Thank you. I want to thank the committee for this opportunity to appear today.
My name is Todd Dupuis. I am the executive director of regional programs in Canada for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and my esteemed colleague is Lewis Hinks, who is the Atlantic Salmon Federation's program director for Nova Scotia.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation is a science-based, non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon and the ecosystems on which they depend. ASF's actions are firmly based on scientific research, and the organization continues to be a leader in unraveling the mysteries of Atlantic salmon migration and the issues affecting their restoration to abundance in both ocean and rivers.
From tracking smolt in rivers as they migrate towards Greenland, to monitoring the interactions of wild Atlantic salmon with farmed salmon, to providing expert advice on all issues related to Atlantic salmon, ASF works to bring science to bear on matters related to wild Atlantic salmon. ASF has a conservation network comprised of seven regional councils, one in each of the provinces in Atlantic Canada, one in Quebec, one in Maine, one in New England, and 140 affiliate organizations.
Through the generous support of individuals, corporations, and foundations that share the federation's goals, we currently employ 28 full-time employees who work to save salmon from the detrimental impacts of over-harvesting, pollution, and habitat loss. ASF has been doing this work since 1948. ASF does not receive government financing.
There were five or six questions that were posed to us. Considering the time limitations, we decided to focus on three, the first one being what guiding principles should govern a national conservation plan.
ASF suggests three guiding principles. First, a national conservation plan needs to be watershed-based. Boundaries for land use planning and management should be based on biophysical boundaries that make ecological sense. The primary boundary for an ecosystem approach to land use planning and management should be by watershed. A watershed-based approach to land use and water management provides benefits that include understanding how activities on the landscape influence water quality and quantity, fostering a connection to the landscape we live in, and ensuring that activities upstream are respectful of downstream residents.
The second guiding principle that we suggest is that the national conservation plan needs to be rooted in sound science. Watershed conservation and restoration requires an understanding of the biophysical conditions and processes that would create wildlife habitat, and a national conservation plan needs to use the best available science to ensure the maintenance and the restoration of these biophysical functions.
Thirdly, the national conservation plan should include a program to educate Canadians about the natural environment. “First generation born in the city” syndrome has Canadians losing touch with nature. A program to increase ecological literacy should lead to higher participation in the conservation matters.
The second question is what should the conservation priorities of a national conservation plan be? I only have five here. And we're being a little “fish-centric” because this is what we do; because we deal with Atlantic salmon, we're focusing on fishy stuff.
The first priority is to protect water quality and water quantity. Depending on where you are in eastern Canada, water withdrawal for urban centres or agricultural use is impacting river baseflow. Siltation and chemicals in the form of fertilizers and pesticides are impacting water quality, not just for fish but also humans.
We need to restore habitat and habitat connectivity. Degraded rivers need restoration and protection. We need to provide fish passage for all native fish to all natural ranges. Culverts and dams are reducing connectivity for fish. A recent survey in the inner Bay of Fundy on 33 rivers by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans deemed that more than half the culverts in the roadways are not actually allowing fish to pass. And to extrapolate it, if you were to have to replace all the culverts in Nova Scotia to provide passage for all native fish, the cost would be about $1 billion, in Nova Scotia alone.
Focus on native species over non-native species. Native species should always take precedence. We need to stop the illegal movement of non-native fish species into new waters. Despite recent research by Laval University and UPEI, some governments in eastern Canada are still allowing the stocking of rainbow trout, which is a non-native fish to this coast. We know from this research that these fish are actually impacting our native fishes, especially Atlantic salmon. Despite that, some governments—including the Government of Nova Scotia—still allow the stocking of rainbow trout, which is non-native to this province.
Priorities need to be regional to reflect differences across the country. It cannot be one-size-fits-all, given the differences in landscapes and issues across this country.
Concerning protection of critical habitat, federal parks are important for the protection of ecosystems. But also important is a process to delineate, map, and protect critical habitats within individual watersheds. It might not be realistic to protect entire watersheds, but the most important habitats within these watersheds need to be afforded protection.
Community-based watershed groups, the NGOs, know their watersheds well enough to identify and map these critical habitats. For example, I live in a small watershed in P.E.I., the West River. It has a run of about 200 Atlantic salmon. If you were to add up the total kilometres of stream in this small watershed, there are about 120 kilometres of stream, but those 200 Atlantic salmon all spawn within three kilometres of each other.
This certainly would be in my mind a critical habitat, but nobody knows that. Fisheries and Oceans doesn't know that, nobody in the provincial government knows that, but the community group does know it. Despite this, there is clear-cutting of forest along these three kilometres upon which those Atlantic salmon depend.
We need a central storage for important watershed habitat information. Community groups wax and wane, and this corporate knowledge should not be lost in any transition. Critical habitat information needs to be kept in a central location for consideration and protection for future generations.
Also, we need a system or a mechanism to protect the identified, important critical habitats within these individual watersheds.
What should the implementation priorities of a national conservation plan be? We have a couple to suggest. One is support for community groups and further engaging of communities in their conservation efforts, helping with solutions and science-based planning.
Governments have fewer resources and have downloaded much of the work and responsibility to community-based watershed organizations and CNGOs. It is these non-government groups that are becoming the delivery mechanisms for conservation and restoration as government resources are rolled back.
For example, Fisheries and Oceans Canada—and this is their number—spends about $12 million annually on wild Atlantic salmon, whereas NGOs on the eastern coast spend $15 million and a further $10 million in in-kind services. So the NGOs now are spending almost twice as much as the federal government on the restoration and protection of wild Atlantic salmon.
Among priorities to support community groups, we would list technical expertise for community-based organizations. Governments are losing technical support capacity; this is the first to go as government budgets are reduced. NGOs such as Trout Unlimited Canada and the Atlantic Salmon Federation have become the support mechanisms for technical assistance as governments pull back, but demand far outstrips our capacity to provide it.
Community groups want to do the right thing with their limited resources, but they need the training and advice. Governments need to....
Here we go. I'm almost finished.
Community-based organizations are a cost-effective mechanism for the delivery of conservation programs, as they have the capacity to turn one dollar into three or four dollars. These organizations live year to year with unstable funding; this does not allow for effective long-term planning or progress. It is the community groups that are carrying the burden as government programs and government technical support disappear. We need to support these groups and not starve them out of existence.
As an example, the federal government provides some funding on an annual basis through various programs, but I'm told that the federal programs this year will not be announced until July 15. You can't plan and do work in the field season when you don't know what kinds of resources you have until the middle of the summer.
Lastly, there is the question of ecological goods and services. Canada needs to continue to be a working rural landscape supporting the economy while providing services to the environment. An ecological goods and services program would provide incentives to landowners to provide ecological services that would clean the air and the water and provide wildlife habitat.
As an example, P.E.I. has an ecological goods and services program that's footed in policy. It's called ALUS, or the Alternative Land Use Service. It's a voluntary program with the goals of reducing soil erosion and filtration of water courses to improve water quality and wildlife habitat and reduce the impacts of climate change. They provide incentives to private landowners to do the right thing, through tax breaks or through monetary means.
In conclusion, we would like to thank the standing committee for the opportunity to present our thoughts. We feel that a national conservation plan for Canada is a worthy initiative and we wish the committee the best of luck in its development.