Evidence of meeting #86 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was adaptation.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Julie Gelfand  Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General
David Normand  Director, Office of the Auditor General
Arran McPherson  Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Donna Jean Kilpatrick  Director, Engineering and Technical Services, Small Craft Harbours, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Pierre Pepin  Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Keith Lennon  Director, Oceans Science Branch, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Do you feel that you have good, open communication between the oceans science branch and the fisheries branch to make sure that you're all on the same page when it comes to making the decisions that affect.... One of the things that we heard during the MPA study is that this was not always the case. I'm just wondering if, with regard to things like climate change, there are good lines of communication between fisheries and oceans science.

10:05 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

There are. We have a long history of working very closely in the science organization with the people who are responsible for managing the fisheries. That goes back, again, decades of experience working together. We also have research scientists and biologists who attend advisory committee meetings so that they have a direct engagement with the fishing industry themselves. I feel very confident that that alignment is there.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

You also mentioned in your report about the copepods and the impact that this will have on the Pacific, the salmon fisheries specifically.

When you're looking at this kind of thing—their inability to grow a shell—is there a time frame on it? Is this going to happen in five years? Is this going to happen in 30 years? I'm just wondering how you go about determining what the long-term or short-term economic problems would be with regard to this.

10:05 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

I'll take a stab at that, and I'll ask Pierre if he has anything to add from a research scientist's perspective.

I'll just come back to a point that I made a moment ago: when we think about some of the trends around climate change and the warming of the ocean and the changes in the ocean, we're really thinking of longer time frames.

When we're right up against a change, it's difficult to adapt. The longer we have and the earlier we start, the easier it is for us to detect changes over time. We rely on our monitoring programs to do that. I spoke to the monitoring that we're doing on all three oceans on ocean acidification, which comes to your point.

It's not to suggest that that change and the absence of copepods in this example will happen tomorrow, next year, or even in five years. That was an example that was meant to directly link the challenge with ocean acidification to something that's very tangible: a food source for a very important species for western Canada.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Thank you very much.

Mr. Miller, you have seven minutes, please.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Thank you to our witnesses for being here.

I was glad to hear Ms. Jordan's comment on small craft harbours and basically the funding or lack thereof. The previous government had put a fund in place. It wasn't enough—it never is—but it was there. I believe the present government cancelled that. Based on her comments, I hope that she will be urging that it be reinstated.

I asked the previous witness, Ms. Gelfand, about climate change, and I have a couple of short questions. There's man-made climate change, of which Canada is responsible for less than 2%. Then there's natural climate change.

Would you agree with that, that there are the two different ones?

10:05 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

I would agree that there's natural climate variability, as well as climate change attributable to humankind's actions.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Why would you say “climate variability” with regard to the other instead of just “climate change”?

10:05 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

I'm fine with either.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Okay, I just wanted to clarify that.

With regard to the natural climate change, is your testimony here based just on the man-made climate change or is it on a combination of both?

10:10 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

Pierre, did you have anything you want to add?

10:10 a.m.

Dr. Pierre Pepin Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

To get back to your question about natural variability versus climate change, we've been very careful in differentiating the variability that is inherent in the system, which is what I will call the multi-decadal or interannual variability, which is most of the variability that we're going to see, versus the trend that we've seen since the beginning of the previous century.

Making that distinction was part of everything we did in the risk assessment in all the climate research that we're actually doing. There are certain features of the inherent variability that we see from year to year. We can partition that, the year effect, I would call it, or the decadal effect, versus the long-term trend. When we talk about climate change, we talk about the change that will occur over the next century.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Okay, I get that. I heard Ms. McPherson state that, and I'm okay with that.

It still appears though, Mr. Pepin, that you're bent on using the term “variability” instead of “natural climate change”, and I'm not sure why.

I only have so much time, so I'm going to move on. Can citizen science, or local involvement—call it whatever you like—play an important role in monitoring our ocean, river, and marine environments to aid in the cost of gathering data? Can you comment on that?

10:10 a.m.

Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Pierre Pepin

It's becoming much more popular. The community is getting much more involved.

The critical thing that we have to ensure is that the quality of the data is there. Many organizations come to us and consult. We have a lot of dialogue—particularly on the west coast, I would say, but on the east coast as well—in which we define some standards that have to be met. Naturally, there is going to be more inherent error in those data, but it can help us greatly in increasing the spatial resolution with which we can actually observe the changes.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

I agree with your comment that we've got to make sure that whatever science we use, wherever it comes from, is accurate. At the same time, we have to recognize that if there's potential for a problem when it's citizen science, there's also a huge problem in what you read based on, I'll call them professional scientists, because there are two very distinct opinions out there. When you insert the word “opinion”, in my opinion, it's no longer science. It's based on an ideology.

I believe that we have to protect both sides and make sure that it is science.

My next question, I think, is probably for you, Ms. McPherson. I understand there were assessments done on the impact of sediment deposits in the lower reaches of rivers and estuaries, etc., and actually, Mr. Arnold asked about it with a previous witness, but they asked us to ask you. Could you elaborate on these assessments and actually tell me what measures are required?

10:10 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

I will start, and then I'll ask my colleague, Keith Lennon, who's the lead of our climate change program nationally, if he has anything he'd like to add.

As I said in my opening remarks, and I guess going back to what the commissioner said at the beginning, we looked at climate change impacts through every part of the mandate that we deliver as an organization to determine the risks. Then we took that and applied it to each of the three oceans, as well as to a freshwater environment.

When we looked at that, we looked mostly at the Great Lakes and Lake Winnipeg. Some of the work that we did in that undertaking was to determine the vulnerabilities of the nearshore habitat. We looked at water level changes, and how that might affect fish populations and their prey.

Therefore, that is something that obviously has risen to the top. All of our research findings and our research projects are available online. I just spoke to one specific example, but all of the ones that were mentioned earlier in this morning's presentation are available on our website for additional details.

Keith, did you have anything you wanted to add?

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Briefly, because I still have another question.

10:10 a.m.

Keith Lennon Director, Oceans Science Branch, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

As Arran has just mentioned, we conducted four large aquatic basin risk assessments, one of them on freshwater environments. We looked at six different risks associated with those: the ecosytem and fisheries degradation; changes to biological resources; species reorganization; increased demand for emergency response; infrastructure damage; and also, changes to access in waterways.

The risk assessment that we conducted in the freshwater environment indicated that there will be changes to the navigability of some of the freshwater environments. Navigability will increase in some areas and decrease in others, and there will be an impact as a result of sedimentation, etc. Therefore, we did look at that. The extent to which it varies depends on where you look, but there is an opportunity.... Also, our CAN-EWLAT, our Canadian extreme water level adaptation tool, looks at sea level changes in general, which include sea level rise and also drop.

February 13th, 2018 / 10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Okay, good, because that's where my second question was going to come in on this, whether assessments had been done to consider if there is a drop in sea levels. With natural climate change, it can go either way. One of the examples I was thinking of when I asked that question was on the potential need for dredging of harbours.

Could you comment on that further?

10:15 a.m.

Director, Oceans Science Branch, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Keith Lennon

I think I covered it a little bit but yes, of course. As part of our risk assessment as well as the development of our adaptation tools, we took a look at changes in sea level itself. It could be rise; it could be drop. We also looked at opportunities, at storm surges and actually inundation. Those also impact erosion of coastal areas as well. We developed an adaptation tool that we use for our small craft harbours, which now is accessible through the Ecology Action Centre, that provides information to coastal communities in Atlantic Canada on what they should do with regard to their projected sea level changes.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Thank you.

Ms. Duncan, go ahead for seven minutes, please.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's a delight to be in your committee.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

It's a delight to have you.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I understand that DFO has received accolades from the commissioner, compared to other departments including Environment, for its climate research, so kudos to you.

I am a prairie member of Parliament, and I have to share with you that for 45-plus years, I've been deeply concerned about the federal government's removal from responsibility for inland fisheries. I am looking at your report, which looked at three oceans and major inland waterways. As I understand it, you were concentrating on the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, and Lake Winnipeg. Famed scientists, such as David Schindler and W.F. Donahue have done extensive work on the potential impacts of climate change to glacier-fed rivers, including the Peace-Athabasca and including both the Saskatchewan basins. I'm wondering why DFO has failed to look at those inland waters.

10:15 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

I'll start—and then I'll turn to my colleagues to ask if they have anything they'd like to add—by reflecting that when we initiated our risk assessments, we began with the areas for which we had the most data. When we looked at the freshwater environment, we selected those areas for which we could access a really long time series, or as long a time series as possible, of environmental information, temperature information, as well as information about the biota. For those types of areas, the ones we focused on, that was more easily accessible; that's not to say that this is the only part of Canada for which we've actually undertaken work on climate change research or tools. These made up the focus we used to ask how we could direct our research and what the main things and the main risks coming out of this type of assessment were. We recognize that it won't be perfect, and recognizing this will point us to future research and future tools that will be of value.

As I said, just because that's where we focused our risk assessment initially doesn't mean that's the only place in fresh water where we've undertaken research.

I'll ask my colleagues if they have anything to add.

Pierre.