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Evidence of meeting #29 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 herring.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Claire Dansereau  Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Roch Huppé  Chief Financial Officer, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Jody Thomas  Deputy Commissioner, Operations, Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Kevin Stringer  Assistant Deputy Minister, Program Policy, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Siddika Mithani  Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
David Balfour  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

I wouldn't do that.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

That's quite common in the committee here, Mr. Minister.

Mr. Minister, I believe you have some opening comments. I'll give you the floor to make your comments, and then we'll proceed to questions.

March 14th, 2012 / 4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me to discuss Fisheries and Oceans Canada's main estimates.

I want to thank my deputy, Claire Dansereau, and members of our department's management team for starting the discussion with the committee. I understand that our chief financial officer has presented the highlights of our main estimates to you already.

The estimates represent a snapshot in time of the government's spending plans. Our fiscal outlook for the year ahead will be reflected more fully in the budget that will presented in two weeks by my colleague, the Minister of Finance.

I'd like to take this opportunity first to thank this committee for its excellent work. I appreciated your insight into the snow crab industry in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, and I'm looking forward to your report on closed containment salmon aquaculture.

I'm also very appreciative to have this chance to talk with you and share my thoughts on Canadian fisheries, aquaculture, and other marine sectors, and to inform you about how we are advancing the three main strategic objectives of Fisheries and Oceans Canada: economically prosperous maritime sectors and fisheries, sustainable aquatic ecosystems, and safe and secure waters.

Under the objective of economically prosperous maritime sectors and fisheries, we continuously undertake activities to ensure that Canada's fisheries and related economic benefits are operating at their fullest potential.

Under sustainable aquatic ecosystems we focus on the conservation, protection, and sustainability of Canada's aquatic ecosystems by managing the risks that affect species, oceans, and fish.

Under safe and secure waters we lead, deliver, and maintain the preparedness for the maritime component of the federal search-and-rescue system with our partners.

As I am sure you're aware, there is a lot going on in our marine environments in addition to fishing. The total value of Canada’s oceans and marine activities, including fisheries, offshore oil and gas, marine transportation, aquaculture, ecotourism, and cruises, is currently worth more than $28 billion, and there remains considerable unrealized economic potential.

Fish and seafood are one of the largest single food commodities exported by Canada. The sector currently employs approximately 80,000 Canadians who are involved in commercial fishing, aquaculture, and processing activities.

After five years of decline between 2004 and 2009, last year represented a small increase in Canada’s export numbers. While this is a positive indicator, I believe we still have work to do to make sure that Canada remains a world leader in this industry. There are also significant growth opportunities in the fisheries, with world demand expected to continue to grow over the next decade.

The World Bank estimates that $50 billion is lost annually from this industry around the world due to poor management. According to a forecast by the OECD, global per capita consumption of seafood is projected to increase by about 5% in the next eight years. This represents a tremendous opportunity for more jobs and more economic growth in our coastal and rural regions. There is a growing global demand for the product, and we could be better positioned to capture that market share.

Canada’s fishery sector is going through fundamental changes driven by significant and unprecedented shifts in global economics, market demand for sustainable seafood, and environmental realities. According to Christian Brun of the Maritime Fisherman’s Union,

The main problem our Atlantic fisheries face is price for its products. ...the dockside price for lobster has dropped sharply since 2008 because of both the strengthening of our Canadian dollar and the on-going recession in the United States, our main lobster market. These are the main reasons why the Canadian lobster fishery is less competitive and prosperous today than it was a few years ago.

Mr. Brun goes on to say that we need to look at ways to increase the value of our fisheries and work together to make things better.

I agree with Mr. Brun. We have important challenges ahead of us to ensure that Canada’s fishery and aquaculture sectors take advantage of growing market opportunities and maximize the economic value of this resource in a dynamic and changing global marketplace.

The recent engagement exercise undertaken by DFO was intended to do two things: talk about change that is ongoing in the department and industry, and review future opportunities for the industry. There is no doubt that this sparked a lively debate, and one that is, quite frankly, welcome.

This is a preliminary discussion to examine the multiple rules that drive our current system and to see how fisheries management can be advanced to meet the needs of today.

The department is currently working on some changes to our management practices, which were outlined last year. We are developing evergreen multi-year fisheries management plans for key fish stocks where levels are sustainable. We are also introducing a multi-year planning cycle for science advice to support management plans and total allowable catch limits for fisheries.

Moving to this multi-year approach provides conditions that allow individual fishermen to better plan for the long term, to make better business decisions, and to maximize the potential of the harvest. Doing so should eliminate some uncertainty for fishermen that results from using an annual approach.

Through ongoing and constant consultations and dialogue, the department is constantly reviewing and renewing its policies to better meet the needs of fishermen today. We are also constantly reviewing and renewing how we protect fish and fish habitat across the country. We're blessed with an abundant array of natural resources, which we should be proud of, and we should take seriously our responsibility to conserve and protect them.

Some of the federal fisheries policies that currently exist to protect fish and their habitat are not focused on the real needs of Canadians or the environment. I am sure that you, as members of Parliament who represent Canadians, are well aware of instances in which Fisheries and Oceans Canada policies go beyond protecting habitat and frankly become irritants to farmers, landowners, municipalities, and others.

No decision has been taken at this time, but we are looking at ways to change fisheries policies so they focus on the priorities of Canadians rather than prevent Canadian farmers from cleaning out ditches, stop people from draining flooded fields and campsites, or disallow cottage owners from keeping up their properties.

Finally, Fisheries and Oceans Canada includes the Canadian Coast Guard, a proud national institution that plays a key role in the maritime economy through ensuring the safe navigation of marine transportation and providing maritime services such as search and rescue, environmental response, and ice-breaking.

The coast guard continues to deliver on its motto: Safety First, Service Always. The Canadian Coast Guard provides the on-water platforms for other government departments and agencies for research or law enforcement or public safety.

We are very pleased to be celebrating the coast guard’s 50th anniversary this year. We will be celebrating the tireless contribution of the men and women of the Canadian Coast Guard throughout this year, and I invite all members of the committee to visit our website for information on upcoming events. We are honoured that the coast guard is now featured on a Canadian stamp, and that the CCGS Amundsen will be on the new 50-dollar bill.

We are also very proud that the largest and most capable icebreaker ever built in Canada, the John G. Diefenbaker, in addition to many other smaller vessels across the country, is now under development. In November I had the opportunity to unveil the first of the new Hero class vessels being built at the Irving shipyard in Halifax. These vessels are named after Canadian heroes killed in the line of duty.

The mandate of my department is important to all Canadians. Canada is blessed with the longest coastline in the world, as well as with abundant natural resources and beauty, things of which we can all be very proud.

We take seriously our responsibility to conserve and protect our resources and to ensure that they contribute to the economic prosperity of our country today and for our grandchildren.

Thank you very much.

That's my opening statement. I'd be happy to address any questions.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.

We'll begin with Mr. Kamp.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I have just one question. Then, with your permission, I'll turn it over to my colleague Mr. Leef, who will have some additional questions.

Thank you, Minister, for being here. It's always good to hear about where you think things are headed for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

My question is about the ISA virus. Over the last several months we've heard about it a number of times. It gets raised in this committee from time to time as well, with regard to both the west coast and, more recently, the east coast.

I'm from B.C., so I wanted to ask you what is happening with regard to this virus in B.C. The most recent report I've seen is actually from yesterday. One of the anti-aquaculture activists indicated in her blog that she had identified another five fish with the ISA virus. She did point out that she bought most of them in an Asian supermarket, so I'm not sure what we think of the chain of evidence there and so on.

Can you or your officials tell us just generally what we should be thinking and what comfort we can take in terms of the presence or not of the ISA virus in British Columbia?

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

My answers to the question in the House I think have been fairly clear in that regard. We're always wary about making sure we address this issue and ensure it's not present on the B.C. coastline. It's never been confirmed in wild Pacific or farmed salmon in British Columbia. That's the position we take, and it's based on all the testing we've conducted over the course of many years.

CFIA is the lead for the investigation into all of these reportable diseases, and it constantly addresses these concerns and goes through testing processes to ensure ISA doesn't exist. But to date, we have no confirmed cases of ISA in British Columbia farmed or wild salmon.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

So you're confident, between your department and CFIA, that the monitoring program to be proactive about that—not just testing when one is reported—is adequate.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

Yes, we are confident that we understand the importance of this issue. CFIA is currently going through a process of developing a new testing mechanism to ensure we are at the top level on this. We feel confident to date that we're in pretty good position. We regularly test salmon, both wild and farmed. If we can improve that, that's all the better. Of course we're always looking for improvements in anything we do.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Thanks very much.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Minister, you touched on this in your opening remarks, and I know you've addressed it a bit in the House, but I'm trusting that the Canadian public will probably find tuning into this committee more interesting than watching question period. So I'll maybe give you another opportunity to provide us with some of the examples we've heard you mention around the strict application of regulations and policies that, quite honestly, people in rural and urban Canada probably find defy common-sense application and are convoluted at times. We certainly hear that.

It impedes not just development activities. I think we hear the opposition—not this opposition—a lot of times talk about how we're trying to do something to purely enhance business. You did give some examples about how these applications are just affecting small operations, farmers trying to clear fields. Maybe for the benefit of the committee you could just highlight a few of the examples you've touched on in the past of where we need to make more sensible application of these policies.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

We're looking at the current policies. There have been a lot of concerns expressed by Canadians from a habitat perspective right straight across the country—not only in the west but on the east coast I hear it all the time—and how we need to improve the processes we use to ensure people aren't harassed in their everyday lives.

Sometimes our habitat rules go a little too far. One of the examples I gave today in the House, for example, was of a field that was flooded. An annual jamboree takes place in that area and they wanted to drain it to ensure it was ready for the summer jamboree, which we almost lost, by the way. Fish had ended up in that field, carp. And because of section 35 they had to fish that area before they could drain it, which didn't make a lot of sense. Those types of things should not happen. We put at risk an old jamboree that had been going on for some years. Those types of applications don't make any sense.

Another example is farmers who have a ditch running through their property and want to clean the ditch out. But because a fish might pass through, we don't allow them to clean out their ditches without going through extraordinary efforts and costs and potentially, if they don't meet those requirements, fines. There are a lot of areas that don't make sense for Canadians. We have to try to make more sense of them.

At the same time, we do have to protect our habitat and we have to protect our fishery, but the rules we have.... There is little or no flexibility in the current rules to address those types of issues. So I think it's important that we take a look at them and see if there's something we can do.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you. Your time's expired.

Mr. Donnelly.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Welcome to the committee, Minister. Thank you for coming in front of us and bringing your team. I appreciate your presence and your time here.

The government is planning to do away with the fleet separation and owner-operator policy, and in Atlantic Canada the independent fleet sector is the largest private sector employer. It's made up of 10,616 individual licence-holders. The sector creates an estimated additional 20,000 jobs for crew members. There are also indirect jobs in boat construction, gear supply, and maintenance. There are about 1,300 coastal communities that house these independent fishing enterprises. I want to note, too, that we've introduced a motion on the subject, so this committee will be talking about that in short order.

I'm wondering if the government has done any analysis of the potential impact of the elimination of this policy on independent fishers and coastal communities.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

First of all, right off the bat you say that we're going to eliminate these things. We're currently reviewing all of our policies, so I don't think it's fair to say we're going to eliminate anything.

Of course I am concerned about our fisheries and our fishing communities. We entered a process where I was seeking input and advice from fishermen and people across the country with an interest in fisheries who could provide us with information and advice on how we could improve the overall management of the fishery. We have received a lot of information, a lot of advice. We're currently looking at all that. I don't feel that I should just accept the advice I receive from DFO. I think I have to go out and see for myself. I engage Canadians. I have to listen to fishermen to get their feedback.

I've heard a lot of fishermen say that we have too many rules, that it doesn't make sense, that it's inhibiting their opportunity to grow. If it's inhibiting their opportunity to grow, it's going to have an impact on the communities where they live. So I think it's important that we take a look at the overall policies of the department. If we can improve them to make it better for fishermen and ensure that we have vital fishing communities, that's all to the good. These communities are an important part of eastern Canada and western Canada, and inshore as well. We have to be aware of that.

I think it's incumbent upon me to take a look at ways we can improve and grow the fishery.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

You're not planning on eliminating this policy?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

It's purely consultation at this point, Mr. Donnelly.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

If there were to be a decision to eliminate this policy or change this policy, would there be an analysis done on the impact?

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

Well, that would be conjecture, to begin with. Certainly we're always evaluating, and there are ways to obtain information on the Atlantic fishery, not only through DFO but also through other organizations, like ACOA. They do analyses of the fishery on the east coast of Canada. That's one example. There are ways we can ascertain the impacts. We're slipping in our export ranking, which is not a good sign. If we don't do anything, we're not going to have a fishery.

Young people aren't entering the fishery. It's getting more and more difficult for them to get involved. They're voting with their boots, so to speak, and they're heading west, where they can make a good dollar. A lot of them are not prepared to live a life where they're just making a minimal wage.

We have to ensure that we can grow that area. We have to make sure we have people to work in our fish plants, and that's becoming a problem. We have an aging workforce, and we are having great difficulties in attracting people to work in the fish plants. In the southeastern part of my province, they have to bring in 200 people a year because they can't get people to work in the fish plants. There are some major concerns we have to worry about if we're going to have a fishery for the future.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

I understand. The input and the feedback I'm hearing is that they want to see a recovery plan as well and a commitment to a recovery plan, especially on the Atlantic coast.

In your opening remarks you talked about habitat protection. In the questions you also pointed out an example of a jamboree in a field. Isn't it more to the point of looking at pipeline projects and that you've been intensely lobbied by large organizations, with more of a focus on pipelines and oil transportation off the coast, perhaps mining and other major activities? Isn't that more of a concern? Certainly it's come to light.

As you know, I've been asking in question period about this fact that the department intends to make sweeping changes to section 35 of the Fisheries Act, and that will have a major significant impact on habitat protection. With cuts of $10.2 million to species-at-risk recovery, $11.9 million from science and sustainable fisheries, and cuts of $6.7 million to environmental assessment regulation for major natural resource projects, is it safe to assume that DFO is indeed pulling out of habitat protection when assessing major projects? I specifically mention pipelines, oil tankers, mining operations, and not just farmers' fields, bridges, roads, and housing developments.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

It wouldn't be responsible for me as Minister of Fisheries to do anything that would impact on habitat, habitat protection, and the protection of fish. That's my primary focus. We're looking at all of our policies, but rest assured that it would not impact...if there are any changes. Who knows? I don't know for sure. No decisions have been made, but we're looking at things.

The primary thing is that we will protect our habitat and our fish. The funding programs that you mentioned were sunsetting programs, and I think my staff has probably talked to you about those already.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rodney Weston

Thank you very much.

Mr. Sopuck.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Thank you very much.

I have one initial comment, quickly, looking at your three strategic outcomes. As I look at my colleagues from this side of the House, four of the six of us come from freshwater areas. So I think we all put a plea in for more fisheries enhancement work in freshwater areas. Minister, that's fair warning that I think we'll be pushing the department in that direction, hopefully.

I will follow up on Mr. Donnelly's questions.

Minister, it seems obvious to me that if departmental expenditures and efforts are reduced in these “trivial areas”, like worrying about farmers' fields and jamboree grounds, and so on, you will be able to devote more resources to the high-priority habitat areas Mr. Donnelly referred to.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

Thank you for your question.

Certainly there will be more focus on species of fish and habitat, and we should probably be spending more time focusing on these rather than the ones you indicated. Based on that, it would make sense that we could realign our resources and do a better job of enforcing issues that should be our primary interest.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Yes, I couldn't agree more. As a person who loves fish to catch, eat, look at, and just be around, I must say that we can't underestimate the challenges that our fisheries department faces in managing fish. In fact, in the Oceans Day on the Hill event yesterday, one of the speakers pointed out that counting fish is just like counting trees, except fish are invisible and they move around. So the challenges that you face are absolutely enormous, especially in managing open-ocean fisheries.

One of the things I'm very interested in is the area of fish population enhancement. I didn't see those words in any of the documents here. At DFO, do you plan to continue the great work that you've done with groups like the Atlantic Salmon Federation in creating a private-public partnership in the $30-million range to enhance a fish that is worth at least $138 million to eastern Canada?

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Keith Ashfield Conservative Fredericton, NB

There was a trust fund put in place of about $30 million for that particular program. That was implemented to use the interest garnered from that fund to invest in fish enhancement, so that's an ongoing effort. They have their funds. They had some challenges when we had a downturn and the recession, but they're well on track again now, and they do great work.

Which do you like better, Atlantic salmon or B.C. salmon?