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Evidence of meeting #42 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 commission.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Robert Lambe  Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
Chris Goddard  Executive Secretary, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
Marc Gaden  Communications Director and Legislative Liaison, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Is the electric barrier the best for that?

4:30 p.m.

Executive Secretary, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Chris Goddard

I think, in our case, no, because sea lamprey cannot jump. If you use a low-head barrier they cannot get past it, so that's very effective.

The third is trapping spawning sea lamprey.

But the point I want to make is that we had another technique that we used for about 12 or 14 years, and that was a sterile male technique where we collected usually around 30,000 males from throughout the Great Lakes basin. We would sterilize them in a facility in Michigan at Hammond Bay, which is right up here on Lake Huron, and then we would transport those sterilized males to the St. Mary's River where we would release them. We know for a fact—we did all sorts of scientific research—that these sterile males were competing effectively with fertile males, and when they did that they took the spawn from the females and the spawn died.

But what we did was we really investigated the effectiveness of that program, and what we found was that this program was just not a cost-effective program, and the commissioners made the decision this year that because it was not cost-effective we were going to discontinue that program and put the resources into trapping.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

Mr. Donnelly.

June 11th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to our presenters for your testimony. It's very interesting information.

Mr. Lambe, in your opening remarks, you referenced the natural barrier, and you mentioned that the Army Corps of Engineers has a major study going on. I'm just wondering right now if you have any idea of what the cost of this natural barrier or improving it is at this point, or is that what the study is about to reveal?

4:35 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

The study that I referenced won't reveal that. The study that I referenced was the assessment of the threat of arrival and establishment of Asian carp populations in the Great Lakes. You will hear from, as I understand, David Ullrich later in the week. He's the executive director at the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. David's group, in conjunction with the Great Lakes Commission, funded that study on separation, and they have three options in their study, which was released in January, I believe it was, of 2012.

The cost of each one of those options are in there. There are no recommendations, but there are three options in there. So there's an option for one barrier, and an option for two, and I believe three or four, depending on where you put them in the system. So that's the most current information that's out there in terms of the actual cost.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Do you have an idea of the range of the costs?

4:35 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

Do you remember what they are, Marc?

4:35 p.m.

Communications Director and Legislative Liaison, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Marc Gaden

Yes. For one option, the range is about $4.5 billion, and at the high end it is about $9.5 billion. So Mr. Donnelly, we're talking about a substantial cost to the United States should they decide to re-establish that natural disconnect between the Great Lakes and Mississippi basin.

Nobody is under any illusions that if you are to recreate a separation, which by the way is really the only way you can be sure these fish are not going to swim their way into the Great Lakes.... If they decide to move forward with that connection, we're not under any illusions; it's going to be a very costly endeavour to do so.

4:35 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

Part of the reason it is so expensive is that, as we were saying, it's not as simple as just dumping dirt into the canal. The canal is actually used as a major transportation system now. It's also a part of the flood management system in Illinois. The barrier has to accommodate those multi-uses that have evolved for the system over time.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Is the U.S. government actually considering this option, $4.5 billion to $9.5 billion? I'm sure this government on the Canadian side would not be considering those sorts of numbers or even a proportion of that kind of number, even with the recent announcement.

4:35 p.m.

Executive Secretary, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Chris Goddard

I serve on the steering committee for the army corps study, the Great Lakes and Mississippi River interbasin study. What they're looking at now is doing an iterative program stretched over a large number of years. I don't think anyone thinks they're going to cut a cheque for $4.5 billion. They're going to do it iteratively as other things come online.

There's a major flood management program that's going on right now in Chicago that won't be completed for another 12 years. They see phasing it in, if they go forward with this project, in conjunction with things such as the TARP program.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Thanks.

Switching gears for a second, there have been a few presentations to the committee about ballast water legislation. I'm wondering if you can provide any comment about where you feel the Canadian regulations or legislation is at compared with that of the United States.

4:40 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

Ballast water is an interesting discussion. On the one hand, I think we can say that one of the most untold success stories in recent years has been the ability to introduce effective controls for ballast water. You've probably heard from Dr. Ricciardi that the invasive numbers directly related to ballast water have gone down significantly since 2006. But as he and others in the field say, it's way too early to declare victory, because it takes time to identify invasive species. I think we've made some great inroads in mitigating the effect of that pathway. But I don't think anybody is in a position to declare victory. We need to still be vigilant of the potential that ballast water represents in terms of the introduction of damaging invasive species.

In terms of the regulations, the international regulations we look at are considered to be effective. Others argue that there need to be more effective regulations.

Part of the issue right now is that there really isn't much technology out there for enacting more stringent regulations. People will argue that this was the case in California when automotive emissions were put in place. There wasn't technology to realize the emissions called for in automobiles. It's a very different situation, of course, with the shipping industry. You're not talking about the same mass and volume, and so on and so forth.

There are various opinions on that. So it's more of a personal opinion I'm sharing with you, which is that in light of the technology that exists right now, that international standard is effective. Taken into consideration, with the control mechanisms happening in the port of Montreal right now, we have a much better situation than we did in the past.

That said, though, I would hope that by not having more stringent regulations, we don't stop the pursuit of greater technology that would provide an even greater guarantee or greater comfort that we would stop the introduction of invasives through ballast water, because we've seen the cost of them over the years.

One of the statistics that stands out in my mind, from research done in 2001, is that the cost of biological invasions globally was $1.4 trillion, in 2001 dollars. In 2009, a study was done on the cost of the destruction by natural disasters, and it was $190 billion. That was eight years after the study on invasive species. It was $190 billion versus $1.4 trillion. I think the economic cost of invasive species is not a very well-known fact. We only hear about it when we have an issue like the Asian carp, but the opportunity costs and the cost to taxpayers every day is incredibly substantial.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you, Mr. Lambe.

We'll go to Mr. Sopuck.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I'd like to go back to your answers to Mr. Chisholm's questions regarding your advisory board and their comments on our proposed changes to the Fisheries Act. You seemed quite sympathetic to what your advisory board was saying.

I'm curious about which specific sections of our proposed Fisheries Act you are concerned about. I don't know who will answer.

4:40 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

It's the section that deals with habitat, so it's section 35. What would section 35 look like and how would that be enacted going forward?

There is also concern about the Law List triggers in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. What is going to be a Law List trigger, and what won't be, going forward? Right now, the Fisheries Act is, and if it isn't, I think there needs to be some discussion about what the effects of that would be, positive and negative.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Have you actually read the specific section of our new proposed Fisheries Act that deals with fish habitat?

4:40 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

Have I? Yes, I have personally.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Good. Of course, you know that the definition of habitat itself hasn't changed. It's just that we will be focusing on fisheries of significance for recreational, commercial, and aboriginal use. Don't you think a focus on those fisheries is warranted, as opposed to diffusing DFO's efforts across the countryside on sort of unproductive and insignificant fish populations?

4:45 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

Yes. I mean, I think it's comforting to those who are involved with the fisheries to know that the recreational fishery is considered within the same breath as commercial fisheries.

If I reflect on some of the discussion amongst the advisers, which you don't see in the resolution, there are questions about how it's one thing to have the act defined the way that it is, but how will it actually be applied? For example, if the Fisheries Act is not part of the Law List triggers, then how do we know that the Fisheries Act would be applied in the case of a major project? Right now it's applied because it's a trigger. If it's not a trigger, it wouldn't be applied by virtue of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, as far as we can tell. That may be incorrect, but without the discussion we don't know.

The other concern about this is that if the Fisheries Act continues to be voluntary—in other words, there is no onus on a proponent right now to come to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and look for authorization to go forward with a project—under those circumstances, the way the Fisheries Act would be applied would be in a responsive scenario. Somebody would have to complain about a violation before it would get applied.

That's the dynamic of the concern that the advisers are bringing forward.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Are you aware of the issues and situations that spurred the Government of Canada to make these changes to the Fisheries Act? Where I come from, in prairie Canada, there was such a draconian enforcement of the Fisheries Act—again, the infamous farmer's drainage ditch and so on.

I mean...and I question the propriety of the commission straying into Canadian federal public policy. I look at your mandate and at what you're supposed to do, and policy really isn't part of your mandate.

I would argue very strongly that our new focus on fisheries of significance should give you some comfort, because we will now be able to focus on those fisheries that actually “count”: recreational, commercial, and aboriginal fisheries.

I'm just wondering whether your advisory committee.... For example, has the advisory committee, or have you, been to the fisheries minister's website where he deals with a lot of these questions?

4:45 p.m.

Executive Secretary, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Dr. Chris Goddard

Sir, if I may, the process that we will go through.... The advisers brought this to us on Thursday afternoon. As a result of that, staff within the secretariat will research that and provide briefing materials to the commission for a commission decision on whether they go forward and how they respond to that. We do have an obligation to respond to what the advisers recommend.

But in terms of our ability to speak to this issue, it is very clear that the Great Lakes Fishery Commission has the responsibility to advise the governments of both Canada and the United States about any issues that could affect the productivity of fish stocks of common concern.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

But that advice has to be in the context of why the Government of Canada is making these decisions.

Again, the broad definition of habitat under the Fisheries Act, the broad application of the Fisheries Act, was causing grave difficulties for rural municipalities, many in my constituency. So I would strongly recommend that you take those factors into account.

I would assume that under our new Fisheries Act you would support the provisions we're putting in there in terms of dealing with invasive species.

4:45 p.m.

Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission

Robert Lambe

Yes, we will.

We're also aware of the timing of the issues to which you speak, about the way the Fisheries Act was applied. I think the way the Fisheries Act was applied five years ago was different from the way it was being applied three years ago.

So we're taking the whole thing—

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

I beg to differ. I would recommend you talk to local governments about how it was applied.