent on the survival of coastal communities; such study to also explore international comparisons; and that the committee report its conclusions to the [H]ouse.

Mr. Chairman, I'll just indicate to you and members of the committee that I'll be calling that forward on a day in the future.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you very much, Mr. Chisholm.

As you indicated, that notice was served last Wednesday. The clerk circulated it at the time. Thank you very much.

Mr. Ullrich, as I was saying earlier, I apologize for the delay in starting here today. We certainly welcome your comments this afternoon and look forward as well to committee members having the opportunity to question you based on your comments.

I am sure the clerk has already advised you that we generally allow about 10 minutes for opening presentations. Our members are constrained by certain timeframes for questions and answers, so I will apologize in advance if I have to interrupt you. It's just in the interest of ensuring fairness for all members to be able to ask questions.

Mr. Ullrich, whenever you're ready, the floor is yours.

4:15 p.m.

David Ullrich Executive Director, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the committee. It is a real pleasure to be here, and I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.

My name is David Ullrich. I am executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. I also serve as a U.S. commissioner on the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a joint U.S.-Canadian effort to work with the fisheries in the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is a coalition of 90 U.S. and Canadian mayors who have banded together to advance the long-term sustainability—economically, socially, environmentally—of this great resource that we share in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence.

Invasive species pose really one of the greatest threats that we face on the Great Lakes as two countries trying to protect the resource. With well over 180 invasive species introduced over the years, the biological balance has been severely disrupted by such things as sea lampreys, round gobies, zebra and quagga mussels, and many more.

Even with all of the damage that already has been done by these invasive species, the Great Lakes community is exceedingly concerned over the threat posed by the silver, black, and bighead, collectively referred to as Asian carp. Many believe they could have a devastating effect on the $7-billion Great Lakes fishery that we enjoy.

Because it is virtually impossible to eradicate an invasive species once they are established, by far the most effect way to deal with them is to prevent their introduction in the first place. The invasive carp, I am embarrassed to say, were introduced legally into the southern part of the United States to control algal growth and plankton in fish farms back in the 1970s. They escaped into the Mississippi River system over the years as a result of flooding and by other means. They have spread as far north as Minnesota and Wisconsin, and have as many as 19 separate places where they could enter into the Great Lakes.

The cities initiative, that is, our organization in collaboration with the Great Lakes commission—amounting to eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces as affiliate members—completed a report on January 31, 2012 that focused on one of the places of potential introduction known as the Chicago Area Waterway System, or CAWS, because it appears to present the greatest risk of entry to the Great Lakes. The report also concentrates on physical separation as the approach most likely to stop the invasive carp and a total of 39 invasive species likely to move between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins in the near future. It is very much a two-way street.

The report demonstrates that physical separation is feasible, and provides reliable information to decision-makers on a much more accelerated schedule than the normal government processes. The report demonstrates not only the feasibility of installing barriers of earthen fill, concrete, and sheet piling to create the physical separation, but also that it can be accomplished while maintaining or improving water quality, flood control, and transportation.

This is no easy task, as the 130-mile waterway system constructed over the past century resulted in a reversal of the flow away from Lake Michigan toward the Illinois River. As with any major infrastructure project, it would not be inexpensive. Initial estimates range from $3.25 billion U.S. to $9.5 billion U.S., with the cost of the actual barriers being a very small portion of the total, estimated in the range of $100 million to $150 million.

The report develops three alternatives after considering 20 potential barrier locations. The three alternatives are “near lake”, using a group of five barriers; “mid-system”, using four barriers; and “down river”, using one barrier. They are named based on their proximity to Lake Michigan.

I did provide the staff a copy of a map. I don't know if it got translated and into your materials, but this will give you a sense of the system we are working with.

Because there are five entry points to the lake in this system, more barriers are needed if they are constructed closer to the lake. Although there is not a consensus recommendation, the mid-system alternative seems to represent the most cost-effective solution. These alternatives were developed over a 12-month period with extensive public, private, and non-governmental participation, including representation from Canada.

With the results of the report available, the cities initiative and the Great Lakes Commission are working with a variety of interests to accelerate the process of selecting the best solution to the problem of invasive carp and other invasive species in and near the Chicago Area Waterway System and proceeding with implementation. Time is of the essence, and full cooperation between the United States and Canada will be essential for the ultimate success of this effort.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to entertain any questions any of the members might have.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you very much, Mr. Ullrich.

We'll start off with Mr. Kamp.

June 18th, 2012 / 4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Ullrich, for being here and for providing this helpful information.

You said there are 90 cities involved?

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

David Ullrich

That is correct.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

How is that broken down between the U.S. and Canada?

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

David Ullrich

It's about two-thirds Canadian and one-third U.S., with a total of roughly 15 million people represented. The number of people is split a little more evenly between the two countries. We have more Canadian cities than U.S. cities, and I think 16 or 17 are from Quebec.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Okay.

Currently, there is this electric barrier in place, and I'm just wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about how this works. It's also my understanding that they have found at least some evidence of carp on the other or wrong side of the barrier, so maybe you can tell us just how that works. Is it designed for the carp species or will it keep everything on the one side of that barrier?

What are its vulnerabilities to failure? If you could tell us a bit more, that would be helpful, I think.

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

David Ullrich

Well, I'm not an electrical engineer, but I've followed this fairly closely. There are three barriers in this location slightly south and west of Chicago, about 40 miles from the lakefront. Electrical energy pulses are sent through the water, and somehow or other—although they have to be careful about this—they don't electrocute people when they go over in boats. But there were a number of associated safety concerns.

Apparently, the system basically repels fish, and it isn't just carp or the Asian carp but all fish. So you have a zone that the fish will not swim through.

The concerns about its effectiveness are, among other things, that it works very well on medium-sized and large fish, but smaller fish can get through.

Secondly, it does not prevent any plant life from moving through. Generally, the flow is from the lake down to the river, so although we don't have to worry about plant life that might include an invasive species, or things such as zebra mussels coming up towards Lake Michigan, it would not stop any other types of invasive species. That is a concern as well.

Also, on May 2, 2012, there was an electrical failure and the barrier was not functioning for 13 minutes. There was backup power, which was supposed to kick in immediately. It did not. I'm not quite sure why that didn't happen. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is examining that. I know with things like hospitals and many other places where they have this backup power, it's absolutely essential that it kick in, but it did not. There is a concern about that as well.

People think that maybe for the short term it has been helpful, but to rely on that long term, particularly because it does not provide two-way protection against invasive species, would not be wise. Those are some of the concerns about the electric barrier.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Was that the first known malfunction of the electric barrier?

4:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

David Ullrich

It was the first unexpected malfunction.

About two years ago it was necessary to bring down the barriers for routine maintenance. Because there was uncertainty about a backup barrier at that time, it was necessary to do extensive rotenone poisoning and treatment of this particular portion, which is called the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. So yes, there was one malfunction, if you will, but it was for anticipated routine maintenance, and as a result they had to do this extensive poisoning at the time. I believe Canada assisted in dealing with that particular situation.

But this most recent electrical failure was the only unanticipated one I am aware of.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

What is your analysis regarding the Asian carp getting on the wrong side of the barrier? Am I wrong in thinking there have been at least one or two examples of actual fish being on the wrong side—as well as DNA, which I realize can come from a variety of different sources?

4:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative

David Ullrich

There has been one bighead carp in particular in the Lake Calumet region. As recently as last week, apparently there were 14 additional hits of the environmental DNA. That has been the primary means, if you will, of an early warning that they have gotten beyond it. A couple have been found in ponds in the Chicago area, but the only way they could have gotten there was by human transport. I think there's only been one actual fish found.