Thank you very much.
I'm going to take a slightly different tack here. For one, I apologize for not having prepared notes. I am actually interrupting a family vacation right at the moment. I was able to persuade my wife that I could come here, but not that I could actually take the time to write a brief.
The clerk tells me that I should speak more slowly.
The fishery in Ontario isn't well known. We're a bit of a well-kept secret. We are a very old industry, nonetheless. In fact, we pre-date European settlement by quite a bit. If you read the accounts of Jesuit priests who were travelling up the St. Lawrence and through Lake Ontario with the very earliest explorers, one of the things they made note of, with some astonishment, was the extremely well-developed commercial fishery that was in place. The Onondaga have an eel clan as part of their community structure. This is a reflection of the importance of the commercial fishery in their culture and their economy. They traded for goods as far away as hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of kilometres to the south and west.
The first documented case of commercial fishing in the colonial period on the Great Lakes was in the 1790s on Burlington Bay on Lake Ontario. It was a very small-scale enterprise, but by the 1830s the commercial fishery was present on all of the Great Lakes, to one degree or another, and by the 1850s it was very well established, if limited in scale by the lack of transportation infrastructure. It was not possible to ship large volumes of fish great distances, so it was primarily focused on local markets. Nonetheless, by the time of Confederation, we were established as a recognizable industry everywhere on the Great Lakes.
Currently we are a small part of the economic scene in Ontario, and we are small by the standards of some of the coastal fisheries. In a typical year we have a landed value of between $30 million and $40 million. The high-water mark was in the late 1990s, at least in recent history, when we came in at just under $50 million, and the low-water mark would have been around 2004, when we were in the low twenties.
Nonetheless, our industry has managed to parlay that into a very important value-added industry in some places. In the Lake Erie Basin, in particular, there are very well-developed secondary and tertiary processing industries that produce products for export to the United States, Japan, Europe, China, and, in fact, in one instance, to Ethiopia, which I find astonishing but it is nonetheless true.
The local economies of some of the communities there have also prospered by marketing the fact of commercial fishing, the historical and cultural fact of commercial fishing, as a draw. Much as people go to Peggy's Cove because it is a fishing community of historical and scenic note, and they buy a fishing-related souvenir and take in the ambiance and perhaps eat a lobster, they go to Port Dover, for example, on Long Point Bay in Lake Erie to eat perch and pickerel, and previously to eat other things that are no longer there. Nonetheless, it has a long history as a tourism destination, precisely because it's a fishing village. It has a commercial fishing museum. It has a monument to commercial fishermen. It has several white-cloth establishments that specialize in serving up the local fare, and they serve many thousands of plates to day trippers from the greater Toronto area who come year round. It's an important part of their economy.
Wheatley, Ontario, has signs as you enter and at its harbour proclaiming it to be the world's greatest freshwater commercial fishing port, which is historically the foundation of that community. It is still a point of pride that it is one of the busiest commercial freshwater ports anywhere.
Nonetheless, we have some experience, in spite of our smallness, with exotics, which sets us apart from some of the other fisheries around the country. Tim has alluded to some of our experience.
Sea lamprey are the poster child. I will take this opportunity to make the point that they are, as no doubt you've been told by others, the single actively managed exotic in the Great Lakes, the only species at the moment that is the focus of a program to control them. I will here make a plea to you to do more of that.
By most objective assessments we have underfunded that effort by millions of dollars annually for quite some time. My best estimate, based on some of the work I do with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, is that the current program needs about another $3 million from the Canadian side per year to do the job it sets out to do. It is, if nothing else, a really important signal that the issue of exotic species is taken seriously if we can find that money and fund that work and carry it forward, as a prelude perhaps to dealing with some of the other challenges that are emerging on our doorstep as we talk about this.
Alewife, as Tim mentioned, is a bit of an ironic case. It's been a huge problem. It not only eats the eggs and larvae of native species, but it also contains an enzyme called thiaminase, which destroys vitamin B complex vitamins in native fish that have no resistance to it. Lake trout, for example, that eat alewife are unable to reproduce. Their eggs are not viable. Those lake trout that manage to avoid eating the alewife and are able to spawn see their eggs and larvae eaten by the alewife. So it's a double hit.
The ironic part of this is that the alewife are now being knocked out by another invader. Quagga and zebra mussels compete with alewife directly. They're both filter feeders. As the quagga mussel has become established in the deep water and filters the water of Lake Huron, alewife have disappeared. They're virtually absent now. Lake trout are starting to come back. Lake herring are starting to come back.
There are other species that people think of as belonging in the Great Lakes that are nonetheless invaders. Smelt is thought by most people to be part of the Great Lakes ecosystem. It was deliberately introduced into the Lake Michigan watershed by sporting interests, and it spread down the tributary system into Lake Michigan. By the mid-part of the 20th century, it was present in the entire Great Lakes. It is also of note that in addition to being an important food species for a number of important predator species, it is also a predator on eggs and larvae of native fish. It also contains thiaminase. It is also part of the commercial fishery. There's a quota of 15 million pounds per annum for this fish on Lake Erie. Alas, in common with many of the invasives, it's not terribly valuable. It's currently purchased at 23¢ a pound at the dock. With fuel prices being what they are, it's not a very attractive undertaking for people who have small to medium quotas. It's only very heavily concentrated quota holders who are pursuing that. At its busiest in recent years, not quite half of the allocation has been caught. Most of it now goes unprocessed to China.
We've talked about mussels. Tim touched on viral hemorrhagic septicemia. It's a virus that was carried by shipping into the Great Lakes and caused, and continues to cause, considerable disruption. There are more that may come.
The one that everybody is talking about is Asian carp. I have the pleasure of serving as the vice-chair of the Canadian Committee of Advisors to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, where exotic species is the dominant theme on an ongoing basis. I can tell you that every meeting of the advisors and of the commission at large is dominated by discussion of these things.
Lake Erie is clearly the most suitable habitat for these things, if they get into the Great Lakes. Lake Erie is also home to 85% of the landed value of the commercial fishery in Ontario. Yellow perch and walleye at the dock are worth over $2 a pound. The last I spoke to commercial operations in the Mississippi that fish for these things, they were getting 14¢ a pound. If these things come, and they have the effect we believe they will have, that will effectively be the end of economic viability for our fishery. It at least has that potential and needs to be taken very seriously as a result.
We're very pleased with what has been going on officially in Ontario on this threat. Those of you who are familiar with commercial fishing know that fishermen and the fish cops frequently, if not generally, don't see eye to eye. It's rare that you'll hear someone from the commercial fishing industry saying good things about them. But they've been great in Ontario on the Asian carp piece. They have been proactive. They have been activists.
The MNR people identified that it was necessary to go to Canada Border Services and speak to the agents at the borders. They have worked with the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario to bring their roadside inspectors up to speed on what to look for in shipping these things. They are, to my mind, the reason we have had a number of interceptions at the border, some very high-profile charges laid, and some very substantial fines levied.
The sad part of this story, and this is the second piece of advice or request I will bring to the table here today, concerns the failure of our friends south of the border to apply their own laws. The Lacey Act in the United States of America is very clear that interstate transport of these things while alive is illegal and punishable by significant penalties. Every single one of these things that arrived at Sarnia or Windsor alive was brought there in violation of United States law. And not a single charge has ever been laid under the Lacey Act for these things.
There is a significant failure within the United States to apply their own laws to protect the Great Lakes from these things getting here. I believe the Government of Canada should have something very clear to say about that in defence of our fishery.
I can leave it there. If you have any questions, I'd be happy to take them.