Evidence of meeting #62 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was work.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

James Fortune  Chief Operating Officer, Ducks Unlimited Canada
Mark Butler  Policy Director, Ecology Action Centre

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you for your time.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you very much, sir.

I'm sorry, I didn't have a chance to get to the other witness.

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

We will move now to Ms. Leslie, for seven minutes.

9:10 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

Hello, Mr. Butler. It's nice to see you here from Ottawa instead of at home.

I'm actually going to pick up a little bit from where Mr. Woodworth left off on the fisheries issue and Off the Hook, the community-supported fishery, which is a fantastic initiative. I've had the occasion to go and meet some of the fishermen down Brier Island way, down Digby Neck. I think it's an interesting project because you are working with the private sector, obviously. There are fishermen involved. It's sort of formed like a co-op. I buy a share and every week I get fresh fish. It's amazing.

You're working with the private sector there, but then the work that's happening through Off the Hook stands in pretty stark contrast to the bigger fisheries in our region that are taking a different approach to the fisheries, one that is perhaps less sustainable. There's the community-supported fishery. I know the EAC also does a lot of work on trying to get changes to legislation so that we can have more initiatives like community-supported fisheries versus the big bottom-trawling fishery, which is dragging the nets and leaving this empty sort of dead highway behind them where they've scooped up everything.

How does that work, this working with the private sector, sort of small-scale private sector, if that's a phrase, but then also needing to work with government to change legislation for a fundamental shift in how we do fishing in this country?

9:15 a.m.

Policy Director, Ecology Action Centre

Mark Butler

As Ms. Leslie knows, this is a question dear to my heart. Prior to working at the Ecology Action Centre, I worked in the commercial fishery for a number of years as a deckhand, so I've seen first-hand the effects of poor management, both on the environment and on people and the economy of southwest Nova Scotia. For example, at one time we had hundreds of handline fishermen. These are small-boat fishermen in southwest Nova Scotia, who basically fish like you and I do, with a bunch of hooks. When the fish are there, when there's biomass in the water, then this method of fishing can be highly effective and it produces a high-quality product.

Today, unfortunately, there are almost no handliners left in southwest Nova Scotia, or most of Atlantic Canada. To me, that's a real sadness and a real missed opportunity because I think there's a growing market for fish caught in this manner.

To answer your question, I think it's both. You have to do this work where you work with fishermen individually and try to use the markets to reward those fishermen who are fishing in a more sustainable manner. At the same time, and I think this is one of the great tragedies of fisheries policy in Canada, despite the collapse and the huge economic hit that this region took—40,000 jobs lost and never really recovered—we have not addressed the base causes of the fisheries collapse, which included technology.

The market, in the absence of strong federal policy, has been a problem for many years, not just the last 10. It's been a problem for the last 20 since the collapse in the early nineties. There has been no real, strong government response. I think what's happening is that the private sector is stepping up. We have the marine stewardship certification program, which has its pluses and minuses, but it's an attempt by large players and the WWF to help the consumer, guide the consumer, in purchasing sustainably caught seafood.

Perhaps I was a little long, but it's a passionate topic for me.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Of course, and it should be for all of us.

I guess the point I'm hoping to make here is that Off the Hook is this incredible program and it should be celebrated, but it exists because of this huge legislative mess that we have. It's tricky because you want to work on the innovative projects that are working, but at the same time you want to put attention to working with government to actually transform policy, in the fishery in this case, but in other areas around environment as well.

9:15 a.m.

Policy Director, Ecology Action Centre

Mark Butler

Right now, at least with Off the Hook, we're working with four fishermen in the Bay of Fundy. There should be thousands of fishermen in Atlantic Canada fishing groundfish . We can't do it four fishermen at a time. I think in part because of our work, and just the growing consumer awareness, we now see more producers engaging in promoting sustainably caught seafood. If it's helped get the ball rolling, that's great, but you're absolutely right that we still need to have strong policies from government. These initiatives should be hand in hand with that in order to have a real impact.

9:15 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Thanks.

I'll do my part by inviting everybody at committee, should you be in Halifax this summer, to come to my house for some the Off the Hook Community Supported Fishery fish. I'll cook it up, we'll invite Mark over, and we'll talk fisheries policy.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Watch out.

9:20 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

To Mr. Fortune from Ducks Unlimited, thank you so much for the recommendations you made at the end of your presentation. I would really like to explore all of them, but I can't in the time I have. Expand funding for core investment programs, legislate guidelines, make it easier to conserve habitat rather than destroy—those are good recommendations.

Take the first one, perhaps, the investment for core programs. Could you expand on that? Why is that an issue? Why is that a problem right now?

9:20 a.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Ducks Unlimited Canada

James Fortune

The government announced the national conservation plan, which is a terrific first step. It's a major investment of $250 million.

Just to frame the programs that we're most involved in, the recreational fisheries conservation partnership program and the wetland conservation fund are both heavily subscribed. I know that the national wetland conservation fund is oversubscribed, so when we go into those investments we have to find a match. It often comes from the private sector in some way. Either we raise the funds from an industry partner or through our fundraising initiatives—

June 16th, 2015 / 9:20 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Sorry to interrupt. They're oversubscribed?

9:20 a.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Ducks Unlimited Canada

James Fortune

Yes, they are oversubscribed, which is a great indicator of the willingness of Canadians and conservation organizations to get involved in conservation programs.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

You're out of time, Ms. Leslie. Maybe someone else can pick up on that question.

Mr. Sopuck, please.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you.

Mr. Fortune, of course you know where I come from and the area I represent.

For the rest of the committee's benefit, Ducks Unlimited's project number one, Big Grass Marsh, is in my constituency. It was built in the 1930s. I've been there many times. Ducks Unlimited and the landowners and farmers in my own region have been partners for decades now.

Mr. Fortune, can you briefly elaborate on the value of wetlands? Why are wetlands important?

9:20 a.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Ducks Unlimited Canada

James Fortune

I think wetlands have emerged in importance, and awareness of their value is growing. With Ducks Unlimited and other hunting and fishing supported groups, there's a lot of alignment and awareness driven around wetlands as fish and wildlife habitat. The traditional sporting pursuits of hunting, angling, and trapping utilize those habitats.

That's where it all started. As we've moved ahead and done a lot of research, we've discovered that the ecological benefits of wetlands are profound. Wetlands store water, and release it slowly to help mitigate flooding. Wetlands sequester carbon. Restored wetlands sequester carbon. We also have all the impacts of species at risk well beyond the huntable, consumable wildlife that we all enjoy. I think the first real CSA programs are the fish and wildlife we capture and take home and consume ourselves.

We see ecological benefits and environmental benefits that are quite significant. We've done a lot of research, as you know, Bob, in that area to support it all.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thanks. I appreciate that.

You talked about our national conservation plan and the wetlands component. Have you accessed this fund? I'm quite sure you have, but could you talk about the specific wetlands projects that are being supported by Ducks Unlimited and our government specifically related to wetlands?

9:20 a.m.

Chief Operating Officer, Ducks Unlimited Canada

James Fortune

The window opened up with the announcement of the program a year ago. Immediately, in go funding requests for $10 million in partnership resource and it's oversubscribed; no problem.

In the first round we received $2 million in that general area of funding. One of the projects we delivered was this one just west of the city here, near Carp. It's very interesting. The benefits of that project include habitat for the Blanding's turtle, a species at risk, in addition to waterfowl, fish, wildlife, frogs, and everything else in one spot. That's an example of a local site.

There are other projects, such as the early land securement we do in the prairies on landscapes. We'll buy a quarter section of property and restore the wetlands on it using federal funds to invest in the restoration initiatives, partnering with industry, and then put a conservation easement to secure the property in perpetuity. We'll then sell the property so that it goes into private sector ownership. The habitat is maintained in perpetuity in its values and it's a win for everybody. That's another example.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you.

Mr. Butler, I was very interested in the project you described about the seawalls and using natural methods to protect shorelines. We did a study on urban conservation a couple of years ago, and a number of us threw out the idea of the Building Canada fund supporting ecological infrastructure. To me that's the way of future: constructed wetlands and the things you're talking about, projects that deliver multiple benefits.

I have a fisheries background myself, so I'm very interested in your Off the Hook program. Is the program working? Are there price premiums? Do consumers pay more for those fish than for the sort of mass-caught fish, or is the price point about the same?

9:25 a.m.

Policy Director, Ecology Action Centre

Mark Butler

The price point is definitely higher, and for two reasons: because we have a relatively small customer base, so we don't have the volume advantage yet, and because we want to provide the fishermen with more money, a more reasonable price for their fish. Although luckily, things have been changing in the lobster industry of late and the price has gone up, it's often been the case in the natural resources sector that fishermen are still receiving the same price for groundfish per pound that they received 20 years ago, and we know that everything else has gone up in price. We wanted to provide them with a much better price. Those are two reasons why the price is higher.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Your point about the price that producers get reflects the situation in my own constituency, which is largely agricultural. I can hear my farmers saying exactly the same thing, but they're talking about grain. Again, I share your lament at the loss of the small producers. We see the same thing in agriculture.

You talked about better fishing practices. Would you want to see a fairly significant reduction in the large-scale mechanized fishing practices in favour of more small-scale fishermen out there? Is that a policy change that you would recommend the government explore?

9:25 a.m.

Policy Director, Ecology Action Centre

Mark Butler

There are two issues. There's the technology you use. A small guy can use destructive technology and a big guy can use sustainable technology, so it's not as simple as “small good, big bad”. Those two issues should be addressed, and we should deal with the issue of technology.

I gave the example of the handliners. They were small, and they were also using the most sustainable technology out there. We have the lobster fishery, which creates an incredible amount of employment. If you took the lobster out of southwest Nova Scotia, that part of the province would be a ghost town. I think that the fact that it's small-scale, involves many people, and is sustainable all comes together in that fishery.

Generally, I guess, we would lean towards creating more jobs from a public resource and having a few jobs and the concentration of ownership in a few hands, but you have to start with the technology and whether it's conservation-oriented or not.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you very much.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Mr. McKay, go ahead, please.