Evidence of meeting #10 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was fishers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Nancy Vohl
Jean Lanteigne  Director General, Fédération régionale acadienne des pêcheurs professionnels
Paul Lansbergen  President, Fisheries Council of Canada
Melanie Sonnenberg  President, Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation
Duane Boudreau  President, Gulf Nova Scotia Bonafide Fishermen's Association
Terrance Paul  Chief Executive Officer, Membertou Development Corporation

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Okay, thank you. Maybe we can come back to the right whale later on.

Mr. Lansbergen, after months of delay, the Government of Canada announced the seafood stabilization fund, the harvester benefit and the harvester grant.

When the minister appeared last week she said some of the announcements could start being opened through applications in the coming days or weeks. Are you aware of the stabilization fund, the harvester benefit or the harvester grant being open for applications yet?

2:35 p.m.

President, Fisheries Council of Canada

Paul Lansbergen

No, all of those three programs are still in the design phase. I understand, as the minister said last week, the stabilization fund is due to be opened imminently, whereas the harvester grant and benefit will take a little longer.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

So, fishermen have been out on the water for weeks, basically, and there's still no certainty if they are going to be covered under those programs, and they can't open them up yet, I understand.

To date, the government has announced these three fishery support programs and employment insurance changes that we have yet to see, and the minister didn't even know last week if the EI changes were going to require legislation in the House of Commons.

Do you feel the government's response to the fishery has been timely and adequate to this point?

2:35 p.m.

President, Fisheries Council of Canada

Paul Lansbergen

That's a good question. It is very difficult for anyone to answer. Obviously, all of the people in the sector would like these support programs to be announced one day and live the next, but we know that just isn't possible.

The public servants in the government have been doing a tremendous amount of work. I know they have been working very long hours trying to develop and design all the implementation elements. It just takes time, unfortunately, and longer than we would like.

We hope, certainly, that the stabilization fund, because it was announced first, will be coming very soon. As I said, we're anxious to know exactly what is covered and what isn't. From the initial announcements, we have an idea, but it's not absolutely clear.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you.

This question is for both witnesses.

Have your organizations been consulted adequately as to how these programs are rolled out or what's really needed on the ground that would work for harvesters and processors?

2:35 p.m.

President, Fisheries Council of Canada

Paul Lansbergen

We were consulted much like anyone else in the sector in the lead-up to the government announcing the stabilization fund or even the harvesters grant and benefit. Since they were announced, we have been deeply in discussion with the officials at the political level on the elements. We're quite comfortable with that process.

We just wish it didn't take this long.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thanks, Mr. Lansbergen.

We'll now go to Mr. Morrissey for six minutes or less.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Thank you, Chair.

My question is primarily directed towards Mr. Lansbergen, but if Mr. Lanteigne wants to comment, he can.

For the record, we have to make clear that government and the department had roughly six weeks to deal with a 100-year incident, which was the shutdown of the worldwide market in seafood. Nobody could have ever predicted or dreamt that a situation such as this would have occurred.

Where is our industry most vulnerable going forward, and how best should we structure the industry for the future? What have we learned in the past month?

We have programs that will run out, and government has been consistent in announcing programs and following through with them. One thing we have been extremely effective in is getting money into people's hands, and that will include the fishers.

My question for both of you gentlemen representing the industry is, are we focused enough today to learn from this issue, and where do we have to position ourselves so that we're not vulnerable to a similar worldwide situation?

Nobody could have predicted that the worldwide economy could almost shut down within 24 hours.

2:40 p.m.

President, Fisheries Council of Canada

Paul Lansbergen

It's a good question. No one could have predicted this and no one could really have better protected ourselves from a global pandemic.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Yes, including government.

2:40 p.m.

President, Fisheries Council of Canada

Paul Lansbergen

No market was immune to it. We're relatively balanced between food service and retail markets. We're relatively diversified in our export markets. We export to 139 countries. Yes, the U.S. is the dominant one and always will be for Canada.

It's just a very painful fact with a global pandemic.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Historically, DFO has not been in the marketing business. It has been in managing the resource, protecting the resource, ensuring long-term conservation is put in place.

Again, where do we go on that? Could you address that briefly?

2:40 p.m.

Director General, Fédération régionale acadienne des pêcheurs professionnels

Jean Lanteigne

Mr. Morrissey, I disagree. On the contrary, I think we have put too many of our eggs in the same basket. We are too dependent on the markets, and there we sit. We develop a market and then we do business with the same people in perpetuity, and we do very little to explore the other markets.

As I said in my presentation, we also have to make sure that we make the most of our resource, which is something we don't do in Canada. We live in abundance. Too many products are thrown into the sea or thrown away by the plants, which consider them waste. It's imperative that we implement strategies to ensure that we consume one hundred per cent of our resource. We need to move in a different direction, and we've been saying this for a long time.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Okay, thank you. I agree.

Mr. Chair, I'm going to give the rest of my time to my colleague Mr. Cormier.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

That's very good.

Mr. Cormier, go ahead. You have just over two minutes.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I welcome all the witnesses who are with us today virtually.

Mr. Lanteigne, I'd like to ask you a few questions to clarify the comments of my colleague Mr. Arnold.

Let's talk about shrimp first. Shrimp fishing has now begun. You're certainly expecting some losses, but how do you think the next season will go?

Do you think fishers will still be able to take some of their quota?

2:40 p.m.

Director General, Fédération régionale acadienne des pêcheurs professionnels

Jean Lanteigne

It's hard to say, since the first week of fishing isn't over yet. We'll see how the markets react.

The plants are very particular in terms of the size of the product. It seems that the only place we can possibly sell shrimp right now is in the sandwich market. They want small shrimp, not big shrimp. It's a low-end shrimp, and it's the cheapest. This limits the fishing business's ability to maximize its income. This is going to be very worrisome. We'll see over the next two or three weeks what the market reaction will be.

2:40 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Okay.

How much time do I have? I have 25 seconds.

Mr. Lanteigne, you said that the fixed costs for shrimp fishers were roughly $500,000. If possible, could you give us a breakdown of the costs so we can analyze them?

As you know, the federal government has programs in place, but has the Government of New Brunswick given you any assistance or any indication that assistance would be provided?

2:45 p.m.

Director General, Fédération régionale acadienne des pêcheurs professionnels

Jean Lanteigne

The answer to the first question is yes. We have produced these figures, and we can easily pass them on to you.

As for the second question, the Government of New Brunswick hasn't provided any support to date.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Lanteigne.

Is my time is done, Mr. Chair?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you, Mr. Cormier.

Madam Gill, I believe you're giving your time to Mr. Blanchette-Joncas.

I'll ask Mr. Blanchette-Joncas to start off for six minutes or less, please.

2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maxime Blanchette-Joncas Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'd also like to thank both witnesses for being with us today.

We've seen in the media that both indigenous and non-indigenous people have asked Ottawa for help on shrimp fishing. In eastern Quebec, fishers warned Ottawa that shrimp fishing, which is normally allowed on April 1, wasn't currently viable. This is a real problem, and the situation was deplored.

Mr. Lanteigne, you have also made requests to Ottawa in relation to the Coalition des pêcheurs de crevette du golfe. Could you tell us more about that?

Have you assessed the potential losses of the shrimp fishers?

2:45 p.m.

Director General, Fédération régionale acadienne des pêcheurs professionnels

Jean Lanteigne

We did indeed, yes. Earlier, I said the fixed costs were $500,000. So if we do not fish, we face losing half a million dollars, it is fairly simple. It costs $25,000 to insure a fishing vessel. That is no small amount. So when you get $10,000 in assistance from Ottawa, I do not have to tell you it does not even cover that amount.

We tried to be strategic and determine how much shrimp we need to catch to cover a fishing season, that is, to break even. However, there are too many variables to determine that.

I alluded to the issue of catch per unit of effort. If a trip to sea ends with a good catch, all is well. If we come back with a small catch because it wasn't our day, that is something else.

So it is extremely difficult to be more precise at the moment, but I can provide you with the calculation table we produced that lists all the variables.

June 16th, 2020 / 2:45 p.m.

Bloc

Maxime Blanchette-Joncas Bloc Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Lanteigne.

We know that shrimp is one of the most expensive catches in the Gulf, mainly in eastern Quebec, and even in Acadia.

You mentioned that the shrimpers were able to go to sea recently, basically 10 weeks after the normally scheduled date, April 1.

Can you tell us what the federal government could have done differently to better support fishers? You said earlier that international markets are not open. That is a real problem, and it is badly affecting the opening of the shrimping season. I would like to hear your comments on that.

What different types of action would you have liked to see from the federal government, based on the recommendations you made?

2:45 p.m.

Director General, Fédération régionale acadienne des pêcheurs professionnels

Jean Lanteigne

The federal government program involving a secure line of credit to pay for surplus inventory, which was announced by Prime Minister Trudeau, should have been introduced much earlier. That solution would have helped us move forward much more quickly.

Also, $62 million is a very small amount of assistance. On a Canadian scale, it is a pittance.