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Evidence of meeting #32 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 work.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David Gillis  Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
David Burden  Acting Regional Director General, Central and Arctic Region, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Michelle Wheatley  Regional Director, Science, Central and Arctic Region, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Thank you very much.

I would suspect that you deal with universities and work with them right across the country.

4:20 p.m.

Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

4:25 p.m.

Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Gillis

It's a package that's under development right now, so we can't speak about it as if it's done, certainly. As I mentioned, the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers committee is a key venue for us to talk to the other jurisdictions about this. As you point out, both provincial—and/or territorial when the time comes—and federal legislation could work together to make a more effective package.

Here is an example of the way it could work. You are quite right in saying, obviously, that the provinces have been devolved responsibility for the management of fisheries for quite some time. They can use that as a basis for provincial legislation that would help to deal with aquatic invasive fishery species.

That would leave, for instance, some gaps. There would be the gap at the international border. There would also be the matter of interprovincial trade. Generally speaking, this is one area where we could see that application of federal powers could help to bring those parts of the puzzle and actually work hand in glove with the provincial legislation to make a package that provides for management authority at both levels.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Thank you very much.

Of course, being from P.E.I. where the blue mussel industry is, I am well aware of what invasive species can do. I think you indicated there were 182 invasive species that had entered the Great Lakes system. Am I correct?

4:25 p.m.

Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Gillis

That is in the Great Lakes, yes.

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

I'd just like you to elaborate on—of course, some of them are not causing great harm. In fact, some of them have been an asset in certain areas. Do we still have 182? How are we doing with what we are spending in this area?

4:25 p.m.

Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Gillis

We have 182. I should again stress that's non-indigenous species. Not all of them would be in the high-risk invasive category, by any means.

I think that's a current number, actually, Mr. Chair. That's how many we would estimate we currently have.

Whether we have been able to actually eliminate...I think we're able to claim that we are bringing a fair measure of control to sea lamprey, which is obviously a well-established and potentially very hazardous or harmful invasive species. I'm not sure we can claim we have been able to eliminate an invasive species. It can be very difficult to do. As I mentioned earlier, maybe our best approach would be to avoid having them in the first place, through risk assessment and prevention.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you, Mr. MacAulay. Your time has expired.

We will now move to a five-minute round. We will begin with Mr. Donnelly.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our guests for appearing before the committee.

I just want to get an overall sense of what level of priority this AIS has in the department. Would you say it's high, very high, moderate, or low? How would you categorize the priority?

4:25 p.m.

Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Gillis

I'm not sure it's easy to separate it out on that basis. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, when we think about ecosystem integrity—the science and management approach increasingly is on looking at the ecosystems as a whole—we can parse it out into a number of elements. Aquatic invasive species, or invasive species generally, is one of those areas that we certainly consider to be something that needs to be recognized and managed to the point that is necessary to ensure we have a healthy ecosystem.

The levels of funding are maybe a rough estimate of how much work is actually under way. But I think we need to look at the collectivity of the ecosystem to understand how each component of ecosystem health contributes to the whole in order to answer your question properly.

The other thing I would say about this program is that, aside from the sea lamprey program, it's relatively new. We're still feeling our way into some elements of it. The focus in the early years, since 2002, has been on science programming. More and more in the department we're developing the other aspects of a full-blown program.

The other element, just in closing on this point, is that this is an area where it's possible to have a lot of partnership and to leverage a lot of our funds. There are other jurisdictions that can and do play a role in everything from prevention all the way through to management and mitigation. This is a highly integrated and collaborative program we have in the department with the resources we have available.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

I was looking for how high this is compared to other issues on both coasts, the coast guard or other priorities, but fair enough in terms of your comments.

How much in the way of total funding is being allocated to aquatic and invasive species?

4:30 p.m.

Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Gillis

Around $10 million. Of that, a little over $8 million is dedicated to the sea lamprey program in the Great Lakes. The other $2 million, which we've had since 2005, is for the general aquatic and invasive species program across the country.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Thank you.

In terms of resources, what resources do you think you need in addition to that, or is that adequate to address this problem fully?

4:30 p.m.

Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Gillis

I think you can always use more resources. That may be a trite answer.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

How much more?

4:30 p.m.

Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Gillis

With the resources we have, we have been able to put in place all of the components of a full-blown program, everything from the understanding of the science all the way through to the mitigation and monitoring programs, and more recently the regulatory package.

I really think we have been able to use the funds we have available to bring in a full program. We do a lot of prioritization to make sure we are allocating the resources—and we're developing tools to help us—we do have to the most effective activities for managing AIS.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

So I could take it that $10 million is enough, although you could always use more.

4:30 p.m.

Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Gillis

Well, we're getting the results we're getting with the resource levels we have.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

That's almost a political answer. Thank you.

In terms of the causes for the spread of aquatic invasive species, you listed them here, but can you give me a better idea in terms of the percentage of the problems? Is 50% of it shipping? Is 50% because of recreation or live trade? Do you have a sense of the high priority areas?

4:30 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Central and Arctic Region, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Burden

I don't think I can give you a percentage breakdown. Clearly we're trying to address it at all levels. But I can give you one rationale on why we feel the regulations work that is going on is so important.

The buying and selling of live Asian carp is worth about $5 million a year in the Toronto markets. When you're looking at fish potentially coming across the border and fines being in the order of $20,000 or $50,000, based on the seizures we have made over the last number of years, clearly it becomes almost a cost of doing business for some of these folks if you are talking about a market of $5 million.

It is an issue. As David mentioned, while the fish have a higher market when they're brought in live, when the physiology of the fish is that you can dewater them and then put them on ice and rewater them and they continue to thrive, that is a concern.

Part of the problem with any invasive species is related to the education and outreach. We've done a considerable amount of work, and we've used the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters with great success to outreach to their members.

You know, my kids go to school, and at the end of the school year you've got the aquarium that's been in the class all year and nobody is willing to take the fish home. During the class picnic at the end of the year, we take them out to the watershed and we introduce these.... We have to educate Canadians that some of these things we're flushing down the toilet or dumping into the water course...it is maybe not the way to go.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you.

We will move on to Mr. Kamp.

April 2nd, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, gentlemen and Dr. Wheatley, for being here. This is an important issue and we need to understand it a little bit better. We have made some progress today, I think, so thank you for that.

Let me raise two issues. I want to follow up on the last one in a moment, but before that, my understanding is that the Great Lakes Commission, which is kind of a binational organization between the states and the provinces—Ontario and Quebec in this case—an organization that cares about these issues, and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence cities initiative got together in 2010, got some money from funders, and started working on this issue, among others. Earlier this year they produced and released a report and they called it “Restoring the Natural Divide”. I think the report is pretty clear where they're going with this.

The report is somewhat pessimistic, I would say, about the effectiveness of the electric barrier that currently we largely depend on for the Asian carp, for example, to be kept out of the Great Lakes. For example, they say the barrier is incomplete, costly to maintain, and vulnerable to failure. It's their opinion, in the report, that eventually it will fail and eventually we will be working on mitigation rather than prevention. The report, in substance, makes the recommendation that there needs to be a physical barrier between the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes. So the report is about engineering possibilities and how much it might cost, but it also talks about what the cost would be if you don't build this and eventually you're engaging in mitigation.

I'm not sure it's a fair question to ask, whether you have any opinion about this. You've probably been monitoring to some degree the electric barrier and its effectiveness, although already we've found DNA on the other side of the barrier, so that might be a hint about where that's going. But do you have any comment on this report, if you've had a chance to read it yet, and whether you think that at the end of the day the solution has to be a physical separation between the Great Lakes and the basin?

4:35 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Central and Arctic Region, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

David Burden

There are a number of questions within that question, I think, which would probably be my first response.

On the physical barrier, there have been a number of studies. As you may be aware, there is litigation in the United States relative to whether that waterway should still be allowed to be there.

I think what we have to look at is that there is an economic driver for having that waterway go the way it does, and Canada is not without having waterways that have introduced invasive species. So really it gets down to the issue of the partnership. The Army Corps of Engineers has a number of options it is looking at. We have been briefed on them.

I think the important thing is that there isn't a barrier; there are three separate physical structures that work in tandem, and they do work in sequence. If one is taken out or if one has a failure, the other two come on. They've been playing with the approach of using those barriers over the last year to improve performance.

There is also considerable sampling and fishing to remove Asian carp below the barrier.

As for the point of finding fish above the barrier, again, I take it that was back in 2003. That was before a lot of the measures that are in place today were in effect.

The last point I'd make on your question relates to it not being just the physical issues of the barrier. There are a number of other vectors. We've talked about live trade, we've talked about bait fish, and we've talked about the food sector as well. Closing down the physical separation wouldn't necessarily resolve that. It also wouldn't necessarily solve the problem of when you have a 100-year flood or something like that, which would be beyond the barrier.

So it's a tough question to address, and clearly we're quite comfortable that the Americans are having to deal with that one rather than our having to today.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Very well. Thank you for that.

I think the last points you made were good ones. But let's assume that we deal with those other factors, particularly trade.

I'm done.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Your time is up.