Evidence of meeting #11 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 season.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Christina Burridge  Executive Director, BC Seafood Alliance
Martin Mallet  Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union
Keith Sullivan  President, Fish, Food and Allied Workers
Fred Helmer  Founder and Owner, Fred’s Custom Tackle
Owen Bird  Executive Director, Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia
Martin Paish  Director, Business Development, Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Nancy Vohl
Osborne Burke  General Manager, Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd.

3:30 p.m.

President, Fish, Food and Allied Workers

Keith Sullivan

And again, small programs in the past—I mentioned the Lobster Council of Canada—were doing some work like that, but I will be interested to know how we can avail ourselves of the Canadian fish and seafood fund, for example, and what we can do from here to rebuild our markets and make sure logistical challenges are taken care of, and obviously get value back into the hands of people who are working and living in coastal communities.

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

We will now go to Mr. Cormier for six minutes or less, please.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Good afternoon, everyone.

My thanks to the witnesses for being here today. Thank you for the excellent work you all do in your communities for fisheries and aquaculture. I know it's not an easy year for anyone, but by working together, hand in hand, we can overcome these challenges.

First, my questions are for Mr. Mallet.

Mr. Mallet, it's good to see you. We have been working together for a few years now. I congratulate the members of the MFU for doing a fine job.

In your remarks, you talked about something that is close to my heart. Let me remind everyone that the $470 million investment, the biggest investment in the fishery in the last 20 years, is not insignificant. As you said, though, some things still need to be addressed in terms of program criteria. We all want these programs to be made available to fishermen and fishing enterprises as quickly as possible. You talked about new entrants to the fishery. We have heard the minister say that she is doing everything she can to fix this situation for you, and that is why you are here with us. We would like you to give us some ideas.

What do you think would be the quick fix, if I can put it that way, so that these new entrants can take advantage of the programs without having to provide a ton of documentation?

3:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union

Martin Mallet

In this entire story, the new entrants are clearly the ones who have the most to lose. They came into our industry with the largest debts in the history of the fishery, compared to the fishermen who are already exploiting the resource.

In our case, new entrants represent about 5% of our fleet. I don't know what the percentage is for the other groups, but nonetheless, a fairly large percentage of our group is in this situation.

Two things could help them quickly. First, it could be as simple as looking at the history of licence transfers. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has those data. The associations themselves have the information on licence transfers; it's mandatory. When a licence is transferred, we need to know.

Second, another simple option is to look at the history of the former owners of the licences to see what the status of their fishing enterprises was before the transfer.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

So it would be relatively easy to do, based on what you are saying.

You talked about employment insurance as well. As you know, there are two types of employment insurance: employment insurance for fishers and regular employment insurance. We clearly stated that we would rely on previous years. I want to reassure the men and women on deck. As the Prime Minister and the minister have said on a number of occasions, we are not going to let anyone down, not the deckhands and not the workers in other sectors who are having difficulty accumulating enough hours to qualify for EI. I want to be very clear on that.

What solutions are you proposing to allow these people to access EI more quickly?

Do you have in mind a program like the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB), or do you have in mind a relaxation of the criteria for employment insurance?

3:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union

Martin Mallet

It could be a combination of the two.

The idea of giving access to regular EI if the person qualifies for the CERB might be a good idea for this year. I have a feeling that there are a few different ideas like that that could easily fix the situation. The sooner we receive news about this, the sooner we can address a lot of the uncertainties that we are experiencing in our coastal communities right now.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Okay.

With regard to the start of the fishing season, yesterday we heard witnesses and some colleagues say that postponing the fishing season was a bad idea. It seems to me that, in the context of the pandemic that was raging, decisions had to be made to ensure the protection and safety of employees, whether they be fishers, fishers' helpers, shore labourers or our plant workers. Without plant workers, and therefore without a functioning plant, it is very difficult to process our product. The MFU was one of several organizations that requested that the fishing season be postponed.

Do you still think that the decision to slightly postpone the fishing season was the best decision to make in order to allow the whole industry to prepare? As you can see, again, since we made that decision, there have been no cases of COVID-19 in the plants.

3:35 p.m.

Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union

Martin Mallet

It was certainly a difficult decision. In hindsight, it's always easy to say that it was a good decision or a bad decision, but at the time, just two months ago, we didn't know how the situation with the pandemic was going to evolve.

So far, we have been lucky. Only one processing plant on the east coast has had cases of COVID-19. It could have been much more widespread. The health and safety of our plant workers could have been seriously jeopardized, as well as the health and safety of fishers and workers on the boats, who are over 60 years old on average.

So I think that decision needed to be made. We gave the plants a chance to prepare and to adopt the best standards available at the time. Today, we consider ourselves fortunate not to have had any problems in the communities in that regard or any problems with the fishing operations.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

The federal government has implemented a major program, as you know. Like you, we are waiting for the details. We are going to ensure that the money is made available to fishers as quickly as possible.

Has the province of New Brunswick put programs in place for you, the fishers, or has it still not accepted any of your requests to date?

3:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union

Martin Mallet

As far as the province is concerned, the injection of funds was done through the community business development corporations (CBDCs). Right now, that's where we're redirecting some of our fishermen to access some funds.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

However, there is still no specific assistance, such as the programs provided to you by the federal government, is that correct?

3:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union

Martin Mallet

No, they aren't specific programs; they're general programs for all the citizens in the province.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Cormier Liberal Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Thank you, Mr. Mallet.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you.

I have just a couple of quick reminders before I go to Mr. Blanchette-Joncas.

Could those who are not speaking please mute their microphones?

I'll also remind the witnesses and the questioners to please speak slowly and clearly. Interpretation is trying to keep up with your conversation to do exactly that. Be mindful of that.

We'll now go to Mr. Blanchette-Joncas for six minutes or less.

June 17th, 2020 / 3:40 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd first like to thank the witnesses who are here today.

I'd like to talk about employment insurance. My question is for Mr. Sullivan.

Mr. Sullivan, you mentioned that the fishing season hasn't started yet. You also mentioned the problems that fishers might face when they finish their fishing season. You raised the possibility that they may not have access to employment insurance because of current factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and you suggested that the number of best weeks be reduced or that the weeks from the previous year be taken into consideration.

I'd like to mention here that in eastern Quebec, we'd like the notorious “black hole” of employment eliminated. Employment insurance doesn't cover the period when employment insurance benefits have expired and workers haven't returned to work. They are then without an income.

In concrete terms, what would you like the federal government to do so that people don't find themselves without employment income? What measures could it implement to ensure that this doesn't happen?

3:40 p.m.

President, Fish, Food and Allied Workers

Keith Sullivan

When I spoke, I spoke about the EI considerations for two different groups. Last month we had an announcement about the option for those who are in fish harvesting to get fish harvesting EI based on last year's earnings, a more normal year. Obviously, this year is going to be a disastrous year for many, and we still don't know how it will play out, but certainly, incomes are going to be down considerably.

It was good to get that announcement for harvesters on EI, but we still don't know any details. That's what I was saying. We're getting so many calls about that, so clarifying exactly what EI would be for those in harvesting EI would be key.

The other group can sometimes be harvesters who go through the regular labour, we'll call it, employment insurance system, or those who are in fish-processing plants or different places. They have a shortened season, and there's really been nothing. There's been no income security announced for those people yet. They've been working extremely hard in an extremely stressful year, and there's still no consideration as of yet.

The suggestion I would have on that would be to do as they've done for fish harvesters. Obviously, once we know the details, I'll be able to speak to it more. Base it on last year, or look at a reduced number of best weeks for people. What we're seeing in a lot of cases, because of the lower volume of processing and the shortened season, is that people are working hard now, but the ability to have enough time to have a reasonably sized claim is just not there. People are working, and unless something changes, they won't have enough to pay the bills in the fall and through the winter.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you, Mr. Sullivan.

Mr. Mallet, I'd like to thank you for also giving us your point of view on employment insurance. You mentioned that it might also be a problem for some of your members.

What measures should the government put in place to not abandon seasonal workers in that industry?

3:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union

Martin Mallet

Mr. Sullivan mentioned it, and I mentioned it as well in response to a question from Mr. Cormier. Several approaches could be combined in order to find a solution. However, we must be careful and avoid creating a problem where none currently exists. To get us out of this situation, we need people in our plants, in the industry, who work for the rest of the year. So we need a program that would allow people to work. However, if there is a shortfall to be filled, it should be possible to use employment insurance, as was the case in 2018 and 2019.

There is no obvious solution, but the CERB amounts paid could be considered insurable amounts under the regular EI program. If CERB is used, employees who don't have enough weeks could have enough money to live on until next year.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Mallet, when $470 million in aid for the fishing industry was announced, you deplored the fact that some fishers weren't eligible for the emergency wage subsidy. Then, the federal government introduced fishing benefits, which are intended for self-employed fishers and those who work on a percentage basis and aren't entitled to the emergency wage subsidy.

Do you think it's enough? Could the federal government do more to support the fishing industry in terms of the emergency wage subsidy?

3:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union

Martin Mallet

Ideally, the emergency wage subsidy should be available to all our members. If the family clause could be eliminated, that would solve the problem for many of our members and for many working in the Maritimes and Atlantic sector in general.

The majority of fishing businesses have family members working on board the boats. A $10,000 subsidy versus 75% of a subsidy, sometimes for two or three deck workers on a boat, makes a big difference in the potential income to keep that business going.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you.

Mr. Mallet, do you think the reality and the challenges currently facing fishers in the Maritimes and Quebec as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are similar?

3:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union

Martin Mallet

Yes, that's the case. Our work brings us into the same waters; we have the same challenges.

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

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

Thank you.

In a completely different vein, do you think that developing fishing for other species, such as seal and redfish, could be a way to positively diversify the fishing industry?

3:45 p.m.

Executive Director, Maritime Fishermen's Union

Martin Mallet

That's a good point. It's probably a longer-term solution. For several years now, our industry has been asking to address the grey seal issue, among others. Certainly, there are many opportunities to exploit this resource so that it can be a very important benefit to our industry.