A Windsor, Ont., MP plans to introduce a private members' bill designed to reduce the threat of Asian carp in the Great Lakes.
Windsor West NDP MP and border critic Brian Masse will table the bill at his first opportunity during the fall session of Parliament.
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Masse made the announcement Wednesday in Sarnia.
Currently, a patchwork quilt of more than 20 federal and provincial policies and regulations are used to keep Asian carp out of the country. But they vary from province to province and fines are often subjective and issued by judges.
Masse says his federal law would streamline and simplify regulations across the country. He called it a "pan-Canadian strategy."
His bill would:
- Make it illegal to import live, invasive carp of all types and require any dead carp be eviscerated — or "gutted."
- Allow the Canada Border Service Agency to seize or send back carp to its country of origin immediately.
- Increase fines.
Right now, it's illegal in Ontario to import live Asian carp. However, fish packed on ice can "come back to life," even after 48 hours, Masse said.
His bill would set fines at $15,000 for individuals and $75,000 for companies guilty of smuggling in Asian carp on their first offence. The fines could rise to as much as $1 million and $4 million, respectively, for repeat offenders.
"It will send a strong message that we’re serious about this issue," Masse said.
He said people right now accept the current fines, which vary by judgment, as "as just the cost of doing business."
"The fines and penalties have been very modest," Masse said.
In 2011, an Ontario court handed down what was then the province's biggest fine yet for bringing Asian carp into the province. It fined a Markham, Ont., owner of a fish-importing business $50,000 for possessing almost 2,000 kilograms of live bighead and grass carp that were seized on the Canada-U.S. border in Windsor, Ont.
Earlier this year, an Edmonton, Alberta, trucking company and a Markham, Ont., truck driver were fined a combined $75,000 for possessing live Asian carp in Ontario.
Danger to ecosystems
Bighead and silver Asian carp are largely considered to be the biggest threats. They eat huge amounts of plankton, which is the foundation of aquatic food chains.
They have infested much of the Mississippi River basin and are threatening to gain a foothold in the Great Lakes through rivers and canals. If that happens, species native to Canada could be wiped out.
According to the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, all invasive species, including Asian carp, cost Canada and the U.S. a combined $500 billion in losses each year.
"There is a lot of people interested in this for a variety of reasons," Masse said of his proposed bill. "[Asian carp] would destroy our ecosystems.
"If you’re a hunter or angler, you should care about this issue. If you care about the economy, you should care about this issue."
The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a U.S.-Canadian partnership that manages fish stocks and fights invasive species in the countries' shared waters, estimates recreational, commercial and tribal fishing throughout the Great Lakes is worth $7 billion a year.
Masse could be in tough to get his bill passed before the next federal election.
He is currently 206th on the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business.
He can introduce the bill, but it likely would not get to second reading before the writ drops.