Fisheries Committee on June 11th, 2012
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
The Chair Rodney Weston
I call this meeting to order.
I'd like to thank our guests for joining us here this afternoon. We certainly look forward to hearing your comments, Mr. Lambe, and the opportunity for members to ask questions.
I'm sure the clerk has made you aware that we generally allow about 10 minutes for opening presentations, and then we have time constraints on our members for questions and answers. If I interrupt you, I apologize in advance. It's in the interest of fairness and in trying to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to ask all the questions they'd like to ask.
Whenever you're ready you can introduce yourself and your associates with you. The floor is yours.
Robert Lambe Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
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.
The Chair Rodney Weston
Thank you, Mr. Lambe.
We'll move right into questions at this time.
Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to our guests—well, my guest from Sault Ste. Marie.
I have to admit, I'm really struggling with some of your comments on sea lamprey and some of the comments we've heard. You mentioned that the highest sea lamprey wounding rates we have ever seen are happening right now. We've heard, too, that there's a group, the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, that has stated that the adult sea lamprey in the St. Mary's River is still at the same levels that it was 40 years ago. All of this leads me to believe that whatever we're doing is not effective. I'm struggling with that.
Is it a fair statement to say what we're doing isn't effective? The second part of that question is: what else should we be doing to become more effective, if in fact we currently aren't?
Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
I'll provide you with a high-level answer, and then I'll defer to my colleagues, who know the program much better.
The first statistic I think we need to think about is the 90% statistic. The populations are generally controlled to within 90% of what they were at their peak, and so the effectiveness of the program is not really a question.
In certain areas there have been outbreaks over the years, for various reasons. Right now the big problem we're having is Lake Erie. We're having to do further investigation to find out what the sources of those new lamprey populations are. There are obviously streams that are producing sea lamprey that weren't before. We're working feverishly to try to determine where they are. I think we are making some progress there.
Right now, as we said in the statement, the major areas or the major mechanisms by which we're trying to control the population are with lampricide, which is a product that's sensitive only to sea lamprey, and through barriers and trapping. A big part of our program is research as well, and we're always seeking new ways to try to control these animals. We're making great advancements in the area of pheromones as an alternative mechanism by which we can control these animals. The effort that has been put into research in the last number of years is starting to turn up some good alternatives as well.
I'll turn to Dr. Goddard to add to that.
Dr. Chris Goddard Executive Secretary, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
Speaking specifically to your question, we have a target of about 4,000 lampreys in Lake Erie, a relatively smaller system than those of the other Great Lakes. We were within that target for a large number of years. Then lamprey populations started to increase within Lake Erie.
It was really kind of tragic, because, as you know, the Great Lakes states and the Province of Ontario had spent decades trying to re-establish lake trout into those systems. We got to the point where we had the mean age of females up at around seven. The female lake trout were just at the point where they were going to start to naturally reproduce when the lamprey populations increased and knocked the mean age of the females down to about five, to a point where we weren't having much natural reproduction.
The commission decided that, as there were only 10 tributaries in Lake Erie that we knew had spawning populations of sea lamprey in them, we would go in and we would treat every stream in Lake Erie in two consecutive years. We treated in the spring one year, and then in the next year we treated in the fall.
Our expectation at that time was that we would knock the stuffing out of the sea lamprey populations in Lake Erie. We thought that spawner abundance would be very low and there'd be very little recruitment. We actually believed that we would drive sea lamprey populations down to a level where they didn't colonize some of the other streams.
Well, what happened was that the lamprey populations were increasing, and we went in and we treated it two years in a row. The population—the target is 4,000—went to 40,000 sea lampreys in Lake Erie. So we'd put forward our maximum level of control effort and had the highest populations we'd ever seen in Lake Erie.
We went back to the streams that we treated and we were correct: there were virtually no spawning lampreys in the system. We had effectively controlled them in the tributaries to Lake Erie.
As Commissioner Lambe pointed out, we went to the Huron-Erie corridor to see what was happening. We've been doing a lot of work—last year, and ongoing this spring—looking for populations of larval lamprey. We have found lamprey. By doing extensive trawling last fall, we were able to find lamprey transformers migrating down the Detroit River into Lake Erie.
What we think has happened is that through water quality improvements in that system, that area has now become a successful reproductive area for spawning sea lampreys. So we are going out trying to find exactly where they're spawning in the Huron-Erie corridor this spring.
This is not new. We had exactly the same thing happen.... We had Lake Huron under relatively good control, and suddenly it went absolutely crazy. That was because of tremendous water quality improvements and the construction of some wonderful habitat in the riffles in the St. Mary's River. What we produced was the finest sea lamprey spawning area in the Great Lakes. The St. Mary's River suddenly was producing more lampreys than all the rest of the Great Lakes combined.
What ended up happening was that through research we found an effective way to, (a), find them, and then, (b), when we developed a new lampricide, granular Bayluscide, we were able to use that to control them. We've been able to knock the abundance of lampreys in the St. Mary's River from 5.8 million down to about 0.6 million.
Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON
In your strategic plan, I'm looking at “Pillar three: Strategic Alliances and Partnerships”. One of the goals is to strengthen interjurisdictional fisheries management. That would indicate to me that it's not strong enough as it stands, and therefore improvements are necessary.
Can you speak a little bit to what is being done to strengthen interjurisdictional fisheries management?
Dr. Marc Gaden Communications Director and Legislative Liaison, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
Yes, Mr. Hayes, I will speak to that.
One of the interesting things about Great Lakes fishery management—for the MPs who represent coastal ridings on the east or west coast, this might be a little different—is that in the Great Lakes region the state and provincial boundaries go right to the middle of the lake. They go right to the centre, and fishery management is the responsibility of the individual state jurisdictions. On the U.S. side the tribes have management responsibilities. It's different in Canada. The Province of Ontario has the primary management responsibility.
What our treaty did was it very much called for the fishery commission to make sure that all of the jurisdictions are talking to each other, because up until the 1950s, each jurisdiction managed in their own little piece of the lake, which doesn't make a lot of sense, especially when Canadian and American jurisdictions sometimes had wildly different opinions about how management should occur. Some wanted to regulate and some didn't. So our treaty said the fishery commission needs to establish these working arrangements, and we've been doing that since 1964. But it always needs to be better because each jurisdiction has its own suite of political considerations, has its own laws, has its own constituencies, and very often, has its own policies, procedures, and objectives that they want to do. It's always a challenge to keep those partnerships strong and those jurisdictions on the same page.
That's just fishery folks talking to fishery folks. The other partnership work we need to do—in this era of having to do more with less and also having to make sure that we establish connections with ecosystems—is to make sure that the people who are involved in fishery management are also talking to the people who are involved, say, in water quality management or water quality improvements or the rehabilitation of areas of concern in the Great Lakes. What that means is that we can manage our fisheries, but it's vitally important that the people who are managing fisheries also understand why it's important to improve water quality, improve habitat, and so on.
Those are the partnerships that we are trying very hard to strengthen. It's to maintain those relationships, but we can always do more to strengthen them. There's not enough talking we can do to make sure that our policies are all on the same page.
Bryan Hayes Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Chair Rodney Weston
Thank you very much.
June 11th, 2012 / 4 p.m.
Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much to our guests.
As I listen, hearing after hearing, to representations on the invasive species problem, I'm amazed. I'm from the east coast, from Nova Scotia, and so this is all relatively new to me.
Boy, do you ever have a challenge. The sea lamprey issue is enormous.
The indication, of course, is how much of your budget is taken up by it. The fact that you have two nations, four states, numerous first nations communities, and two provinces means it's big.
The research is so important because of the impact it has on the commercial fishery and the fishery in general, fish habitat, and so on.
I want to pick up on the fact that a release came out from the committee of advisers to the commission last week, June 7. The committee of advisers is made up of both Canadian and U.S. appointees and members of various first nations groups. If I may, Mr. Chairman, I just want to quickly read the resolution that was passed,
Therefore be it resolved that the Committee of Advisors to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission calls on the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Government of Canada to consult broadly with aboriginal peoples, stakeholders, and fisheries and aquatic science experts possessing insight into the full range of ecosystem functions necessary for the health of Great Lakes and their commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries, before making changes to the Act....
I'm sorry, I should have said that it is specifically in regard to Bill C-38 and the changes that are proposed to the Fisheries Act.
Be it further resolved that Advisors call on the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Government of Canada to ensure that for the purposes of the Act, fisheries habitat is defined to include the full range of habitats important to the maintenance of fish stocks, including those created by human activity, such as drainage and degradation of wetlands, impoundment or channelization of rivers and streams or shoreline and bed alterations of water bodies, or otherwise the product of the reconfiguration or alteration of aquatic habitats.
Mr. Chairman, I'd be happy, if you'd like, to make that release available if you don't have it.
Clearly the committee of advisers has some serious concerns about Bill C-38 and what it's proposing to do. One concern is that they feel more consultation is required. Second, they feel that the definition in the act of fisheries habitat is not sufficiently broad to consider.
Initially I have two questions. One is—and you explained this to us a little bit—that we see on your organization chart that on either side of the commission are the advisers as appointed by Canada and the U.S., but then where is this committee of advisers relative to the commission?
Second, do you support, as does the commission, the resolution as provided by the committee of advisers?
Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
It's always good to talk to a fellow easterner. If you haven't determined it already, I'm from Newfoundland. That's the accent you're trying to figure out.
Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS
I wasn't trying to figure it out.
Commissioner, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
It has been purged by years of living in Ontario.