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

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

You have 16 seconds. You probably don't have time to ask another question or get an answer. I apologize for that.

We'll move on, and we may get another round yet.

Madame Gill, go ahead for two and half minutes or less, please.

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the minister and her team for being available during the crisis. We have had some good discussions.

However, the communication with fishers and those on the ground has been more difficult. I will use the example of a request to delay the fishing season. The fishers first received a communiqué from the department indicating that the request had been denied. The fishers therefore rushed to get ready, because the fishing season was due to start shortly thereafter. However, just as they were supposed to leave, they received a new communiqué indicating that the request had been accepted. They therefore put everything on hold.

A situation like that is very difficult for the communities. I talked about the health and economic challenges, but communication with fishers and elected officials is also an issue. Have the department and the minister looked into this issue to prepare for another crisis or emergency situation?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Madame Gill.

We have worked diligently with harvesters, processors and communities, recognizing they're the people on the ground who know what they need.

I'm a little confused, though, because you said that someone requested a delay and did not get it. Most of the delays that were requested were granted, so I would like to follow up with you on that one, unless that delay was a second delay. I don't know if Deputy Sargent would know of something specific there.

Madame Gill, could you clarify that?

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC

Actually, people received two different communiqués. The first, in English, was received on the Lower North Shore, indicating that the request to delay the fishing season had been denied. The second indicated that the beginning of the fishing season was delayed. People therefore received two different pieces of information at approximately the same time. This caused confusion and fear in the various communities affected, that is, in fishing zone 15 in Quebec.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

I'm sorry. I'm not familiar with that specific problem. I will look into it, find out and get back to you.

We work very hard to make sure that the communications we put out are correct, that the communities are listened to, that the harvesters are well consulted on what they want. We try to do everything we can to work with industry to make sure their needs are addressed.

Deputy Sargent, I don't know if you have anything you want to add or if it's something we can follow up on.

4:30 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Timothy Sargent

We'd be very happy to follow up. We want to make sure our communications are clear.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Thank you.

We'll now go to Mr. Johns for two and half minutes or less, please.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you again, Minister, for being here today.

Minister, yesterday we talked about the Cohen commission, and you said your government is moving on all its recommendations.

Recommendation 19 falls within this COVID window. It says:

On September 30, 2020, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should prohibit net-pen salmon farming in the Discovery Islands (fish health sub-zone 3-2) unless he or she is satisfied that such farms pose at most a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon. The Minister’s decision should summarize the information relied on and include detailed reasons. The decision should be published on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ website.

There are parasitic sea lice on the average migrating salmon right now. I'm concerned, Minister. What decision are you going to be making? Will you be following through with this recommendation on September 30?

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Can I turn that one over to the deputy, please?

4:30 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Timothy Sargent

We're busy compiling the risk assessments right now in order to support that particular announcement. We're not ready to make it yet, but that's certainly the date we're working toward.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Okay. It's three and half months out, so it's concerning, of course, for the people with the problem.

Also, in terms of the dual role, in a campaign promise in 2015, the government said it would restore its role to protect wild salmon and no longer be the agent for the aquaculture industry. Can the minister comment on where the government is at on this promise, which is five years old?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Mr. Johns. As I said yesterday, I'm committed to working with the provinces and with indigenous communities to move forward responsibly to transition from open net-pen farming in coastal British Columbia. A change like this requires co-operation. It requires consultation.

Those are all things that we are working to do right now. It's not something that's just going to happen overnight, but we are working—

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

It's been five years. That's longer than overnight.

Minister, to go back to Mr. Fast's question about sport fishers and recreation, they are waiting for some additional help. The current government rollout is not enough. They've asked for support, whether it be marking fish or having some support on the salmon stamp. Will you honour any of the requests from the sport sector and make sure they can get through the winter so that next year they can fish—i.e., maybe with EI, like you are giving the commercial fleet? Can you make sure that you're following through with them to support them in this difficult time?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Make it a quick answer, please.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

I'm sorry, but recreational fishers would not qualify for EI. EI is for commercial enterprises, not recreational. However, the people who support the industry—the guides, for example, and the people who work within the industry—are eligible for things like the CERB. They are all eligible for the business account.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

They need more. They need extra help.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Kenneth McDonald

Your time is up, Mr. Johns.

Mr. Arnold, you have five minutes or less, please.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister, for being here for questions.

To quote from some of your own words today, the programs are here to help “through this...difficult time”. Unfortunately, time is marching on, from March, April, May and now into June. Early on you indicated that the fisheries sector would be eligible for the CEWS program and the business account program. That turned out not to be the case.

Now you've announced the seafood stabilization fund and the fish harvesters grant. Both of those announcements have been out, but not a penny has flowed. That's not helping harvesters and processors through these difficult times. When can fish harvesters and processors expect to see those applications open online and see dollars flowing after those applications are open?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Mr. Arnold. As I have said on a number of occasions today, this is a brand new program. It's something that has to be built from the ground up. We are working with ESDC, which is responsible for the program, to make sure that it's rolled out as quickly as possible. We are doing everything we have to do to make sure it gets rolled out quickly.

The thing that harvesters can be assured of is that the money is coming. It is there. It's almost half a billion dollars—

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you, Minister. That is not helping the harvesters and processors through these difficult times; it will be after difficult times.

Minister, during the study of regulations of B.C. fisheries, there were indications of foreign entities being able to buy up licences out there. Are you at all concerned that these problems may grow during this unprecedented time in Canada, when fishery and fish processing businesses are finding themselves in difficult times, and that foreign ownership by state-owned entities may become a problem? What is your department doing to prevent it?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Thank you, Mr. Arnold. That is something we're very much apprised of. It's something we are monitoring. We will make sure that we're taking everything that is.... A company has to be 51% Canadian-owned. We work with people at ISED to make sure that anything that is transferred is actually within the regulations.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Thank you, Minister.

You've been questioned a number of times about the west coast fisheries, particularly the sport fishery. I refer to it as the “public food fishery”, because many on the west coast actually harvest those fish for their dinner table. All that's really needed there is a decision by you to enable those fisheries to take place.

The sport fishing advisory board, which has been in place for years, has agreed on the recommendation to open those mark-selective fisheries. It really is an enabling factor that you yourself could make a difference on, if you chose to. The delay, through the explanation that you need the data and the science, is hurting people on the ground—the fishing guides and fishermen and families who simply want to go out and put food on their table. Why has there been such a delay in making a decision?

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

As I have said, I am not averse to a mark-selective fishery. I think there is a great opportunity there. However, there are a number of concerns that we have with regard to this, which we want to make sure we address before that becomes a reality.

We are doing some pilot projects now in specific areas with hatchery fish. There are concerns within first nations communities. There are concerns within environmental groups about the impacts that hatchery fish would have on wild Pacific salmon stocks. These are all things that have to be taken into consideration. It's not as cut and dry as you seem to think, and it's also not a silver bullet, with all of the challenges the wild Pacific salmon are facing right now.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

No, but it certainly could be a big help, Minister, if you would move that priority up. I spoke with you directly on that, I believe in late March or early April. I hope you realize the importance of that to the west coast fisheries.

Minister, would you provide clarification, either today or in writing, about the EI changes that will need to be made so that fish harvesters and their crews are eligible for EI and whether that is going to require legislation. If so, with the House of Commons and Parliament basically being shut down by our Prime Minister, how is that going to take place if it requires legislation?

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bernadette Jordan Liberal South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

As I said earlier, I'm not sure that it does require legislation. We will definitely look into that and follow up.