Evidence of meeting #34 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 know.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Anthony Ricciardi  Associate Professor, McGill University, As an Individual
  • Ladd Johnson  Professor, Department of Biology, Laval University, As an Individual

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Rodney Weston

I call this meeting to order.

Before we begin, I have an item of business I would like to bring to the committee's attention. It's been brought to my attention that today is quite possibly the last official day we will have Claudia with us as our interpreter. Claudia is about to retire, and my understanding is that this could be her last day. However, we could be blessed with Claudia's presence in the future. She tells me she's going to come back on a part-time basis down the road, so we could potentially be seeing Claudia.

On behalf of the committee, Claudia, I want to say thank you very much for the years of service you've given to this committee. Quite frankly, when I came here I was told that you're an institution with the committee. Certainly you make no bones about it, and you let me know that.

Ladies and gentlemen, committee members, let's show Claudia our heartfelt thanks.

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Rodney Weston

Now, Claudia, I'll put my earpiece in if you want to say anything.

3:35 p.m.


Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON

In French, please.

3:35 p.m.


Oh, oh!

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you, Claudia.

Committee members, we have with us today two witnesses: Monsieur Ricciardi and Mr. Johnson.

Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedules to appear before the committee today. Certainly committee members look forward to your presentations and the opportunity to ask questions of you with respect to the study we've undertaken on invasive species.

Dr. Ricciardi, please proceed. I believe the clerks informed you that we generally allow about ten minutes for opening presentations, and then we'll move into questions and answers. If I cut you off, I apologize in advance. Members are constrained by timeframes in the interest of fairness, and certainly I make every attempt not to cut off our witnesses. Sometimes our members will be long-winded, and I appreciate your cooperation in advance.

Professor, if you'd like to proceed at this point, please do.

3:35 p.m.

Dr. Anthony Ricciardi Associate Professor, McGill University, As an Individual

Thank you.

My name is Anthony Ricciardi. I'm a professor of biology at McGill University. I've studied invasive species for 20 years. My research examines the impacts of invasions in aquatic environments.

There are a few important points I'd like to bring to your attention.

The first point is that there is indisputable evidence that invasions are increasing in frequency worldwide, particularly in large aquatic systems like the Great Lakes. The invasion history of the Great Lakes spans two centuries and shows an increasing number of non-indigenous species being discovered over time.

Since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, one new invader has been discovered every seven months, on average. This rate is higher than those reported for any other freshwater system for which we have long-term data.

There are at least 187 non-indigenous species that have become established in the Great Lakes since the late 19th century. These include plants, fish, invertebrates, and various kinds of microbes, including pathogens.

One hundred and eighty-seven species is a conservative number because there had to have been invasions that went unnoticed. Furthermore, there are at least 20 additional species in the Great Lakes whose origins are uncertain. We don't know if they're native or non-indigenous.

So we have very likely underestimated the degree to which the system has been invaded, but I can say that it is very likely the most highly invaded freshwater system on the planet.

Another interesting observation is that, as far as we know, every one of those 187 species is still present in the Great Lakes. To my knowledge, not a single non-indigenous species ever established in the Great Lakes has gone extinct or has been eradicated. So what we're seeing in the system is an increasing accumulation of invaders and their impacts over time.

I also want to emphasize that the impacts of the vast majority of these invaders have not been studied. Consequently, we have a poor understanding of how most of them have affected fisheries or water quality. Without this information, we cannot conclude with any certainty that most of these invasions have been benign.

We do know that at least some of these species have had strong impacts on fish communities. In fact, nearly one out of every five invaders that have been discovered over the past 50 years has had significant negative effects on native species populations in the Great Lakes. These include several parasites and disease pathogens that have been found just within the past two decades, such as—you may have heard of some of these—the largemouth bass virus, muskie pox, and VHS, or viral hemorrhagic septicemia. VHS has caused local mass mortalities in fish populations throughout the Great Lakes—except for perhaps Lake Superior—at various times since 2003, when the virus was first detected.

It's not clear whether this recent increase in the discovery of diseases is the result of scientists being better able to detect these organisms, or whether it is a real trend that reflects some increasing vulnerability in the Great Lakes to disease outbreaks.

Several vectors are responsible for delivering non-indigenous species to the Great Lakes. The most important one historically has been ballast water release from overseas shipping. The discharge of ballast water is assumed to be responsible for 60% of the invaders discovered since 1959. These include some of the most disruptive species ever introduced to Canada, such as the spiny water flea, the zebra mussel, the quagga mussel, the round goby, and several others.

In 2006 Canada took an important step in controlling this vector by requiring all ballast water entering the Great Lakes to be at a salinity of 30 parts per thousand—in other words, near the concentration of sea water. This was adopted as a harmonized regulation by the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority—that is, by both countries—in 2008.

Over the past five years since the regulation went into effect, there have been no reported invasions attributable to overseas shipping. I think it is still too early to conclude that the ballast water problem has been solved, because some invasive species can remain hidden for several years before being discovered. However, I believe that the risk of invasion has been greatly reduced, and many of my colleagues share this opinion.

If the risk of ballast water has not been sufficiently reduced, then the Great Lakes remain vulnerable to several immediate invasion threats. There are several potentially harmful species that are currently invading Europe, and they have become abundant at ports from which the Great Lakes receive shipping traffic. One of these is an invertebrate predator known as the killer shrimp. You may have heard of it. It has received a lot of media attention overseas. I've done a risk assessment to identify and rank these species, so I am pretty familiar with what the risks are of the ones that are currently invading Europe.

Even if we have shut the door on invaders arriving in ballast water, a number of other doors remain open. I believe the most important one is commercial trade in live aquatic organisms. I'm referring to the importation and sale of live organisms used for ornamental ponds, as pets, for biological research and teaching in universities, and for human consumption.

A very large number of organisms are transported into Canada every year. I don't think most people appreciate how big that number is. For example, Dr. Nicholas Mandrak, at DFO, has found that over 2,000 species of fish were imported alive into Canada in a single year—in 2005. Most of these are freshwater fish. Very few, if any, of these species are regulated. In the Great Lakes, there are already 30 non-indigenous species that are assumed to have been introduced through the ornamental plant trade, the aquarium trade, or the bait industry. At least half of these species have had significant ecological impacts.

There are several imported species that have not yet invaded, as far as we know, that have been identified as being serious threats to invade and cause undesirable impacts. You have heard of one example, Asian carp, which actually consists of a few species, such as bighead carp, silver carp, and grass carp.

Most of the attention on Asian carp has been focused on the Chicago shipping canal as the potential pathway by which they can enter the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin. A more important vector may be live trade. Asian carp are being raised in fish farms in the southern United States and then transported into Canada to supply Asian food markets. Multiple times over the past few months, Canadian border security have stopped trucks from transporting thousands of pounds of live Asian carp across the border at Windsor, Ontario. I should point out that border security does not have a mandate to seize shipments of fish. They are merely cooperating with the Ontario government, which prohibits the possession of live Asian carp in the province.

At the federal level, live trade is completely unregulated as an invasive species problem. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulates several hundred aquatic animal species that are reported to carry diseases that pose significant economic or human health risks. Canada has no federal regulation that allows us to ban the importation of species based solely on whether they pose an invasion threat. We do not prohibit the importation of known invasive species. This is in sharp contrast with certain other nations, such as New Zealand and Australia, which have stringent biosecurity regulations based on risk assessments.

This brings me to my final point. The most cost-effective method of dealing with invasions is prevention, which requires early detection and rapid response. Unfortunately, there is no coordinated monitoring system in place to detect new invaders in the Great Lakes. There is no infrastructure for early detection and rapid response to an invasion threat. There is no federal policy to identify and regulate the relatively small percentage of incoming species that would likely be harmful to Canadian ecosystems. Until that situation changes, our natural resources will continue to be degraded by invasions.

That concludes my statement.

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you, Professor.

We'll go to Professor Johnson.

3:45 p.m.

Dr. Ladd Johnson Professor, Department of Biology, Laval University, As an Individual

My name is Ladd Johnson. I'm a professor at Laval University, a member of Québec-Océan, and also—and I don't think Dr. Ricciardi mentioned this—a member of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network.

I'm capable of giving this in French, but I'm a little nervous and I think it would be better for everyone if I continued in English. My apologies to the francophone people here. I would be happy to handle questions in French, but I think for everyone's benefit I'll continue in English. I've also been in Chile for the last four months on sabbatical, so Spanish words are running through my head. I've also been travelling for the past two days to get here, not specifically to get to this meeting, but I'm a little bit fatigued from that as well.

After I learned Dr. Ricciardi was going to be presenting, I knew he would cover the details, the facts, and the trends very well for the Great Lakes, because that is really his speciality. I also have worked on invasive species for the past 20 years, but I would argue that this is my applied nature. I also work on fundamental aspects of ecology, and I work in marine systems on invasive species as well. So I decided, when learning Dr. Ricciardi would be here, that I would orient my presentation more towards conceptual things, particularly the role of uncertainty in our dealing with invasive species.

Dr. Ricciardi tells me I should speak more slowly. I will try to speak more slowly.

If I can go to the first slide, I would say everywhere in the process we have uncertainty. Often invasions are done in three phases. Where there is an introduction, we have a lot of uncertainty about the vectors, the types of vectors that are involved, and their activities. We've made great progress, but we still have a lot unknowns about that.

For the establishment, often the second phase of an invasion, there are new ideas emerging about propagule pressure, the number of propagules necessary to establish a population. But we are still learning a great deal about that and an effect, known as the Allee effect, requiring a certain critical number.

A long time ago I published a small piece about mussel myths and the “Noah fallacy”, which dealt with the idea that it would only take two zebra mussels to start a new population. I think we all know that's not true. The Noah fallacy was the idea of Noah's collection of pairs of animals. We know now that it takes a substantial number of propagules. We still do not know how many. It varies from species to species. Of course this is part of the science we're doing to investigate this.

Next, we would have ecological and economic impacts. Again, as Dr. Ricciardi mentioned, many of the species have not been well studied. We certainly know the best cases. There are many stories of that. They are very rarely quantified in terms of being able to compare for cost-benefit analyses.

Finally, I will talk about our actions. This is where I'm hoping to inspire you, because you people are the ones who will be taking action on this at a government level. These actions include assessing how good a job we're doing. Many times we do things that one would say are feel-good measures; we think they should do well, but then we never assess whether or not they've actually accomplished our goals. In monitoring, often our monitoring efforts are inadequate. We hope we can detect things, but we do not really have certainty in doing that. Finally, in our response, sometimes I believe we are afraid to make responses or take actions or decisions because we are not certain as to the outcome of those actions. I'll develop those a little later.

I will talk about government actions, because you are in the government, and we are here to help you make decisions. Of course we need to fund more research—that's what any good scientist would say in order to obtain more funds—but I would argue that we need to specialize those in the invasion process itself. Oftentimes we study the impacts, but we're not really looking at how they get here and how they become established. On cost versus benefits, as hard as it is sometimes to quantify ecological and economic impacts, we need to somehow obtain means of comparing things so we know what the costs of our actions are, and the costs of our inactions.

We need to turn our uncertainties into probabilities, because that's really what uncertainty is. It means that something might not happen. Probability is just a way of quantifying that.

Secondly, I mentioned participating in more research. That basically means funding government agencies to work more closely with government scientists. I think the network that Dr. Ricciardi and I are involved in is an excellent example of how cooperation between DFO scientists and university scientists has led to many good outcomes.

We need to also create a regulatory structure to prevent future things, much like the ballast water exchange program that's enforced rigorously, because oftentimes there is not proper enforcement after regulations are on the books. Dr. Ricciardi mentioned more monitoring so we can detect incipient populations and invasive species and react.

We need to have plans in place for responding so we can assess whether we should take actions, and what types of actions we should take—containment or eradication, or perhaps just control.

Finally, of course, we need to cooperate. The obvious one is Canadian versus American interests, but there are other stakeholders that need to be involved, such as the public, commercial enterprises, etc.

Just to give an idea of the costs and benefits, I made a little table here. I don't want to go into too much detail, but we need to start filling in some of these blanks. In proactive management, such as ballast water management, where we take no action there is no cost, but there are negative effects, if you don't mind me saying. We don't know if the probability is 100%, because maybe they'll never come. Maybe we'll be lucky and a species will never appear.

If we do take action it will cost us money, and we can quantify that, but we cannot quantify the benefits. That's again where we need more science in ecological economics. The probability is that we do not know, and perhaps our actions will not help.

On reactive things, once a species has become established, taking no action doesn't cost us anything, but there will be definite negative benefits. The probability of that is 100%. Action will take money, but the benefits will be positive in reducing the impact of invasive species. Again, we are not certain if those actions will actually accomplish what we hope for.

I'll give you one example here where we have made progress. A recent study showed the costs and benefits of doing prevention and control. It found that managers should take the risk of trying to prevent, because that will yield better economic benefits for society in the long term.

Risk assessment is important, and I want to mention a few things we need to give attention to for establishment. We need to identify the species that are likely to come; the regions from which they might come; the things that might bring them and the paths they might take; the places they might show up—often known as hot spots in our business; and the times they might show up—often windows of opportunity when things might become established. These are all part of refining our science.

I want to finish by talking a little about secondary dispersal, because I think it is the biggest problem facing our science. Preventing invasive species from becoming established initially is obviously a good idea. It's the best way to prevent problems, but what do we do after they come here?

The problem is that once secondary spread begins, human-mediated vectors can continue the spread, but natural ones can as well. This leads to a mentality of inevitability—that it's a lost cause and we have lost the war. I think this is a rather defeatist attitude, and the goal has to be slowing the invasion instead of stopping it.

Even if you think it's inevitable, slowing things down will accrue benefits over time. If it didn't accrue benefits over time people wouldn't be worried about the spread. People are always worried about the spread, so if we can slow down the spread we will accrue benefits over time.

I'll give you the case study on invasive tunicates in Prince Edward Island, where I am working. We have invasive tunicates located in just three or four bays in the east end. I'm sure all of the mussel farmers on the rest of the island would like them to stay in the east end. I think that is a manageable goal, and possible to achieve.

Finally, I think our goal is to predict invasions better and respond more rapidly. We need to accept uncertainty in more general terms and try to translate it into probability. We need to seek more data, but prioritize it toward the data that is more essential for decision-making. Taking action is an important element. We can't sit by and wait. We also have to accept that we will make mistakes.

Thank you very much.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you, Professor.

We'll move to questions at this point. We'll start with Mrs. Davidson.

April 25th, 2012 / 3:55 p.m.


Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.

Thanks, gentlemen, for appearing before us this afternoon.

I'm sure you are well aware that we started this study because of concerns that were raised in the Great Lakes area and concerns we have about several invasive species, in particular the Asian carp. We are concerned about it coming up through the Mississippi system, through Chicago, and into the Great Lakes system.

We are certainly no strangers to invasive species in the Great Lakes. We have been dealing with them for a long time. But I think the Asian carp became an issue in my riding of Sarnia—Lambton because of the news we were hearing about it on the very drastic impacts that are being felt in the Mississippi basin, with the destruction it's doing there. With our sport fishing and commercial fishing in the Great Lakes, it has certainly brought home the dangers that it poses. That's one of the things we're looking at.

We know there has been a fair amount of collaboration and work on it between the Canadian and U.S. governments. We know that work is ongoing.

Dr. Ricciardi, I would like you to address the statement you made about prevention, early detection, and rapid response being our best defences. What do you see as the main things we need to do? If you would like to address the Asian carp issue to begin with, that would be fine.

3:55 p.m.

Associate Professor, McGill University, As an Individual

Dr. Anthony Ricciardi

There are many facets to that.

As far as Asian carp are concerned, I identified a back door that has largely been ignored by the public—and I suppose maybe by some policy-makers too—in that we're worried about the Chicago shipping canal, and rightly so, because it is abundant in the upper Mississippi River. I say “it”, but we're talking about a couple of species here. They are abundant in the upper Mississippi River and probably have already passed that canal, but not in sufficient numbers to establish a population. Keep in mind that the presence of a couple of individuals in an area does not guarantee that you have a population.

For snakehead fish, which I'll talk about later—if anybody wants to hear about it—at least one has been found in Lake Michigan. This does not mean that it's established there. We have no reason to believe that it's established there.

Piranhas are found every year in the Great Lakes, or nearly so, and we know they're not established, or at least there's good reason to believe that they're not established. We haven't found any juveniles. But there are indications of something. There are indications that people are dumping fish there.

As far as Asian carp is concerned, its live trade, I believe, is equally as important at the present time, or nearly so, as that shipping canal with its electric barrier. The fact is that we have trucks bringing live carp into Canada through Windsor. The fact is that I can go into Montreal, and I know a place where I can go in and buy live bighead carp, Asian carp, and they'll encourage me to leave with it alive.

I did a little operation with my students down there to check out what was going on in a market, which will not be named, but we're watching it. If I'm willing to pay for it, I can buy Asian carp and I can go all the way to the port of Montreal and, if I feel like it, dump them there. So that is an issue.

And it's not just Asian carp. That's the one you hear about the most, but this vector I'm talking about, live trade.... Actually, there's a multitude of vectors that are associated with the commercial importation of live organisms for various reasons. In this case, we're talking about for the food markets. For the snakehead fish, it's not only for the food markets, but also maybe through the illegal pet trade.

If you want to stop these species, you have to start regulating the importation of organisms.

A recent study done in the United States—I talked about numbers of species coming in—said that in terms of actual numbers of individual animals coming in, 1.1 billion freshwater fish enter the United States every year. I'm assuming that we also get numbers that are rather high, maybe not as high as those numbers, but of course if they're in the States they could be moved around as well, into Canada. But we probably receive a huge number too. I'm just not aware of what it is.

That also bothers me—that I'm not aware of what it is for Canada. I'm not really aware of how many species are coming across our borders. I have estimates for certain situations, like the one that was provided to me by Nick Mandrak, who had to cobble together a lot of information to get that estimate. So we're not aware of the degree of the problem.

I'm saying that you have to control the vectors to control not only the current recognized threat, but also the ones that are unrecognized and that could come here in the future or are coming in now.

I had my undergraduate students in one class do a project to look at the effects of the aquarium trade and of the biological supply houses, those companies that send into Canada material for teaching or biological research. They looked at the organisms that would be acclimated to Canada, based on where they come from. They used a climate-matching model to figure out which ones could establish if they escaped in sufficient numbers. We found that 5% not only can establish, but can also cause harm, judging by what they've done elsewhere. Five percent of thousands of species coming in is a rough estimate. It could be off by a few percentage points. I just know that it's not one I like to live with.

So there's a lack of information of the degree of the threat, but we have enough to know that live trade in all its forms is one that we've ignored for far too long. It includes the species you're interested in, or the group of species called Asian carp, which includes the bighead carp, the one that's probably the most dangerous, and silver carp and a couple of others. Bighead carp was the one that I could buy in Montreal. I also know that in previous years you could buy it in Toronto and in Ottawa and in various other places.

3:55 p.m.


Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you.

3:55 p.m.

Professor, Department of Biology, Laval University, As an Individual

3:55 p.m.


Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Yes, absolutely.