Evidence of meeting #9 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 harvesters.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Nancy Vohl
Timothy Sargent  Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Jean-Guy Forgeron  Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

With regard to just the fish harvester benefit, the fish harvester grant and the seafood stabilization fund, it's over half a billion dollars. That is not including what we will have to do to make the changes to EI, the people who are now collecting CERB.... That's just the fish and seafood sector. I know that this is the largest infusion of cash into the sector since the cod moratorium.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

In many cases in the Mi'kmaq communities in my riding, the community holds a communal licence rather than the more commercial licence. Are there any differences in eligibility for the fish harvester benefit between a Mi'kmaq communal licence-holder versus a commercial licence-holder? I just want to make sure that the Mi'kmaq harvesters are also included in this. Can you answer that?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

They are absolutely included. It was something that we wanted to make sure of, that there were no gaps when it came to indigenous communities. I met recently with Chief Perry Bellegarde, as well as the AFN, to explain this to them. There was a lot of concern that the indigenous communities felt that they would maybe be left out. Absolutely not—they very much qualify for these supports.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Has the department done any internal estimates on how many individuals they expect will apply for the fish harvester benefit? To me, that would be an important data point as we assess the overall impact of COVID-19 on the fishing industry. I'd be interested in hearing what other data points DFO is monitoring as they assess the overall impact of COVID-19.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

I will say that anyone who holds an independent owner-operator licence is eligible for the benefit, but perhaps I could turn to Deputy Sargent and see if he has any other data he can share with us.

3:50 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Timothy Sargent

Yes. I'll pass this over to Jean-Guy Forgeron.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jaime Battiste Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

You can give me a written response. I know time is limited.

Ken, you can turn to the next speaker.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you, Mr. Battiste.

We'll now go to Mr. Fast, for five minutes or less please.

June 10th, 2020 / 3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister.

In the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, one group has slipped through the cracks. That's the sport fishery, especially our recreational fishing industry on the west coast. Other than general support programs, there's no specifically targeted support like the ones you created for commercial harvesters and processors.

The salmon fishing closures that DFO imposed last year had a devastating impact on the 9,000 jobs the industry supports in B.C., and of course the $1.1 billion of economic activity it sustains. That was before the COVID pandemic hit. The impact will be even worse this year due to the restrictions the guiding and outfitting industry must comply with due to the virus. Quite frankly, the industry just wants to go back to work.

Minister, it's my understanding that some time ago, the sport fishing industry placed before you a proposal to allow a minimum catch and retention chinook fishery. At most, such a proposal will intercept less than 1% of any endangered chinook run. Yet to date, the Sport Fishing Advisory Board has received no response to their proposal. Meanwhile, the guides and outfitters can't book trips since they can't, with certainty, promise their clients the opportunity to actually fish.

Minister, this industry doesn't want handouts. They want to deliver a world-class sport fishing experience to their clients. Why the delay in responding? Can the industry expect a response to their proposal this year?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

We recognize a number of challenges facing the sport fishery this year, everything from low salmon returns to COVID and how it has impacted the communities that support the sport fishery. We have made a number of benefits available to those businesses specifically.

The chinook management decisions have not been made yet. We are working on them as we speak. They will be out in the near future.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Minister, what is “the near future”? This industry has to plan ahead. The season should have started by now. They have no certainty at all. All they're asking for is a date on which you will provide them with a response to their proposal, an eminently sensible proposal.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

I'm checking my notes. We did put interim fisheries management measures in place for the chinook fishery on April 1 to allow time for a technical review of the 2019 measures, to make sure what we had done in 2019 and how it was going to impact. We're also looking at consulting with a variety of groups. The decisions are going to be based on what we hear from our evaluations. They will be coming, as I've said, very soon.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

What does “very soon” mean? We do need certainty on this.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

They will be coming as soon as we have all the information we need to make that decision.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

They're not going to be very happy with that answer, Minister.

As you know, Minister, one way to address the protection of endangered salmon is to increase the marking of hatchery fish to ensure sport fishers have plenty of fish to keep and take home without endangering the recovery of the wild salmon. Yet in B.C. only a very small number of hatchery fish are marked, even though many times more are released into the wild. This makes it difficult for anglers to determine if the fish they've caught are of hatchery origin.

Your department's policy has been either to shut down the fishery or allow for a very limited catch and release opportunity. I believe we can do better. Washington state marks 100% of its hatchery fish, which allows its industry to compete unfairly with our recreational fishing industry here.

How is that fair? How does that promote Canada's economy or our national interests? A very small investment in marking fish would go miles in providing our industry with the boost it needs. When will you increase the number of hatchery fish that are marked for catch and retention? When will you begin to listen to the concerns of this struggling industry?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Mr. Fast, I have been listening to the industry since I was first appointed to this ministry.

I am not opposed to a hatchery fishery. However, a number of challenges have to be addressed first. As I said yesterday, there are concerns. There's a concern around data collection. There's a concern around consultations with first nations. There's a concern around the genetics and releasing of hatchery fish and how it will impact the wild pacific salmon stock.

These are all things we have to do. We have started pilot programs on a marked fishery. We will continue to do the work that is needed to be done. It's not a silver bullet. It's not going to solve all the problems of the wild pacific salmon. We're making sure we're taking these measures very seriously.

I want to thank the sport fishery association for the great work they do. We will continue to work with them to find solutions as we go forward. A lot of questions need to be answered before that fishery can take place.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Minister, these fish are being released into the wild—

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Your time is up, Mr. Fast.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

All that needs to be done is that they need to be marked.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Mr. Fast, your time is up. You've gone well over, actually.

Mr. Morrissey, go ahead for five minutes or less, please.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Thank you, Chair.

Madam Minister, while you're being questioned here today before the committee on how to get the financial assistance out the door faster, it's interesting for the committee to note that the Conservative opposition in the House of Commons denied consent to move a very important bill that would expedite the process and allow many more people to be included in the financial assistance that's needed.

Madam Minister, your riding, like mine, has extensive coastal communities that depend very heavily on the fishery for their economic well-being, so I have two questions. I want to know about the impact, if it is a negative impact, on the ability to provide enforcement and protection of the valued fisheries as well as the ability of your department to process small craft harbour capital projects. Is COVID-19 having an impact on these two areas? At the same time, could you also comment on how your department is positioned today versus years ago in its ability to provide protection for these fisheries as well as the importance of small craft harbours? Without these two we would not have a successful fishery in our small rural coastal communities.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Mr. Morrissey, and you are correct. I come from a small rural coastal community. It's something that has driven my passion for this industry from day one. I grew up in it.

With regard to small craft harbours specifically, we know that these are the economic drivers of our rural coastal communities. They are a necessary part of who we are and what we do. The fishery relies on them. They're our highways. As a government, we have invested significantly in small craft harbours. We will continue to look at the best ways going forward to address the long-term needs.

There had not been an increase in small craft harbour funding for over 20 years until we formed the government, and in that time, of course, small craft harbours continued to deteriorate.

With regard to fisheries officers, because of the work that we as a government have done on the Fisheries Act, we are going to be able to increase the important role that fisheries officers play. We've increased the staff at DFO by 300 for the science. This is all funding that has come because of our government.

We will not leave our fishing communities behind. We know how important they are to our way of life. Previous governments have done that, but we will not do that.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Minister, I'd like to go back and focus again on your department. Are you confident that as we go through the COVID-19 pandemic, your department still has the ability to ensure that adequate protection and enforcement are taking place, especially in those areas that demand high levels of enforcement and protection in the fishery?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

The health and safety of fisheries officers has been a priority in the industry. We've continued to make sure that they are able to work in the fields, on the water, and wherever they're needed during this crisis. The standard operating procedures have been put in place for all types of operations such as vessel patrols and air patrols. We're making sure that the fisheries officers have what they need in terms of protection and protocols in place, and we'll continue to do that as well with small craft harbours.

I want to thank the harbour authorities who have also put protocols in place to make sure that the people who are working on the wharves are the people who need to be there. We'll continue to monitor those situations and make sure that the employees of DFO have what they need to stay protected and to continue to do the extremely vital work that they've always done.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Bobby Morrissey Liberal Egmont, PE

Madam Minister, in my elected career, I depend heavily on empirical data and science-related information to make decisions. If our fisheries are going to be successful in the future, which again goes back to the success of our coastal communities, then we must ensure that we have a federal department that has the resources to ensure that we have adequate science data to make those decisions.

Could you comment briefly on how even though we're focused on delivering in a pandemic, through COVID-19, your department will not lose focus on ensuring that we have those resources going forward?