Barrett calls for all-out fight against Asian carp

Oct. 30, 2013

QUEEN’S PARK – In the wake of four grass carp – a species of Asian carp – found to be reproducing in Ohio’s Sandusky River, Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett is calling for a full frontal assault on the invaders and re-allocating the necessary resources to the Ministry of Natural Resources for the battle.

The grass carp were caught in the Sandusky River in October 2012 by a commercial fisherman. It was confirmed on October 28 of this year that the fish were born and raised in the river. This is the first confirmed reproduction of any Asian carp species in the Great Lakes, or its tributaries.

Asian carp were originally imported to the southern United States to help control vegetation in aquaculture and wastewater treatment retention ponds. Some of the fish escaped into the Mississippi River system, and then subsequently north to the Missouri and Illinois Rivers. An electronic barrier is all that is keeping Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal. A chain link fence is the only barrier in Indiana’s Eagle March, where flood waters could allow Asian carp direct access into Lake Erie.

“I have long feared the day when Asian carp start reproducing in the Great Lakes,” Barrett said. “The potential for disaster is there.”

Besides an overall concern for the health of the Great Lakes, Barrett is concerned of the implications on the $7 billion sports fishery and $234 million commercial fishery. Both commercial and sports angling are important economic drivers within the riding. Both bighead and silver carp can wipe out plankton and other small aquatic organisms that are at the base of the food chain for native fish.

In addition, grass carp have the potential to wipe out entire plant communities in Long Point’s Inner Bay, Rondeau Bay and Lake St. Clair. Long Point is recognized as one of the most important stopover areas for migrating waterfowl in eastern North America. This could impact waterfowl on a continental scale.

Asian carp now make up more than 80 per cent of the biomass in some river systems where they are established.

“Billions and billions in tourism and fishery dollars are at stake,” Barrett said in the Legislature. “We need action, not more environmental laws or strategies or panels or dithering. We need an MNR bill to put invasive species on the front burner and make it a top priority. It’s an MNR issue, not environment.”

Two grass carp caught in the mouth of the Grand River near where it enters Lake Erie have been confirmed to be sterile. In some American states bordering Lake Erie, it is legal to release grass carp, confirmed sterile, for vegetation control. In Ontario, it is illegal to possess live Asian carp. Barrett has called for intensified lobbying to ban all possession of live grass carp in the American states.

“Ministry staff need the reallocated financial resources to deal with it,” Barrett said Tuesday night. “It needs to be a government priority. Put the focus on Great Lakes protection. The wolf is truly at the door. This will cripple the Great Lakes.”

To combat the invasion, Barrett suggested MNR follow through on its own suggestion to require all Asian carp coming into Ontario for food to be gutted. The latter suggestion came in the wake of several Toronto businesses being charged for attempting to bring live fish across the border despite heavy fines to discourage the practice.

Despite Barrett’s insistence that invasive species are an MNR issue and Asian carp didn’t play a large enough role in the Great Lakes Protection Act, his question, oddly, was answered by Phil McNeely, the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of the Environment rather than by the Minister of Natural Resources.

“They just don’t get it and aren’t putting the emphasis on Asian carp it needs” Barrett said. “This is the largest threat to the Great Lakes ever – bar none!”

Contact MPP Toby Barrett at 519-428-0446


Monday, October 28
Mr. Toby Barrett: To the Premier: People are concerned about serious threats to our Great
Lakes, and your government seems paralyzed as far as taking any action. I don’t see any action.
You talk about your strategy, your goals, your intentions, setting up panels but no action where
immediate action in conjunction with Great Lakes states and the federal government is crucial
and long overdue.
You have tabled yet another environmental bill, previously killed by prorogation, a bill setting up
more panels, a guardian council.
Premier, this all does nothing to deal with the clear and present danger of an invasion of Asian
carp. Grass carp and bighead carp are already in Lake Erie. Silver carp—these are the ones that
jump 10 feet out of the water—and black carp are on their way. What have you done about
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: Minister of the Environment.
Hon. James J. Bradley: In regard to the second part, I’ll refer that to the Minister of Natural
Resources. But this is quite rich coming from a political party and a caucus that voted against the
Great Lakes Protection Act, widely hailed by a good cross-section of the people of the province
of Ontario as yet another positive step in protecting the Great Lakes. Two of the parties in this
House, the Liberal Party—the government—and the New Democratic Party, voted in favour of
the legislation, bringing it to committee for further consideration and representation. I find it
passing strange that the member would ask a question about the Great Lakes when, in fact, his
party is opposing a major initiative designed to protect the Great Lakes in the province of
Ontario. It once again demonstrates how difficult it is to be part of a party that wants you—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. Supplementary?
Mr. Toby Barrett: Premier, with all due respect, this is an MNR issue; this isn’t an
environmental issue. Two Asian carp, the grass carp, have now been found in my riding at the
mouth of Grand River, down on Lake Erie. Three Asian bighead carp have been found in
western Lake Erie. These and the silver carp, the jumpers, and the black carp can access Lake
Michigan through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Asian carp can also get directly into
Lake Erie from Eagle Marsh. This invasion of Asian carp will be devastating to our Great Lakes.
They eat everything.
Premier, billions and billions of tourism fishery dollars are at stake. We need action, not more
environmental laws, strategies, panels or dithering. This is an MNR issue, not Environment. Why
will you not marshal the resources, take action, work with the Great Lakes states, work with both
levels of federal government on both sides of the border—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you.
Mr. Toby Barrett: Put your MNR guy to work—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. When I stand, everyone sits.
Hon. James J. Bradley: Minister of Natural Resources.
Hon. David Orazietti: I appreciate the question from the member opposite. This is something
that we do take very seriously with respect to the protection of our natural resources with respect
to the Great Lakes. I should tell you that the Premier met with the Great Lakes governors,
probably the first time this meeting has taken place in nearly a decade, on Mackinac Island in the
Mackinac straits just recently. I can tell you that our government is working closely with the
federal government and with border enforcement officers as well.
In fact, we have intercepted 39,000 pounds of Asian carp destined for Ontario markets at the
border. We have established an Invasive Species Research Centre, and we are deploying staff
and resources necessary to help prevent the spread of Asian carp in our lakes. As well, MNR has
implemented an Asian carp response plan in partnership with DFO.
We deployed field crews to the Grand River, and the testing on this carp was that the carp was
sterile and non-productive. We’re going to continue to monitor—
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Thank you. New question.

Tuesday, October 29
The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Julia Munro): Our third question this evening comes from the
member for Haldimand–Norfolk. He has given his notice of dissatisfaction with the answer to his
question given by the Minister of the Environment on Asian carp in the Great Lakes. You have
up to five minutes to make your comments.
Mr. Toby Barrett: My late show question is to the Minister of Natural Resources, because the
threat of an Asian carp invasion—the question I asked yesterday—is an MNR issue; it’s not
Yesterday, the United States Geological Survey issued a statement that four Asian grass carp
caught by a commercial fisherman in October 2012 had lived in the Sandusky watershed their
entire lives. If true, that means that there are Asian grass carp reproducing in Great Lakes
Asian carp—the black, the bighead, the silver and the grass carp—are, in my view, the largest
threat that the Great Lakes has ever known. These fish reproduce explosively. They consume so
much food that the Great Lakes ecosystem could be devastated.
The Ohio Sandusky River is a tributary flowing into western Lake Erie. Western Lake Erie is the
nursery, the spawning bed, for many species that inhabit the entire lake. If the grass carp
population explodes, it can devastate the marshes and the vegetation of shallow Lake Erie when
it spreads. It will favour the warm, vegetation-filled waters of Lake St. Clair, Rondeau Bay and
Long Point Bay.
That same vegetation makes those areas an important stopover for migrating waterfowl. Long
Point Bay is considered one of the top staging areas for migratory waterfowl in eastern North
America. My father was employed by the Long Point Co. Dedicated duck hunters come from
across Canada, the United States and England because it’s such good hunting. The impact of
grass carp could be huge and far-reaching. It could impact waterfowl on a continental scale.
I understand that the lab at the University of Windsor was crucial in reaching the conclusion that
the grass carp involved in yesterday’s announcement were born and bred in the Sandusky River.
That’s money well spent, investing to make the University of Windsor a research leader, but
why, when the fish were caught last year, has it taken a year to get results? I imagine some of
these processes take time, but we should be on top of this. It has to be a priority.
Again, I ask the MNR, what are you doing to make this a cross-border, cross-lake priority? It’s
on American soil, but our Great Lakes are a shared resource. Again, I ask MNR, what is your
plan to prevent the further spread of Asian carp? Billions and billions in tourism and fishery
dollars are at stake. We need action, not more environmental laws or strategies or panels or
dithering. We need an MNR bill to put invasive species on the front burner and make it a top
priority. It’s an MNR issue, not environment.
Ministry staff need the reallocated financial resources to deal with it. It needs to be a government
priority. Put the focus on Great Lakes protection. The wolf is truly at the door. This will cripple
the Great Lakes. There’s a $7-billion sports fishery, a $234-million commercial fishery, and this
is above the $7 billion, year after year, that potentially could be lost through tourism and
economic activity.
We know that in the coming months scientists will look at how grass carp became established in
the Sandusky. No one knows the outcome. It’s likely a human-assisted introduction, perhaps
through Eagle Marsh, which is connecting the Mississippi watershed with the Great Lakes. I
learned of that potential invasion route from Professor David Frew of Mercyhurst college in Erie,
Of course, the concern as well is the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Electronic barriers are
being employed there.
A fence was built across Eagle Marsh. I think that marsh should be drained. There’s talk of
building a berm. There is a problem, and I acknowledge that a lot of it is due to American
politics not dealing with separating these two watersheds.
Two grass carp were discovered in my riding. These ones were sterile, but they were at Lake
Erie, at the mouth of the Grand River. I know the Ministry of Natural Resources has
accomplished a number of other measures—to gut these fish, for example, to make sure that they
are dead when they come in—but things are being circumvented.
I’ll just very quickly quote the Toledo Blade with respect to Asian carp becoming established. As
they say, this could be a “disaster of biblical proportions.”
Thank you, Speaker.