Evidence of meeting #12 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was question.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Timothy Sargent  Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Mario Pelletier  Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Shawn Hoag  Director General, Commercial Program, Canada Border Services Agency
Doug Forsyth  Director General, Market Access, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
Carmen G. Sotelo  Researcher, Spanish National Research Council, As an Individual

Noon

Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Timothy Sargent

Mr. Chair, we've been meeting with the crab association. We've met with them many times since December. We've also met with the first nations. In fact, the crab association and the first nations have also had their own bilateral meeting.

We are trying to work this issue out. It is certainly not true that we're not talking to people. We are talking to everybody here.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ken McDonald

Thank you, Ms. Barron.

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

March 24th, 2022 / noon

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Minister.

I gave you these questions that I'm going to ask ahead of the committee meeting, so I'll begin. The south coast recreational salmon fishery is dying due to an exceedingly severe chinook salmon management regime. Chinook non-retention regulations have been imposed across almost 100% of the Salish Sea, in inside and approach waters, during the four peak fishing months for the past three years.

As the Minister of Fisheries, you have a mandate to sustain fisheries where reasonable. Data-supported and precautionary opportunities exist. Public salmon fisheries are the most economically important fisheries in B.C. Chinook salmon are the fundamental driver for these fisheries.

During the 2021-22 integrated fishery management plans consultation process, DFO withheld concerns over certain salmon stocks in Howe Sound and the Salish Sea from the sport fishing advisory board. As a result, the modest SFAB proposals that would have provided much-needed socio-economic relief for southern B.C. in 2021, as well as alignment with the blue economy, were not supported and not approved due to undisclosed concerns. These previously undisclosed new concerns were finally made known to the sport fishery advisory board post facto.

Through very recent meetings with your staff, proposals have been put forward that address those new concerns in Howe Sound, Pacific fisheries management area 28, and southeast Vancouver Island PFMAs 17, 18 and 19, as I previously asked you. These amended proposals, which were already ranked as low risk, provide even more protection for local and Fraser River stocks of concern.

Minister Murray, when I previously asked you here at the standing committee if you were committed to working with the recreational fishery, you said yes. My question is this: Will you recommend that these modest conservation-based proposals be implemented for April 1, 2022?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

I'd like to thank the member for that question. I have met with the representatives of the recreational fishers. I completely understand, as a coastal British Columbian who spends time on the water and on the Salish Sea islands, just how critical this is.

I also understand that the recreational fishery is worth multiple times, I think six times, the commercial salmon harvest, so it is very important economically as well. We are having discussions with the recreational sport fishery representatives. The department knows it is a priority for me that we give serious consideration to the request—

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Thank you, Minister. I—

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

—and we are considering their proposals. Those discussions aren't done yet.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Thank you. I appreciate that you're working on it. Again, the question was “will” it be implemented, not “may” or “if”. We need an answer, Minister.

I'll go to my next question. So far during the current integrated harvest planning process, senior DFO Pacific region staff have informed the sport fishing advisory board that they will not reopen the existing 2021-22 salmon IFMP, which would result in a fourth year of severe socio-economic hardship, starting April 1, 2022.

I use this example for comparison. If sockeye showed up in harvestable numbers far more than anticipated, would DFO prevent the harvest of those fish because doing so varied from the IFMP? The sport fishery advisory board has met the department's new information requirement. The SFAB has substantially adjusted their proposals based on this new information.

Minister, this is my second question: Will you instruct your DFO Pacific region senior staff to stop putting roadblocks in front of the public fishery advisers, open the IFMP and adopt these extremely low-risk proposals?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

To the member, the department is in discussions with the Sport Fishing Advisory Board on these matters. It takes their concerns and their proposal seriously.

I do want to reinforce, though, just a broader context—

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Minister, I have 30 seconds, so I'll ask my last question. I'm sorry.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Okay.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Are Rebecca Reid and other Pacific region senior staff in charge of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or are you?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

I think the member knows the answer to that question. The minister makes these decisions with the best advice of the scientists and the staff who work for DFO.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Thank you.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ken McDonald

Thank you, Mr. Zimmer.

We'll now try to fit Mr. Hardie in for five minutes or less, please.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Through you to the minister, a letter is coming your way, Minister, that represents some really good work by everybody on this committee as we looked at the implications of the flooding in the Fraser Valley and basically the difficulty that salmon have in reaching a lot of very good habitat that traditionally has been cut off by flood control mitigation.

I would ask that once the minister gets this letter we receive a fulsome response to this committee on the recommendations and the findings in that letter.

You mentioned the Bligh Island issue that went back to 1968. I want to go back to 2016 and the Nathan E. Stewart tugboat sinking, which unleashed a great deal of diesel into the water. One of the issues at that time was the lack of consultation with and the use of traditional knowledge from first nations in order to manage that whole issue. Basically, I wanted to find out—in your planning and your mandate letter—how much of the first nation knowledge, etc., will be factored into future strategies that come out of the DFO and your ministry.

Specifically, I would like the minister to comment on work that was done or was proposed to be done at the Kitsilano Coast Guard base, which this government rescued from being closed. There was supposed to be training there for first nation communities in rescues and all of the things that need to be responded to when a mishap happens along the coast.

I hope that wasn't too convoluted a question for the minister, but I'd appreciate her answer.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

That was indeed a disastrous situation that the member referred to with the spill and the sinking. That's one of the key focuses of our oceans protection plan: to put in place the capacity for indigenous communities to be guardians of the waters, their traditional waters, and to have the craft, the equipment and the training to be able to identify problems and respond very quickly.

I will say that with the Zim Kingston incident, the first call that went out from the incident commander was to the local indigenous communities, and they were partners in the spill response throughout. We're going to be building on that capacity to respond. It has already been hugely increased by the $1.5-billion oceans protection plan.

Perhaps the commissioner has a more granular response to the way the Kitsilano Coast Guard base, which we reinstated and expanded, is being used for indigenous training.

12:10 p.m.

Commissioner, Canadian Coast Guard, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Mario Pelletier

Thank you, Minister.

Yes, we indeed have many indigenous training programs that came to light with the OPP and have been very successful. A good example of this is that at the end of the first training session, people went back home and the next morning there was a search and rescue incident around Tofino. The person who got the call jumped in their boat and went out and saved that person. That very first training session translated into saving a life.

We put a lot of emphasis on this. Kitsilano is fully operational, and it has been one of the busiest search and rescue stations so far.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ken McDonald

Thank you, Mr. Hardie.

I'd like to cut if off here, if that's okay. We're all out of time for the first hour.

I want to say thank you to the minister, and of course to her officials, for appearing today once again.

We'll recess for a couple of minutes to swap out attendees here at the committee.

Again, thank you very much.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ken McDonald

We're back. We're going to be a little bit short on time on this one, but we'll try and get as much of it in as we can.

We will now resume with our second panel, of course. I have a few comments for the information of our new witnesses.

Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. Members may also identify from which witness they would like a response. When you are ready to speak, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. When you are not speaking, your mike must be on mute. I remind you again that all comments should be addressed through the chair.

Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either the floor, French or English. Please inform me immediately if interpretation is lost and we will ensure it is restored. When speaking, please speak clearly and slowly.

I would now like to welcome our witnesses today.

We have, from the Canada Border Services Agency, Shawn Hoag, director general, commercial program, and Lidija Lebar, director, program and policy management. From the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, we have Mr. Doug Forsyth, director general, market access. As an individual, we have Carmen Sotelo, researcher with the Spanish National Research Council.

We'll now hear opening statements. We'll begin with the Canada Border Services Agency for five minutes or less, please.

12:20 p.m.

Shawn Hoag Director General, Commercial Program, Canada Border Services Agency

Good afternoon.

Thank you, honourable Chair and honourable members.

I'm here today to speak to you about CBSA's role within the management of the fisheries, and specifically the areas that concern the crossing of the border.

I first want to say thank you to the committee for the opportunity to contribute to the committee's examination of the traceability of fish and seafood products, and to speak to the CBSA's role in this process. While I cannot outline all aspects of the process in terms of what other government department are responsible for, I can speak to this process from the perspective of the Canada Border Services Agency.

The CBSA facilitates the flow of legitimate trade and enforces more than 100 acts and regulations that keep our country and Canadians safe. In terms of fish and seafood importation, the CBSA plays a role in delivering the program by verifying that other government department requirements are met for seafood being imported and exported to and from Canada, as well as administering the Customs Act.

The policies governing the importation of fish, seafood, seafood products and shellfish are established by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada. The CBSA works closely with these other government departments to support them and ensure that fish and seafood importations are compliant with the established policies. These activities primarily include verifying that any required licences, permits, certificates or other documentation required to import the goods to Canada are provided while also ensuring that appropriate duties and taxes are remitted by the importers.

The CBSA assists the CFIA by enforcing the policies that govern the importation of food, plants, and animals into Canada to the extent that these policies apply at Canadian border points of entry. Currently, imported fish and seafood products are regulated by the Safe Food for Canadians Act and the Health of Animals Act and their accompanying regulations.

The CBSA assists Fisheries and Oceans Canada with enforcement of the aquatic invasive species regulations, the import prohibition on shark fins, and assists with the trade tracking of certain species of tuna, swordfish, toothfish and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The majority of commercial importation of foods is regulated by the CFIA and must meet CFIA requirements to be eligible for entry. Import requirements vary depending on a variety of factors, including the commodity, country, or U.S. state from which they are being imported. These import requirements can be found by consulting the CFIA's automated import reference system.

High-risk goods require review and approval by the CFIA's national import service centre before they can be released by the Canada Border Services Agency into Canada. In addition, certain high-risk goods require inspection by CFIA before the goods can be released. The CBSA, at the border, releases, refers for inspection, or refuses entry of goods based upon the recommendation provided by the CFIA.

When the CBSA discovers goods suspected of non-compliance with other government department legislation, such as that of CFIA, they are detained under section 101 of the Customs Act and referred to the responsible department or agency for further inspection and, if necessary, enforcement. The CBSA does not inspect food for the purposes of verifying quality standards and labelling requirements, nor do we undertake any testing for compliance with these other federal requirements.

In the context of traceability, importers are obligated to accurately describe the commodities, including fish and seafood, and their country of origin on the commercial import documentation. The level of description required depends on the legislative and regulatory requirements for that specific product.

The CBSA is also responsible for administering the customs tariff. As part of that mandate, the agency is responsible for ensuring the proper tariff classification for goods being imported. Proper tariff classification on seafood importations at the border is complex, and there is little means for us to visually distinguish between various types of seafood at the time of importation.

Based on this limitation, the CBSA employs a risk-based, post-importation verification program that relies on a books-and-records verification of import documents, such as purchase orders and accounting documents. Such verifications may be conducted in cases where seafood mislabelling is suspected.

For example, in 2017-2018 such verifications of seafood for tariff classification detected seafood fraud resulting from mislabelling and misclassification of large shipments of roasted eel fillets. One such tariff classification verification resulted in a reassessment of $136,500, which the importer then had to pay.

Further, the CBSA provides the importing community with advance rulings that confirm the appropriate classification to use when the goods are imported. Over the last five years, the CBSA has issued seven advance rulings to importers to assist in their compliance at the time of the importation of the various seafood products.

The CBSA recognizes Canada's efforts with respect to traceability of fish and seafood products. We take our role in this seriously and will continue to support the Government of Canada's efforts to address this important issue.

Thank you.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ken McDonald

Thank you, Mr. Hoag.

We'll now go to Mr. Forsyth, from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, for five minutes or less, please.

12:25 p.m.

Doug Forsyth Director General, Market Access, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

Good afternoon.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak with committee members today in the context of the committee's study on fish and seafood products' traceability.

Mr. Chair, I understand that the committee has already heard from colleagues representing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, who are the key governmental bodies responsible for seafood traceability and safety. I hope I'll be able to complement the information you received from them and answer your questions as they pertain to Global Affairs Canada's mandate, in particular with respect to international trade obligations.

The trade policy and negotiations branch at Global Affairs Canada is responsible for developing and implementing Canadian trade policy, as well as heading all international trade negotiations and the administration of free trade agreements in Canada.

This branch is also responsible for litigation and dispute settlement, as well as administering import and export controls, as per the Export and Import Permits Act.

The market access bureau, which I lead, looks after certain issues of trade policy and negotiations, namely market access for both manufactured and agricultural products—in collaboration with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada—government procurement, trade and environmental issues, sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers and regulations. I understand that certain issues that have been raised in the context of the committee's study to date may have an international trade dimension. These include labelling requirements, including country of origin labelling, or COOL, international standards, regulatory alignment and co-operation, as well as certain trade aspects of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

I'm happy to do my best to respond to the questions you have today.

In completing my introductory remarks, I would simply wish to offer a general observation about how Canada's international trade obligations function as something to keep in mind as the committee develops recommendations for a Canadian traceability program.

The core of Canada's international trade obligations is that foreign and domestic producers be treated the same way, subject to the same rules and the same conditions of competition. This means that any new measures and compliance procedures Canada could develop with respect to fish and seafood products and apply to imported products will also need to apply similarly to Canadian products.

Thank you, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ken McDonald

Thank you.

We'll now go to Ms. Sotelo, for five minutes or less, please.

12:25 p.m.

Dr. Carmen G. Sotelo Researcher, Spanish National Research Council, As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First, I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for inviting me to participate as a witness in this session. I'm here as a coordinator of two EU projects, Labelfish and Seatraces, which were funded by the EU Interreg Atlantic program here in Europe, and these two projects were related to seafood labelling and traceability.

I work with the Spanish National Research Council, which has different research institutes devoted to the ocean and its resources. In the case of my institute, which is the Marine Research Institute in Vigo here in Spain, we have been working on seafood fraud for more than 30 years and, in particular, we have been developing analytical tools for fighting seafood fraud. Obviously, this work has been done in collaboration with other European research institutions, and I'm not going to mention all of them. What I have to say is that during all these years we have analyzed many seafood commercial samples, the different processing levels, and we have been looking for mislabelling and, in particular, for species misrepresentation. Although we didn't conduct market studies that are properly considered statistical, we have observed that seafood fraud at retailers both in Spain and Europe has been decreasing over time since the 1990s when we started to work on this topic.

We think that the following reasons may explain the decrease. We think that the development of analytical tools to authenticate seafood and the fact that this method is easy to implement for a reasonable price have been supporting this decrease. We also think that consumer and industry awareness about the impact of seafood fraud has contributed to the decrease in fraud. Finally, of course, the enforcement and control by authorities that has been put in place in Europe during these years is also a significant reason for this decrease.

However, we have identified some aspects that need further attention and that we were focusing on in our recent projects, Labelfish and Seatraces. I'm going to name them quickly. We think there's a lack of harmonization and standardization of the current methods to control for misrepresentation, especially of species and geographic origin. Even though there has been a lot of effort to develop these methods and build the databases, we think there isn't enough coordination for the purpose of harmonization and standardization.

Also, we think that developing fast and easy-to-perform analytical tools for some of the main issues with seafood misrepresentation, such as species, geographic origin or populations, are needed. Also, there is other information that is required by European law, such as the declaration of the presence of water or declaration of aqueous solutions in some seafood products, or not declaring some processes, such as freezing, or even tools for differentiation of wild versus farmed seafood.

We think another important aspect to be addressed is increasing the population's awareness of the impact of labelling and traceability on fisheries' sustainability. Also, the impact that the application of these two tools has on decreasing IUU fisheries damage is another important aspect that we think should addressed.

Developing digital tools for helping stakeholders like fishermen and industry to implement food chain traceability in the seafood sector is also an important aspect to consider.

Finally, there's improving co-operation among different government agencies and, especially in the case of Europe, different countries—we are a number of countries with the same regulation and think we should collaborate on this, but this can be extended to other parts of the world—to exchange information about new types of fraud incidents and the types and specific analytical tools to be used for fighting this fraud.

Thank you for your attention. I will be open to questions from you.

Thanks.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Ken McDonald

Thank you for that, Ms. Sotelo.

Before we go to questioning, please accept the condolences of the entire committee for the Spanish fishing trawler that had a pretty large loss of life recently off the coast of Newfoundland, my home province. Our condolences to you and everybody involved in that particular incident.