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Evidence of meeting #39 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 organisms.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Hugh MacIsaac  Professor, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor, and Director, Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network

4 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

Thank you. It's a huge issue. Some of these species we're dealing with are from the Black Sea basin. You hear the word “sea”, and you say, why are marine species coming into the Great Lakes? They're not strictly marine species. They live in coastal areas, in river outflows in the Black Sea—things like the zebra mussel and the round goby, etc.

They've come over largely because they built these canals throughout Europe that allow them to get into what we consider to be hot ports, such as like Rotterdam, Antwerp—freshwater ports. Once they're in those ports the ships bring them to the Great Lakes. Otherwise they could never get here.

Once they're here, a whole host of other human mechanisms allow them to spread from the Great Lakes to our inland lakes. The three worst cases we're dealing with currently are zebra mussels, quagga mussels—they look identical, although they are distinct—and the spiny water flea.

The spiny water flea is an organism with the total length of maybe half an inch. As the name suggests, it's a small organism with a long spiny tail. The tail prevents small fish from feeding on them. This species has now spread to at least 160 lakes that we're aware of in Ontario. It just spread last year into Manitoba. If we want to preserve Canadian biodiversity in our lakes, this is precisely the type of species we want to keep out.

My colleague Dr. Norman Yan at York University, has demonstrated conclusively that as the species invades new lakes—it's a predator and it preys on the native plankton—on average it will drive three native species to extinction in those lakes. This has happened at least 160 times that we're aware of, where it has been reported. We're losing lots of populations of native species due to the spread of this water flea.

The way it's spreading is that people go out with a downrigger line, say out on Lake Ontario or Lake Erie or Lake Huron, whatever the case may be. It's in all of the Great Lakes. If I go trawling through the water for salmon, I have that line down. If you think of that, how often would a person pull up their downrigger line? It's not very often. As the boat is moving, that vertical line is sampling an enormous volume of water, because it's cutting through the water.

These animals are small but they have this big tail, and they can't get out of the way as the fishing line comes by. The fishing line grabs the animal by the tail, and they move down the fishing line until they reach a rough spot. They will form a bolus or a knot at that rough spot. The angler finds out they have a problem when they try to retrieve the line. They reel the line in, and all of a sudden it stops. It stops because you have this knot on the line, and the knot might be comprised of, say, 500 individual fleas.

Many of these species can reproduce either sexually or asexually. The asexual ones are the problems. These females can produce eggs that are just like apple seeds. If she happens to have some of these apple seeds in her brood chamber where she holds the seeds and you take this bolus out of the water on the fishing line, all the animals on that line die immediately. But if the females are carrying eggs, the eggs are desiccation resistant. If you view them as apple seeds, they can go through a duck's or a fish's stomach.

If that angler then goes to another lake, maybe three weeks later, and doesn't clean the fishing line off first and then uses the fishing line, this crust falls off into the water. The eggs suddenly detect they're being hydrated, start hatching, and you get new populations. It has spread throughout Muskoka. It's on the border of Quebec—it may well be into Quebec by now—and we know it just invaded Manitoba.

The zebra and quagga mussels are far more famous. Most people know about the zebra mussel, but the bigger problem is the quagga mussel. They will adhere to any solid surface on the exterior of a boat. They could be on the motor or inside the motor.

If people trailer their boats that have these animals attached to them.... In many cases the animals grow on aquatic plants in coastal areas of lakes and the plants break off and get stranded around the marinas. You back your trailer down to pull your boat out and the trailer gets a lot of these aquatic plants attached to it. If you don't clean the trailer off and you go to another lake, not only might you introduce the plant, but you're going to introduce all the zebra and quagga mussels that are living on the plant.

These organisms—

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

I'm going to stop you there because I want to get a second question in.

4:05 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

Okay.

So it's a big problem. There are lots of secondary vectors, which is what we would call them, that allow them to spread.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

My second question is that I realize the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network is a consortium of 12 universities, six DFO labs, and provincial labs in Ontario and B.C. You're based in eight provinces. Who else do you partner with in terms of sharing information?

I'm trying to get a sense of what the dominant organization is in terms of communicating research results or coordinating the implementation of recommendations that come forward from these results. What I'm finding is that there seems to be an awful lot of fingers in the pie, and I'm trying to get a sense of who is in charge when it comes to aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes.

4:05 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

In this case in terms of transmitting information, ultimately I am in charge for our research network.

We just began a new five-year installment last year of this network. But with our previous one, when we finished that network we came up with, essentially, a book in which we listed all of the projects and the take-home messages for managers, and then we distributed that to all of the interested parties—the ship industries and a variety of federal and provincial governments across the country.

We also work, and we're trying to partner—particularly with this genetic stuff that I mentioned—with American labs right now. They're very interested in using the same type of approach that we're using in Canada.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bryan Hayes Conservative Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Do I still have time?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

No, you're done. Thank you very much.

Mr. MacAulay.

May 16th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Professor MacIsaac, I don't know if we've ever had a more qualified person here than you, and I'm pleased to ask you a few questions.

Number one, I am impressed with your network of combined academic, government, industry, and NGOs. That's wonderful.

We've heard a lot of different statements made here, but I believe—and I'd ask you—there are a lot of things that can and should be done, but education would seem to me.... I do not believe that the angler wishes to back that trailer into the water. I do not believe they want to have that line contaminated.

But you've been at this for 22 years, and you know more, by far, than anybody around here. I'd like you to just elaborate on what type of an education program should be put in place. I know you talked about the wieners and you were a little above my head. I'm just a commoner in the House of Commons. But the truth is that we have to stop these things from happening because it's a massive financial loss, not only in the Great Lakes but the inner waters and all across the country.

4:10 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

Absolutely. With respect to the ships, I don't think there is any education that needs to be done. What we need there is regulation, if and when it's required.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Sir, I would be more interested in how you wish.... I think it's the person, even with the person who imports some of these things. I doubt if people really import these species that are really a danger to our water. I'd just like you to elaborate on that line, too.

4:10 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

In terms of outreach, the primary group that we work with is called the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and I believe you're going to have one of their representatives speak here, if they haven't already. They try to educate boaters on how to prevent aquatic invasive species from spreading to inland lakes.

There are a couple of things we can do. Sometimes there are certain lakes that we know are either especially vulnerable to being invaded or they are likely the source of the new invasions going somewhere else. I will choose Lake Muskoka in Ontario, as an example. It is used by thousands and thousands of boaters. What we can do is post signs at marinas on that lake to warn people that they must take precautions to make sure they're not taking species out of the lake with them.

The other approach is, if you know you have a very vulnerable system, you can establish boat wash systems. This is now done in Minnesota and Wisconsin. They charge boaters a nominal fee—$5 to $10—and they will power wash their boats before they allow them to put them into new systems.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Should that be required?

4:10 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

In certain cases, yes, I think it's certainly a reasonable thing to do, if you know there's a high likelihood the species are going to come in and there is no other way to do it.

Some other jurisdictions in the United States—California—is afraid of invasive insects coming in and destroying their agriculture system, so they set up these highway checkpoints and now these same checkpoints are being used to check every boat that's being trailered into the state. They want to make sure that people are not bringing invasive species, like zebra mussels, into the state on their boats.

In fact, the northwestern U.S. states are doing the exact same thing now. They now relate their findings to the Government of British Columbia to let them know. I think last year there were three boats destined for B.C. that had zebra or quagga mussels attached to the boats or the trailers, which were intercepted on interstate highways before they ever got to Canada.

People have to be made aware that they are part of the problem or they can be part of the solution, both anglers and boaters.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

You also indicate in your statement that Quebec City traffic seems to be the greatest risk for bringing invasive species in. Why?

4:10 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

We did two things.

First, we looked at the amount of ballast water that we think is being sourced from different freshwater ports on the St. Lawrence River and is destined for the Great Lakes. The overall amount of water being carried by lakers into the Great Lakes is equal to the amount of water that's coming in from the foreign vessels from overseas. It's a substantial amount of water.

The thing about the port of Quebec is that the environmental conditions in that port are very similar to the ports where that ballast water is being discharged. If we have a huge environmental mismatch between the source port and the destination port, then we're not so worried about whether or not invaders are going to survive. If we have a saltwater source port, I'm not worried about those species surviving in the Great Lakes. But in this case, we have similar conditions in the port of Quebec City to some of the ports in the Great Lakes, and therefore we think they may pose a threat.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

But you're also indicating that there should be chlorination and the salt water. Do you think we need more regulation? Or is it just in certain places that this needs to be done, or what?

4:15 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

In the study that I mentioned we're doing—with the shipping company going down to Brazil—we're trying to determine whether or not, if we did this for transoceanic vessels coming into Canada, this could provide us with another level of protection.

We haven't suggested that we should do this for the lakers. The problem with the lakers is that there's no good place for them to do ballast water exchange. We want mid-ocean salinity, which Transport Canada defines as salinity greater than 30 parts per 1,000. Fresh water is zero parts per 1,000.

So the vessels have to come in with greater than 30 parts per 1,000, and there's no place on the St. Lawrence River where you're going to find 30 parts per 1,000. The only way you could potentially use ballast water exchange as a mechanism to reduce risk of lakers is to make them go well out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and then come back. And no one's going to do that.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

So the chlorinated water is a necessity there.

4:15 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

Some form of treatment might be required. If we can demonstrate—

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

What would you suggest?

4:15 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

I really don't work on the treatment side, but there are probably 15 different approaches, some of which are patented, that—

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Is this the regulation that the U.S. is talking about implementing, or...?

4:15 p.m.

Prof. Hugh MacIsaac

The State of New York had been very aggressive in stating that they wanted a much more stringent ballast water policy than what the IMO was going to implement.

I'll give you an example—the spiny water flea that I'd mentioned, which is a type of zooplankton. If I were to go out and sample in a pond right now, I might find 150 of these organisms, all the different animals combined, in a litre of water. In a cubic metre of water, which is what we normally talk about in shipping, there are 1,000 litres. If we take that pond assemblage, it has about 150,000 individuals per cubic metre of water.

The IMO standard that would apply to this group is that vessels would have to come in with fewer than ten live organisms of that size in their tanks. We're talking about going from a possible 150,000 down to ten.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Do you test that? How do you know that this organism is out there? How do you know—

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Sorry, Mr. MacAulay, your time is up.