Evidence of meeting #38 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was need.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jeffrey Hutchings  President, Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution; Professor of Biology, Dalhousie University; As an Individual
Martin Willison  Adjunct Professor, School for Resource and Environmental Studies and Marine Affairs Program, Dalhousie University, As an Individual
Todd Dupuis  Executive Director, Regional Programs, Atlantic Salmon Federation
Frederick Whoriskey  Vice-Chair, Education, Dalhousie University, Huntsman Marine Science Centre
David Coon  Executive Director, Conservation Council of New Brunswick Inc.
Steve Burgess  Acting Director General, Ecosystem Programs Policy, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Ward Samson  Member, Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation
Soren Bondrup-Nielsen  Treasurer, Head, Department of Biology, Acadia University, Science and Management of Protected Areas Association
Margo Sheppard  Chair, Canadian Land Trust Alliance
Betty Ann Lavallée  National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
Susanna Fuller  Coordinator, Marine Conservation, Ecology Action Centre
Andrew Hammermeister  Assistant Professor, Nova Scotia Agricultural College; Director, Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada
Dwight Dorey  National Vice-Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples

9 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Good morning, colleagues. We will begin our meeting.

I want to welcome everyone to the 38th meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development as we continue our studies on the development of a national conservation plan.

I want to thank our witnesses and welcome them.

We have some individuals and some groups here today. Each individual or group will be given up to ten minutes. We will begin with Mr. Hutchings. Then we'll have Mr. Willison, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, after which we'll have some questions.

Mr. Hutchings, please begin. You have ten minutes.

9 a.m.

Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings President, Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution; Professor of Biology, Dalhousie University; As an Individual

Thank you very much.

Thank you indeed for the invitation to appear before the committee as part of your deliberations regarding the development of a national conservation plan.

In addition to a 30-year academic career working on fish ecology and evolution, my remarks are informed by responsibilities I exercised as chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, or COSEWIC, the national arm's-length-from-government science body responsible for advising the Minister of the Environment under the auspices of the Species at Risk Act.

I am also the chair of a recent national report on ocean conservation prepared in response to a request by the Royal Society of Canada that an independent expert panel be convened to advise on a series of questions related to the conservation of Canada’s marine biodiversity.

Following its deliberations from June 2010 to January 2012, the panel released its report in February. It is entitled Sustaining Canada’s Marine Biodiversity: Responding to the Challenges Posed by Climate Change, Fisheries, and Aquaculture. Pursuant to the current interests of this committee, the Royal Society report attempts to describe trends in Canada's marine biodiversity from an ocean conservation perspective and from a sustainable use perspective, and to provide broad, strategically based recommendations to establish Canada as an international leader in ocean stewardship and marine conservation.

One of the expert panel’s additional responsibilities was to determine whether Canada has fulfilled its national and international obligations to conserve and sustain marine biodiversity. Some progress has been made, but the panel concluded that Canada’s efforts have fallen well short of the progress made by many developed nations to sustain and conserve ocean biodiversity. Countries such as Australia, Norway, and the United States have made greater strides in this regard than Canada.

The panel attributed Canada’s lack of progress in fulfilling its obligations to an unduly slow pace of statutory and policy implementation. The panel also concluded that progress is further impeded by regulatory conflict responsibilities within Fisheries and Oceans Canada to promote industrial and economic activity, on the one hand, while conserving marine life and ocean health on the other; and by the level of discretion afforded to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

Thus, it is both timely and appropriate that the standing committee undertakes a study in support of the development of a national conservation plan, particularly from an aquatic, indeed oceanic, perspective.

Concomitant with your efforts, I note that the Auditor General of Canada has planned for spring 2013 an audit on protecting biodiversity and an audit note on species at risk.

What should the purposes of an NCP be? The purposes might be as follows: one, to provide for the conservation and, where relevant and appropriate, the sustainable use of Canada’s terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity; two, to establish a network of protected areas in the marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments; three, to educate Canadians about the natural wonders of the enormous biological wealth on land and in the sea for which they, through the actions of our parliamentarians from all parties, are primary international stewards; and four, to provide a meaningful, empirical, and evidentiary basis for Canadians and the world to believe that this country, increasingly known as one that does not fulfill its obligations related to conservation, is in fact truly committed to the conservation of species, ecosystems, and the quality of human life that results therefrom.

What should the goals of an NCP be, and what conservation priorities should be included? I'll combine my responses to these two questions. In my view, the primary goals and conservation priorities of an NCP should be to protect and recover degraded habitats and ecosystems; to conserve ecosystems of national and international biodiversity importance; to rebuild depleted populations and species, many of which are currently at increased risk of extinction, 650 in Canada; and to restore the natural resilience of Canada’s terrestrial, freshwater, and ocean ecosystems to allow them to adapt to ongoing and future challenges posed by human and natural activities, such as those resulting from climate change.

What guiding principles should govern an NCP? A credible NCP needs to be underpinned and informed by a full and appropriate consideration of the best available science. This recommendation is entirely consistent with governmental policies.

Consider, for example, the Government of Canada's framework for science and technology advice, which states:

Science advice has an important role to play by contributing to government decisions that serve Canada’s strategic interests and concerns in areas such as public health and safety, food safety, environmental protection, sustainable development...and national security.

DFO states on its website that

...science is the basis for sound decision making...on the consequences of management and policy options, and the likelihood of achieving policy objectives under alternative management strategies and tactics.

The Minister of the Environment relies on the best available scientific information when considering the advice on species at risk provided by COSEWIC. However, despite this clear acknowledgement of the utility and indeed the necessity of science in government planning and decision-making, Canadians have recently witnessed a serious diminution, weakening, and in some areas an abandonment of these long-standing roles of science in government decision-making.

Changes to the Fisheries Act, for example, will remove habitat protection for most of Canada’s freshwater fish, including an estimated 80% of Canada’s freshwater fishes at risk of extinction. And removal of habitat protection provisions for fish deemed to be of no importance to fisheries also removes the habitat protection afforded indirectly to other aquatic life that share Canada’s waters with fish, such as amphibians, reptiles, mussels, and numerous aquatic plants and insects.

The closure of the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario is also of concern, I think, to this panel, insofar as this is a facility that has contributed immeasurably to national and international policies associated with factors affecting human and environmental health, such as acid rain, mercury pollution, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and other aquatic pollutants and toxins.

ELA scientific research has contributed to Canadians' access to healthy, safe, and clean water and access to fish and other aquatic life safe for human consumption.

Closure of the ELA will strip Canada of one its most precious scientific jewels. It will compromise the ability of science to contribute effectively to the health and safety of our fresh waters and the well-being of Canadians. And its closure will hinder rather than help, I think, efforts to establish a scientifically credible NCP.

In closing, I would like to offer the following recommendations that I might suggest be implementation priorities of an NCP:

(1) Strengthen, rather than weaken, our national environmental laws; conservation planning will be jeopardized, otherwise.

(2) Strengthen, rather than weaken or extinguish, the science that underpins Canada’s ability to provide reliable, internationally respected, peer-reviewed scientific advice in support of environmental health, biodiversity conservation, and long-term monitoring of Canada’s Arctic and temperate terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

(3) Strive to achieve a federal-provincial-territorial accord on an NCP analogous to that achieved by the national accord for the protection of species at risk.

(4) Lastly, implement statutory renewal to fulfill national and international commitments to conserve terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, and in so doing provide a meaningful, transparent, accountable, and legislatively effective foundation for a national conservation plan.

Thank you for the opportunity to make these remarks.

9:05 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you, Mr. Hutchings.

Next is Mr. Willison. You have ten minutes.

9:05 a.m.

Dr. Martin Willison Adjunct Professor, School for Resource and Environmental Studies and Marine Affairs Program, Dalhousie University, As an Individual

Thank you very much.

Thank you to the committee for welcoming me here.

My name is Martin Willison. I am 68 years old and a retired professor of biology and environmental studies at Dalhousie University. I currently hold the title of adjunct professor in the university's School for Resource and Environmental Studies and Marine Affairs Program.

For about 20 years I taught nature conservation to undergraduate students. My graduate students conducted research on practical aspects of conserving both marine and terrestrial biodiversity using the tool boxes of both natural and social sciences. As part of this work, I trained many students who were later employed by government agencies. I also helped to build the framework for the network of environmental non-government organizations in Nova Scotia.

In the last five years I have expanded this interest to a region of western China, where I act as an educator and consultant about biodiversity and restoration ecology, including biodiversity strategy-and-action planning. As a comment on that, I helped write a biodiversity strategy and action plan for a municipality in China—of 30 million people, by the way.

Biodiversity is the foundation of life itself and is recognized at three main levels: genetic, taxonomic, and ecosystemic. Human activities threaten the integrity of biodiversity in many ways, and the threats are now globalized. We address these threats at all levels and in many ways, such as through gene banks, species at risk, protected areas, and resource management.

Despite many efforts made in Canada to protect biodiversity, it continues to decline. The decline is a strong indicator of fundamental unsustainability in our society, including our economy, health, and culture. The decline in biodiversity must be slowed and eventually stabilized if human life is to continue.

To achieve this in Canada, we need—but lack—a holistic overarching plan for the conservation of biodiversity. Many of the necessary parts for such a plan are in place, but the parts are not well integrated, and the necessary links are often missing or exist only because the practitioners, such as myself, know what is needed.

Progress has often been slow due in part to this lack of an overarching framework. While some conservation practitioners are professional, many are ordinary citizens who see the big picture but struggle to make real progress towards only too evident goals.

A national plan will need to have a strong foundation in both the natural and the social sciences, including biology, environmental science, ecology, law, and economics. It will need to integrate actions at federal, provincial, municipal, and non-government levels. It should be designed so that it can be activated by government organizations, non-government organizations, businesses, and the general public. It must be as adaptive as possible; that is, it should be a facilitative plan—one that makes things happen—that eases the path to progress and enables biodiversity conservation to become a national priority rather than an afterthought.

The process of making the plan will need to be inclusive of all who wish to be involved, because inclusion ensures subsequent effectiveness in conserving common heritage. This will not be easy to achieve, but failure to do it will mean that we will continue to lose ground.

A national conservation plan will have to consider all land and water classes by using an ecosystem approach. It will have to consider all possible approaches to conservation, including some that have not yet been utilized. As such, it must become operative before it is fully made by ensuring that some parts become functional as soon as their place within the whole can be adequately perceived; that is, it should function while still being a work in progress. After all, that is how nature works, and if we take an ecosystem approach, we should learn from nature's wisdom. Humans are part of nature, and ecosystems include people.

The challenge for us is how to complete such a large endeavour—actually, it's a huge endeavour—in a timely fashion. Of all the constraints, time is the one that is in shortest supply. After a lot of thought about this and how to do it, I have concluded that it is possible, and that there are two essential practical elements that will make it feasible. The first is an inclusive process that is organized outside of government itself, albeit with government input. The second is the use of modern technology that permits planning in a cost-effective way. I believe that a set of comprehensive living plans could be made in three years, at a cost to government of less than $500,000—less than half a million dollars.

The method would be as follows.

Any plan is founded on an orderly integration of knowledge that is used to determine actions toward defined goals. The most successful integration of knowledge ever achieved is a modern compilation called Wikipedia. This huge multi-lingual encyclopedia is a living document created by millions of writers, most of whom work without pay in their spare time. It is used constantly as a reference by literally hundreds of millions of people. Wiki software is readily available and can be adapted for making a plan.

Canada is a well-wired country and would instantly leap to the front of adaptive planning by taking this inclusive online approach to planning. Government, business, and non-profit groups all have the capacity to build the necessary framework. It is probable that a consortium of non-profit conservation-oriented groups would quickly leap forward to offer this service for public good.

I lay out then in my presentation a ten-step strategy, which might unfold as follows.

In May—that's now—the strategy is announced. It's the wiki concept, enterprise approach, and target budget. In June, next month, there's a call for proposals with emphasis on efficiency and timeliness. In September of this year there's selection of short-listed proposals. In October there's public engagement in online selection of a winning proposal; so we involve the public in actually deciding who's going to do this. In January comes the announcement and initial funding of the winning bid. In June 2013, get the hardware and the software for the wiki framework in place. I know that can be done. I have a nephew who makes his living doing that. In October, bare bones of one or more plans could be in place using expert input—I'd be happy to help. By December of next year, the wiki could be available for public use. By June 2014, we could have the first useful elements of the plan adopted in practice, and in June 2015 we could have an operational living plan in place.

I lay this out simply to show you that it could be done. It's just a matter of imagination. I have a lot of that.

Among many possible approaches to the plan, there are several elements that need to be included. I feel I don't actually need to go through this list, because it's so close to what Jeff Hutchings has already presented to the committee that I think it's almost unnecessary. But we'd have to consider marine and terrestrial systems; we have to look at species at risk; we have to deal with protected areas, as Jeff has mentioned; we have to disseminate information to the public, an education approach; we need to monitor what's actually going on; and we need to involve lots of groups such as museums, universities, government departments, and civil society.

Civil society means, simply, that everybody can have input into it. We could have a plan that includes a plan for almost every lake in this country, because the local communities who live next to them could just say, “I'll make that bit for you, because we love our lake. We love our river. We love our hill, our mountain, everything.”

If you involve civil society, you can make your plan. The only way you can do that cost-effectively is using a wiki.

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you, Mr. Willison. That was very interesting.

Now we'll hear from the Atlantic Salmon Federation. You have ten minutes.

9:15 a.m.

Todd Dupuis Executive Director, Regional Programs, Atlantic Salmon Federation

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....

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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.

9:25 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you, Mr. Dupuis.

Next we will hear from the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, Dr. Whoriskey.

9:25 a.m.

Dr. Frederick Whoriskey Vice-Chair, Education, Dalhousie University, Huntsman Marine Science Centre

Thank you very much.

One of the dangers of being the last speaker on an eminent panel is that you become increasingly redundant. However, I will proceed to the best of my ability.

My name is Fred Whoriskey. I am a research scientist by training and currently the executive director of the Ocean Tracking Network at Dalhousie University. This is a project that is wiring the world's oceans with Canadian-made, state-of-the-art technology. It is documenting movements of marine animals, where they're going, the habitats they use, and tying those to environmental conditions. I have that perspective to bring here.

I appear before you today on behalf of Huntsman Marine Science Centre. I was requested by the board to make this presentation about the national conservation plan and what the Huntsman might contribute to developing it.

Personally, I've lived and worked in communities around the ocean all of my life, and I know how the livelihood and social fabric of these communities depends on the water. People take to the water naturally for their livelihood. They develop a special series of skills that occupy them on the water, and they take great pride in everything they do there.

Historically we have had a limited selection of choices from which we might make a living. We were in the transportation field, moving goods from one place to the other. That field is incredibly healthy, even now. It's brought its own problems as it's become bigger and bigger, but people are still moving quantities of goods we could never conceive of before.

By contrast, over the past century the other pillar of our activities in the ocean, the fisheries, has gone into a steady and massive decline. This is due in large measure to our increasing technological sophistication and power that has managed to permit us to overharvest almost every part of the ocean where we find fish stocks right now. The sustainable opportunities in the fisheries have consequently disappeared, not only in Canada but globally.

We've applied our traditional solutions to that, which is to stop what we're doing and let the fish rebound, and what's happened is that they have not rebounded. At the end of the day, it indicates that we don't understand. We don't understand what's driving these populations. It's a knowledge question, and we are not applying the appropriate management regimes because we don't know what the drivers are. It's a fundamental misunderstanding.

Due to these lost opportunities, and just due to the innovativeness of Maritimers, people have also been turning to the ocean for alternate economic development. Technology has steamed the way forward on this. If you look at a partial list of what we are doing out there now, it includes things like marine pharmaceuticals; marine tourism; tidal power; aquaculture, notably the Atlantic salmon farming industry. We have deep-water mining that's beginning to develop, and oil and gas extraction is very important here on the east coast. The National Research Council and others are developing algae as biofuel. We have marine engineering, and then ultimately a technology sector that's providing the technology to permit all of those other things.

All of these new activities have the potential to bring employment, wealth, and other benefits to coastal nations, but they're also bringing additional pressures to the ocean. They also have the potential to conflict with each other in competition for access to the ocean environment. Hence, the need for the conservation plan.

What we need are new management models that will eliminate or at least mitigate the conflicts and the increasing damage that could occur from unsustainable activities. Our informed decision-making in the future is going to depend on trusted research to acquire the new and necessary knowledge, and then ultimately push that knowledge out to all levels of society so people will understand what we're doing and how we're making our decisions. That requires a sustained knowledge infrastructure and a sustained education structure to push the materials out.

The Huntsman Marine Science Centre operates in that particular sphere. We've been in operation for over 40 years and at the forefront of both fundamental and applied ocean research. That is what we can bring to contribute to a national conservation plan. Our researchers, in collaboration with scientists from member academic organizations, private sector, and government institutions, have provided high-quality, independent, and trusted results—knowledge that goes into this decision-making process.

This has assisted in the development of our understanding of the marine environment, how it's reacting to the current stressors, and trouble-shooting of new problems as things have erupted. This has occurred in sectors from as diverse as tidal power to the aquaculture domain in our particular areas.

We also have an extensive education program that outreaches to thousands of students. Every year we've built a new aquarium in St. Andrews, which is about the Bay of Fundy, as an outreach opportunity to bring people in.

We're training future highly qualified ocean science personnel and distributing the knowledge to Canadian citizens through them. We're looking to a future when these ocean experts we need to do the work, and our citizens, are as informed as they need to be to contribute to debate and take on the value of the natural environment as we know it.

The take-home message is that what we have to contribute to a conservation plan is knowledge. You start with the data and you turn it into knowledge.

Huntsman helps to assist with this. It's an independent agency that consequently operates in a comfortable zone, one where people can trust it. Huntsman is not the only one; there are many here in Canada that can be drawn upon to do this. It is a very valuable resource for the country.

As a consequence, we are very, very grateful for this opportunity to speak to this committee. I thank you very much. I tried not to be redundant in all the conclusions that everybody else has already made.

Thank you.

9:30 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you, Mr. Whoriskey.

I'd like to introduce the panel members. We have Mr. Woodworth and Mr. Lunney, who are with the government; my name is Mark Warawa; then we have Monsieur Choquette and Ms. Liu, who are with the official opposition, the NDP; and Mr. Eyking, who is with the Liberal Party.

We will begin our first round of questioning. Some of the questions will be in French. You have translation.

I'd encourage you to keep in mind the scope of the study in the questioning and the answers. This scope is contained in six questions: what should be the purpose of an NCP; what should be the goals of an NCP; what guiding principles should govern an NCP; what conservation priorities should be included; what should be the implementation priorities; what consultation process should the minister use? If you would, keep that framework in mind.

We will begin our first questioning with Mr. Lunney. You have seven minutes.

9:35 a.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

To all of our witnesses, thanks for a very informative.... I noticed that two of you felt you were being redundant, but actually, there's a lot of commonality in the importance of the area we're going into. I appreciate your input on this very important matter.

I want to start with Dr. Whoriskey. You mentioned in your remarks our approach respecting the ocean, where species are not what they used to be, where we overfished and then stopped fishing and they did not recover. Then you made a statement about our lacking understanding, saying that we're missing something in how ecosystems work, because the fish just did not come back.

One of your remarks is about the approach at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre involving collaboration with scientists from a broader section of the academic community. Out in our end, on the west side of the country on Vancouver Island, where I am from, we have the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, a collaboration of five different institutions. They do a lot of valuable work out there.

Concerning the challenges with the ocean ecosystems, we have learned a lot, but there is so much we don't know about what's happening with species out there. I'm sure others may wish to comment on this as well.

How do we get a handle on this? So much of our environment is aquatic, out in the ocean in particular. Terrestrially, there are a lot of things we don't understand fully about our ecosystems. We had a watershed approach that was mentioned by Mr. Dupuis, in terms of managing, but in the oceans there is so much we don't know.

Where do we go with that, and what kind of collaboration is necessary to really get a fix on what is happening in the oceans?

9:35 a.m.

Vice-Chair, Education, Dalhousie University, Huntsman Marine Science Centre

Dr. Frederick Whoriskey

You've opened a huge subject here, and I would start with how we begin to harmonize and make the most of our existing efforts. If you look to a country like Australia, you have an integrated marine ocean observing system that's pulling together all the information about the ocean conditions and about the marine animals into a single database that's accessible to everybody who's present.

We haven't even begun to think about doing something like this here in Canada. We have everything dispersed across many different forums, which means that we don't know as much as we do know about what we do know anything about. And from that we could begin to delve into finding out where the areas are that we need to provide our targeted activities.

From that point on, Canada is a world leader in many of these technologies: in ocean observing systems, the marine technologies used for the acoustic tracking of animals. We can build on those. It does take a sustained investment on the part of the country to make that one happen. My distinguished colleague Mr. Hutchings will have a lot to say about that subject.

9:35 a.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Before we go on from that, I would say that on the west coast we have the Neptune project, which is an innovative program of the University of Victoria, with over 200 kilometres of cable and nodes of observation and so on along the ocean floor. You'd be familiar with that program and other tagging programs that are helping us to monitor where these fish go.

I think that's happening on both coasts, if I'm not mistaken, in terms of tracking Atlantic as well as Pacific salmon.

9:35 a.m.

Vice-Chair, Education, Dalhousie University, Huntsman Marine Science Centre

Dr. Frederick Whoriskey

That is absolutely correct.

9:35 a.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

We're hopeful, maybe with marine mammal migration and so on, that data will be helpful, as well as earthquake and other areas.

Thank you for that.

Did others wish to jump in on that subject?

9:35 a.m.

President, Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution; Professor of Biology, Dalhousie University; As an Individual

Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings

I might simply mention that I think the key importance underlying your question is one of monitoring. In the absence of monitoring programs, we don't have information upon which to judge the efficacy or the utility of a national conservation program, whether it's on land or in the water.

We have all sorts of indices to measure economic quality of life in this country—GDP, interest rates set by the Bank of Canada, unemployment statistics, job creation statistics—and every month or every quarter we look at these to judge where we are. We currently do not have such indicators for the terrestrial or aquatic biodiversity realm. We don't really know where we are relative to where we were in the past and where we would like to be--in other words, what sorts of goals and indicators and operational objectives we should have.

I would hope that a national conservation plan would identify what those national conservation objectives, and perhaps biodiversity indicators, ought to be so we can then track them through appropriate monitoring programs.

I can't underscore too strongly how important such a basic element of monitoring can be for the success of your venture today.

9:40 a.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Okay, thanks for that.

Mr. Willison, I appreciate your remarks. You mentioned the ecosystem approach: we can learn from nature's wisdoms; humans are part of nature; ecosystems include people. There is certainly a sense of that respect on the west coast. One of our first nations has a word in their language, hishuk-ish ts'awalk, which literally means everything is one, we're part of nature, and nature is part of us. It's kind of hard to deny that basic concept.

We're not going to have time for you to develop this. I appreciate your wiki approach. Now, I know there's some controversy about WikiLeaks. I mean Wikipedia. There are so many wikis, vikis, and now it is vatis out there. On Wikipedia, it's a work in progress, obviously, and knowledge is added and sometimes misinformation is added as well. As a professor, would you have accepted Wikipedia as a resource from your students?

9:40 a.m.

Adjunct Professor, School for Resource and Environmental Studies and Marine Affairs Program, Dalhousie University, As an Individual

Dr. Martin Willison

Oh, most definitely I would accept it as a resource. Would I accept it as the only resource? Absolutely not.

But one of the benefits of this kind of approach is it allows you to put in links to original sources. By consequence, you can find out whether a particular piece of information is valid or not valid. The proof is in the pudding, though. The fact is that the large pages on Wikipedia that are well monitored and well managed are extremely accurate. They're better than the Encyclopaedia Britannica in terms of accuracy. If you go down to the lower pages, you will find a lot of misinformation. There's no question about that.

But that's what life is like, you know, and it's also true of science. I'm a long-time scientist, and I know that something like half the papers you find in scientific literature actually contain errors—fundamental errors. That's no different from what you would find in something like this. The benefit of a wiki approach is that everybody can have access to it. Furthermore, those parts of it that are absolutely critical can be well monitored and well managed. So the proof, as I say, is in the pudding. It actually works in practice.

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James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

That's an intriguing concept.

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Adjunct Professor, School for Resource and Environmental Studies and Marine Affairs Program, Dalhousie University, As an Individual

9:40 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Your time has expired, Mr. Lunney.

Madam Liu, you have seven minutes.

9:40 a.m.


Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Thanks to all the witnesses for coming here today.

Again, we've heard these threatened species priorities repeatedly, so don't worry about being redundant. It's actually useful.

I'll start my line of questioning with Mr. Hutchings.

A recurrent theme has been the importance of science. You mentioned things like the Experimental Lakes Area as being useful to conservation initiatives and the monitoring programs we need to put into place. What other science and technology tools do we need when we are thinking about a national conservation strategy?

9:40 a.m.

President, Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution; Professor of Biology, Dalhousie University; As an Individual

Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings

In terms of tools and from a science perspective, I will reiterate what I said in response to Mr. Lunney's question, insofar as I do think that a national conservation plan would be well guided by having national operational objectives and the means of determining whether we're making progress in achieving those objectives.

In order to do that, I think we will eventually—and we already are doing this to some extent—make some use of remote sensing technologies, for example. We're regularly looking at satellite tracking of a variety of different things, including animals sometimes on a daily basis, through meteorological activities. But I suspect that remote sensing will become an increasing part of this. Habitat mapping of the ocean is an extremely difficult thing to do, and it's extremely early days in which to do it. We really don't have decent habitat maps of much of our ocean at all. We have the longest coastline in the world and little capacity to monitor what's happening.

To, at a minimum, get back and reiterate the importance of monitoring programs, which only government can provide—universities can't do it, since they don't have the infrastructure or the money or the long-term data sets—I think can still be done efficiently and effectively and expediently. Without that information we will have difficulty knowing whether we're achieving what we wish to achieve with a plan such as this one.

9:45 a.m.


Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

When you talk about satellite tracking, are you referring to something similar to Radarsat, or would you be thinking about something outside of the Radarsat satellite program?

9:45 a.m.

President, Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution; Professor of Biology, Dalhousie University; As an Individual

Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings

I guess what I'm thinking of is not necessarily focusing on anything specifically, but thinking of the various forms of remote sensing technologies we have--for example, stations in the Arctic to monitor changes in ozone and sea ice changes, which of course we use satellite technology to determine.

Things that monitor basic elements of the environment in both the aquatic and the terrestrial realm are increasingly, if not almost entirely, being used from a remote sensing perspective. Once you've got those things in place, it doesn't actually cost an extraordinary amount of money to maintain them, but one needs to invest in doing that initially.

Of course it wouldn't just assist a national conservation plan, but that kind of following of what's going on in the environment would assist many other sectors of society as well.

9:45 a.m.


Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Right. Your first point was to strengthen national environmental laws. Could you expand on that?