Great Lakes Food Webs Science Advice Clients : #2 ECCC

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” Lewis Carroll

The next science advice client that our lab at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) provides science advice to is related to our mandate under the International Joint Commission. While Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) has many regulatory and conservation responsibilities, they are both our regular science collaborator in the Great Lakes, and also the Canadian agency lead under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, so they are ultimately responsible for reporting out and moving forward restoration activities.

A series of photos showing lab and field sampling from ships and boats by DFO staff.

One thing I am often asked to explain, especially to our US partners, is how the Canadian federal agencies compare to those in the US: the answer is – it is complicated. There are no direct equivalencies between US and Canada federal agencies.

Within our Great Lakes partners in the US:
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is responsible for Weather, Climate, Oceans and Coasts, Fisheries, Satellites, Marine and Aviation, Marine Navigation and Charting, and Marine Conservation.

USEPA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is responsible for Clean Air, Land and Water, Environmental Science, Human Health, Environmental Stewardship, Regulating Chemicals, and Contaminants and Environmental Restoration.

USGS, the United States Geological Survey, is responsible for Science-based Information for Earth-System Interactions (which can be geological, biological, hydrological, chemical), Earthquakes/Volcanos, Satellite Imaging, Coastal Science (some fisheries), Ecosystems, Land-Use, Land Resources, Hazards and Mapping.

Within Canada:
DFO is responsible for Sustainable Fisheries, Aquaculture, Fish Habitat, Aquatic Species (invasive and species at risk), Aquatic Science, Navigation and Marine Safety (through Canadian Coast Guard). DFO has science, regulatory and enforcement responsibilities.

ECCC is responsible for Weather, Climate Change Impacts, Freshwater and the Environment, Hydrometric Flows and Water Levels, Pollution, and Wildlife (but not fishes).

Thus, DFO is a partial combination of NOAA, USEPA, USGS.
And, ECCC, is also a partial combination of NOAA, USEPA, USGS.
This means that we regularly work across agencies for our science work.

So, what does DFO Science provide to ECCC for our Great Lakes treaty requirements? The simple answer is biology. ECCC science mandates for ecosystems effectively include everything up to live things: water quality, chemistry and nutrients, contaminants etc. If living things have relevant toxic effects (e.g. Harmful Algal Blooms, beach coliform bacteria) then that fits within their mandate. Of course there is a lot of overlap, but DFO is responsible for the living aspects of the ecosystem: viruses, bacteria, algae, zooplankton, benthos, fishes etc. In practice and ecosystems lab like ours includes all abiotic and biotic aspects of the system, so there is a lot of overlap and collaboration to ensure efficiencies. An example is our lakewide monitoring program with ECCC, where they do water chemistry and contaminants, and we sample bacteria, phytoplankton and zooplankton. Since ECCC is the Canadian lead under the GLWQA they have to report out on all aspects of the agreement, so they rely on DFO and our US partners to supply the requisite information.

The relevant GLWQA Annexes that DFO Science is important for are:

Annex 1: Areas of Concern. This is the big one for us. Designated Areas of Concern (AOCs) require assessment for specific “Beneficial Use Impairments” (BUIs) to determine delisting criteria. DFO leads with provincial partners (especially Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Ministry of the Environment Conservation and Parks) on BUI 3 (Degradation of Fish and Wildlife Populations), 8 (Eutrophication or Undesirable Algae), 13 (Degradation of Phytoplankton and Zooplankton Populations), 14 (Loss of Fish and Wildlife Habitat). We also provide science review on other BUI as well. DFO receives funds from ECCC Great Lakes to provide this service, so it is very much a collaborative process.

Annex 2: Lakewide Management. This annex is related to assessing the status of each of the Great Lakes to establish lake ecosystem objectives. All of the biological sub-indicators used for State of the Great Lakes have input from DFO, primarily within Habitat and Species, and Nutrients and Algae, but also Invasive Species and Watershed Impacts.

Annex 6: Aquatic Invasive Species. Most of this annex is focused to prevention of new introductions of aquatic invasive species to the Great Lakes for which DFO is lead, and at the Great Lakes Lab, we have programs related to science-based ballast water regulations and invasive species monitoring. DFO has also long been a partner with USFWS on Sea Lamprey population control in the Great Lakes, based out of our sister lab in Sault-Ste-Marie. Our lower trophic lab provides yearly information related to several important species including: Dreissena sp. (Zebra and Quagga mussels, the Spiny Water Flea (Bythotrephes longimanus) and Fishhook Water Flea (Cercopagis pengoi), but also related to food-web and population risks of Invasive Carps.

Annex 7: Habitat and Species. The goal of this annex is to increase net gain of habitat and ecosystem targets and conserve native species and habitat. A good number of my research co-workers have their primary focus on fish habitat and work directly with our regulatory arm, the Fish and Fish Habitat Protection Program to assess fish populations and restoration of fish habitat. This information is compiled by ECCC for the State of the Great Lakes reports.

Annex 10: Science. Along with Annex 1, this is the main Annex that we work with ECCC to maintain our requirements under the GLWQA. DFO is a core member of the Great Lakes Executive Committee (GLEC) which sets priorities and science review. We share core planning for the binational Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) with ECCC, and are responsible for assessing the myriad of Ecosystem Objectives “a suite of comprehensive, science-based ecosystem indicators to assess the state of the Great Lakes”. The most recent State of the Great Lakes was completed in 2022.

This all goes to say that DFO is dependent on ECCC for funding, and leading most of the reporting on Great Lakes science, while ECCC is dependent on DFO’s expertise on biological and ecosystem processes to complete these reports. It is an excellent example of agency collaboration.

A series of photos showing an autonomous underwater glider, and biologists sampling from the side of vessels.