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Remarks presented at the Canadian Conference For Fisheries Research and the Society of Canadian Limnologists, January 7, 2005

I'm pleased to speak to this latest Canadian Conference For Fisheries Research and the Society of Canadian Limnologists.

You meet at a time when your work is especially important. I say this because of a renewed and growing interest and concern of the public. This is a concern about the quality and quantity of fresh water available to it in the Great Lakes and all along the boundary we share with the United States.

Sound public policy decisions about the waters of the Great Lakes (and all our waters) and meaningful action about them by government must be based on sound and up to date science. And that's where you come into the picture.

But Canadians, if they become aware of your existence through conferences such as this one and speeches like mine, may ask for a description of some of the terms being used, especially ""limnologists" and "limnology".

For the non expert like myself I have to say that my Encyclopedia Britannica defines limnology as a

"subsystem of hydrology that deals with the scientific study of fresh water, specifically those found in lakes and ponds. Limnology traditionally is closely related to hydrology which is concerned with the application of the principles and methods of physics, chemistry, geology and geography to ecological problems."

Therefore I am pleased to join you today to talk about the efforts of the International Joint Commission to deal with one of the top threats to the biological integrity and biodiversity of the Great Lakes. I'm talking about Aquatic Alien Invasive Species – a real "ecological problem". It is therefore very much related to your scientific concerns and research.

The International Joint Commission of Canada and the United States was created by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 – between Canada and the US.

The Commission is a creation of the treaty, but not a creature of governments. It is an international organization – a permanent, international, objective, independent, unitary body.

For over 90 years the International Joint Commission, has successfully assisted the Canadian and U.S. governments to deal with transboundary environmental issues, including water resource and water quality issues - through processes that seek the common best interests of both countries.

The Commission's mission statement says (in part) "In environmental matters, the Commission affirms the concept of sustainable development and the ecosystem approach...."

The Treaty, and the Commission, deal with the waters that make up a large part of the Canada-US boundary from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and in the north – eight thousand kilometers long! Water makes up 40% of that boundary and much of it is in the Great Lakes

As you know the Great Lakes are a majestic natural resource and a national treasure for both Canada and the United States.

They alone contain 20 percent of the world's fresh surface waters. More than 40 million people live around their shores. They use that water for drinking, sanitation, power generation, recreation, fishing, industrial and commercial purposes. Also that water is are used by ships transporting cargo coming from within the region and as well as by ships coming from all over the world. As you know these latter ships can enter the Lakes only through the seaway locks in the international section of the St. Lawrence River.

One of the roles of the IJC given to it by the Canadian and US governments is to oversee the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. A "reference" – or formal mandate from them to do this - is written into the agreement itself. This agreement between Canada and the United States was signed originally in 1972.

Almost 20 years ago, in 1988, in letters to the Canadian and U.S. governments, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) and the International Joint Commission (IJC) alerted the governments of the United States and Canada that aquatic alien invasive species (AIS) in ballast water of ships coming up the St. Lawrence from the oceans posed a significant threat to the biodiversity of the Great Lakes. The two commissions urged the Coast Guards of the two countries to take immediate steps to end the ongoing introduction of Aquatic Alien Species through ballast water discharge by ocean going ships once in the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission was established in 1955 by the Canada/U.S. Convention on Great Lakes Fisheries. As you know, the commission has the responsibility to formulate coordinated fisheries research for the Great Lakes. In particular it controls the sea lamprey, obviously an invasive aquatic alien species. It also facilitates cooperative fishery management in the Great Lakes and among state, provincial, tribal, and federal management agencies.

The commercial fishery in the Great Lakes is the most valuable freshwater fishery in Canada representing 50% of Canada's freshwater total with a direct value over $40 million dollars annually. The recreational fishery in the Great Lakes attracts over half a million U.S. and Canadian anglers and visitors from other countries. It is valued at upwards of $4 billion dollars a year while employing nearly 20,000 people in the Great Lakes region of Canada and the United States.

The sea lamprey's attacks on native fish species caused tremendous economic losses to commercial, recreational and subsistence Great Lakes fisheries in the more than 50 years before it was greatly reduced in numbers by the Fisheries Commission's control activities. Today about 15 million dollars are spent annually on control of the sea lamprey and research about it by the Commission.

This effort by the GLFC has reduced the Sea Lamprey population to approximately 10% of its historic levels. It has taken the Commission some 50 years to reach this point. If this control programme wasn't there and populations of sea lamprey were allowed to expand, the total value of the loss of fishing opportunities for the species the sea lamprey attacks plus indirect economic impacts could exceed $500 million annually in Canada and the US.

In 1990 the GLFC and IJC jointly issued a report entitled Exotic Species and the Shipping Industry, The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Ecosystem at Risk. They urged the US and Canadian Federal governments to take immediate action to reduce the introduction of aquatic AIS into the Great Lakes ecosystem from shipping activities. While they recognized that new and continuing investigations of all vectors and prevention strategies were needed, the more immediate concern about AIS introductions from ballast water discharge was the focus of the report.

Then the IJC's Great Lakes Water Quality Board, three years ago in May of 2001 issued a report entitled "Alien Invasive Species and Biological Pollution of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem". That report called for: binational ballast water discharge standards, technologies to achieve such standards, best management practices for sediment control, shipping vessel design modifications, and contingency plans for control of Aquatic AIS.

In particular the report said:

"a comprehensive, preventative binational approach is a fundamental requirement for insuring necessary actions to combat this serious problem in the Great Lakes basin are undertaken in an expeditious, efficient and cost effective manner."

These recommendations, especially the one I just mentioned, continue to be strongly urged by the IJC itself in its major Biennial reports on the Great Lakes which are required by the GLWQA. Especially in the 10th, 11th and 12th such reports.

Researchers have said that the cost of biological pollution from all kinds of alien invasive species (not just aquatics) in the Great Lakes area is both massive and rising. The estimated cost to native ecosystems, natural resources, fisheries and agriculture is in the range of $137 billion per year in the United States alone, including but not restricted to aquatic alien species. Although no equivalent figures are available to us at this point for Canada, I am certain the costs are similarly high for Canadians as well.

The zebra mussel is the best known recent aquatic invader in the Great Lakes. It has had large and far reaching impacts on this massive freshwater ecosystem through its biofouling and filter-feeding. Zebra mussels have severely reduced, and may yet eliminate native mussel species in the Lakes. These invaders also block water intakes for municipalities and industries. This costs municipalities and industries hundreds of millions of dollars to remove the mussels. Their sharp shells foul many beaches making it impossible to walk on them in bare feet.

The IJC itself in its most recent Biennial reports to the two national governments and to the public has been pressing shippers and all stakeholders including the governments for more action to prevent further introductions of Aquatic Alien Invasive Species into the Great Lakes ecosystem and to deal with those already there.

The U.S. has responded by developing mandatory regulations about ballast water and Canada has developed similar voluntary ballast water Guidelines. These are administered by federal officials and require ships to do a mid-ocean exchange of ballast water before entering the Great Lakes ecosystem through the St. Lawrence.

Relevant Canadian Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers adopted a National Invasive Species Strategy last Fall to address the threat of invasive aquatic, terrestrial and plant species. They intend to finalize three action plans by September 2005 to address the threat of aquatic invasive species, invasive alien plant and plant pests, and finally one for terrestrial animals.

The Great Lakes community may well want to ask why implementation concerning the prevention, control and management of aquatic invasive species could not be speeded up, especially for action items in the proposed aquatic invasive species plan where urgent attention is needed now.

However, problems remain because the majority of ships entering the Great Lakes system claim "no ballast on board" - they say they are "NOBOBs" - and as a result may not be inspected.

Even if ships are inspected, they may still harbor alien species in the sludge remaining in supposedly empty ballast tanks, or in bio-films contaminating their hulls or anchor chains.

Two other sources of introduction and spread of aquatic alien species are worth noting briefly, - the bait boxes and boats of sport fishers moving from another basin into the Great Lakes or between the lakes. There is also the problem of the accidental release into the Great Lakes of aquarium fish or live food fish intended for retail sale which are not native species.

It is now generally agreed that aquatic AIS pose one of the biggest threats to the biological future of the Great Lakes. Indeed, since the mid 1980's, seventeen new species have invaded the Great Lakes. Fifteen more species have been identified as high risk for potential introduction. I believe this proves that the responses to our recommendations have not been sufficient to protect the biological integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem, when it comes to AIS, except for the sea lamprey. There are now 170 such invaders in the Great Lakes. This creates many opportunities for further Great Lakes fisheries research.

The IJC in September of 2004 issued its 12th Biennial Report, on Great Lakes Water Quality. In this report it recommends again that the US and Canadian Governments issue it a "reference" - a formal mandate to coordinate all binational efforts to deal with the problem of aquatic alien invasive species in the Great Lakes. This, the IJC argues, is the way to achieve the comprehensive preventative binational approach I mentioned earlier.

(The 12th Biennial Report lists areas that could be covered in such a reference. See our website www.ijc.org.)

Both the IJC and the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission have just updated their 1990 joint report on aquatic AIS with a new document issued last September entitled "Then and Now". It makes the case again for more urgent action in the Great Lakes region by the governments, and what governments can do to better and more quickly tackle the ballast water aspect of the issue. It says " We Can – We Must – Do Better!"

Copies of this new document have been provided to the conference organizers for distribution to you, and it is also available on our website.

In the Speech from the Throne on October 5 of 2004 the Government of Canada made a specific commitment to "… work with the United States and agencies like the International Joint Commission on issues such as clean air, clean water and invasive species".

The Commission's Mission Statement dovetails with this major objective. It says the role of the IJC is to "(prevent) and (resolve) disputes between the United States of America and Canada under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and (pursue) the common good of both countries as an independent and objective advisor to the two governments".

Furthermore when US President Bush and Prime Minister Martin met in Ottawa last November, they stated in their joint communiqué:

Our aim is to improve the quality of life of our citizens by among other things:
  • building on our joint efforts to achieve clean air and clean water, for example in the Great Lakes region;"

I believe there is already a high degree of awareness of the threat and damages caused by Aquatic Alien Invasive Species among the fisheries researchers and limnologists gathered here today. Therefore, I would ask you to assist other researchers working in the economic and the social/cultural areas who are beginning to take greater notice of these immense problem.

To maintain and build on this growing momentum, I think your work as fisheries researchers and limnologists is especially important at this time!

So I wish you well in your deliberations and look forward to receiving the conclusions of this conference.

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