Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome back after our short Easter break.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are on our study of aquatic invasive species. Today, of course, we have witnesses here, both in person and by video conference.
From the Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society, Robyn Hooper, executive director, is joining us by video conference. From the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, we have Dr. Hugh MacIsaac, professor and Canada research chair in aquatic invasive species, University of Windsor. From the Invasive Species Centre, we have two witnesses by video conference: Deborah Sparks, manager, business development and communications, and Rebecca Schroeder, liaison, aquatic invasive species.
From the Invasive Species Council of BC, in person we have Gail Wallin, the executive director, and by video conference, hopefully, Jodi Romyn, senior manager. From the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation, by video conference as well, we have Andrew Bouzan, president. From the Okanagan Basin Water Board, we have Anna Warwick Sears, executive director.
I would like to welcome Mr. Shields, the member for Bow River, and Mr. Breton, the member for Shefford, who are sitting in today.
We look forward to your input.
To start off, I'll remind the witnesses that the opening statements are for seven minutes or less. I will try to hold it as close to that as possible.
We like to start with the witnesses by video conference, but we have nothing on our screens. While we're waiting, we'll jump ahead and let Ms. Wallin do her presentation for seven minutes or less.
Go ahead, please.
Thank you very much for having us, Mr. Chair.
I'm here with Jodi Romyn from our organization. Jodi and I will be with you for the day. I have to apologize, but I will be stepping out a little bit early in order to catch the last flight I need for the night.
The Invasive Species Council of British Columbia is the largest and oldest organization in Canada that's focused simply on invasive species. We've been around 15 to 20 years now, and we're governed by a board of directors. Our board of directors is quite unique in that it has members of governments, indigenous, business and communities on our board. Aquatics have been a part of our mandate since the early 2000s, and we've been working on what are now becoming national programs for aquatic invasive species. Our work focuses on making sure that people have the right tools and information in order to stop the spread.
I'm assuming, because you're sitting in an aquatic invasive species group here today, that you already know that Canada has 20% of our fresh water. You know that we have three major coastlines, and that our waters are really important to indigenous cultures, rural communities and certainly, being from British Columbia, really important to all of our members across the province.
Our work is often focused on what we call pathways, because we know that managing species by species is a lost economic cause. We want to really make sure that we're looking at trying to close the pathways that cause the spread of invasive species. It actually turns out that most invasive species are moved—both in our province, which I'm particularly focusing on, and across the country—by people, intentionally or unintentionally. The solution, then, is to stop how they're spread by people.
In British Columbia, things like salmon, bivalves and trout are really important. I come from a rural community. They're really important for our rural residents, but they're particularly important for our indigenous cultures, which is a really big factor in British Columbia, as I'm sure you know through your work federally.
I want to thank you again for doing this study. This is excellent, and it's really neat to not only see this come out in a standing committee today, but also on the tail of the Auditor General's report on fisheries and oceans. It's been great to see that. It's great to see that Fisheries and Oceans has responded to the Auditor General's report and that it is tackling the challenges that were raised.
There are definitely some things you've raised at this committee that are really important. First of all, investments by Fisheries and Oceans need to be strategic and need to address, in our opinion, all of Canada, not just the Great Lakes. Sorry, Ontario, but that's been a big focus and we feel a lot of the other parts of Canada still need have this investment.
It's important to move funds from inside of government to ensure things happen on the ground. One of the things the Auditor General's report called for was focusing on and restricting enclosing high-risk pathways and making sure there's responsible practices in place that close those pathways. Government can't do that alone. You can't work with the pet and aquarium trade and close those unless you work with the pet and aquarium trade. You can't stop boaters from moving invasive species unless you work with boaters. That collaboration is really important.
We recognize that DFO has more staff since it started the aquatic invasive program three years ago in 2017, but there needs to be more movement hitting the ground, heading action on the ground, where organizations, governments and indigenous communities can make a difference.
The investments need to be much more strategically invested across Canada. We know the sea lamprey has been a major investment for the federal government, but we in the west feel that stopping and preventing invasive mussels from becoming established in the west is equally important in order to protect our waters.
It's interesting that some of the federal investments recently, whether they're investments to the Great Lakes or investments to the Canada nature fund for aquatics, are focused on species at risk and dealing with recovery. Even the recent announcement for the aquatic program was focused on the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence, and the Lake Winnipeg basin.
Those are leaving out a big chunk of Canada. We need to look at the rest of our coastlines and the rest of our waters. The investments have to move from chasing and trying to restore something into prevention. If we can prevent mussels from coming to the west or we can prevent a new invasive species coming in, we'll save all those dollars you have to spend chasing a species afterwards.
Another action we're calling for is making sure that the regulation, which the Auditor General's report has pointed out, needs to be stronger. It needs to have a stronger, more rapid listing of species, and it needs to be enforced. Enforcement can both be on the compliance side and also working with Canadians and getting them engaged.
I have a couple of other quick points.
We definitely want to see the financial investment of Fisheries and Oceans focused on those strategies and on those pathways, but also focused on engaging Canadians. Across Canada, whether it's fishing or planting those aquatic invasive species in their water gardens, we can engage Canadians to stop the spread of invasive species.
We were just talking earlier about how, in the west, fishermen can be the first ones who point out.... For example, the northern snakehead fish was first found in British Columbia because of an informed citizen, so we need to engage Canadians in becoming more informed and having the right tools to be the eyes on the ground.
We're calling on Fisheries and Oceans to be the national leader, to be a stronger national leader than they are now and to protect our waters from coast to coast to coast. We want to make sure that the investments are disbursed. We, in a very self-serving perspective, believe that the west needs to be protected. We believe that highly invasive fish, such as pike, bass, etc., are threatening the fragile salmon environment, which is really important to our cultures, both indigenous and non-indigenous. Our coasts are being impacted by aquatic invasives, green crab, tunicates, and I know we share that with the east coast. Those are having a major impact on both our trade and our biodiversity there.
We need to close those pathways. On shipping containers, New Zealand uses shipping containers that are.... When shipping containers come into New Zealand, they have to be inspected, and they have to pay for it. If we can close our pathways as New Zealand and Australia have, that would be much more effective for Canada.
Our council, along with our chapters across Canada, including our Canadian council, are more than willing to work with Fisheries and Oceans on a regular basis.
Thank you for your time.
Good afternoon, honourable committee members. Thank you for inviting us to speak.
In 2011, the Invasive Species Centre, or ISC, was formed as a strategic initiative of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to be a unique example of partnership and a hub for collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Our mission is to connect stakeholders, knowledge and technology to prevent the introduction and spread of invasives in Canada. With partners, we have shared and supported government objectives on aquatic invasive species, or AIS, through a project such as the Asian carp Canada program. We would be very happy to tell you more about our work in the question period if desired.
Since 2011, when we were established, we have seen improvements in invasive species outcomes in Canada, particularly with addressing gaps and reducing overlap. These successes are attributed to intensive collaboration with many partners. Accomplishments have been considerable, but we all still have work to do.
As you know, AIS pose serious threats to freshwater and marine ecosystems with invasive species introductions regarded as the second greatest threat to global biodiversity next to habitat loss.
In the Great Lakes, economic contributions of activities in and around the basin contribute approximately $13.8 billion to the Canadian economy, not including services that are difficult to quantify, such as ecosystem services, biodiversity or cultural importance. Total economic value of activities that could be affected by, say, an Asian carp invasion in the Great Lakes is $8.5 billion a year.
Impacts to water resources of significant value warrant significant investments to protect them, just as we are doing with the research and binational coordination efforts for Asian carps and sea lamprey.
There are also considerable needs across the country, as demonstrated in the case of destructive zebra and quagga mussels. The estimated economic impact of these mussels is in the tens of billions of dollars annually in Canada. Many water bodies in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. are at risk from their spread. If we want to protect Canada's fisheries, we need to act with urgency on threat species, such as zebra mussels, in the ways that we did for sea lamprey in the 1950s and more recently with Asian carps.
For equitable and consistent distribution of resources across Canada, we recommend the establishment of an integrated national AIS program with a transparent and efficient system for screening and assessing risk that will better enable priority setting for funding and action. The program should be based in science and be forward thinking. We should scan the horizon for threats beyond species already on our radar.
Prioritization and resource allocation should relate directly to risk, potential impacts to ecosystems, economy and society. The recent Auditor General's report makes recommendations that will be a useful starting point for a future strategy. With an expected increase in invasions and outbreaks in the future, Canada must focus on a state of preparedness and will require an increase to resource allocation to do this effectively.
Specifically, future strategies and enhanced investments should focus on early stages of an invasion, prevention, early detection and rapid response. Most invasions follow a similar pattern, commonly referred to as the invasion curve, that compares time to area occupied, beginning from the first occurrence of the species in a new area.
As time goes on, the species spreads further into the environment almost exponentially until it becomes widely established. If the species is detected early in the curve, then eradication may be possible. However, if the species becomes widespread and established, eradication is much less likely and much more costly.
One only needs to consider sea lamprey in the Great Lakes to understand why prevention has a better return on investment than year-over-year control. Binational costs for lamprey were $40 million Canadian last year alone. Existing frameworks such as the Asian carp program should be used as models for other AIS across the country.
We recommend the continued enhancement of coordination to more effectively implement the regulations. The existing regulations already provide a strong policy tool. A national program is needed to build operational capacity to fulfill those regulations. More clarity on responsibilities between jurisdictions can be achieved through coordination. This should include an integrated strategy with our U.S. neighbours. AIS don't see borders and we also need to be border blind. While it's possible to refer to the legislative and regulatory mandate of the lead agencies, in practice, every situation will be unique and there are many factors that will determine how a response will unfold that cannot be predetermined. Bolster a space for lead agencies to collaborate and coordinate.
The recent Auditor General's report recommended that DFO drive this coordination. With DFO's leadership, strategic partnerships can also help fill this need. There are many pre-existing mechanisms, such as the national AIS committee or the ISC, that could be harnessed for coordination. This could also bring clarity to the growing problem of aquatic plants, as responsibility is not always clear at this time.
Finally, increase capacity to implement the regulations by giving enforcers tools. Border and fisheries officers require training. Look to groups like the ISC, which has conducted training for MNRF enforcement and DFO fisheries officers to deliver these services. Add tools to the tool box. A national standard reporting tool would address data gaps and inform planning. EDDMapS is a reporting and mapping tool already used by many states and provinces. We are working with partners to expand it, and we are looking to continue this expansion. A national fund could also be established in collaboration with provincial partners to mitigate delays and support response in an efficient way.
As mentioned, we are doing some things well, as in the case of sea lamprey and Asian carps, but Canada really can't do a great job without a national integrated program for AIS that looks beyond borders. We look forward to working with all partners to continue to address these issues and move the bar forward on aquatic invasive species.
The Columbia Shuswap Invasive Species Society, CSISS, is one of 13 regional invasive species organizations in British Columbia, whose mission is to actively prevent invasive species infestations through education, early detection, management and restoration of B.C.'s ecosystems.
Aquatic invasive species, or AIS, pose acute threats of ecological and economic harm, especially in regions where they are not yet introduced. In Ontario alone, zebra and quagga mussel infestations have created annual costs of nearly $100 million for the provincial, regional and municipal governments, utility companies, business owners and citizens. The ecological harms caused by AIS infestations are substantial as they disrupt aquatic ecosystems and the species that depend on these ecosystems for habitat. We believe the invasive mussel issue is the number one threat to our region and to B.C., and not enough is being done by the federal fisheries agencies to protect our resources.
CSISS works with multiple land managers and stakeholders in the Columbia Shuswap region of B.C. to collaborate and deliver invasive species outreach, prevention and management programs. However, our region sees very little aquatic invasive species federal funding, and this does not seem proportionate to the threat our region faces. At risk are our water quality, water utilities, beaches, property values, fish habitat—resident species and anadromous Pacific salmon, for which our region provides critical migration, spawning and rearing habitat—and our infrastructure. Should AIS establish itself in reservoirs, hydroelectric dams would generate large costs to British Columbians.
If zebra and quagga mussels establish in our region, it is conservatively estimated that it will cost over $43 million for British Columbians and over $500 million for the Pacific northwest economic region to deal with the impacts. These numbers surely do not represent the social and cultural losses should invasive mussels impact Pacific salmon stocks. If mussels are introduced to this region, the impacts will be far reaching and irreversible. The only solution is prevention.
We would like to see more action to close high-risk pathways that introduce and spread aquatic invasive species, specifically the containment of invasive mussels to eastern Canada to prevent their spread to the Pacific northwest, including British Columbia.
Invasive mussels are making their way across North America. British Columbia and the Pacific northwest are the last frontier without invasive mussels. This is an emergency situation, and the federal government's current efforts mean that it is most likely a matter of when, not if, we get invasive mussels in B.C. We need federal support and action on the ground, with 24-hour inspection stations with detection dogs—the only highly effective tool available for invasive mussel detections—and regulations to keep invasive mussels out of B.C., as well as federal regulations and enforcement to contain invasive mussels to eastern Canada.
Continued complacency will irrevocably damage B.C.'s freshwater resources and devastate local economies. Time is of the essence, and these report findings are further proof that more needs to be done by the federal government to prevent and contain aquatic invasives.
On behalf of CSISS, I thank you for the opportunity to provide input.
Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to come and speak before the panel. I'm a professor, so I use slides for everything. I have limited it to seven slides here.
With the first two, I simply want to impress the committee on the importance of invasive species as a globally important biodiversity risk. The first slide shows the number of species that have gone extinct since 1500 for five different sentinel groups. They're in blue on the left. In many cases, the sources of stress that caused these species to go extinct do overlap, but if we try to pigeonhole them into dominant and lesser stresses and we go through each one of those, we're going to see that for three out of the five groups, invasive species was the leading cause for species going extinct. In a fourth case, it was the second-leading cause.
We know that historically, this has been a very important mechanism that has caused species globally to go extinct.
Going to the second slide, we're looking at reasons for current endangerment of species based upon United Nations red list data. Red-listed species are those that are considered threatened or at risk of extinction. In the upper panel, we're considering all of the data that they had available to them. The dark bars indicate the importance of that particular stressor for all of the species that are currently threatened. As we already heard, habitat loss is the leading cause of species endangerment today globally, followed by non-native species, various forms of pollution, then over-exploitation, over-harvesting, and finally, disease.
If we look simply at marine systems, things get rearranged a little bit. Over-exploitation, not surprisingly, becomes number one. Invasive species drops to number three, and climate change makes an appearance there. Considering both the species that have gone extinct and those that are at risk of going extinct today, invasive species is a leading global stressor.
The next slide is a look at DFO's funding gaps. From what I see, by reviewing the auditor's data and from what I know about DFO currently, it appears as though the principal effort is devoted to species-based management. Most of that is dedicated simply to the four different Asian carp species.
We've also heard that it's far more effective, and in many cases a lot cheaper, if we instead monitor and regulate by pathways. I'll give you a quick example.
No one had ever heard of the emerald ash borer before in North America—no papers, no talks at conferences on the emerald ash borer—until it came into my backyard, literally two doors down, and it started killing all the native ash trees in Ontario. We had about two billion trees, most of which are now lying on the ground. It's now spread. I know it's in parts of eastern Canada as well, and it's spreading into the western Great Lakes region.
By managing only species, something like the emerald ash borer escaped scrutiny, because no one had ever heard of it. If instead we'd been looking at the pathway that allows a species like that to get in, which in this case was wood dunnage carried by ships, and we'd been effectively managing the wood dunnage, not only would we have stopped the species we know about that spread via dunnage, but we would have stopped this species as well.
Clearly, we need a two-pronged approach. Some of the species we clearly want to manage closely. For other ones, we need to manage the pathways very effectively, because we can shut down a lot of species movement by doing that.
The global ballast water treatment treaty that is in place today was begun a few years ago. It began in 2004, but it wasn't ratified globally until 2017. Everyone thinks this regulation is going to dramatically reduce the number of aquatic species moving around the world via ballast water, but in Canada, we're not doing any formal testing. We have no formal budgets to determine whether or not the risk has dropped as low as we think it has because these ships come in with the treatment systems on board.
Just for our own security, we really ought to be funding at least one major study like that to determine whether or not we're getting the benefit we think we are. Dr. Sarah Bailey works at DFO in Burlington. She has some funding from Transport Canada. She was addressing this with a small budget last year in Vancouver, but it's something that really ought to be done across the country.
Overall, currently, as far as I can determine, there's no ballast water funds from DFO to determine the effectiveness. Very clearly, DFO and Transport Canada have dual missions here.
The other principal vector that allows marine species to move around the world is hull fouling. It's another huge vector, and we're really not paying it the attention it deserves in Canada.
These species not only spread globally on the hulls of ships, but once they're in key ports, we've seen some tragic examples, particularly on the east coast in Prince Edward Island, of where boats moving around on the coastline spread the species from one region to another. It's both an international problem and a domestic problem for regional spread.
As you already heard, if we look at Australia and New Zealand, we see real pioneers in terms of managing this problem. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. We can look and see what risk assessment methods Australia, for example, uses with vessels coming into its ports to determine whether or not hull fouling is a likely problem. If so, they will take action. We should look at those experiences from the few countries that are leading this effort and adopt and modify their procedures.
From what I saw when I read the Auditor General's report, it became clear that only one or two lines in the entire report pertained to the Arctic at all. One of the things we fully expect is this interaction between climate change and the spread of aquatic invasive species. If there is one area of Canada in which we expect dramatic changes, since we already have large temperature changes, it's in the Arctic. We really ought to be devoting more resources than we are right now. Kim Howland is a scientist at DFO in Winnipeg. She is working with citizens in the Arctic distributing water collection kits. They then bring those kits back down to Winnipeg and do eDNA analysis to try to determine what species have their DNA present in the water. Something like this can be very useful, but it needs to be done formally. We should have substantial funding for projects like that.
Vancouver and Halifax are very clearly the two parts of the country that receive most of our shipping vessels, and yet when I was talking with a scientist out in British Columbia on Friday—I don't want to give his identity away in case he gets fired—he said that they have about $70,000 per year for monitoring. I can tell you, and I think you can imagine, that if you are responsible for trying to determine how many species might be coming into your marine waters, it's a very, very challenging task. When your total budget is $70,000, you just won't be successful. When budgets are developed for these types of monitoring programs that the auditor described, we have to make sure that the funding given to them is realistic.
DFO has ramped up funding for the FP program in Ottawa. While very clearly you need a lot of leadership, as we saw echoed numerous times in the Auditor General's report, and a lot of the building blocks for these programs have to be done in offices, particularly in Ottawa, after that's done you have to lead the program out. You need to have sufficient funds across the country. I will come back to my last slide in a moment, but the total monitoring budget for DFO that I could find was about $400,000 per year across the country. It's not a lot of money.
I would make one statement about the Great Lakes. In the past what happened was that the United States and Canada, usually led by Canada, brought in ballast water exchange rules and then ballast water flushing for vessels that didn't have lots of water within them as they were coming across the ocean. It works very well. Canada seems to be taking the lead here. We need to make sure that if we do go to something greater than ballast water treatment—Transport Canada was talking about ballast water treatment plus continued ballast water exchange as a safeguard—then try to get the Americans to implement it at the same time. Obviously, once the species are in the Great Lakes, it doesn't matter if they start on the American side. Eventually they will come over to our side.
I work at a university. Many years ago, when the first Auditor General report was coming out, I was asked to come to Ottawa and speak on whether or not there was sufficient funding available. There wasn't, of course. Shortly after that, I started a DFO research chair with the government. We came up with a national research network that was funded mainly by DFO but also by NSERC, Transport Canada and some of the provincial governments.
We had professors and DFO scientists from across the country engaged in these networks. We did a tremendous number of studies across the country. At that time, between 2005 and 2015, we were the leading country in the world in terms of doing work on aquatic invasive species, all the way down to undergraduate students up through post-docs, and we had industry involved as well. It's something that I'm not asking you to.... Certainly, I don't want to lead something like that again, but I can tell you that it's a very effective way to leverage funding from other sources, as well as personnel from other groups, to work on these issues.
In the second-last slide, we look at environmental priorities. The current government has budgeted $1.5 billion for marine protection and research. In yellow there, I highlight what the funds are expected to work on. I actually applaud this effort. I think we need to take care of our marine coast very closely. Below that, I show what the current budget is. For DFO research, it's at about $400,000 per year, and with $600,000 per year in monitoring and $1 million for Asian carp. There's one thing that appears to have been dropped, and I'm not sure why. There used to be about $300,000 per year for risk assessment. For those types of assessments, if you read the Auditor General's report, a lot of the species that we are thinking about regulating have never had formal risk assessments done for them. That's still needed.
My last slide shows that if we don't fund these issues appropriately.... We can see that we're going to put a lot of money into marine coasts, and we have a lot of spending on climate change. Currently, we do not have a lot of funding on aquatic invasive species. These invaders can come in and undo a lot of the good work that you're doing with some of these other stressors. We have a paper that has not appeared yet, and in that paper what we're doing is looking at these sea squirts or tunicates that are found in a number of environments around Canada. We're projecting their future distribution under moderate climate change. In 2050, there's not going to be any loss of distributions, as shown in green, for these three major biofouling species.
In terms of all of the pictures that I have shown, the one in middle I shot about seven years ago while visiting a mussel farm in P.E.I., so they're already present. What you can see there in red is the projected expansion of the distribution of these species. Overall, what we expect is that these things are going to move north, farther into Canada. We're not going to benefit from the loss of them. If the loss is going to occur, it's going to occur in the United States.
There's a lot of interaction between climate change and invasive species. I would just urge the committee to make sure that invasive species get their due when budgets are considered.
Hello to the honourable committee members who are here today. I would like to thank you for hosting this meeting. I'm not going to try to rehash a lot of what is being talked about here, but there are a lot of good points coming from the other witnesses who are speaking today.
To start, I suppose I'll highlight the principles of evolution and natural selection. You know of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, the essential people for the idea of a movement to understand the natural world. Both worked alone, separate from one another, in evaluating species and documenting them wherever they explored across the world. These naturalists explored these unknown places of our planet, assessing and compiling data on ecosystems and a wide range of different species in their own distinct ecosystems.
It's no surprise that today, humanity has completely removed any barriers for species to travel across the globe. Over thousands of years we've been travelling and trading, with the 20th century proving to be the pinnacle of global trade, thanks to globalization.
Now, I said I wouldn't try to rehash a lot of what's been highlighted here today, but one of the most important aspects to keep in mind here for invasive species is their incredible ability to survive, even thrive from a single egg to larvals, from two or three. This kind of invasion would be more or less a comparison to a spark in a forest fire, or a single match in a forest fire, and see the impacts of that not only short term but long term. Some of these impacts are not possible to come to terms with and solve, more or less.
Successful aquatic invaders have been moulded by evolution over time. They're very skilled opportunists. They have patience and timing to germinate from their dormant extended periods of time, given their environments in which they're found. Being transported across the oceans, for instance, in bottoms of ships' hulls, with vastly different environments, vastly different temperatures and food supplies, these species that survive these journeys most certainly show us the resilience and the tenacity for them to thrive in other environments. They are most certainly a danger to native species and native ecosystems wherever they find themselves. It's global climate change, the ocean acidity levels, temperature fluctuations. Invasive species are essentially a biological pollution, in whatever ecosystem they find them, to native species and to ecosystems as a whole.
The solutions to deal with this are quite often the preventive measures. We need to assess this early on. Then we need to have a very rapid response if we find invasive species. They have the potential to cause irreversible harm and destroy and eradicate entire environments, whether we are talking about marine environments or freshwater environments. You can look at kelp in different places, or seagrass, and the impacts they have of out-competing the native species, and on a larger scale, the economic impacts. This will have a long-term impact for industry across the country. There are millions and billions of dollars in damages that can be prevented here if the right amount of money and resources are allocated, and there is a vision and foresight to ensure that our coastline....
I completely understand we have quite a large coastline in this country and the largest in the world. But to have the lion's share of money allocated toward two specific species in this country.... Ontario gets the lion's share of all of this money. There's no doubt there. It's going to sea lamprey and Asian carp in the Great Lakes, and for the Great Lakes Commission. It is an important matter, no doubt. The Great Lakes are very important to both Canada and the United States. However, the funding allocated to the rest of the country is almost nothing.
For instance, you can look at five or six species found in Newfoundland and Labrador. Now the European green crab would probably be the top one, and this is probably the most talked about, especially in the commercial fishery. Then you have the oyster thief, which is found just about everywhere across the province. It showed up in Atlantic Canada around the early 1990s, and then 20 years later it stretched for more than 445 kilometres of coastline. Then you have the vase tunicate, the violet tunicate and the coffin box. For most of these species that I'm talking about, it was roughly in 2009, 2011 and 2012 that there was something last done, as far as I'm concerned, with respect to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Even besides that, it was about 10 years that the provincial government addressed aquatic invasive species here in the province, or invasive species in general.
It's a very big concern for us here in the province, and it should be a concern for every province and territory in the country. There's the damage to natural habitats and the long-term impact that this is having is that it's displacing native species. It's pushing them out. It's making them compete for the resources.
Every time I or someone from my organization gets the chance to sit down with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, funding increases are always a key aspect. We want to see more science done. We want to see, most importantly, assessments done in key areas of the province. I can think of 174 scheduled salmon rivers in this province that I would very much like to see some evaluation done on, the estuaries in particular, looking at the health of those systems, and having an ecosystem-based approach. It's crucial for us not to ignore these issues.
I think that today we're left with a long list of failures from all previous governments on the federal scale. I would hope that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Ottawa realizes that we could be, or we should be the leaders in wildlife conservation environmental management for the world. We have the second-biggest country in the world. We have 35 million to 36 million people. We could be the stewards of this vast resource that we have.
Quite frankly, I don't see anything coming from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to help out, to add additional funds, to add enforcement, or to add research. Here in the province, for instance, we're afraid that our wild Atlantic salmon stocks are going to be put at risk and that we might lose them in the future. This is the last stronghold for wild Atlantic salmon in North America. If their habitats, if their ecosystems are put in jeopardy from aquatic invasive species, then we could lose them. Not only that, we could lose a wide range of other biodiversities in this province and across the country.
Biodiversity is one of the most important things that we can keep in mind globally. Habitat loss is number one on the list of things that threaten and put at risk the health of our ecosystems. Aquatic invasive species are quite close to that, depending on where they're found and depending on what they can do over time.
Thank you for inviting me to appear as a witness.
I was asked to say something about my background. I have a Ph.D. in population biology from the University of California, and my research was focused on factors that lead to the spread of invasive species. However, I have been working for the Okanagan Basin Water Board for 13 years. This is a local government watershed agency that has provided leadership on water in the Okanagan since 1970.
We are funded entirely through local property taxes. The water board has been running a program to manage invasive Eurasian water milfoil since the early 1970s, covering the entire costs with local tax dollars since 1992.
In the winter, we use shallow-water Rototillers to kill the milfoil roots while they are dormant. In the summer, we can also do a limited amount of cosmetic harvesting in areas to cut the growing weeds we cannot rototill, much as you would an underwater lawnmower. This is a management program. I run a management program. It has to be done every year, throughout the year, because once established, the weed can't be eradicated. We've had this weed for 40 years now. Our budget for milfoil alone is $850,000 annually with no senior government support.
You might have visited the Okanagan with your families, maybe for a summer holiday to enjoy the turquoise water of our lakes, to play on the beaches and to drink wine. The local first nations consider the Okanagan lakes to be sacred and are in the process of restoring the biggest run of sockeye salmon in the Columbia basin, making up more than 80% of the sockeye in the entire Columbia River system. Most of our drinking water comes from these lakes. We live around the lakes, we live in the lakes and we're famous internationally as a tourist destination because of the lakes.
Our communities are some of the fastest growing in Canada. People want to live, work and establish businesses in the Okanagan because of the beauty of the lakes. We are a water-based economy. Everything depends on keeping these water sources clean.
Ironically, the beauty of our lakes makes them especially vulnerable to aquatic invasive species as boaters come from all across North America to enjoy them. After climate change, aquatic invasive species are the single largest threat to the economy of the region. We've been able to self-fund this milfoil program because of its value to our communities. If we are not able to keep the beaches and waterways clean of rotting weeds and protect the quality of our water, we lose a significant aspect of our quality of life.
Right now, our ability to control milfoil is being threatened by a proposed endangered listing of the native Rocky Mountain ridged mussel. Although it is thought to be relatively abundant in the system and lives throughout the western United States, the Okanagan is the only place it occurs in Canada. The listing would effectively end our rototilling program and our control of milfoil. We are in the process of seeking an exemption under the federal Fisheries Act to allow us to at least keep the public beaches and boating areas free. We believe that the native mussel and our milfoil program can coexist.
I include this in my testimony because it's an example of what can happen if we don't stop the spread of aquatic invasive species. It will be extremely costly and much less effective to manage this weed if the native mussel is listed, and there will be no support or compensation from senior governments for all we will lose.
If barriers to the transport of aquatic invasive species had been in place in the 1970s, there would be no conflict between managing the native mussel and the invasive milfoil, and the local communities would not be spending $850,000 a year on the program.
This brings us to the worst of all aquatic invasive species threats to the Okanagan: invasive zebra and quagga mussels. Because our waters are warm and rich in calcium, we are thought to be among the most vulnerable areas in Canada to these invasives. When and if they arrive, the invasive mussels will breed rapidly. They will cover our beaches with sharp shells, crust the docks and bridges, clog the more than 1,000 municipal and private water intakes and irreparably harm the environment, including the native mussel and our salmon restoration.
Several years ago we did a study that projected the economic cost to be upwards of $40 million a year for the Okanagan alone. This included infrastructure impacts, losses to fisheries, tourism and property values.
The U.S. government is matching millions of dollars each year to the western states for their mussel prevention programs. The Canadian government has mostly given responsibility for preventing this threat to the provinces and dedicates only a small portion of the federal budgets for aquatic invasive species management to invasive mussel prevention.
ln the Okanagan, each year we are spending more than 75,000 of local government tax dollars for public awareness campaigns and to support monitoring, but we have no power, funding or jurisdiction to run inspection programs or to create a strong perimeter defence, which would probably be best established in Saskatchewan, or to ensure that CBSA officers are fully trained, committed and on task at all border crossings from the U.S.
While we greatly appreciate the $800,000 over three years that B.C. received in 2018 for preventing zebra and quagga mussels, it is less than a third of what we spend annually just on milfoil control just in the Okanagan.
This is an issue that should rally members of Parliament from all parties. Canada is one of the most freshwater-rich countries in the world, but we cannot take it for granted. This is our heritage. What do you value most? After public safety, British Columbians value our clean, healthy waters. Everything depends on it: our drinking water, our economy, our quality of life, our environment, even Okanagan wine.
Our experience has shown that once an aquatic invasive species has arrived in an area, they are next to impossible to eradicate, and it is an endless and expensive effort just to manage them. Not only is it more costly to manage invasive species than to prevent them, what we lose in the process can often never be replaced.
Green crab was found in the Maritimes in the late 1980s. In terms of the abundance of this green crab, first of all, when it was found, it took about a year for DFO to make a plan or to take action on it. Quite frankly, that is a crucial window of time and another perfect example of the problems that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has. The rapid response that could have been taken here to protect this species would have been a very good management protocol.
That said, green crab in itself isn't necessarily just green crab. If you've seen them up close, probably the closest thing you can recognize them to is a rock crab. There are very fine distinctions that you'd be able to see between a rock crab and a green crab, specifically at the front of them, because they come in many different colours.
Over the last number of years, the commercial fishery has tried to address this and tried to take some out. As I'm sure you're aware, Bay St. George is another key area in which they're found, outside of Placentia Bay. There are key areas or key pockets in which they're found, especially in the northern part, in regard to Placentia Bay.
I believe a number of different measures could be taken to address it. However, unless the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is willing to allocate more funds, is willing to try to look into new technology and new surveys and look into new ways to physically take those crabs out of the environment and then assess whether they need to block off key areas and map out what they're going to do, it's going to take some time. It's definitely going to take considerable time, but in the long term, they've been here for quite some time and as much as I'd like to see them removed and gone, it would have to be in collaboration not only with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but with the commercial side of stuff, and even getting the locals involved in this, too.
In terms of what money you can allocate towards that, outside of volunteers going out and trying to take them out themselves, citizen science is pretty good. If you go to areas between Memorial University and the marine institute here in the province, for people who scuba dive, who even do it recreationally, that would be a great start.