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Centre of Expertise for Aquatic Risk Assessment (CEARA)

The objectives of CEARA:

  1. develop a national standard for conducting biological risk assessments of AIS;
  2. educate practitioners on the risk assessment process;
  3. develop a process for prioritizing risk assessment needs;
  4. provide advice to headquarters on national priorities for risk assessments;
  5. coordinate and track progress of national risk assessments and ensure that deliverables are met.


Many of the science issues facing DFO are associated with significant knowledge gaps and uncertainties. This, however, does not relieve the department of the need to make decisions on these issues. Under these conditions, decisions must balance the risks and uncertainties while ensuring the sustainability of Canada's aquatic ecosystems. Risk assessment is the process of estimating the risk presented by a hazard, in either qualitative or quantitative terms, to aquatic ecosystems, fisheries resources, fish habitat, and aquaculture that DFO is mandated to manage and protect. DFO currently faces hazards from aquatic invasive species (AIS), climate change, and fish habitat alteration, with the potential for any or all of these hazards to impact species at risk (SAR), biodiversity, aquaculture, or fisheries resources. AIS are now considered one of the lead threats to native biodiversity (Sala et al. 2000, Dextrase and Mandrak 2006) imposing significant economic costs with just 18 invasive species (aquatic and terrestrial) estimated to cost Canada $13.3-34.5 billion per year (Colautti et al. 2006). Sea lamprey, as an example of successful control, currently costs the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) $20 million (US) per year to limit the impact of sea lamprey in the Great Lakes with the GLFC incurring costs to control sea lamprey every year for the past 30 years.

The National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms identifies risk assessment as central to the process of assessing proposals to move aquatic organisms. The Canadian Action Plan to Address the Threat of Aquatic Invasive Species identifies risk assessment as one of the implementation strategies to deal with the threat of AIS. However, DFO lacks the widespread expertise to develop the risk assessment tools and methods needed to provide science advice with a consistent national approach. By forming the Centre of Expertise for Aquatic Risk Assessment (CEARA), DFO can take the first steps toward developing the necessary expertise in risk assessment across the country, building on expertise developed in Burlington at the Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, and providing a concentration of experts necessary to stimulate the spread of expertise to other regions. CEARA will be led from the Central and Arctic Region but will draw members from all regions of the country and build upon existing working relations with Canadian and American experts in risk assessment.

Canada formally committed to control, eradicate or prevent the introduction of invasive species that threaten ecosystems, habitat or species under the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, with DFO responsible for AIS. CEARA will assist DFO to fulfil this responsibility by developing scientifically defensible risk assessment methods and tools that can then be applied to the issue of invasive species to identify key points in the invasion pathway and maximize the efficient use of limited resources to achieve the greatest potential for the prevention, eradication or control of AIS.

Mandate and Objectives

The mandate of CEARA is to develop national standards for, and to provide guidance on, scientifically defensible biological risk assessment. This mandate will be achieved by developing guidance documents, and holding national workshops to educate practitioners on the risk assessment process. CEARA will also be responsible for identifying risk assessment priorities and tracking national risk assessments to provide science advice related to healthy and productive aquatic ecosystems and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.

The objectives and deliverables for CEARA are:

  1. to develop a national standard for conducting biological risk assessments of AIS, to be peer-reviewed at a CSAS workshop (held in June 2006 and again in June 2008);
  2. to convene a national workshop to educate practitioners on the risk assessment process (held in June 2006);
  3. to develop a process for prioritizing risk assessment needs (draft completed FY 2009/10); and,
  4. to coordinate the tracking of national risk assessments (ongoing). Risk assessments will be undertaken, on a priority basis, by experts across Canada.

Management and Reporting Structure

CEARA will consist of a Directorate, a National Executive Committee and an Expert Network.

CEARA Directorate

CEARA will be led by a Directorate comprised of an Executive Director and a Manager, residing at the Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (GLLFAS) in Burlington, Ontario. Dr. Nicholas Mandrak is the Executive Director of the CEARA, and will chair the National Executive Committee. The Manager will report to the Executive Director, and will provide support for the work of the National Executive Committee. The Directorate will be responsible for developing guidance documents, holding national educational workshops, coordinating the tracking of national risk assessments, providing advice to headquarters on national risk assessment priorities, allocating funds to regions as required, and ensuring that deliverables are met.

The Executive Director of CEARA will have dual reporting responsibilities. Supervisory reporting will be to Regional Director of Science Central and Arctic Region. Functional reporting on the activities and deliverables of CEARA will be to the Director of Environment and Biodiversity Science who will in turn report to the Director General of Ecosystem Sciences. The Regional Director of Science, Central and Arctic Region will be responsible for reporting to NSDC.

National Executive Committee

The National Executive Committee of CEARA will be comprised of the CEARA Directorate and a science representative from each of the other regions, including headquarters. The National Executive Committee will be responsible for ensuring that CEARA fulfills its primary objectives within the scheduled time frame. It will also be responsible for identifying risk assessments priorities on an annual basis, and developing an annual work plan to be submitted to the NSDC by the RDS.

Expert Network

The Expert Network will be comprised of scientists with risk assessment and aquatic invasive species expertise, from within and outside the department (e.g. researchers involved in the NSERC AIS Network), who can assist in addressing issues important to DFO. The Expert Network will allow for a broader representation from within DFO, as well as a national representation from other federal departments, when appropriate (e.g. Transport Canada). Scientists involved in the NSERC AIS Network should be part of the CEARA Expert Network. The main roles of the Expert Network are to peer-review guidance and risk assessment documents, and to provide advice to the National Executive Committee as requested.

Liaison, Communication and Outreach

The National Executive Committee will hold regular meetings via conference call, and one annual meeting/workshop. Communications and travel costs will be paid out of the operating funds provided to CEARA. The Expert Network will not meet regularly, but will be invited to participate by internet, conference calls or workshops, as warranted, when the National Executive Committee requires peer review and expert advice.

Objectives, activities and deliverables of CEARA will be communicated through an annual work plan provided in February of the preceding year and an annual report provided by June of the following year.

The development of national risk assessment standards will be peer-reviewed following the National Advisory Process (NAP) and communicated in Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) Science Advisory documents. The proceedings of workshops held to educate practitioners regarding risk assessment will be published as CSAS Proceedings documents. All documents related to risk assessments (e.g. synopses, assessments, proceedings) will be published as CSAS documents. The publication of all CSAS documents will be done within 3 months after the completion of NAP workshops in accordance to CSAS guidelines. All risk assessments, and related documents, will be tracked by the National Executive Committee, and made available through a dedicated page on the CSAS website. To further communicate risk assessment procedures and applications, and to broaden the scope of review, authors of CSAS documents may also publish results in primary journals, if warranted.

The risk of invasion of aquatic ecosystems by AIS is an issue of interest to all Canadians, and a wide variety of outreach programs are currently being planned by DFO and its partners. Outreach to the general public, specifically related to risk assessment of AIS, will be achieved through a risk assessment tracking page on the CSAS website that will provide coordinated access to all risk assessment documents (e.g. synopses, assessments, proceedings) on a project by project basis.

Risk Assessments

Risk Assessment Methods Guidelines

Risk Assessment Tools

Pathway Assessments

Species Assessment Documents



References Cited

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