This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

4:05 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

I think I'm probably overstating the obvious a little bit, in the sense that everybody knows what kinds of effects pesticides can have in general and on other aquatic species that cohabit the streams with sea lamprey juveniles.

I think what I said about lake sturgeon earlier is important. It's not a strong effect. It doesn't result in immediate large numbers of individuals dying, but over time it can influence their survivability. It's not strong evidence, but it's there. Of course other lamprey species—and there are several that are native to the Great Lakes ecosystem—would be affected. I think it's important to conduct further work on that as well as to try to conduct more work on other avenues that are more environmentally friendly, to perhaps hopefully in the near future.... That's what the Great Lakes Fishery Commission was thinking in 2001. It hasn't happened in the past 11 years, but some of these things take a long time.

In terms of how my work could be affected, my money typically comes not from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission has given me a grant for one year to pursue this repellent idea. So if funding were cut—and we've already felt cuts from the U.S. side that came last year—that would basically prevent us from doing further work. We couldn't do it.

Something else I think cannot be stated enough—and this is what I'm fighting at my own school too. I have colleagues who do, for example, plant ecology. I'm not trying to trivialize it, but it takes a lot less money to go out and do research with plants than to do research in water, where you need boats, trucks, personnel, and shocking devices. Or say if you want to do lab experiments, you need special.... DFO, for example, in St. Mary's has actually built a very nice lab facility that they have allowed me to use.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Maybe I could ask just one more quick question, since I have a short amount of time.

Given those constraints, what do you think is the most important next step that Canada could take in dealing with the aquatic invasive species?

4:05 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

Do you mean other than providing at least the same amount of funding that we had before?

I think that funding this research as well as managing, in terms of control, is really important.

Please excuse me, I'm not trying to tell you what to do—that's your own decision. But you could think of this money as an investment in the sense that if we invest the appropriate funds in control and further research, we can make sure that the existing commercial fisheries will exist in the future. It's literally at that level.

Remember that both commercial and recreational fisheries are estimated as being worth billions of dollars per year in terms of revenue. In that regard, I would take the view that I don't think they'll ever be able to get rid of the sea lamprey. It's more just a matter of trying to keep them at very low densities and allowing fish populations to survive alongside them.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

Mr. Kamp.

April 30th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Dr. Imre, for being here.

It was a great presentation, and I think it helped us. We've heard a lot about sea lamprey, but I don't think we've understood as much as we have today about the biology and the life cycle and so on. So I appreciate your testimony.

Obviously the sea lamprey is native somewhere. Can you explain where that is in the world?

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

The sea lamprey is native to the Atlantic Ocean, which means it would be spawning on both the American side and the European side. Actually, I think Mr. Allen brought up the issue that two lampreys were sent to the Queen. I guess China goes with pandas and we go with sea lamprey, no pun intended.

The interesting thing is that, for example, in Portugal--for which I have factual information, because one of my colleagues is the terrestrial invasive species chair at Algoma and he is from Portugal--the sea lamprey is literally a national delicacy. They eat arroz de lampreia, which is a dish prepared out of rice and lamprey blood.

Yes, I'm from Transylvania. Both things are true.

There is a fishery—at least it used to be a commercial fishery for sea lamprey—and it's at the point of being overfished in the Atlantic Ocean. At the present time it's such a highly sought after food item that you could get 50 to 80 euros per live lamprey in Portugal: there are not enough of them. Yet here, of course, it's invasive, and it's very difficult to control and probably impossible to eradicate.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

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

Yes. I guess that's the direction I was going. I mean, we think of it only in bad terms, but it's of high economic value in places in Europe, for example Portugal, as you mentioned.

Is there no...? Is it harvested at all? What happens to these dead lamprey after we kill them in the Great Lakes?

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

Once they are killed they are not utilized. I brought this issue up to the USGS and the Fish and Wildlife Service in the States, as well as DFO in Canada. We're able to operate everything: why not just put out commercial fishery permits for sea lamprey?

The problem is actually a bit more complex than one would think. Mainly at issue is that when you allow people to fish for something, what they will do then is they will take the sea lamprey from one stream, because they don't catch enough, and put it into other streams to make sure they produce enough to make a living. That was sort of the main argument for me—that of course they would do that. We're all human, right? We just want to make money. So if you want a lot of lamprey and you can get only 1,500 from a stream, and your livelihood is depending on it, and nobody sees it, then let's plant lamprey in all those streams.

All kidding aside, though, I talked about this aspect with my colleague. Given that there would be commercial interest and need in Portugal, why not just catch them, put them on ice, ship them overnight, and make money with it? On both sides there would be jobs for people, and obviously there are sea lamprey here.

But there is an added issue here. One, probably neither of the resource management agencies would go for it, because people would just start planting sea lamprey all over the place. Two, I have looked into the very sparse evidence that exists at the present time that sea lamprey, because they're top-of-the-food-chain, feeding on large-bodied fish like salmon, bioaccumulate a lot of heavy metals. Unfortunately, sea lamprey at their adult life stage have so much lead and mercury and what not in their tissue that I think they would pretty much qualify as toxic waste. In all fairness, you couldn't go and peddle it to another country: “Oh, buy some sea lamprey. It's good for you—as long as you eat it only once a month.”

4:10 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

4:10 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

I'm just kidding, but you know what I mean.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

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

Okay.

I apologize if you already told us this—I might have missed it—but do we know how it got here in the 1800s, through which vector it arrived?

4:15 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

It basically got into Lake Ontario through the St. Lawrence River. There were absolutely no dams or anything, so it must have made its way up through the St. Lawrence River into Lake Ontario. The first mention made of it, that I found, was in 1835.

Now, of course it destroyed the fisheries in Lake Ontario in the short term. However, it was actually our doing. In fact, thank you very much for raising that issue. It was basically our fault. We allowed it to get into the upper Great Lakes when we built the Welland Canal to allow commercial shipping to get up there. At that time, nobody thought about the fact that, my God, they could get up there using the same waterway, which unfortunately they did.

I'm glad you brought this up. I know the time is very short, but if I may, in this context I think what is very important, in fact probably most important, is prevention. I mean, you have to realize that with a terminator like this, we'll be spending probably millions and millions of dollars—as long as we have money or we care about trying to control it—but this is only one of the 186 or so species that got in during only the last 10 or 20 years. So you have to think very, very carefully as a legislative body what you allow in.

To give you another example, I went to a Chinese fish market in Toronto. I went in because I love fish and I always look out for fish. When I went in there, I saw a whole bunch of fish that are not in Ontario, that are not in Canada, swimming happily around in tanks. I'm just thinking, “If somebody buys one of these....”

We buy piranhas for kids, in the aquarium trade. The kids after a while realize that as piranhas grow up, they have teeth on one end, so they put them in the nearest water body. Then you see a little newspaper in southern Ontario saying, “Oh, a kid caught a piranha in the local lake. How did that happen?”

Well, in exactly the same way, we allow, for business reasons or whatever, stuff to be introduced and then get out. Why do we suddenly have on our hands the problem with the five Asian carp species? It is for the very same reason: they were introduced to control some kind of vegetation and aquaculture purposes, I understand, in the southern states. And it's not “if” they get out; for any kind of aquatic species, it's “when”, literally. So they did get out. There was a flood and they overran the dike. They got into the Mississippi River system, and it's a wildfire coming towards Canada.

To my mind, as a scientist...and I teach invasive species biology to students. Please don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to lecture you on this. This is just kind of a desperate plea from a scientist that we have to be very careful about what we allow to come into the country in living form, because once it's in, there's absolutely no control over where it's going to be thrown or let loose. We put the goldfish into the toilet—out of sight, out of mind.

There are exotic catfish, for example, that you think won't survive Lake Ontario. One of my colleagues caught, during regular electrofishing beside the Pickering plant.... The plant puts out all that warm water from the cooling operations and it creates this kind of warm-water ecosystem, so those catfish survive in that area.

Okay, I know, that's just one individual, but these animals have been literally, over evolution, “trained” to survive everything they can. Hence we have to be very, very careful with what we allow to come in.

I'm sorry; I probably overspoke my....

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you very much.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you very much, Mr. Kamp.

We'll go to Mr. MacAulay.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Welcome, Dr. Imre.

We humans are hard to handle.

4:15 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

Did you say handle?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

The human being is hard to trust.

I believe that one of the biggest things we need in these situations is education. I do not believe that society would want to do this if they really realized what damage would come of it. I don't know if you wish to elaborate on that.

Basically, one of the most important things we need to do is have people understand that in fact when they take a species that is not native to this country into this country and release it, they're causing great harm to the ecosystem. Do you agree?

4:15 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

Yes, I completely agree. Obviously I wasn't implying that someone would do it with the evil intent of destroying anything. That was not my meaning.

Yes, I would completely agree about educating the public. That's part of what we do, of course, at any given university or other educational institution. That is why we have invasive species courses as well as general ecology courses. We always say that we have to be careful, because this is what they can cause.

Sea lamprey, besides being a terminator, works as a negative flagship species, if I may say so, literally showing people that this is what can happen if we sometimes make decisions that might be the best for certain reasons, but perhaps not. People don't think through all the possible scenarios. I would agree. Education is very important.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Thank you very much, Doctor.

I didn't catch whether you indicated how often they deposit eggs and die. When do they do it, and what stage of life is it? It's not frequent, obviously, if they die when they do it. That's the end.

4:20 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

Actually, remember that I said that they live as a parasitic adult for 12 to 20 months. That's when they actually kill fish by parasitism. Then they go into tributaries of the Great Lakes to spawn. Once they have spawned, they die. Any given female can deposit anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 eggs.

These fish are not an exception, in the sense that, just as with any other fish, most of those eggs don't actually survive. But up to about 6,000 of those eggs per individual can survive and do survive, on average. So one individual could potentially give rise to up to 6,000 other lampreys.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

You did indicate that there was a major reduction in the harvesting of salmon and trout. You also indicated that there was a major reduction in the sea lamprey at one time. What happened?

4:20 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

The fisheries did rebound. In the late 1950s and 1960s, we saw a collapse of several fish species.

Well, I wasn't completely clear, in the sense that sea lamprey contributed to it, but they weren't the sole factor. Overfishing was also part of it. We managed to bring sea lamprey densities in the 1960s under control, but that was done at the same time as a lot of lake trout and other species were being raised in hatchery operations and released into the Great Lakes to help those species rebound. That has happened, to some extent.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Before my time is gone, could you also elaborate on the sea lamprey releasing a chemical when it's injured? Is that correct?

Are you about to do research on that? It would be better to ask you this question a year from now, probably. But you must feel that there must be some way that would be used as a control method.

4:20 p.m.

Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Algoma University, As an Individual

Dr. Istvan Imre

Thank you for the question.

In the paper I mentioned, from 2010, I speculated that they have to have some kind of chemical within their tissues, because we know of a broad variety of other fish species, including some salmonids, that have a so-called alarm cue that is typically released from their skin when a pike, for example, comes and bites them. It's like a chemical warning signal to the other conspecifics—individuals of the same species—that it has been attacked and to watch out and go away.

We figure that sea lamprey must have something similar. In fact, Dr. Michael Wagner, who works at Michigan State University and is a permanent scientist for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, has shown that they have shown avoidance behaviour toward decaying sea lamprey extract.

I'll be working with freshly killed sea lamprey as well as juvenile sea lamprey tissue extract. Basically, I'll take a certain amount of tissue, grind it up, dissolve it in water, release it in water, and see what they do. There is very positive science that shows that they avoid it. Of course, it doesn't kill them. It's not a control method; it's a behavioural manipulation method.

I'll give you an example of how it works. Imagine that the width of this room is a stream, and on one corner you have a dam—

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

You could scare them out of the area.