Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee for the opportunity to speak to you here this morning. I'm Jacqueline Perry, acting regional director general for Newfoundland and Labrador of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
I am pleased to be here with colleagues from other regions in the Atlantic and our national headquarters to provide you with information related to the department's rules for vessel registration length and to answer any questions you may have.
Vessel-length restrictions are applied in all fisheries in Canada. They were implemented in the 1970s primarily for conservation reasons, and they were applied in competitive fisheries to control the catching capacity of vessels and therefore the amount of fish harvested. That said, the policies have evolved over time and now contribute to the achievement of several fisheries management objectives including economic viability, equitable access to fisheries resources, and vessel safety.
More specifically, vessel-length restrictions provide for an equitable and orderly harvest of fishing resources, promote viable and profitable operations for the average participant, and promote consistency while recognizing that specific provisions may be necessary for certain fisheries and geographical locations. Vessel length is one of many complex and interrelated factors contributing to safety at sea in Canadian fisheries.
Vessel lengths are also used to define fleets for the purposes of fisheries management. Commonly, vessels over 100 feet are considered the "offshore fleet", vessels 65 to 100 feet represent the "midshore fleet", and vessels less than 65 feet are generally understood to represent the "inshore fleet". These fleet distinctions are linked to specific licensing policies and management measures.
Vessel-length restrictions have evolved over time and their application may vary based on regional factors, although the department strives for consistency where possible and appropriate. While effective control of fishing effort and vessel capacity remain key objectives of fisheries management and licensing policy in Canada, over the years and in consultation with industry, DFO has reviewed rules governing vessel length in certain fleets with the objective of providing industry with increased flexibility. DFO has provided this flexibility to fleets when proposals are supported by a clear majority of participants and do not compromise conservation or fisheries management objectives.
Proposals to change vessel registration rules are reviewed in open, transparent processes using existing consultation mechanisms and involving all affected stakeholders. Consultations have been held over the past couple of years and feedback tends to be mixed, with some stakeholders favouring vessel-length extensions, while others favour limiting criteria to meet conservation and fisheries management objectives.
Since 1997, DFO has provided greater flexibility to fishers operating under self-rationalization systems such as individual transferable quotas, ITQs. In 2003, a new approach for changing vessel replacement rules for Atlantic Canada was adopted following an extensive industry consultation process. The new approach responds to industry requests in the development of new rules as long as the proposed changes are consistent with principles that were established at the time and continue to be applied today.
In 2007, DFO approved changes to the vessel replacement rules in Newfoundland and Labrador region after extensive consultations with industry, and increased the length barrier for all of the inshore sectors. These changes were accompanied by the introduction of the enterprise-combining policy to ensure that much-needed fleet rationalization occurred while allowable vessel sizes were increased.
Quebec region also undertook changes to its vessel replacement policy following extensive consultations with its industry liaison committee in 2014. The gulf region likewise implemented changes to its vessel replacement policy in recent years following consultation with industry stakeholders.
In 2012, changes were made to the vessel replacement rules for the area 12 traditional snow crab fleet in eastern New Brunswick and gulf Nova Scotia, which is under an ITQ regime, to increase the vessel length to a maximum of 30.5 metres or 100 feet.
In 2014, following a policy-streamlining exercise in the gulf region, the rules for the remaining groundfish ITQ fleets were changed to remove a 50-foot vessel barrier and to allow vessels of up to 65 feet to be used by those fleets.
There were also changes made that saw the removal of the requirement to cap vessels to a limited cubic measurement and to allow the use of primary vessels in the competitive groundfish fishery.
In the Maritimes region, modified vessel-length rules are in place in lobster fishing areas 33 and 34 to cap the fishing effort on the resource. The maximum vessel length is restricted to 45 feet, with an allowable maximum stern extension of five feet. This policy has also been extended to the fixed-gear groundfish fleet operating in the same area. These modified actions resulted from extensive consultations.
The department frequently receives requests from individual harvesters for exemptions to these vessel-length policies. Requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and decisions are made weighing several factors including conservation, competition, the economic viability of the fleet, vessel design, and the fishery profile.
Despite requests from individual harvesters to either review vessel-length restrictions or to be exempted from them, there has been no significant interest in review by major fisheries organizations. There are concerns around the approval of exemptions for individual harvesters given that this may enable individuals to overfish certain species and, more importantly, to achieve competitive advantages over other participants in the same fleet.
Allowing individual harvesters to exceed the applicable vessel registration rules has consistently created controversy within the fleets. It is generally not supported by fishery associations, and DFO's approach to requests for individual exemptions is to deny them.
Issues related to vessel-length restrictions are complex and challenging. Decisions taken, whether on an Atlantic-wide, regional, fishery, or fleet basis, need to ensure that conservation and other fisheries management objectives are not compromised; that the required consistency between regions and other government departments such as Transport Canada is maintained; and that they remain consistent with fleet-based approaches to ensure equity and fairness for all involved individuals.
With me today are representatives from all the DFO regions in the Atlantic and from our national fisheries policy group. We are happy to take your questions.