Thank you very much.
Good afternoon. My name is Hugh MacIsaac. I'm a professor at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor. I'm also the director of the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network. I've been working on invasive species for 22 years.
I'd be happy to speak to any of the questions you might have; however, I'd like to begin by telling you about our network, and our successes and challenges with respect to aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes.
CAISN, the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network, is a consortium of 30 professors at 12 universities, six DFO labs, and provincial labs in Ontario and B.C. We are based in eight provinces. We currently receive about $5 million in total funding from NSERC, $1 million from DFO, and $750,000 from Transport Canada.
We work on all four coasts in Canada. We have four research themes, including early detection, rapid response, invasive species as part of a multiple stressor of aquatic ecosystems, and reducing uncertainty in the management of alien species.
CAISN is the only group of its kind in the world that combines academic involvement with government, industry, and NGOs. I can tell you that my colleagues in other countries around the world who are familiar with CAISN are very impressed with the work we've been doing.
I'm presently involved in an early detection project in the Great Lakes and in other coastal areas across the country that uses a new genetic technique called pyrosequencing to assess the presence of alien and native species in ports using environmental DNA. The technique is far more sensitive to species present at very low abundances than traditional sampling with nets and microscopes, and thus it is great for detection of both alien species and endangered species.
We have completed an initial screening of the port of Hamilton and have detected more than six times as many species of the two most common groups of organisms as all of the previous studies reported in the literature for that port. We're also processing samples currently from Montreal, Nanticoke, and Thunder Bay, all ports that we view as high-risk in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River area.
In terms of rapid response, we're conducting a global review of programs aimed at elimination, control of the spread, or population suppression to see what works and what doesn't. We hope we can use this “lessons learned” approach to inform programs across the country.
We are presently conducting trials with Fednav, which is a Montreal-based shipping company—they're the largest carrier of materials coming into the Great Lakes—to assess whether combining open-ocean ballast water exchange with chlorination provides either additive or synergistic benefits over either one of those two procedures by itself. We just completed our first trial on a ship running from Quebec down to Brazil, and the results so far look very promising.
We published a paper last year with our colleagues from DFO and Transport that looked at whether current ballast water regulations are effective at protecting the Great Lakes. As my colleague Dr. Tony Ricciardi explained to you a couple of weeks ago, all of the evidence we have available presently indicates or is consistent with a marked reduction in risk since ballast water regulations were implemented by Transport Canada in 2006.
We have a variety of lines of evidence for this. I'll run through some of them.
First, every ballast tank on every ship entering the seaway gets inspected by either U.S. or Canadian authorities to ensure that water in the ballast tanks is saline and thus of low risk.
Secondly, the abundance and diversity of risky species in the tanks—and we define risky as those that live in fresh water environments or brackish water environments—is now lower than before regulations came into effect.
Third, we did a retrospective test using simulated ocean water to see whether many of our recent invaders could have invaded had saltwater regulations been in place decades ago. We found that all of the species, including notorious ones such as zebra mussels and round gobies, likely could not have invaded if we had required ships to flush salt water into their tanks decades ago.
Fourth, we have not had a ballast-mediated invasion reported in the Great Lakes since 2006, which is the longest interval since the modern seaway opened.
Our studies have focused on invertebrate animals, and while it can be dangerous to assume that all species respond like them, all of the data we possess suggests that ballast water exchange, or flushing, appears to be working. If we're correct, then we expect the importance of this vector is going to be much reduced going forward.
What are the challenges? I'll review three that I think are very important. First, laker ships remain unregulated, and they commonly carry ballast water from freshwater ports on the St. Lawrence River for discharge in the Great Lakes. They could carry with them native species or invaders from the St. Lawrence River that are not yet present in the Great Lakes. Our studies are limited in terms of the number of ships and the amount of ballast water that we've sampled, but we think that ships from Quebec City might pose the greatest risk of introducing new species via ballast water to the Great Lakes.
Secondly, we think that the pet, aquarium, and live garden or pond trade represents a clear and largely unregulated threat to aquatic ecosystems across Canada. We are now studying two aquatic plants, water hyacinth and water lettuce, in Lake St. Clair. The plants can clog tributaries of the Great Lakes during summer, and are likely being reintroduced annually by people who purchase them in local stores. I found one vendor in the 416 area code—the Toronto area—that advertised nine different macrophyte or pond plant species for sale, all of which are invasive in Canada or some other part of the world. One species sold by this vendor is called water soldier, and water soldier is currently subject to an expensive multi-year eradication effort by the Ontario government in the Trent-Severn waterway.
Clearly, on the one hand we have vendors that are selling some of these plants without regulation. On the other hand, we have governments that are spending a lot of money to try to get rid of them. It doesn't make sense.
I should go back for one moment, regarding the pond and aquarium trade. A colleague of mine, Dr. Matthias Herborg, who runs the B.C. program on aquatic invasive species, notified me that they took video yesterday in Richmond, B.C., outside of Vancouver, of a snakehead in a lake there. So this is a problem across the country; it's not simply a Great Lakes problem. There are a number of snakehead fish species, but these are species we clearly want to keep out of Canada.
Third, Canada desperately needs a hull fouling policy. Hull fouling is often a more important vector for the introduction of alien species than ballast water in marine ecosystems. This vector is believed responsible for a small number of introductions into the Great Lakes, primarily algal species. Countries like Australia and New Zealand have developed risk assessment tools to determine the threat of ship hulls before the vessels actually arrive in their coastal waters. I think that we need to review their policies and develop ones that are specific to Canada based upon these experiences around the world.
Finally, compared to 10 short years ago, Canada's federal departments—DFO and Transport—have come a long way to identify and reduce the threat of alien invasive species. Twelve years ago when the Auditor General was going to come out with her first report on invaders, I was asked to come to Ottawa and speak to the question of whether or not we were doing enough at that time. At that time I was highly critical of the Canadian federal government because we were doing virtually nothing to stop these species from coming into our country.
If you wish, I can describe some of the programs you're probably familiar with that both Transport Canada and DFO have brought into place since that time to try to address this issue.
Transport Canada has been a very responsive partner, providing essential financial support, and the agency has come to implement recommendations that CAISN makes. Our work is not done. We need to continue our focus on trying to eliminate the pathways that allow these species to get into Canada, and as a backup, we need good, rapid response and early detection protocols for when prevention fails.
With that, I'd be happy to take any questions that you might have.