Good afternoon, everyone.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we will continue our study of the migration of lobster and snow crab in Atlantic Canada and the impact of changes to the lobster carapace size.
We have two witnesses here in person today. From the Fisheries Council of Canada, we have Mr. Paul Lansbergen, president.
Joining us today by video conference is Mr. Richard Wahle, research professor, School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine.
We will start off with seven-minute presentations from witnesses.
Mr. Wahle, if you're ready, you can go first for seven minutes or less.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Thank you for this opportunity to be a witness on the question of lobster and snow crab migration.
My name is Richard Wahle. I'm a research professor at the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences. I also recently became director of the university's Lobster Institute. I have conducted research on crustacean fisheries and ecology for the past 35 years, and much of my research has focused on lobster.
The Lobster Institute serves to maximize the engagement of the University of Maine with stakeholders in the lobster fisheries in both the U.S. and Canada. I will therefore say up front that my experience really lies more with lobster than snow crab fisheries.
Without being redundant regarding previous testimony given before this committee, in this statement I would like to start by emphasizing some basic distinctions in the biology and ecology of the two species, especially with regard to their movements and size at maturity. Second, I will take the opportunity to clarify some apparent confusion between the term “migration” and “geographic range shifts” in the context of climate change. Finally, I'll close by underscoring the need for more cross-border collaboration and monitoring of the living marine resources we share. I will give you an example of one such effort I lead for the American lobster.
The centre of the American lobster abundance is currently the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and the northeast Gulf of Maine. It ranges northward into Labrador and Newfoundland and extends into the deep waters off the U.S. mid-Atlantic states. There is scientific consensus that the upper physiological limit in temperature is around 20°C and the lower limit is around 12°C, which is the minimum temperature for larval development.
The depth distribution is largely determined by those limits. Lobsters in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are mostly limited to depths shallower than 50 metres. Those further south extend considerably deeper, into offshore banks and shelf waters.
Growth and the onset of maturity are also temperature-dependent. In warmer regimes, lobsters grow faster but mature at a smaller size. These differences in maturation size are the basis for different minimum legal size limits along the species range.
Further, the reported downward trends in the size at maturity over the past few decades have been linked to a warming climate. The optimal thermal envelope for lobsters has been shifting northward in a warming ocean. What has been described as a northward migration in response to climate change is more accurately depicted as a demographic shift in the balance of birth and death rates. I'll add that the depletion of predatory groundfish in the Gulf of Maine and the Gulf of St. Lawrence has also likely contributed to the population surge and the northward shift in the centre of lobster abundance.
The snow crab is a subarctic species distributed around the north Atlantic and Pacific. In Atlantic Canada, it is largely segregated by depth from the lobster population because of its differing thermal preference, despite some overlap in their latitudinal range. The northwest Atlantic population is centred in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and extends north along coastal Labrador and south along the Scotian Shelf.
Snow crabs prefer cold temperatures of between -1°C and about 11°C and therefore tend to be restricted to greater depths and more northern latitudes than where lobsters range off Atlantic Canada. Unlike lobster, they also tend to prefer soft mud or sand instead of the shallower, rocky habitats preferred by lobster. Furthermore, while lobster continue to grow after maturity, snow crabs reach a terminal molt and stop growing. The snow crab fishery targets only the large, reproductively mature males.
As for movements and migrations, both lobsters and snow crabs have two opportunities for movement during their lifetime. One is during the water-borne larval stages, spanning the first weeks to months after hatching, when they may be passively transported many kilometres from their point of origin. The other is by movements along the bottom, mostly as larger juveniles and adults. The smallest lobsters are cryptic and restricted to rocky habitat. Larger ones engage in seasonal inshore and offshore movements and are most prevalent coastally during the summer. Larger lobsters can move tens to hundreds of kilometres over the course of a year, which has been used by U.S. lobster stock assessment scientists as a justification for combining the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank stocks into one.
In contrast, snow crabs settle in sand/mud environments in deeper water than the environments occupied by lobster. They then migrate to even deeper waters as they age. Tagging studies in Atlantic Canada suggest their lateral movements along the shelf are more limited than those of lobster.
Finally, I will close by underscoring the benefits of cross-border collaboration in monitoring the living marine resources we share. I founded the American lobster settlement index. It's a collaboration of U.S. and Canadian academic institutions, industry members and fishery management agencies that monitor the pulse of baby lobsters that repopulate coastal lobster nurseries each year at some 100 sites between Rhode Island and Newfoundland. For 30 years it has been an important early warning system for changes in this iconic fishery. I look forward to continued collaboration on this program with my Canadian and U.S. colleagues, and would be happy to answer questions about it.
Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to appear before you today. Since I have appeared on a few occasions, I think you all know that the Fisheries Council of Canada represents processors across the country, many of whom also harvest wild-capture species.
In my remarks today, I'll be sharing a perspective that I hope will complement what you've heard from other witnesses during your study, including Dr. Wahle.
I would like to start by applauding the study. Lobster and snow crab represent our two most valuable exports of wild-capture species. In 2018, exports of lobster were worth $2.2 billion and snow crab exports were worth $886 million. These are critical species to our sector's success and it behooves us to ensure that we have a long-term view of their sustainable fisheries management and market access issues.
Sticking with the economics of these species, it is worth referencing Fisheries and Oceans Canada's sector outlook to 2027. The demand side of the market is very positive. The outlook expects the values of both species to remain high, given strong demand and few substitutes. Growing global population and growing affluence are increasing demand for proteins, including fish and seafood, and that is good news for our entire sector.
The supply side is positive but less certain. Lobster and snow crab stocks are generally healthy, as you heard from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. I am sure we would all like to see all of our stocks be healthy and stay that way. That is why we must take a long-term view and base our resource management decisions on science—science that is comprehensive.
Our oceans, their ecosystems and our fish stocks are in constant flux. You saw the charts from Fisheries and Oceans Canada on stock status over the last 20 plus years. The health of our fish stocks is dependent upon many factors, such as ocean attributes, food supply, predation and fish harvesting, to name a few. Since joining the fisheries sector nearly 18 months ago, it appears to me that most of the attention within fisheries management is given to fishing mortality. That is clearly important and it is the one factor we can control. However, fisheries management is significantly more complex than that.
Your study specifically mentions migration of the two species. Three questions come to mind for me. One, is it year-to-year variability in migration; two, is it a longer-term trend in migration, migration that might be transitory; or three, is it a more permanent change in migratory behaviour? For the long-term health of the stocks and our commercial fisheries, we need three things: we need to understand the underlying causes; we need to determine the permanence of the changes in migratory behaviour; and we need to determine what, if anything, should be done to ensure the health of the stocks and the prosperity of our commercial fisheries.
When the department was here, they talked about migration versus displacement, and that is a good question, but it depends on the scale through which you view the question. Fish don't respect our management area boundaries. Migratory patterns within Canadian waters are just simply migration. However, with a narrower view, migration out of one management area into another could be seen as displacement by an individual harvester.
The economic implications of the two perspectives could lead to different conclusions. The extent or permanence of such changes would also suggest different economic implications and consideration of response actions.
Your study also mentions health of stocks. This is a complex question, so I encourage you to consider this carefully. How do you want to approach the question? Do you want to think of it in the context of stable, natural ecosystem dynamics, or do you want to approach it from a longer-term perspective in the context of climate change impacts? If it's the former, we can have an interesting conversation and you will arrive at some good conclusions about how well Canada is managing its fish resources today. If it's the latter, you will want to revisit this question on a broader scale, perhaps next year. There are climate impacts affecting our oceans, their ecosystems and our fish stocks. We need to better understand and project these impacts so we can adapt. This is very complex and the answers won't be reached overnight.
Having said that, I wish to acknowledge DFO and its efforts to assess climate risks within its portfolio. The environment commissioner has said DFO is ahead of the curve among federal departments, so kudos to DFO.
Next, DFO was instrumental in having the Food and Agriculture Organization study climate change impacts on fisheries and aquaculture. That is this tome of a book full of information. Again, kudos to DFO for this. As I pointed out, this resulted in a substantial compendium of research on the topic, which was released last year. lt found that climate impacts on Canada's oceans and fish resources are likely to be both positive and negative.
Moreover, Canada is planning to host later this year an experts workshop on climate impacts and adaptation. DFO wants to know more so we can continue to show leadership in sustainable fisheries management. This is also good news.
However, we need to do more. Taking lobster and snow crab for example, their migratory patterns and overall health will be affected by changing ocean surface temperature, salinity, density stratification and ocean acidification.
ln conclusion, I will offer three recommendations.
One, regarding impacts and adaptation, the committee urges the federal government to deepen its research and consideration of climate impacts on, and adaptation options for, Canada's commercial fisheries.
Two, the committee urges Fisheries and Oceans Canada to undertake analysis of the socio-economic implications of climate impacts on Canada's fish resources and of adaptation scenarios.
Three, for yourselves, perhaps in 2020 your committee can extend an invitation to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to appear for the purposes of discussing climate impacts and adaptation options for Canada's commercial fisheries.
I look forward to your questions.
There are several sources of funding. They come at different levels of jurisdiction.
At the largest national level, we have the National Science Foundation's support, which is typically more basic science-driven. Then we have sources from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which runs several programs.
Since NOAA is within the Department of Commerce, it is very much oriented toward fisheries and the commercial impacts of our marine natural resources. There are several programs that fund various aspects of research. Within NOAA, there is our sea grant program, the national marine fisheries service, NOAA's ocean acidification program and several others. There is a co-operative research program, and so forth.
At the state level, within the state of Maine, we have a source of funds that is primarily driven from trap fees to harvesters, which is called the lobster research, education and development fund. Out of that has grown this lobster research collaborative.
There are other smaller pots of money around, but basically it's at the national and state level.
Mr. Lansbergen, you gave a number of recommendations to the committee. That is very helpful, thank you. I'd like to ask you a couple of questions,
I think you've given three recommendations. If I could just summarize them, increase research in climate adaptation is probably a pretty standard one. That's what we've got to do in changing ocean climates. We're looking at our U.S. counterpart and seeing that's a huge impact. A “tale of two cities” was how that was described.
Next is adapting to those scenarios. That's asking the department to look at how they are adapting.
Finally, you gave a recommendation about the minister coming and talking to the committee in 2020, with a new government, new Parliament.
Is there anything else that you could recommend or add to what you've provided in recommendations that the committee should include in the study?
The immediate outlook for those two species in particular is still relatively positive, so I don't have an immediate concern. There are other species that I think will face more negative climate impacts sooner, and we need to be concerned about them.
I'm an economist by training, so my depth of knowledge on the climate is pretty thin, but from reading parts of that book, I think some trends off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and even Nunavut, are going to be quite different from, say, those in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Bay of Fundy and the Scotian Shelf. They are also going to be different from those on the west coast.
We need to look at all of our coastlines, and the different regions along our coastlines, to figure out the impacts on different species, and how that is going to interact, from one species to the next.