To my right is Dr. Chris Goddard. He's the executive secretary at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. To my left is Dr. Marc Gaden. Marc is the legislative affairs officer and communications officer for the commission. Both have considerable experience in those positions. They've been there for quite some time.
Chairman Weston, members of the committee, we want to start by thanking you very much for inviting us here today to discuss the threat of invasive species to the Great Lakes—a very critical topic. I commend the committee for holding these important hearings.
My name is Bob Lambe, and I'm currently the vice-chair of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. I'm also the executive director of the Canada-Ontario Invasive Species Centre, located in Mr. Hayes' riding, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
I've already introduced Dr. Goddard and Dr. Gaden. Both have worked for a good number of decades, actually, in invasive species policy in the U.S. and have experience in Canada as well.
Last year marked the 90th anniversary of the arrival of sea lamprey in Lake Erie and the upper Great Lakes, but it's certainly not an anniversary that we celebrated. I speak to you specifically at the outset about sea lamprey because they're the most destructive and problematic invasive species to become established within the Great Lakes. They are native to the Atlantic Ocean, where they are in natural balance with their ecosystem. These eel-like fish became established throughout the Great Lakes through man-made shipping canals and have been an unmitigated disaster.
You've probably heard a bit about sea lamprey over the past few weeks. They attach themselves to fish with a suction-cup mouth, filled with sharp teeth and a rasping tongue. They're not pretty to look at and they're not pleasant to have. The tongue bores a hole through the fish's scales and skin, and the sea lamprey feed on the fish's blood and body fluids. They kill about 20 kilograms of fish during their lifetime. The fish that are attacked but not killed are left with gruesome, life-threatening wounds. I'm sure you've seen some pictures of those.
Sea lamprey caused an unprecedented ecological and economic harm to the Great Lakes. By the 1950s, they had virtually decimated the fishery. They attack and kill in large numbers a wide variety of species, including trout, salmon, walleye, whitefish, and even sturgeon.
It is not an exaggeration to say that sea lamprey changed the way of life for the Great Lakes region, decimating commercial, aboriginal, and recreational fisheries. Having no natural predators in the Great Lakes, a large supply of food, and more than ample spawning habitat, sea lamprey thrived in the system and are now a permanent part of the Great Lakes.
The border-blind sea lamprey problem promoted the governments of Canada and the United States to attack the issue together. In 1954, they formed the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and called upon it, among other things, to develop and carry out a sea lamprey control program. I'm privileged to serve as the vice-chair of this great binational body. In that capacity I work with my fellow Canadian commissioners and my American counterparts to formulate and ensure the delivery of a binational sea lamprey control effort to promote sound science and to take steps to protect and restore the fishery.
Although sea lamprey remain a blight on the fishery, control is possible, though the efforts are costly, labour intensive, and ongoing. If sea lamprey control is eased for even a short time, these opportunistic pests bounce back quickly and lethally, and we have a lot of data to demonstrate how that has happened over the years.
Control must occur. Without sea lamprey control, the Great Lakes would have no fishery to speak of. Sea lamprey control is delivered in several ways, including treatment of sea lamprey larvae in streams with specialized lampricide and with traps and barriers. Nearly written off 50 years ago, an extremely popular and vibrant recreational fishery now exists across the Great Lakes. Today, with ongoing sea lamprey control, that fishery is worth $7 billion to the people of Canada and the United States. That's $7 billion.
Disappointingly, even after all that we know about invasive species, even after more than 75 years of battling sea lamprey, even after suffering billions of dollars of irreversible loss and permanent ecological harm, we have not really learned the lessons that we should have learned from sea lamprey. Today the Great Lakes harbour more than 185 non-native species, and I'm sure you've heard that number several times over the past few weeks. Several of those species entered the lakes accidentally, and most entered the system long after sea lamprey was recognized as a major ecological and economic problem.
Also disappointing is that although we can control sea lamprey, and thus improve the Great Lakes fishery, Canada lags behind in its share of the binational obligations at a time when we really do need more control. While sea lamprey control has been reduced by 90%, in some areas of the Great Lakes we are above target. We have established targets for each lake, but we are above targets in many other areas, including Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. This means that fishery losses are still occurring. Lake Erie, as you probably know, is the most productive freshwater fishery in the world, after Lake Victoria, and it's experiencing sea lamprey abundance that are the highest on record. Right now, we're experiencing the highest sea lamprey wounding rates that we've ever seen. We think those sea lampreys are actually coming from the Lake Huron and Lake Erie corridor—in other words, the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River. We're doing further investigations to try to confirm that.
Canadian funds are desperately needed to bring Lake Erie and other sea lamprey hot zones to target levels. Until we do, fish reproduction and fish abundances will be stymied. Canada currently contributes $8.1 million annually through Fisheries and Oceans Canada to the binational treaty, as coordinated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. In comparison, the United States contributes more than $20 million annually. The two nations agree to share research and administration equally, and agree that 69% of sea lamprey control costs are to be paid by the United States and 31% by Canada. That formula was derived with the recognition that all of Lake Michigan lies within the United States. Even with that equitable arrangement, Canada still lags behind in its commitment, as I mentioned.
In fiscal year 2013, Canada, according to this formula, should be providing approximately $15.9 million to the control effort, an amount that pays the nation back many times over in the fishery value and in the tax revenues from those fisheries. Moreover, because Canada is behind in its commitment to this successful program, in 2012 the U.S., because it does not want to see sea lamprey control slashed, actually subsidized it directly to the tune of around $360,000 for the operation of the Sea Lamprey Control Centre, which is also located in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
That's a lot of information about sea lamprey, some of which you've probably heard before. I just want to talk a little bit about Asian carp, which I'm sure you're also familiar with.
Asian carp is the invasive species that has garnered quite a bit of attention, and which certainly threatens to enter the Great Lakes. First, I want to congratulate the Harper government for its recent announcement of $17.5 million over five years to help prevent the introduction of Asian carp. The key word here is “prevent”, as methods to control Asian carp do not exist currently. Once they are in the Great Lakes, Canadian and American scientists say that the likelihood of spread throughout the system is very high.
You're certainly aware of the Chicago Area Waterway System, or CAWS as it has become known. It represents the most likely pathway for Asian carp to enter the Great Lakes. CAWS is a series of canals and rivers in and near Chicago. It's a man-made connection between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins. The waterway is a vibrant transportation corridor, a route for pleasure boaters, and a waterway management system. So it provides a lot of good in addition to the concern that we have of it being a pathway, which makes the problem that much more complicated to resolve.
We know of an electrical barrier that was constructed and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in close cooperation with the federal agencies and states, and that's the main line of defence against Asian carp at the moment. The barrier cost tens of millions of dollars to construct, and without it, the carp would have had an unimpeded pathway into Lake Michigan.
But the barrier is not foolproof, despite its effectiveness to date. To that end, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, the Great Lakes Commission, elected officials from all parties, and non-government organizations throughout the basin have repeatedly identified the re-establishment of the natural barrier between the Great Lakes and Mississippi basins as paramount.
In January of 2012, for instance, the cities initiative and the Great Lakes Commission released a joint report describing how, precisely, that separation could occur. The Army Corps of Engineers is in the throws of a major study now, looking at the same question. In 2010, citizen advisers to the commission from both Canada and the U.S. passed a joint resolution making the same recommendation—to have this natural barrier re-established.
Also, to better understand Asian carp, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, during the previous 18 months, has been facilitating the development of a comprehensive assessment of the threat that the Asian carp pose to the Great Lakes. Fisheries and Oceans Canada conducted this assessment using the highest standards of science—it's incredible science that went into this study—and took substantial steps to have the assessment peer reviewed by experts in the field.
Moreover, by involving both Canadian and American scientists in this assessment, the report drew upon the wealth of expertise in both countries to help us best understand the Asian carp risk. The commission expects that the assessment will inform decisions around management and prevention of Asian carp. The assessment was completed and peer reviewed in January.
Given the urgent need for this information, we're anxiously awaiting the release of the assessment. The assessment has not been released yet, but the commission was a partner in this project and I can tell you that the assessment is quite sobering. It provides ample justification, not only for the government's significant pledge of resources to combat Asian carp but also the considerable resources that will be needed to achieve separation in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi basins.
What can be done if carp enter the Great Lakes? Not much. At least not much at the moment. Apparently, control mechanisms do not exist for controlling Asian carp. That said, the effort to find solutions is improving with investments in the United States, and we hope that some of that money that Canada is committing can be directed towards the important research required to further this effect.
So carp have not yet been established in the Great Lakes, which means that we still have some time to avoid the severe consequences presented in the risk assessment. Canada's commitment to the carp issue is warranted and extremely welcome.
Let me conclude by noting that the history of aquatic invasive species has shown that people are left with few options to control a species once that species has been introduced into the ecosystem. Sea lamprey has taught us tough lessons, lessons that would serve us well and that we should heed as we consider the future of invasive species policy in Canada. A single invasive species can cause significant permanent damage to the economic and ecological health of the region. Cumulatively the more than 185 non-native species have cost the region billions of dollars and have altered the ecosystem permanently.
Control of invasive species, if even possible, is expensive and ongoing. The commission has spent more than $300 million since 1956 controlling sea lamprey. This amount, while large, does not account for the billions of dollars of revenue lost to commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries in the Great Lakes basin, nor does it account for the billions of dollars spent by state and federal governments over the decades to rehabilitate and propagate the fishery after the sea lamprey invasion. Moreover, this figure does not include the immeasurable damage to the ecology of the Great Lakes basin. It's easier to measure the economic consequences; the ecological consequences are more difficult to quantify.
This is one of the sad parts about this. Citizens often shoulder the costs of an invasive species, not the sectors that are responsible for their introduction. Programs to manage invasive species are expensive and are borne by the taxpayers. So the key message is that prevention is key, because eradication is usually not possible. Prevention is so important.
On that note, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I thank you very much for inviting me and my colleagues here today to talk to you about this critical issue of invasive species. We call upon the committee and the government to heighten its commitment to sea lamprey, and strongly support Canada's new commitment to Asian carp prevention. Thank you very much.