Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My comments are brief, and we look forward to the members' questions.
The Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters is the National Human Resource Sector Council for the Canadian fish harvesting industry. The council is a non-profit organization. We were founded in 1995 to represent the interests of fish harvesters at the national level and to promote professionalization of fish harvesters through support for regionally based and industry-led initiatives.
The council's mission is to ensure that fish harvesters have the appropriate knowledge, skills, and commitment to meet the human resources needs of the Canadian fishery, now and in the future. The council members represent the crewmen, captains, and vessel owners in the independent owner-operator fishery in Canada.
The owner-operator fishery is the dominant characteristic of the Canadian fishing industry, representing over 90% of employers and crew and producing upwards of 75% of the landed value. There are about 1,300 rural, coastal, and inland communities dependent on the fishery. It's especially noteworthy, I think, that overall in Atlantic Canada, the fish harvesting and processing sectors together are the largest private sector employer.
In the early to middle 1990s, in response to the collapse of the cod stock and other stock concerns on the west coast, a major restructuring of the harvesting sector took place. The entrenched view was that there were too many boats and the people on those boats were chasing too few fish, a situation contrary to the issues that bring us together today. Today, the fish harvester labour force is much smaller--perhaps surprisingly, 40% smaller on the west coast and 20% on the east coast, in spite of the massive restructuring on that coast, particularly in Newfoundland--and labour market challenges are pointing to a crisis for the sustainability of the fisheries labour force and coastal communities dependent on the fishery.
Without getting into any of them at this point, four major contributing factors are demographics, the changing status of crew members, declining fishing opportunities and prices, and rising costs. Today a career in fishing entails an uncertain future and significant investments to acquire fishing assets and skills. Other opportunities are more attractive for a younger generation that would traditionally have been recruited to the fishery.
Strategies are needed to address fisheries labour force challenges and ultimately the sustainability of many coastal communities. There are opportunities; fish harvesters can become partners in fisheries management and science—a partnership that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been reluctant to engage.
Many of the skills that are required to be successful at fishing are similar to trades skills that are increasingly in short supply in rural and remote communities. Programs to support occupational pluralism could improve the attractiveness and viability of the fishing occupation. Also, and perhaps most optimistically for many harvesters, changing seafood market demand may create new opportunities for Canadian fish harvesters.
That's a very quick run over a number of issues with regard to the labour force in the fish harvesting sector.
I have provided a sector study that is the only human resource study of the fish harvesting sector that's ever been done. It's condensely detailed. You have before you the summary in text. There are a thousand pages of data attached in a CD, if you wish to really dig into it.
One issue with regard to that study is that it was the first and only one, and it was completed in 2005, so it's somewhat dated. Some of the big changes in the industry have occurred since then, so we would like to update that study. We do have the resources to do that, and we have strong interest and cooperation from our membership across the country, but one of the difficulties—or really the only difficulty—has been accessing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans database, which we previously accessed in order to produce the study, and in particular, a very extensive survey that was done coast to coast of all major fleet sectors.
We would really like to proceed with a similar survey, with a third-party survey firm, using the same samples, because the trends around harvester expectations, commitments, training priorities, and so on would really become clear. It's a piece of labour force information that other sectors of the same department acknowledge is also very important for evolving fisheries management policy decisions.
Those are my opening comments. Thank you very much.