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Evidence of meeting #35 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 control.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Georges Etoka
Istvan Imre  Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual
Robert Duncanson  Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association
John Wilson  Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Okay. And how is it being differentiated between American and Canadian waters, with the ships going through?

4:50 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

I do not know how they will be able to do that. It may well end up being the end port. If the ship is coming into the Great Lakes and it is going to stop with its load at a Canadian port, it may well be allowed to do that. If it's going to then go and pick up product at a U.S. port, it would then have a problem if it doesn't have ballast water technology on board.

Each of the U.S. states—certainly Michigan, Wisconsin, New York—put in their own ballast water quality standards. Some were 100 times stronger than what the U.S. Coast Guard has just announced. At this point, I think we were away for about one or two months, but the standards that New York State had put in were going to shut down all the shipping this year.

I believe there was an agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard that said to the states, if you will withdraw your ballast water standards, we will implement these for all of the Great Lakes. I believe that is how we ended up getting a common standard. Everyone is in agreement on the American side. All of the states are in agreement on this standard. Part of the agreement was that they would look at whether they will move it up to the 100 times stronger standard by 2016.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

I can't remember which one of you were speaking to the slide that said “current status”. A comment was made about the IJC. I don't know if I heard you correctly. Did you say the IJC does not seem to be taking this seriously enough, or they are?

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

No, it was in the audience as we were at the IJC forum. We were hearing the presentations from the various scientists. There just seemed to be this silence about preventative measures on the Asian carp when we had just gone through a day and half worth of the damage and the cost of controlling the ones that are already in.

It just seems to us, as members of the public, frustrating to not hear somebody stand up and say, “Guess what, guys? It's going to cost us a fraction of the amount to stop these things from coming in as it would to chase them.” The Asian carp, I should point out, unlike the lamprey, does not need rivers to procreate. It's going to be really difficult to interrupt their breeding cycle.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

What do you see these permanent barriers looking like? How do you see that working?

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

Permanent barriers. The biggest challenge we've heard, or one of the biggest push-backs, is the canal barges in the Chicago area. To be honest with you, I'm not an expert in this area at all, but I don't see why you can't have roll-on, roll-off barges coming up to this barrier in between—save jobs and save the barging industry—and create this concrete or land barrier that will separate in real terms the two bodies of water, as they once were.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you, Ms. Davidson.

4:50 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

The U.S. Coast Guard will be producing their report by 2015, in which they will outline these options: how they would go about producing a permanent barrier, as well as any other options they have been able to come up with. Until that time, the U.S. will continue to have to spend $51.5 million per year to kill off as many of the Asian carp as they can in the rivers leading up to Lake Michigan.

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

I would like to think there's a creative solution that is a win-win, and that we can appeal to the merchants or businesses that are threatened by a permanent barrier, yet achieve this ethological separation.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

Mr. Toone.

April 30th, 2012 / 4:50 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thanks for your presentations.

I especially like the slide on regime change. It's astounding to see how much change can happen in such a short time. It's truly frightening, in fact.

If I could speak to you, Mr. Duncanson, or both of you in fact, your members are particularly interested in controlling the Asian carp. Are they looking at other species, or is this their main concern, that particular species?

4:50 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

As John pointed out, last fall, when thousands of waterfowl washed up on Wasaga Beach, the smoking gun was the round goby and the quagga mussel. They were critical in bringing that botulism into the food chain, and that catches the attention of the public.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

I have to agree; this particular slide certainly takes you back.

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

If you go back and look at the history of botulism, and this kind of kill-off, it's only in the past couple of decades that we have been seeing regular occurrences of this. It's a bit of a perfect storm. It's not just the invasive species; it's a bit of the warming of the water. It's the clarity, which is also invasive-species-related, in that the zebra mussels and quagga mussels are now clearing out the water columns, so that the sun is penetrating lower and growing algae at the bottom of some of these lakes that have never had algae growth there before. It's a bit of a perfect storm that this is happening there.

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

The change is happening so quickly that one of the concerns I have is that we're not really sure where this change is leading to. We don't know what species is going to be affected next. It's all new science. Frankly, the cutbacks at DFO are of great concern to me, that we might not be able to keep up with the science.

We're talking about now changing the Fisheries Act, so that we no longer protect habitat, we're only going to protect fish—and only commercially interesting fish—against serious harm. I'm not sure we even know what that is. I don't think we can predict any of this. I'm worried that the changes to DFO are actually going to compound this issue.

Do your members have any comments on that?

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

Yes, I'll touch on that.

In fact this morning we had a meeting with one of our senior MPs, Tony Clement, on this very topic. We're very worried that governments at both levels—provincial and federal—are retreating from the environmental oversight of the Great Lakes at a time when this perfect storm is picking up some speed, or we're worried that it's picking up some speed. That's why John says that we're really looking at that next round of the Canada-Ontario negotiations as critical, because when the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is made public, assuming that what we saw in draft form actually makes it through cabinet and through the U.S. process, you're going to see some very strong words about nearshore issues and nutrient-loading issues on the near shore.

What these zebra mussels and quagga mussels are doing is rebalancing the whole nutrient-loading system of the Great Lakes. The words are going to be there and the strength of the words will be there, but money is what it's going to come down to. If we don't have the money to keep the scientists in place to make sure we're on top of this thing, it's a free-for-all.

We understand that the Fisheries Act is being retooled. It's going to be a bit more selective and a bit more cabinet- and minister-directed as far as how they're going to go about this is concerned. We believe there is a case to be made for the Great Lakes commercial and recreational fisheries to be protected under the new model, but time will tell whether the bucks flow. That's what it's going to take: sustained scientific support.

4:55 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

The Canada-Ontario agreement works.... It's actually the Ministry of National Resources and the Ministry of the Environment that do a lot of the work on the Great Lakes. That's kind of Ontario's part of it, in that they actually have the scientists in the boats. They collect the data, do the analysis, and feed that information back up for the scientists to work with.

We go and talk to them now, and they say they don't know what's going to happen now, that they're waiting. There isn't funding any more, so we're waiting for the Canada-Ontario agreement. If there's going to be scientific research and we're going to start to keep finding a way to understand how this regime change is going to play out and what we can do about it—or how we deal with it and adapt to it—we're going to need to have the science done.

So their last hope is that agreement. That's why we encourage this committee and DFO, if they can help with that process, to make sure there's funding that's going to happen. Otherwise, we're going to find ourselves wondering.

4:55 p.m.

Executive Director, Georgian Bay Association

Robert Duncanson

I'd like to build on that a little bit. As the federal regime changes to the oversight of the fisheries and the environment in general, and there seems to be a retreat to avoid duplication.... Everyone can agree that duplication in tight financial times is an important thing to look at, but at the same time, as you may have read, the Ontario government is going through its own belt-tightening and is cutting—guess what?—MOE and MNR.

So our point, which we make whenever we can, is that we hope both levels of the government—the federal and the provincial—are making sure that as they simultaneously retreat there isn't this massive hole left in the middle that leaves us all vulnerable. There has to be a high level of coordination. In addition to just the negotiation of the Canada-Ontario agreement, there has to be coordination between the levels of science to make sure that somebody is keeping their eye on the ball.

5 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Just to continue on that thought real quickly, in line with Mr. Toone's questioning and the cuts that you've pointed out, I very much appreciate your presentation and the fact that you've laid it out with five recommendations here.

Do you have costing to these recommendations? Is there an idea of what kinds of amounts we're looking at for each of these recommendations?

5 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

Certainly for the ballast water standards, I don't think it's going to cost you a lot of money to do that. In reality, you're just synchronizing yourself with the U.S. Ships are going to have to do it anyway. They're going to have to be doing it globally, too—and that's coming—under the IMO.

On the science, from the costing side I think $8 million was the Canada-Ontario agreement, but much of that money did not go to the science. It went to areas of concern, to those particular spots around the Great Lakes—Hamilton Harbour and others like it—that had a lot of chemical/metal history behind them and needed to be cleaned up. That's where the vast majority of it went.

A portion, though, has been used in the past to be able to do the research on the Great Lakes, and that is the part you need to keep. If they decide to cut it and only do areas of concern, we will stop learning about what's happening.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

Mr. Sopuck, go ahead.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you very much.

I would like to make a comment.

As a strong supporter of what the government is doing to the Fisheries Act, I would recommend that you look at things in a different way, unlike my colleague was alluding to. A focus on fisheries of importance such as yours should be welcomed by you. What's being done under the Fisheries Act, the changes to the Fisheries Act, is getting the government out of very unproductive fisheries work and refocusing on fisheries of importance, which yours obviously is. I wouldn't call it a retreat by any means. It's a refocusing, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised over the months to come with what will be happening.

Concerning Lake Huron, you talk about an increase in water clarity. With the increase in light penetration, are you seeing more plant growth and weed beds? You talked about algae, but what about the taller plants and the weed beds, have those come back?

5 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

It's a very rocky bottom on certainly a lot of the lakes. In essence, there's not a lot of silt.

It's interesting. If you talk to the commercial fishermen who are still using nets for their catches, what they've seen is tremendous growth in the amount of algae. It literally blows on the bottom. It fills their nets and it takes forever…. In fact, the Ministry of Natural Resources has been working with them and they're now developing these new nets that will have a space from the bottom up, before the netting actually starts. Algae is becoming more prevalent and it's hurting the industry a lot, so they're trying to adapt their net techniques to get as good a quantity of catch as in the past but not have all the fouling taking place with the algae on the bottom.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Concerning the fish population itself, one species you did not discuss is the steelhead or rainbow trout populations. I know that Georgian Bay had, or maybe still has, thriving steelhead runs. Are those still intact?

5 p.m.

Director and Chair, Fisheries Committee, Georgian Bay Association

John Wilson

I don't think they are.

Most of the rainbow trout in Georgian Bay and in the North Channel come from aquaculture operations. They are escapes, and we have a huge volume of escapes from these operations. What happens, actually, is that mussels grow on the side of the nets, which eventually rip.

It's interesting. There's a study being done now by a researcher, and she's about to publish it, but parts of it were presented at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission conference. What it shows is that along the North Channel the genetic makeup of the rainbow trout is now changing completely to that of escapes. The native wild rainbow are now disappearing. There's a genetic changeover taking place.

This is always the great fear: when you introduce a fish that has only one genetic form, they start to take over. If they do, if something happens, be it weather or disease or whatever, you can lose them all. You lose the diversity you find in wild genetic makeup.

So that's where we would see most of the rainbow within Georgian Bay and the North Channel—they really come from escapes from aquaculture operations.