Evidence of meeting #7 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was habitat.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Siddika Mithani  Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • Claire Dansereau  Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • Marc Grégoire  Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • David Balfour  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • Kevin Stringer  Assistant Deputy Minister, Program Policy, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • David Bevan  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

I call this meeting to order.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to welcome our guest today, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to meet with our committee. I'm sure the minister and the officials accompanying him--whom I'm sure he'll introduce as we go through--are all quite familiar with how the committee operates. We have certain time constraints that we operate within. The minister has some opening comments and then we'll move into questioning.

You'll probably hear a little alarm up here, Minister. Don't be alarmed when it goes off. It's a reminder to the members more than anything else to try to stay within those time constraints. If members or the minister are in the middle of comments, I'd ask that you bring them to a conclusion shortly after that so we can get in all the questions that members might have here today.

Once again, welcome, Minister. In your comments, hopefully, you'll introduce the officials who are joining you today. We understand that you have to attend another meeting and that the officials will remain with us for the entire meeting, and will be more than happy to answer members' questions as well. Thank you very much for coming.

Minister, I'm going to turn it over to you. Please proceed.

October 6th, 2011 / 3:30 p.m.

Fredericton
New Brunswick

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and the committee, for the invitation. It's good to be here.

I have with me the following officials from the department: Deputy Minister Claire Dansereau, Associate Deputy Minister David Bevan, and Siddika Mithani, the ADM of ecosystems and ocean sciences. We call her the head scientist. It sometimes embarrasses her, but it didn't today. I also have with me Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner Marc Grégoire, Chief Financial Officer Roch Huppé, Assistant Deputy Minister of ecosystems and fishery management David Balfour, and also Assistant Deputy Minister of program policy Kevin Stringer.

It is a pleasure to join you as Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I look forward to working with the committee on an ongoing basis to protect and support our fisheries and oceans. Today's appearance is a welcome opportunity to provide an update on the current state of affairs in the Canadian fishing industry and my initial observations as a new minister to this department.

DFO's presence across Canada is extensive. We have approximately 10,700 employees, 86% of whom are located in our six regions. The department's mandate ranges from managing this country's aquatic resources and their habitat to supporting the commercial fishing and aquaculture sector. Additionally, we also manage the Canadian Coast Guard.

Let me begin by recognizing the Canadian Coast Guard and the work it does every day to keep Canadians safe. The Canadian Coast Guard is one element in a network of government agencies, volunteers, and private entities that make up Canada's search and rescue system.

Canada's search and rescue system is responsible for monitoring the longest coastline in the world. Canadian waters are often treacherous, with unpredictable and challenging weather conditions. Despite this, Canada has one of the most effective search and rescue systems in the world, which includes a network of three joint rescue coordination centres staffed jointly by the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Forces.

The safety of Canadians is the coast guard's number one priority. We are always looking and working to improve Canada's search and rescue capacity, engaging officers in regular training exercises and enhancing the tools and equipment for our front line officers to do their jobs effectively.

The coast guard is currently modernizing and improving coordination with our search and rescue partners in order to better serve Canadians. For example, our government has made significant investments so that the coast guard can modernize and expand the fleet, adding new ice-breaking capability and replacing or updating many of the older boats and ships.

In keeping with our government's commitment to uphold sovereignty and security, we're also exploring law enforcement options for the coast guard. The ongoing renewal within the operations of the Canadian Coast Guard is particularly timely, as we are coming up to their fiftieth anniversary.

Over the summer I met with more than 100 industry and stakeholder groups, including representatives from various governments, NGOs, and members of the fishing community, to better understand individual, local, and regional perspectives on Canada's fisheries. It was no surprise that all coastal, stakeholder, and industry representatives expressed concern over the many challenges facing today's fishing industry. Unprecedented shifts in global economics, societal trends, consumer demand, and the environmental realities are changing the commercial fishing sector. In the past 15 years, emphasis has shifted from groundfish, such as cod, halibut, and flounder, towards shellfish. Today, most of the $1.7 billion in landed value from the fishery comes from lobster, snow crab, shrimp, and scallops. Only 10% of the value is coming from groundfish.

Our fishery has always been heavily oriented towards exports. Today we export approximately 85% of our fish products, but the value of the exports has steadily diminished over the past five years. This stands in stark contrast to the situation of a country such as China, whose exports have been increasing during the same period.

Besides external forces that are putting increased pressures on the industry, I've heard from stakeholders and individuals that DFO's fisheries management system is outdated and complicated. This situation has created unnecessary barriers to industry growth and global competitiveness. Young people are less and less interested in the fisheries because of these and other types of barriers.

Fishers and industry stakeholders have also told me that DFO controls virtually all aspects of fisheries operations: where and when people can fish, and what size of boats, what kind of gear, and how many fish they can catch.

Over the years, policy decisions have often been made that favour the short term over the long term. These policies have been adopted in a patchwork manner, and differ from region to region and from fishery to fishery. Some of them limit growth, curtail efficiencies and, frankly, make very little sense. The current system is also resource intensive and expensive to administer. Canada's fisheries are at a watershed moment and must adapt to the needs of a rapidly changing industry. At Fisheries and Oceans Canada, we want to create the conditions for Canada's fishing industry to generate more value and to become a business environment that is conducive to attracting private investment.

Through the work we've been doing and continue to do with our stakeholders, the path to a more prosperous and sustainable fishery is, in the end, becoming very clear. So far, I understand that change is necessary to rebalance fisheries management policies and conservation programs to allow a better response to market forces and set the conditions for economic growth. We must continue to build on our catch certification program; maintain and grow access in international markets for Canadian fish and fish products; create a more stable operating environment where multi-year allocations for most species are the norm and processes for assigning them are predictable, consistent, and transparent. We must also provide incentives for fishers to make long-term plans and investments to improve their competitiveness and encourage sustainable harvesting policies.

Similar changes in market-based approaches to fisheries management have proven successful in other countries, and select Canadian fisheries as well. Change is always difficult, but fisheries that have already modernized have realized the benefits of flexible, market-oriented fishing seasons, improved product quality, increased economic value, a decline in instances of overfishing, and improved safety. A modern fisheries management framework would enable us to focus on maximizing value and quality rather than quantity of output, to better position the industry to make a real and lasting contribution to Canada's economic future.

I believe strongly that with some changes at DFO, Canada's fishing industry has the potential to generate much more value. Transforming Canada's fisheries will require examining all of DFO's rules, policies, and regulations. My goal is to establish a coherent management system that is designed to maximize the return on investment and protect the Canadian fishing industry in both the short and long term. Stakeholders have been clear to me that they want to focus on value; untangle, simplify, and standardize rules and processes; increase transparency for decision-making; and strengthen environmental sustainability in Canadian and international waters to ensure there is a fishery for the future.

Stability, predictability, transparency, and a level playing field are the conditions that support economic growth. We need to look at the department's entire web of rules, with an objective of freeing up fishers to run their own operations as true business enterprises.

DFO's approach to habitat management is another area in need of reform. Modernizing DFO's habitat policy will allow the department to manage the impacts of human activities on fish and fish habitat more effectively and efficiently. With a less cumbersome regulatory review process, we need a policy that focuses on the major threats to fish habitat and on priority species and priority ecosystems, and to do that efficiently and effectively.

DFO's regulatory decisions about habitat can directly affect the activities of industry, farmers, landowners, first nations, communities, and individuals, and can have real impacts on economic development and the environment. We need to put in place a system that is more transparent, that leverages existing partnerships, that is guided by national standards, and that is supported by appropriate tools and guidelines.

It's an ambitious agenda, one that we will approach with rigour. With the right changes, we can have a more modern and efficient coast guard, a fishery sector that is globally competitive and more sustainable and world class, and a habitat policy that can affect real change.

As Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I look forward to delivering results that reflect Canadians' priorities.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and merci beaucoup.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rodney Weston

Thank you very much, Minister.

We'll proceed right into questions from members, starting off today with Mrs. Davidson.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, minister, for appearing before us today, and thanks also to the people you have with you. I look forward to the discussion.

I'm new to this committee and, of course, I don't live on either coast; I live on the Great Lakes. So I'm going to ask questions based on that, because that is the particular expertise or interest I have at this time.

We know that invasive species have been an issue in different areas and that quite a bit of work has been done on those. But right now there is one specific invasive species, the Asian carp, that is creating quite a bit of consternation in my area, in Lake Huron, and I feel it's threatening the Great Lakes watershed. Because of this species, there is a threat to the multi-billion dollar sport fishing industry in the Great Lakes and the freshwater fisheries.

Could you take a couple of minutes, minister, to update the committee on what DFO is doing on an ongoing basis in response to this issue? I spoke to the previous minister, but I don't believe I've spoken to you about this since you took over this portfolio. I think we need to have some update on it.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Fredericton, NB

It's of considerable concern, the Asian carp in particular. There has been a significant amount of money invested over the course of the last few years. Originally, in 2005, there was $4 million dedicated to help address the issue. That funding was renewed in Budget 2010 on an ongoing basis. It provides $2 million to supplement the sea lamprey control program and $2 million for other aquatic invasive species.

A considerable amount of collaboration and information sharing with key stakeholders has transpired over the course of time. A fair amount of money has been invested in science to better understand the risk of AIS, and that is carrying on. As well, my provincial colleagues and I, at our meeting of the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers in September of this year, met in Iqaluit. We renewed our commitment to work collaboratively on issues related to aquatic invasive species. So there is that work, which is ongoing.

Also, work is going on with the U.S. on a continuing basis. In October 2010 Canada and the United States launched a binational risk assessment for Asian carp in the Great Lakes. It's having a significant impact on our U.S. colleagues as well, so it's important. We are working on a very difficult file, but, hopefully, we'll see some positive consequences come from that.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you very much, minister. I appreciate the work that's being done on it.

Can you elaborate on the binational risk assessment that is under way with the United States?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Fredericton, NB

I'll perhaps defer to one of my staff, who can give you the full details on it. High-level concerns are obviously what I deal with most of the time, but if you're looking at specific information on this, I'll defer to Dr. Mithani.

3:45 p.m.

Dr. Siddika Mithani Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

The kind of work that is currently being done within the binational risk assessment really looks at the characterization, the biology, of the issue, in trying to identify the risk levels for the migration of the Asian carp coming across the Chicago canal, and at how we should look at prevention and mitigation strategies.

So there is a lot of biological work being done. There is monitoring being done. And there is also research being done in association with the Canadian Aquatic Invasive Species Network. They are also involved in a lot of the work being done.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Has a timeframe been established for the study in regard to the level of risk, so that we're moving beyond study into prevention and mitigation? Is there a timeframe for that?

3:45 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Siddika Mithani

At this time, it's very difficult to say, because we haven't had results come through. What our research plan and our monitoring plan will be, going forward, really depends on the kind of results we have. But it's certainly being looked at on a periodic and regular basis.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

We don't know, then, whether it's something that will be in place within the next year or the next six months.

3:45 p.m.

Claire Dansereau Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Excuse me, but let me add a little bit to this.

The assessment work that Siddika is talking about is one piece of the work we're doing with the Americans. We're having a high-level meeting and junior-level meetings all across the system. They are looking at investing greater amounts of money, as you know, and we're looking to see what role we could play in that.

So it's very high on our radar—not just the assessment work, but a binational relationship around this, and tracking.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Can you speak to the efforts that are happening around the Chicago area with the so-called gate?

3:45 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Claire Dansereau

Unfortunately, I can't remember, because we were dealing with this last spring. But we did make sure—and certainly when I was down in Washington—with the Army Corps of Engineers that the piece of work that needed to be done to fortify was actually completed. I'm not sure of the latest developments in that file.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Could we perhaps have an update and someone come to the committee to talk about this? With the multi-billion-dollar sport fishing industry in the Great Lakes, it's of huge concern to that area. Any type of assurances you can give us that it's going to remain on the top of the radar screen would be great.