Thank you, and good afternoon, Mr. Chair, members of the committee, and staff. Thank you very much for the invitation to appear before you today. It's something we've had the pleasure of doing previously, particularly on the topic of aquatic invasive species.
As the chair noted, with me is Dr. Terry Quinney, from OFAH. In addition to being responsible for fish and wildlife programs at OFAH, Dr. Quinney is an official Canadian advisor to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. He was also the only Canadian to serve on the stakeholder advisory committee to the recent Chicago waterway study conducted by the Great Lakes cities initiative and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.
The OFAH itself represents over 100,000 members, supporters, and subscribers, as well as 675 member clubs across Ontario. As such, we are the largest non-profit conservation-based organization in the province and one of the largest in the country. We are deeply concerned about the threat that aquatic invasive species pose to Canada' s ecosystems, fish and wildlife populations, as well as to the socio-economic benefits that are derived from both recreational and commercial fishing on the Great Lakes.
While a great deal of progress has been made since we last appeared before this committee, I regret to say that some of the same issues we addressed back in 2003 and 2005 are still prevalent today. These include but are not limited to the need to address funding pressures, which a previous committee attempted to change but which remains.
Since 1994 the OFAH has been home to the invading species awareness program, the largest program of its type in the country and the only comprehensive program run by an NGO. Since 2003 that program has operated in full partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. We're a member of the Great Lakes panel on aquatic invasive species under the aegis of the aquatic invasive species task force, and we work with major groups such as the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the International Joint Commission, the Canadian Sportfishing Industry Association, and the Ontario Commercial Fisheries Association. On the ground we also work with important fish hatcheries such as Bluewater, conservation authorities, lake and cottage associations, and bait and marina operators, who have an interest in preventing the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species and invasive plants.
Putting modesty aside, the invading species awareness program--ISAP--has been a major success story for OFAH. Over the last decade we have participated in virtually every major exercise in the Great Lakes basin related to the monitoring, assessment, and control of aquatic invasive species, including zebra mussels, round goby, and more recently Asian carp.
As you heard during testimony by officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on April 2, the establishment and spread of aquatic invasive species represents a threat to ecosystems and to fish habitat and causes irreparable economic and environmental harm. Of the roughly 180 aquatic invasive species mentioned by Mr. Gillis in his remarks, approximately 160 have found a home in the Great Lakes. You will also recall that Mr. Gillis noted that the recreational, sport, and commercial fishery in the Great Lakes is cumulatively worth over $7 billion annually. So it's not hard to see how the presence of aquatic invasive species that disrupt fish populations can make a significant ecological and economic impact.
The same species have a devastating impact on the 250,000 inland lakes across Ontario that support a thriving recreational sport fishery. Vital lake ecosystems are more vulnerable to impacts because of their smaller size and lower species diversity, which enable invasions to occur more rapidly and pervasively.
Public awareness and education are key to helping prevent the introduction of new species and controling current ones. This is why we developed a national public education and outreach program, which has twice been the source of discussions at this committee. In both 2003 and 2005 the committee recommended funding for our ISAP proposal to run a national public education and awareness program together with our provincial and territorial affiliates. Unfortunately, this has not occurred.
In Canada, public outreach programs continue to be spearheaded largely by organizations like the OFAH, whose public education and awareness programs focus on pathways of introduction, monitoring, and researching impacts and control measures. Our invading species hotline receives thousands of calls each year and was indeed the vector for the first report of round goby being found in Lake Ontario.
During recent testimony by DFO officials, several members of this committee asked about the funding attached to the fight against aquatic invasive species, particularly sea lamprey. You were told that of the $10 million spent on invasive species, $8 million is directed towards the control of sea lamprey, with the remaining $2 million split several ways to pay for programs across the country.
With all due respect, apportioning a relatively small amount of money to address a very large problem is by no means a function of this government alone. It is in fact an example of the chronic underfunding that stretches back to the early 1990s.
The shared blame for the underfunding of the invasive species strategy not only undermines the implementation and credibility of the national strategy, but leaves precious few resources to address a myriad of problems across the country and in the Great Lakes in particular. This is in direct contrast to the U.S.—recognizing the larger population base and budgets—which spends over half a billion dollars annually to address the threat posed by invasive species. In fact, the President announced $50 million for 2012 just to address the threat posed by Asian carp on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes, so you get a sense of the problem we're facing here.
Just last week, the OFAH received a letter from Environment Canada informing us that, due to budget cuts, years two and three of a three-year, $50,000-per-year funding agreement between that department and the invasive alien species partnership program was terminated, effective immediately. As I noted earlier, however, the limited amount of funding available to address the threat posed by aquatic invasives and the failure of successive governments to improve upon that funding envelope is not a new phenomenon. It's something we've struggled with for years.
Since 2003 the OFAH has had an memorandum of understanding with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, which provides us with roughly $300,000 per year. We match that dollar for dollar. The recent loss of federal funding will make it harder to leverage matching contributions and will put more strain on our budget to make up the shortfall.
We've had extensive experience both with sea lamprey and with Asian carp. I'll use my remaining time to outline where we are on both of those species.
The arrival of sea lamprey in the Great Lakes was an unmitigated disaster for the recreational and commercial fishery. The annual commercial harvest fell from millions of kilograms to nearly nothing almost overnight. It is not an exaggeration to say that sea lamprey has changed a way of life in the Great Lakes basin: commercial fisheries suffered or shut down entirely, and the entire ecosystem was thrown into chaos.
The news today, I'm glad to say, is much better. In 1954 Canada and the U.S. collaborated on a plan to address the threat posed by this species. They formed the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a binational body, and charged the commission with developing and carrying out a sea lamprey control program. As a result of their work and the work done by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Province of Ontario, the fishery has been rehabilitated.
However, the rosy picture painted by DFO officials during their appearance is not entirely a reflection of reality. They would have you believe that the program has achieved a success rate of 90%, is one of the most successful programs of its kind, and is being achieved on a budget of only $8 million annually as Canada's portion of the funding envelope.
While it's certainly technically true that the program is successful, efforts to control sea lamprey have been chronically underfunded while resources are diverted away and applied to coastal fisheries. In actual fact, the success of the program must be looked at on a lake-by-lake basis. As an in-depth assessment provided by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission shows, on all five of the Great Lakes the spawner abundance is above the target levels, with Lake Erie being the worst of the five.
Asian carp, as you know, were imported into the southern U.S. in the 1970s to keep aquaculture facilities clean and to manage fish waste. They were also imported as a food fish for aquaculture. Since that time and the floods of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s in the Mississippi basin, they have spread throughout the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, reproducing in large numbers to become the predominant species in those ecosystems.
Strong dietary overlap between Asian carp and native fish means they out-compete native fish for food, because they eat up to 40% of their body weight each day. You heard from DFO officials the allusion to the silver carp, which has the nasty predilection, when disturbed, of leaping out of the water into boats and injuring people and property.
DFO has taken the lead in developing a state-of-the-art science assessment of the Asian carp risk to the Great Lakes, which should be released in the next short while. This assessment was conducted in cooperation with U.S. scientists and represents the first and only risk assessment focused entirely on the Great Lakes. It's expected to confirm and build upon the science on Asian carp, reaffirm the risk they pose to the Great Lakes, and demonstrate that the lakes will provide an ample food supply and that suitable spawning habitat exists.
In response to this threat, the U.S. has established the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, led by John Goss—who, as an aside, is known as the “carp czar”—of the President's Council on Environmental Quality. The committee coordinates the actions of a myriad of federal, state, and local agencies involved in Asian carp prevention and threat management.
You are also aware of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' electrical barrier on the Chicago canal, which prevents the movement of species between the two basins.
The U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission are working cooperatively on risk assessment, monitoring, and control measures.
Canada needs to take an active role in preventing the movement of carp into the Great Lakes. Recommendations 3 and 4 attached to our comments speak to further specific actions that we believe DFO should take, including imposing a national ban on the importation of live Asian carp similar to what currently exists in Ontario and several U.S. border states, and supporting the complete separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi watershed.
I'll conclude my remarks there. I look forward to taking your questions.
Thank you again, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for having us here today.