[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Friday, November 26 1999
The Chair (Mr. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.)): I call the meeting to order.
The first witness is Jean Gauvin from the Association des crabiers du Nord-Est.
Welcome, Mr. Gauvin. If you can keep your remarks fairly short in the beginning, we'll have time for some questions.
Mr. Jean Gauvin (Executive Director, Association des crabiers du Nord-Est): Members of the committee, we would first like to thank you for having given us this opportunity to appear before you to discuss the Marshall issue and especially to propose solutions or tentative solutions.
The experience of the last few months has left people in the industry feeling bitter because no one seems to have answers to the many questions currently facing us. Until just recently, the federal government seemed to be totally at a loss and it has been acting inconsistently and making contradictory statements.
We have joined the Atlantic Fisheries Alliance so that we can coordinate our efforts and look for solutions to these numerous questions together. Fortunately, as a result of a meeting with Mr. MacKenzie and Mr. Thériault and the clarifications made by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, a lot of doubts seem to be evaporating.
We would like to talk to you this afternoon about our co- management agreement which we feel takes into account the desired regulation, model and structure as well as the need for conservation.
I would like to begin by pointing out that the Supreme Court ruling of September 17, 1999, was a bombshell for the entire industry in that it opened the door completely on a whole range of issues without suggesting any answers. Although we respect this ruling, the northeast crab fishermen are concerned by the confusion that it has created. At the government's request, we have remained calm and patient. There were many rumours flying, including that we were being relegated to the background and treated like second- class citizens because some people were being given rights and others privileges.
Gentlemen, before getting to the main questions that accompanied your invitation, we feel that it is important to tell you who we are as representatives of the crab fishery and where we come from. We are an association of commercial midshore crab fishers in fishing area 12. Of the 81 such fishers in New Brunswick, 42 are members of our association.
Since the mid-60s, the fishers that we represent have been involved in harvesting this species which has not always been lucrative and abundant because of the natural cycles that have caused significant fluctuations and sometimes nearly closed the industry. It should also be pointed out that when this fishery started, the market was interested in meat and not sections—it was the American market rather than the Japanese market—and this meant significantly lower prices. Because of that situation, the industry took things in hand and became more disciplined and organized.
In the fall of 1995, we were approached by DFO to study the possibility of setting up a partnership with them. Of course, we now use the term "co-management" because the Fisheries Act died on the Order Paper. Only when that legislation has passed in the House of Commons will we be able to talk about partnership.
We agreed to study the proposal and finally, along with the four other crab fishery associations in fishing area 12, representing the 160 traditional crab fishers in the Gulf, we signed a five-year co-management agreement. We are obviously not the only fleet to have signed such an agreement, which proves that this approach is the structure or model favoured by DFO.
In fact, the successive ministers, Mr. Mifflin, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Dhaliwal, have all said that they believed in this option. The importance of this agreement lies in its emphasis on sound, comprehensive and stable management of the resource. I will explain.
Co-management agreements are becoming the cornerstone of the department and the industry in that they are based on an annual work plan that is prepared for each new fishing season.
After a scientific assessment of the stocks, of their biomass, desired catch rates are proposed; an independent calculation is made to determine the average price from the previous season. With the known catch rate, the known biomass is multiplied by the known average price to give a very mathematical, carefully calculated amount that is like a preset threshold. If the threshold is exceeded, a resource sharing process is triggered, which includes provisions for Aboriginal people and non-traditional fishers. Profit sharing took place in 1997 to the benefit of Aboriginal people and non-traditional fishers.
I would ask you to look at appendix A at the end of the document. It shows the agreement signed in 1997, under which the Aboriginal people of the Gulf received 45 tons in Quebec, 130 tons in New Brunswick, 35 tons in Nova Scotia and 30 tons in Prince Edward Island, for a total of 240 tons.
In the second part of the co-management agreement, the two parties, DFO and the industry, present an annual work plan and set out the roles, activities, and especially the responsibilities on each side for the fishing agreement concerned. Appendix B gives a timetable and a work plan detailing the possibilities of the federal government and of each association, as well as the amounts allocated for management, science and statistics. As I have already said, it is very mathematical and carefully calculated.
As you can see from the appendices, the industry allocates substantial amounts every year to support the department, through direct costs and service fees. If you read the appendix, you will see that in 1997, for example, the department allocated $1.3 million for these costs and the industry, about $1.6 million.
You can also see that the industry invests substantial amounts annually in support of the department through direct costs and service fees: at-sea observers, weighing, air surveillance, etc..
Crab fishers have understood the importance of scientific assessments for ongoing management, especially to ensure conservation of the species. We know of no other fleets that invest as much as we do, financially, on scientific assessments. These assessments cost us between $500,000 and $800,000 a year.
Moreover, if you look at the profile of user fees in the commercial fishery presented in the Gardner Pinfold study in appendix C, it is clear that the midshore crab fishers in fishing area 12 contribute 12.2% of all the fees as a percentage of total value of all landings. That means that 12.2% of each crab fisher's gross income is reinvested in services or management; in the case of other species, the level is somewhere between 1.6 and 5.8 percent.
I would now ask you to turn to the final appendix. The second column at the bottom of the page shows that the crab fishers in area 12 invested 12.2%, while New Brunswick lobster fishers in the Gulf region invested 1.6%. The level for herring fishers is given at 3.9% and for shrimp fishers at 5.5%. Our investment is therefore double or triple that of any other fleet in the Gulf.
Mr. Chairman, if we have gone into detail on how our agreement works, it is because we want to show you how important it is to develop a structure, a watertight model, which avoids the ambiguities and confusion that can lead to situations like the one we are in now.
I would now like to deal with the two major questions given in your invitation. With respect to the effects of the Supreme Court ruling, the issue of who the beneficiaries are of the 1760 treaty is very hypothetical. It is essential to go back in time to understand the situation that existed then. The deportation of the Acadians took place in 1755. The Mi'kmaks were then their allies. When the British won the war, they did not necessarily win peace. It is very clear that the British Crown wanted to get the Native people on side by giving them the right to trade basic commodities.
In order to better appreciate the basis of this treaty, one has to understand, and this is in section 17 on page 12 of the Marshall ruling of September 17, 1999, that the Mi'kmaks had clearly already seized over 100 European vessels in the years leading up to the 1760 treaty. In 1760, the British and the Mi'kmaks had a mutual interest in ending the hostilities and establishing the basis for a lasting peace. The Mi'kmaks therefore promised to exchange their furs for certain commodities that provided them with a moderate livelihood.
Trying to determine who the beneficiaries are of the 1760 treaty will never lead to any solutions, because it is too abstract. It may be everyone, or it may be no one. We need to take another approach to the problem: how can we accommodate the Aboriginal people in a practical and fair way? Do we need to look at the geographic scope of the rights under the treaty? A recent legal opinion provided to the Canadian Fisheries Council stated that the Aboriginal people carried out fishing in the estuaries and bays. We believe that that solution would go too far in limiting their access to the resource.
As far as modest livelihood goes, it would take the wisdom of Solomon to determine what that means and find a consensus. Therefore why even raise such an absurd notion? We feel that regulation should be used to find an answer to the problem.
The reason we gave an in-depth presentation of the co- management agreement a little earlier was to show that the fisheries need to be managed through regulation.
That brings us to the second major question: future management of the fishery. In describing our co-management agreement approach in the crab fishery in area 12, we wanted to emphasize the importance of a model based on solid management methods.
If DFO is serious in its approach, it will give Mr. MacKenzie and Mr. Thériault some latitude and give them the necessary tools to do their work.
When we began the process in 1995 that led to co-management, the negotiation process had a two-year timetable before an agreement could be reached. As already mentioned, we took into account the needs of the Aboriginal people. In our opinion, the department needs to come up with modern approaches like ours for the other species, and provide room for the Native people. The management structure for that will necessarily include buying back by the government of licences available to traditional fishers and compensation for the losses of those that remain in the industry. That cannot be done overnight or without a clear plan.
We joined the Atlantic Fisheries Alliance and we had an opportunity to look at a number of solutions. First, we feel that the MacKenzie-Thériault group is going in the right direction by proposing a co-habitation process, but it is important to take the time necessary to give the Aboriginal people room under the regulations while taking into account the needs of traditional fishers. We firmly believe that we can achieve our objectives together without neglecting conservation and the resource. Otherwise, we will be doomed to "navigating troubled waters," as the title of the Kirby report says. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Jean.
I failed to introduce Paul Noël as well.
Mr. Yvan Bernier (Bonaventure—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok, BQ): I would like to welcome and thank the witnesses. I listened to your presentation. You already have a way of managing the crab resource in area 12. I would like to make a simple comment. In comparing the percentages that each group invests in resource assessment and things like that, you should keep in mind that you are already in a co-management situation and others are not. Their means may be more limited and it may be therefore more difficult for them to invest in those areas.
I began to ask difficult questions yesterday. I asked one this morning that was both difficult and easy. If you do not have the answer today, perhaps you could take it under advisement. You say that the solution is to regulate. That is one thing. Management is another thing. There are two management models currently in the Gulf: some people are operating under an individual quota system and people in other resources are fishing competitively. Having worked in the industry, I know that your individual quota system has made you stronger players in the industry.
Would you be interested in making some of your management rules more flexible? Would you go so far as to think that some of your members might consent to having their licence bought back? Our problem is that every time we want to get new people into the fishery, we have to get other people out.
If ever such a request was made to you by Aboriginal groups, the government, or non-traditional fishers, could you see yourselves agreeing to that? I have to ask you that question today, because in order to have the room to manoeuvre that they will need, Mr. MacKenzie and Mr. Thériault will have to find some resource somewhere. Are you willing to discuss things like that?
Mr. Jean Gauvin: Yes, we are open to that, Mr. Bernier. Last year, two of our members left the fishery; they sold their licences. They even sold those licences, Mr. Chairman, to fishers from Prince Edward Island. You are no doubt aware of that. It happened. So there is some flexibility in the structure.
You have probably seen the article that was in the National Post. Information was leaked from the Department of Finance that $500 million would be allocated to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for the next five years and $100 million allocated immediately, in this fiscal year, for licence buy-backs. It would seem, therefore, that the government wants to move in that direction.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: And you are open to negotiation.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: Of course, I cannot speak on behalf of the members because this is an individual decision. The only thing I can say is that last year two of our members sold their licences. There may be others that want to. In the Gaspé region, there are people without any children or only daughters and who would like to sell. Two fishers did that last year.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: You are saying that this is a business matter between the owner of the boat and the group that wants to buy. I was talking about management flexibility. For example, if there was a quota of 200,000 pounds of crab, would you agree to having that split into 10 parts? Those 10 together could not bring in more than the original owner. Do you see what I am driving at?
Mr. Jean Gauvin: Yes, I see exactly what you are driving at. If Paul Noël has an individual quota of 250,000 pounds and wants to sell it, he will no doubt agree to sell it to a group of 10 people or to an individual. As long as he gets the price he wants and there is no increased pressure on the resource, the quota can be divided in a variety of ways.
The problem comes when the quota is transferred from one province to another. That has created certain problems in the past. The fisheries regulations state that a licence cannot be transferred from one province to another, but the next section says that the minister has full discretion to issue a replacement licence or additional licences. It depends on the political will, I imagine.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: Some day we are going to have to find a way to depoliticize fisheries management.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: More than is the case now.
The Chair: Mr. Stoffer.
Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NDP): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the gentlemen for their presentations. They've been most helpful to us.
I have a question. On the plan you have for area 12, your cooperation and co-management agreement with DFO, just exactly how would that help, or how would that incorporate or integrate the Marshall decision, when it comes to aboriginal people, into that plan?
Mr. Jean Gauvin: The only thing we're saying is we signed an agreement in 1997. That was long before this Marshall case, and there were some provisions in there for the aboriginals. The other thing we're saying is let's give Mr. MacKenzie and Mr. Thériault the tools and flexibility to propose the same thing in other species. There is no agreement on lobster. There is no agreement on herring. There's an agreement on shrimp, for example, but there are a lot of other species that don't benefit from those co-management agreements.
We're saying if what we have learned through the newspapers and from Mr. MacKenzie is true and the federal government wants to go ahead and negotiate some regulations, I think this is a co-management agreement model, with the aboriginals taken care of in the co-management agreements.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: That would include all species, crab as well.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: That's right.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Okay, merci.
Prior to the Marshall decision, in earlier February or March, there were already talks between the aboriginal communities, the provinces, and the federal government to discuss, in a sort of pre-Marshall arrangement, that in the event that on September 17 the ruling went the way it did, the government should at least have some sort of game plan to go forth and tell everyone exactly what it meant, in order to lessen the tensions we have seen on the water. Were you aware of those consultations?
Mr. Jean Gauvin: Yes, of course, we were aware of them. If the aboriginals were taken care of in the 1997 co-management agreement, it was discussed at that time, because it wouldn't be there.
Secondly, the federal government has done this for the last couple of years with the lobster fishermen. If you are a lobster fisherman here in New Brunswick, or in Quebec, P.E.I., or other provinces, and you want to sell, there's a buy-back agreement to buy your licence and give it to an aboriginal.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: In your statement you mentioned that the decision was like a bombshell on the area. Were you aware of discussions prior to then, or was it just the average fisherman in the community who was not aware?
Mr. Jean Gauvin: We were aware that the aboriginals had to be taken care of, but it's the way it was dealt with.
I imagine you've read the judgment, but we're talking about the eel fishery. There's no conservation problem or commercial fishery, but when the fishermen from Nova Scotia asked for a rehearing, it was, of course, in the lobster fishery, and that's why it was denied. The Supreme Court said, “We're dealing here with the eel fishery that isn't a commercial fishery. It doesn't have conservation problems, and you're asking to be reheard under the lobster fishery.” Of course we were aware, but it's a different story altogether because the way it was given was very confusing.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you.
Finally, a lot of the inshore fishermen and their organizations or groups have the perception that the brunt of this decision will be on their backs financially. I believe that is why we've heard from many of them that any costs associated must be paid by the governments of Canada.
We've also heard people say that in order for aboriginal people to have fair access to the resource itself, which is their right, it has to come from the inshore as well as the offshore. Would you agree with that?
Mr. Jean Gauvin: Of course. We never heard that it was up to the inshore only to have the burden on their backs. I imagine the reason they went lobster fishing was because it was closer to the shore and they were maybe better equipped—
Mr. Peter Stoffer: It's for their future.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: —to go to the mid-shore fleet.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Merci.
The Chair: Are there any questions, Mr. Steckle, Mr. O'Brien, or Mr. Hubbard?
I can't find it here, but it seems to me some time this week some of the crab associations indicated they were willing to allocate a certain percentage—maybe 13% maximum—to the aboriginal community. I'm wondering how you came to that percentage.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: As I explained in my brief, we have to reach a certain threshold, because we have... I'm saying it's a very mathematical formula, Mr. Easter. Those fishermen have individual quotas. They take his quota and multiply it by the official price. We have a committee of two university professors who, every year, give the industry and the department an offshore price, an average price, of course. They multiply the price by the quota. After a certain threshold, there are some provisions for the non-traditional and the aboriginal. That's how it works.
The Chair: But how did you come to those percentages or figures? Just by discussion...
Mr. Jean Gauvin: It's not a question of percentage; it's a question of volume. It fluctuates from one year to another. If we have more than a certain amount of metric tonnes, over and above that there are 2,000 tonnes that go for the non-traditional and the aboriginal. But every year the minister issues a fisheries plan, and he's the one who is going to give the quota or the numbers to the non-traditional and the aboriginal.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: On this point, I believe it was in Halifax that we listened to the crab fishermen association in zone 19. They talked about—
The Chair: That percentage.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: This percentage.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: In zones 18 and 19, not only do they have a certain... there are aboriginal fishermen full-time in that fishery.
The Chair: Okay.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: And we're talking here—
The Chair: That's what I'm thinking of. Okay.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: We're talking about the inshore fishery here.
The Chair: Thank you.
Peter, last question.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: You said 80,000 tonnes and anything over 2,000 the minister can allocate at his discretion...
Mr. Jean Gauvin: No, I didn't say 80,000. We would like to have 80,000.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Sorry.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: Usually there is some scientific research every year, and they come to us in January and February and give us the biomass.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Yes.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: Then there's an exploitation rate. Last year, to give you an example, the biomass was 28,000 tonnes. The government accepted 45% as the exploitation rate. So it was giving us something like 12,000 tonnes. I don't have the exact figure here, but over and above 15,000 to 16,000 tonnes, there's a threshold. Every year the minister has given a fisheries plan that will allocate and address the non-traditional and the aboriginal. It's in the vicinity of 15,000 tonnes.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Just for clarification one more time, are there any aboriginal fisheries in your association as we speak?
Mr. Jean Gauvin: No.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you.
Mr. Jean Gauvin: No, it's only after a certain threshold, like in 1997, as shown in appendix A, which shows how it went and what the image was that year.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Gauvin.
Mr. Noël, is there nothing you wanted to add?
Okay, thank you very much, gentlemen, for your presentation.
Burnt Church First Nation will be a little late, so we'll go to the Eel Ground First Nation, with Chief Ginnish.
Welcome, Chief Ginnish. If you could introduce the people with you, the procedure we've been following is to have an opening statement, fairly brief if possible, so that we have time for questions.
Chief George Ginnish (Eel Ground First Nation): With me are councillors Steve Ginnish and Eugene Patles. These gentlemen have both been extensively involved in forestry and fishery developments in our community in the past number of years.
Before I make my opening remarks, I just want to briefly comment on the agenda. We're listed as the Eel Ground “Fish” Nation. Is that a sign of things to come perhaps?
Voices: Oh, oh!
The Chair: Oh, oh! What's wrong with that?
Chief George Ginnish: Nothing.
The Chair: No, you're right. I didn't see that.
Chief George Ginnish: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is George Ginnish. I am the chief of the Natoaganeg, the Eel Ground First Nation.
I welcome you all to the traditional lands of our people. As one of the Mi'kmaq nations, we have lived in the Miramichi River basin and its adjacent lands and water since time immemorial. We've been here for many thousands of years and plan to be here for thousands more. It's our pleasure to extend this welcome to you. I hope that you find this great river, its estuary, and its surrounding woodlands as beautiful and as precious as we do.
I would also like to extend an invitation to this committee as a whole and to you personally, as its individual members, to come to our community to meet with us so that we might better understand and appreciate one another.
Secondly, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I have not provided any written material, other than the copy of the words I bring to you.
We are certainly prepared to work with you and the government towards a sensible and sensitive policy regarding the fishery. However, we have only had a few days to prepare since receiving notice of this meeting. Unfortunately, the time allotted does not enable us to participate fully in today's deliberations. Meaningful consultation involves time, money, and capacity-building. It means that you and the government must be prepared to enable us to express our views cogently on the particulars of any new fisheries regime. We are seeking partnership. We want long-term solutions that are carefully thought out, fully discussed, and agreed to by our people and the crown.
You, as representatives of the crown, have a special relationship with us, which is based on mutual trust and respect. This special relationship is a fiduciary one. Your dealings with us must recognize your fiduciary duties and those dealings must uphold the honour of the crown.
You must understand that as Mi'kmaq we have a singular affiliation with the fishery. Long before the arrival of Europeans on the shores of our lands, we were a fishing, hunting, and gathering people. We continue those traditions today.
We have also been a trading nation for thousands of years. In fact, our ancestors were trading with people as far away as what today is called Mexico, many generations before your predecessors arrived here. We are one of the original members of the first NAFTA. Responsible trading is integral to our society.
To us, the fishery has always been sacred. It has always been respected and conserved by us. We were always willing to share it with the newcomers, and we remain willing to share it. However, true conservation must play a central role in its management. The Fisheries Act, its regulations, and the policies of DFO do not meet this criteria, and these laws and policies must change. You must be prepared to cooperate with us in true sustainable development of this vital resource—of all these resources. You must recognize us as equal partners in developing and implementing management plans for resources such as the fishery, both fresh and saltwater.
We have much to offer from our traditions and from our practical, day-to-day, modern management skills. We maintain a model salmon fishery that is a hallmark of our environmental concern and a showcase of our abilities to work with the natural world. We do not just take from it.
You are also here today in response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the most recent Donald Marshall case. We must ask where you have been since Confederation. Why have you not recognized the Covenant Chain of treaties you concluded with us? Why have you failed to honour the promises you made? These promises are protected in law by the Constitution of this country. Why do you suddenly rush around Mi'kmaqi after years of ignoring us? We did not see you racing across Atlantic Canada to assist us in entering the commercial fishery a year ago.
I'm here to tell you that the Supreme Court did not grant us any rights in the Marshall decision. It merely acknowledged that among our many rights, we retain treaty rights. These treaty rights were carefully negotiated and agreed to by both sides in a spirit of respect and cooperation.
I remind you that we have never surrendered our title to our lands. The Supreme Court of Canada, in the case called Delgamuukw, recognized the right of peoples like us to continue to make use of the land and all its resources. This includes the fishery.
If you are truly interested in sharing and protecting the resource, you will make a clear commitment to recognize and uphold all of our rights. You will enter into a partnership with us in the way our ancestors jointly intended when they first met and when we concluded our sacred treaties. Failure to enter into a meaningful partnership will only leave us the legal and constitutionally protected option of creating and enforcing our own rules to manage resources such as the fishery.
Recent events cast a dark shadow. Are we to believe that our rights are to be subjected to violence and hatred? Are we to believe that the crown will side with those acting illegally and immorally? I hope not.
Today I extend to you a sincere invitation to begin meaningful consultations on the future of all the fishery. If it is well managed, it can support all of us, native and non-native. We are willing to share our expertise in order to reach a goal of equitable access to natural resources that respects nature and protects it. We hope that as emissaries of the crown you hold the same ideals.
I suggest that we begin formal talks that will lead to mutually acceptable rules and regulations, but I stress that we must be full partners in these talks and any related processes. We will not accept the paternalism of the past 100 years. We will not allow bureaucrats and politicians, who have failed miserably to protect natural resources, to continue to dictate to us in the future.
You must recognize us as one of the first peoples, who have unique legal and constitutional rights. You must understand that we are a people with responsibilities to the land, the water, and the air. We are the caretakers of Mother Earth. Our rights stem from our relationship with the Creator. We have a sacred duty to ensure that resources will sustain future generations. We have a sacred duty to ensure that all of the natural world is respected, honoured, and protected. We have a sacred duty to ensure that this planet and all the beautiful riches it holds are not just industrially developed, used, and exhausted.
If you can walk beside us as partners, then together we can protect the fishery, and all of us can obtain the benefits it holds. I sincerely hope you will not attempt to make new laws without our full involvement.
I thank you for the chance to speak to you and outline some of our concerns. I, and we, look forward to a new and vital relationship that will allow us to continue to expand this dialogue.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Chief.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to welcome our witnesses. I accept the hand that you are reaching out to us in the pages of your brief. You will understand that members from all five political parties sitting in the House of Commons are members of the Standing Fisheries Committee and that they do not all represent the government.
You have given certain historical facts and made certain statements that are fairly harsh, but they reflect reality. I have underlined a sentence where you ask us where we have been since Confederation. I am prepared to acknowledge that some mistakes have been made in the past.
I would like you to make some clarifications about present regulations and the future of the fishery.
I would also like to say at the outset that I share your concern that once again bureaucrats will be the ones to establish the fisheries management plans. The fact remains, however, that the various fisheries are already fairly full and that there are already management plans. We must not scrap the whole thing without having an opportunity to look at this issue together. You may need to consult people who know the fisheries even better than we do, that is the fishers themselves.
I want to make sure that we understand one another well and that you will be our allies in helping us to define a lasting peace. You say that you want to be consulted and to be treated as equals. You also say that if it turned out to be impossible to reach an agreement, you would call on the Supreme Court to make sure that your rights were respected. Perhaps I misinterpreted what you said, and I would like to give you an opportunity to repeat publicly that you want to cooperate with the fishers and that you are not necessarily rejecting the existing rules holus bolus, but that you in fact want a chance to discuss them with the fishers.
Chief George Ginnish: Again, our first course would be to work toward this as partners, not as a group that may be consulted somewhere along the way. Meaningful consultation has to take place in regard to the future of the fishery. Even within our communities, there are many different viewpoints as to how this should happen.
There are many who feel the treaty gives them the right to go out as individuals and to sustain themselves, to earn a moderate livelihood. That may occur if we cannot work out something that is in the best interests of our party, but that's not what we're advocating here. We're advocating a process that will involve the Atlantic region as a whole, and also consultation with the individual communities about how they see this.
This fishery is much larger than the salmon fishery on the Miramichi that we're involved with. It's much larger than the lobster fishery that Burnt Church is involved with. There are many other areas, and I think they can form part of larger discussions. I think the political leadership to this point has said, let us sit down and talk, let those discussions be meaningful, and let us be equal partners.
The word “co-management” has been used for many years by DFO in past AFS agreements with our community, yet co-management is not what has always occurred. We would therefore like to see a new relationship here. We'd like to start a new relationship, but that doesn't mean we have to throw away everything. We realize there are people who depend on different aspects of this fishery for their livelihood, so we can't expect everything to be thrown right out the window. But we do want to be equal partners in future discussions. In light of Marshall, I think that's only fair, given the fact that our communities have waited patiently. They've played the legal game. It's been 240 years since these treaties were signed, but our communities have been and continue to be marginalized.
The speaker this morning hit the nail on the head in many different ways. When you have communities where there is 85% unemployment, it is not always easy to get them to wait, to reason with them, to say that discussions should take place for another year, when their families are going hungry or their children have no hope for the future. You have to offer that. As a leader, that's what I want to do for my community. I want to offer that there is hope here for the future, if not indirect involvement in the fishery, then by other ways. There's more than just the direct fishery approach.
I don't know if that answered your question.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: You answered my question well.
You no doubt realize that it will be impossible to right all the wrongs in one month that have been done in the last 240 years. You say that your people need hope. Will they have enough trust in you and enough patience to wait until this process is implemented and you have the necessary training?
The witnesses who appeared this morning told us that some of their fishers who were looking to sell their licences would be interested in providing training to those who would be replacing them, but this whole process will take some time.
I am asking you the question in this way because we all want to avoid a repeat of the situation that occurred this fall. You will really need to help us make sure that people stay calm. What needs to be done in the meantime to allay the problem, knowing that we cannot resolve everything this fall?
Chief George Ginnish: I don't think we expect everything to be solved this fall. If our peoples can see that honest efforts are being made to move forward with discussions that will include them in meaningful ways, as a council it would be our role to inform our community that there are positive things going on and that we should work together. That's always been the way we've worked. In many of the communities, I'm sure if there's a hope there that things will be worked out, then... Even the Supreme Court has said negotiations should be the way by which these issues are resolved. They shouldn't have to come to the legal avenues and go down that road for many years, at great expense and by having things legislated. We should make the effort to try to negotiate them.
The only thing I'm saying is that in our communities this effort wouldn't only be on the fishery. We have very high unemployment rates, and as community leaders we're doing everything we can, not only in the area of the fishery, but in other areas, to work towards capacity-building. But again, as the speaker alluded to this morning, in the surrounding communities, Miramichi itself has a higher than national average unemployment rate. For our people to expect that opportunities are going to be there... they're just not there. When there are insufficient opportunities for the community at large, it makes it that much harder for our people to gain purpose, so we're doing as much as we can locally. That will involve taking advantage of all opportunities.
Our approach to it would be to do it in a cooperative and peaceful manner. We don't advocate violence. It's a last resort. Once that happens, there's no going back. People are hurt and people are injured, and you can't take that back. That's the last thing we would want to have happen.
The Chair: Thank you, Chief Ginnish.
Before I go to Peter, one of your comments in response to Mr. Bernier was that you need meaningful consultation to take place. I would think some of the commercial fishermen sitting behind you would question whether or not meaningful consultation has taken place between them and DFO over the last twelve years as well. How do we get around to that?
I ask that question because of when we were originally discussing the Nisga'a treaty. It states right in the Nisga'a treaty that there has to be consultation on any issue affecting the fishery. I had been meeting with the Nisga'a at the time. When the Pacific salmon treaty was signed, they were not consulted. Needless to say, they were quite angry. Nor was the regular fishing community consulted. How do we get around to this meaningful consultation? How do we accomplish it?
Chief George Ginnish: Well, I guess this session here is a first step towards that. Our association, the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs, has in fact met with the Minister of Indian Affairs and has also met with Minister Dhaliwal on past occasions, to try to begin to work out a process by which we would at least start some consultation.
You have to realize that even though we felt the treaty was always there and was always valid, the Supreme Court has only recently recognized it. Hence the situation with the government and DFO not being prepared to handle the situation. As far as the first nations go, we're in a unique position in that way in that we do have a treaty right to that resource.
To this point there haven't been meaningful consultations. We've basically been involved in the food fishery to this point. This decision says we are allowed to harvest commercially to earn a moderate livelihood, but there has been absolutely no discussion on that whatsoever. As far as those answers go, I don't have those for you today. I'm just saying there must be consultation if we do not want the situations of last fall to reoccur. There have to be many discussions, and they have to happen at the top political levels and they have to happen in the communities. As for exactly how they're going to happen, it's going to take time to figure out how even that should occur, but it will take time.
The Chair: Thank you, Chief.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I wish to thank George for his wonderful invitation to his home. I'm sure we'll be able to take him up on that offer very soon, because this truly is... I know why Charlie always smiles when he comes to Ottawa. It's because he comes from a beautiful area of the planet.
I have a couple of questions for you, sir.
In the deliberations that we've had with many people throughout the area so far and from what we've had in Ottawa, there's no question that if aboriginal people are fully consulted as pure, true partners in the fishery or the lumber industry, or whatever aspect of the resource base you're looking at, there can be goodwill and there can be cooperation amongst all of the parties.
My question for you in that regard is this. If what I've just said happens—if there is true goodwill and everything else—would you recommend to your people at Eel Ground to fish under the same rules and regulations, with everyone together under the same rules, if you're true partners in the negotiation process?
Chief George Ginnish: As a council, I think we would be prepared to recommend that. Again, if true access to other resources—
Mr. Peter Stoffer: No, just the fishery.
Chief George Ginnish: If it's just the fishery, we would recommend that, provided there are opportunities for our people. We're willing to recommend that they fish under the existing regime as it is right at the moment, but that's something we have to discuss both with the community and in light of what other opportunities become available. I couldn't say we would stick to the present food fishery as it is at this time. Again, we're certainly open to discussions on that, but they have to be part of the larger discussions that need to occur here.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: The reason I ask is that the food fishery itself, as you know and as you've heard from people throughout the provinces, is a contentious issue in terms of catching fish out of the so-called seasons, or from the aspect that if you can't catch lobsters out of season, you can do so with, say, one or two traps compared to ten or fifteen traps. With true consultation—and what I mean by this is that you honestly believe in your hearts that you're full partners in the new agreement—could you actually see the day when the food fishery could actually be eliminated on a gradual basis and you could be incorporated with the non-native people into a full commercial fishery?
Chief George Ginnish: I wouldn't rule out thinking that may be possible.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: It's speculation, I realize that.
Chief George Ginnish: I wouldn't rule it out. Again, though, I can only comment in regard to our situation at Eel Ground, where we fish Atlantic salmon. We have very limited involvement in other species. Our primary fishery is Atlantic salmon, and our chief concern at Eel Ground is the effect our food fishery, regardless of what season it is, has on the management of stocks.
We're actively involved in the scientific information gathering. We have been for a number of years. In every community, we know what effects our efforts are having. We know what effect the totals of, say, the recreational fishery are having on the Atlantic salmon in our area. To this point, our involvement in that fishery... I wouldn't say it's insignificant, but it hasn't put the stocks in danger as far as conservation goes.
A number of times in the past, when there have been concerns of water levels and whatnot, we have totally suspended our fisheries in order to allow the salmon to move up and not be stressed further than they were at the time. We would definitely be concerned if our fisheries were having an effect on the ability of the stocks to produce for everyone in the long term.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: I've always been concerned if any fishery has an effect on the stocks.
This is my last question for you, sir. I've asked most aboriginal leaders this, and I know the committee is looking at me now going, “Here it comes again.” I've asked this question ad nauseam, but it's an important one to ask.
You very eloquently talked about your people, about the native traditions, and about the historical attachment to the land. I asked this of the gentleman from Red Bank this morning as well. In your interpretation, do you believe the Marshall decision would apply to non-status aboriginal people?
Chief George Ginnish: I can't answer that across the board. I can answer it as it applies to my community.
We provide services to non-status people who are affiliated with our band. We see section 31 as solving one issue but creating another. We have children of 6(2)s who are probably as native as or more so than some members in our community who have status cards, and yet they're not considered status.
With the resources we have available to us, we have tried to accommodate any member, anyone who's associated with our community. We cannot look after everyone. Each has to look after their own. That's the way I feel. There are different ways of accommodating both people. You do not necessarily have to be status to be a member of a certain band. There are membership codes that allow you, as long as you are affiliated with that group, to be a member of that band.
That's a question I can't answer. We try to look after our own with the resources available to us, and again, those are limited, so what we can do is limited. When you have competition for a scarce resource, if everyone is looking after themselves, then any additional competition is going to be frowned upon.
It's a much larger question than I could possibly hope to answer for you today, but we do our best to look after those who are affiliated with our community. It is a question that will have to be answered. Exactly who are the beneficiaries of this treaty? Should section 31 decide that, or should the communities themselves decide that? It's something that will involve—
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Further dialogue, yes. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Lawrence D. O'Brien (Labrador, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Chief Ginnish and council member.
There are a few questions, clarifications, and understandings I'd like to discuss with you. First of all, I'd like to put forward the discussion on MacKenzie and Thériault. There are over 200 organizations in the Maritimes related to this issue. I notice that these gentlemen, one or the other, have met with several to this point in time. Our timeframe for reaching a conclusion on this issue is an April deadline. How do you see that? Is there a better way, in your opinion, of making this happen, whereby these gentlemen can meet with more groups or be on a faster track?
Is there some way to bring all the views together? We're doing, I think, a fine job through the committee. There are going to be over sixty presentations by the time we're finished, and that lends itself to the issue. Would you have any points you'd like to share with me on that?
Chief George Ginnish: Well, I'm not entirely up to speed on exactly where MacKenzie and Thériault are in their discussions or who they've spoken with. Again, I know the Atlantic Policy Congress, of which we are a member, has a technical and a political organization set up to handle some of that. I know that the time I spent away from my community in late September and October caused difficulty with regard to my commitments to that community, and it was extremely difficult. It's also extremely difficult to gain any type of a consensus when you're working with an extremely large group.
So I would hope that what they're doing and what we're doing here and what we may continue to do in the future would all go toward working this out. We realize this isn't going to happen in a very short period. I would hope that as long as progress is being made here, everyone will continue to have an open mind and to work together toward further discussions on this partnership.
To go back to the employment statistics, our big concern as native communities is the fact that we have to give our people hope that we can grow not only in the fisheries but also in other areas. We need to provide hope to the communities, and this is about one of those areas.
I'm sorry I'm not exactly up to date on how the discussions between MacKenzie and Thériault are going. As a community we'd be more than open to meeting with the committee at that level to provide the concerns we see at the community level, just so that you would have a community perspective in addition to the regional and Atlantic perspective I know you're working on.
The Chair: Mr. O'Brien.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: There are a few points in your presentation I'd like clarification on. I'll go through them all, and you can jot down notes, if you wish, and then respond to me.
On the top of page 2 you say:
The question that came to my mind is, what type of long-term solutions? Maybe you can lend yourself to that.
At the top of page 3 you say:
I'd like for you to define what you mean by “equal partners”.
Near the bottom of page 4 you say:
I'm really interested to find out what you mean by “well managed”.
Finally, in the last paragraph on that page you say:
I'd like to get your view on those formal talks. Who would they involve? Is it Thériault, MacKenzie, the Maritime Fishermen's Union, the alliance, and the APC, for example? I'd like to get your view on that.
This is all about solving an issue based on a decision, and whatever information you can give us from your deliberations is going to be most helpful to us.
Those are a few loaded points, but attempt it.
Chief George Ginnish: With regard to the first item of long-term solutions, the word that was used back in October when we were talking with the minister was “interim”, meaning something we put into effect immediately to deal with the problems being experienced right at the moment. The phrase “long term” means anything that involves discussions over the six months to however long it takes.
With regard to the second item, “recognize us as equal partners in developing and implementing management plans”, the way I see that is that it would mean being included versus decisions being made in our absence. Part of that inclusion is happening now, and part of it can continue to happen through the organizations—
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: Do you see that equal partner thing, Mr. Ginnish—
The Chair: Lawrence, we're going to run out of time—
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: It'll just take a second.
Chief George Ginnish: What I don't want to do is put numbers on it. I think part of what we're trying to do here today is that we don't want to come here with unreasonable demands, and I don't think the committee should expect that from us. We're saying we want to talk further. So I'm not prepared to say it's 50%-50% or nothing or 100% or nothing.
Just to follow up on a point Millie Augustine made in her presentation this morning, equal partners could mean native involvement at this table. It could mean that in the future don't overlook where we can be involved right at this level. I know the chairman, Mr. Easter, mentioned that there is in fact an aboriginal MP who sits on the committee, and I would hope that when reviewing this information, she would be able to provide her input at that time. We would also hope that our own MP, Mr. Hubbard, being from this area and being familiar with the way things are here, would also provide input based on his knowledge of the area.
With regard to a well-managed fishery being able to support us all, that's a general statement with regard to concerns that have been voiced over the past year or so that some fisheries are fished to the point where they can't support the effort that's there and that any further effort would push it to the brink of extinction. I think it's meant as a general statement to say that we have to look at the total fishery and at what it can support, what it can sustain, and what role that can play.
We don't expect one fishery to totally support all native or all non-native communities. But I think it can be managed in a sustainable fashion, and that's what we have to work toward. We want to be part of those different opportunities. Because of the lack of economic opportunities in the communities, we have to look outside for those, and as leadership we have to look at all possibilities.
With regard to the last item of “formal talks that will lead to mutually acceptable rules and regulations”, those are not my words exactly. I don't like rules and regulations. Many of our folks would say we've been regulated and ruled right to death, as far as that goes. But it's formal talks that will lead to native involvement in the sharing of the resources and active participation versus exclusion and marginalization.
We're going into a new millennium here, and we have to do something. If there was 85% unemployment in any non-native communities anywhere, that would be unacceptable. That's where we're coming from. We're concerned about the future and the opportunities for our communities, and this is just one area that is going to help, we hope, to increase our participation economically, employment-wise, and training-wise.
There are other initiatives we're working on as communities. Each community, depending on its particular area, has its views on how that should occur, and we do as well. As a leadership, we're looking at every possibility to expand the workforce participation and the opportunities for our people. In the last couple of years we've had 9, 10, 11, 12 high school graduates per year in our community. We want to be able to steer them on a course where there are going to be opportunities for them down the road. Right now our basic labour force is much larger than we need.
The Chair: Thank you, Chief Ginnish.
Paul, there's time for a quick one, and then Charlie will close. We are extensively over time here.
Mr. Paul Steckle (Huron—Bruce, Lib.): I have a number of questions I would like to ask. Perhaps because of what we heard from Millie this morning, I'm just wondering what your feeling is toward the way natives are treated. You mentioned young people graduating and the opportunities. Is there fairness in the way people are either able or unable to be hired? What do you see in terms of the federal government's role in terms of—and we almost heard the statement this morning—unfair discrimination against your people? If this is the case, do you see that happening?
I think we have to understand there's a lot more than just fish that we're talking about as we travel about. If this is one of the hindrances towards your people being being able to better themselves, we need to know that. We've had a divergence of opinion in a lot of areas. I'd like to have your comments on that.
Chief George Ginnish: As far as we're concerned, being where we are, it's unfortunate, but the opportunities are just not there in a lot of cases for many of our people.
Being from Eel Ground, it's a sad commentary on the state of things when we have a total population of 750 people and 330 have flown elsewhere. In my own family, my father has a total of 11 brothers and sisters, and only three of them are in the community now. The other eight have had to leave the country to find work. Their families are now all spread throughout northern New England. They could not find work in the Maritimes.
That's for a number of reasons. Millie mentioned this morning that she's blunt; she'll call it discrimination. She said the opportunities aren't there. As I mentioned earlier, in an area such as the Miramichi, where the unemployment rate isn't what the national rate is—unemployment is higher here—the competition is fiercer. Many of our people have to leave this area to find work, and that's unfortunate.
As soon as you mention equity or employment opportunity to some people in society, they say no, that shouldn't be the way it is; everyone should compete on a level surface. In our case, we're not on that level surface in terms of having the opportunities. If there are programs that have to be enacted to decrease those unemployment rates in our communities, then I think it's something that has to be looked at seriously. An unemployment rate of 75% or 85% is not acceptable.
Mr. Paul Steckle: Based on equitable educational levels, is your unemployment rate higher per capita among natives than it is among the general populace?
Chief George Ginnish: That is something on which I don't have the statistics right now. I know for over the past 15 or 20 years our educational rates have increased. Our population, in terms of where the numbers are, is a young population versus the Canadian population. Most of our people are in their late teens to early thirties. As far as that group goes, they're much more educated now versus 15 years ago, but maybe not in as technical a field. Even with that, there's no guarantee that training would find them work. If we have lawyers and whatnot who do have the training now, they can't find work in the Miramichi. So it is a very large problem and something that has to be looked at seriously.
The Chair: Mr. Hubbard.
Mr. Charles Hubbard (Miramichi, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In the same vein, I would like to thank Chief Ginnish and his council for coming today. I especially want to recognize the work you've done with your forest, Steve having received national recognition for the work on sustainable forest management in Eel Ground.
I think probably also in terms of our fish committee... we talk about Eel Ground, and that's where it gets its name, in terms of the fish that brought about this Marshall decision. It is an area where there is a great number of eels during the winter season.
We also have to recognize that Eel Ground, that area of the northwest Miramichi, is the only spawning ground of bass on the Atlantic seaboard. So we do have a lot of special interest.
I know, Chief, when you're sort of playing your chips here in terms of fish, there are many different species of fish we're talking about, and also resources. As the committee looks at our native communities, we have to realize that it's part of the economy that they're trying to develop, and each chief and each council has a real concern not just in terms of the Marshall decision but what the implications are in terms of future development of their people.
So thanks, Chief, for coming. It's certainly good to see you here today.
The Chair: Thank you.
I figure, Mr. Hubbard—I get into this at my peril, Peter, because you will see this as an advertisement—
An hon. member: Be careful what you say.
The Chair: —as chair of the Atlantic caucus, the document Catching Tomorrow's Wave, in fact, whether we agree with the direction of it or not, is looking at the problem of lack of opportunity in Atlantic Canada.
There may be different positions from the various political parties on how you achieve those goals, but we do know we can't solve all problems as the fisheries committee, that's for sure. But we will take your interests and your presentation into consideration in terms of our report.
So thank you very much, Chief Ginnish, Mr. Ginnish, and Mr. Patles.
The next witnesses are from the Burnt Church First Nation. I understand Chief Dedam couldn't make it. Alex Dedam, comptroller, and Larry Dedam, counsellor, have come forward.
Millie, I believe you're on again. How did you manage this?
Is there a fourth gentleman as well? Miigam'agan, come forward as well.
Mr. Dedam, if we could be reasonably brief in the opening...
Mr. Alex Dedam (Comptroller, Burnt Church First Nation): I'll be very brief—extremely brief. Thank you very much, by the way, for asking Esgenoopetitj to appear before you.
I regret that Chief Wilbur is not able to join us today. He's not feeling very well. He's suffering from arthritis, and his bones apparently are not well enough for him to travel.
Our first nation feels that we are at a crossroads in our relationship with Canada. Depending on what happens during and after the consultation meetings, we can either escalate the situation or step back from the edge and work towards building a constructive relationship.
First, let us tell you that we will not accept a proposition that we need the government's authorization to fish. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans was not here centuries ago when we started to fish. We did not deplete the stocks, and we will not be made a scapegoat by non-aboriginal fishers' organizations. What our people take for food and barter is a minuscule portion of the fishery. We were entirely shut out of the fishery for years, and even now, our legal right to fish on a priority basis for food, social, and ceremonial purposes is constantly being challenged, even by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Having said those things, we do not mean to imply that we support an unregulated fishery. It is not in our best interest or the interests of our future generations. That is why we have constantly pressed the officials at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to sit down with our council and our officials on a regular ongoing basis to work out a mutually acceptable framework for our fishery.
The officials have refused to do that in the past. Instead, they seek to impose their management plans and their communal licences on every first nation along the east coast and elsewhere. Well, the Mi'kmaq of Esgenoopetitj don't recognize these commercial licences, and the Mi'kmaq of Esgenoopetitj won't be dictated to. However, the Mi'kmaq of Esgenoopetitj still support arriving at a mutually acceptable scheme for governing our fishery.
As an example of our willingness to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement, the council of the day in 1994 developed a fisheries agreement that outlined the management of the fishery and the involvement of our first nation in the management, protection, and enhancement of fisheries resources and fish habitat in our area.
We are providing a draft agreement for your information and use. It's included with the statement I'm reading today.
Esgenoopetitj is of the view that there is a need for a short-term and long-term strategy for a treaty fishery. In the short term, we need to have a viable commercial treaty fishery in place to permit the Mi'kmaq fishery for the next year, with conservation targets. In the long term, beyond the next year, measures will have to be taken to ensure reallocation of resources.
The Mi'kmaq people of Esgenoopetitj, Tabusintac, and Pokemouche region harvested, bartered, and sold lobster and other marine resources before the dawn of recorded history. These practices were still prevalent when our rights to sell fish were affirmed by 18th century treaties with the British crown and otherwise guaranteed in British and colonial laws. Our right to utilize marine resources as an economic resource for our people is nothing new, but it is not our people who have reduced lobster and other fish stocks to such dangerous levels that elaborate protective measures, including seasonal restrictions, must be put into place. Other peoples are to be blamed for the rape of marine resources, some of whom scoffed at the Mi'kmaq priority in the food fisheries, which have been constitutionally recognized and affirmed by Canada's highest court.
In 1993 both our food and commercial fisheries were subjected to unacceptable levels of harassment by some vindictive non-aboriginal fishers. Our traps were destroyed, our lines cut, and our buoys stolen. Although our first nations fishers tried in good faith to conform to the seasonal limitations placed on our commercial fisheries, and there were sporadic talks with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, they found that by and large they could not fish side by side with their non-aboriginal counterparts. Feelings ran high and resentments ran too deep.
This state of affairs resulted in more than an acceptable number of our commercial fishermen engaging in a late summer, early fall lobster harvest. Non-aboriginal fishers protested that the harvest was unfair. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, acting under howls of protest, placed our fisheries under a microscope. As a result, a number of our fishers faced prosecution for engaging in a practice that is 10,000 years old in our community. Additionally, two fishermen faced a trial date for selling lobster and fishing without authorization.
On Friday, September 17, 1999, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Marshall case that the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy have a treaty right to fish commercially for their livelihood, a number of Esgenoopetitj Mi'kmaq went out into the Miramichi Bay to exercise their right to harvest lobster. On September 29, 1999, the chiefs directly affected by this ruling came together to sign a protocol committing to make conservation a first priority. The protocol also specified a commitment to policy regulatory development, education, and peaceful co-existence with non-aboriginal Canadians.
On October 3, 1999, non-aboriginal fishers destroyed and vandalized Esgenoopetitj, Big Cove, and Indian Island fishing equipment and operations. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stood by monitoring the situation.
The treaty right recognized in Marshall is not a new right but one that the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy people have been deprived of benefiting from for many years. The right to fish was not created by the Supreme Court decision, nor did that decision create the difficult and confrontational situation existing today. Rather, today's issues result from a continuing systemic discrimination faced by first nations people in every region in Canada and the inaction of successive governments to negotiate equitable access to the natural resources reserved to first nations in the historic treaties and by aboriginal title.
As the Supreme Court of Canada recently pointed out, it was a treaty-related trade for “necessaries”, which the majority of the court interpreted as “food, clothing and housing, supplemented by a few amenities”. Esgenoopetitj believes that the working definition of a moderate livelihood in necessaries will have to be developed and agreed upon between Canada and the Esgenoopetitj.
If we step back from the edge in this matter, we must both compromise and wipe the slate clean, so to speak. If we fail to do this, we may as well lay fishery charges against the whole membership of the Esgenoopetitj now, because at some time and place of our own choosing we will all be out there fishing and selling in defiance of the terror tactics of the non-aboriginal fishers. But if we both compromise, we believe we can put this year and these events to rest and engage in consultative talks that we as a first nation have been pushing for.
The Supreme Court established a benchmark in Delgamuukw in 1997 that it is far better that treaty and land interests be negotiated than litigated. As this and other courts have pointed out on many occasions, the process of accommodation of the treaty right may best be resolved by consultation and discussion of a modern agreement for participation in specified resources by the Mi'kmaq rather than by litigation.
The five to two decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in September reaffirmed the right of Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy to continue in perpetuity to fish, hunt, and gather as agreed to in the 1760 and 1761 treaties with the British crown.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Dedam.
Mr. Stoffer, do you want to start?
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Sure. First of all, Mr. Dedam, I wish to thank you very much, and your colleagues, for your presentation today.
This agreement you have here with Her Majesty the Queen in terms of the DFO... I want to thank you very much for that. It will be very interesting reading as well.
Sir, in regard to the incidents that happened at Burnt Church, as you know, you were very visible as the spokesperson for your community, as well as a representative I think for a lot of aboriginal people, when you expressed the fears and concerns the people had when we all saw what happened on the water that time.
But as you know, sir, there were pre-Marshall discussions back in February and March. Were you part of those discussions at all between the province and the federal government and the aboriginal leaders at that time?
Mr. Alex Dedam: I wasn't personally. I'm not sure if my colleagues at the table were part of that, but I wasn't.
Ms. Millie Augustine (Lawyer, Burnt Church First Nation): I didn't know anything about them.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Were you aware of them at all, sir?
Mr. Alex Dedam: No.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: There goes that question. My other question for you, sir, is this, and this is probably the last chance I'll get to ask this, but I've asked all people this and you've heard me ask this question already. In your opinion, sir, does the Marshall decision apply to non-status aboriginals? I know that's a tough question and it's not an easy one to answer, but some aboriginal chiefs have answered in the negative. In fact, all of them have.
Mr. Alex Dedam: We are not the ones who define the status or the non-status. That's something the Government of Canada somewhere in the past has done, so most of us are carrying around a card that we are certified as Indians under the Indian Act of Canada, but our ancestors tell us that this is really irrelevant.
The card does not determine whether you are an aboriginal or not. That has nothing to do with it. It's our history, it's our culture, it's our traditions, it's our values, our attachment to the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and the Passamaquoddy people that determines whether we are aboriginal. That definition is theirs; it's not our own creation. It's one that was created, not by you personally, but by your government in times past. So if anybody can prove that they have an attachment to the treaty, that they have attachment to the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy nation, certainly they can be beneficiaries to the treaty.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: My last question—
Mr. Alex Dedam: Did I go on long in answering it?
Mr. Peter Stoffer: You did. Everyone else has.
The Chair: You were shorter than Peter usually is.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: I have a last question for you, sir. Recently I read in the paper where one of the provincial ministers in New Brunswick stated quite clearly that the decision does not apply to logging or trees in that regard.
I know it's getting off the course of our fisheries actually, but it's quite obvious that the aboriginal people are not looking just to fisheries for economic gain and renewal. I guess you would say it's in terms of economic possibilities for the people on the reserves and everything else. What would you say to a minister like that when he makes a comment like this, that it only applies to one certain sector of resources and not to others?
Mr. Alex Dedam: I can only tell him what I told him. I said, we'll see you in court.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Okay. And that's the problem I have. We have a current Minister of Fisheries and Oceans who has said it's better to negotiate than to litigate.
Mr. Alex Dedam: That's right.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: And I say critically that the reason they're saying that now is because of the Supreme Court decision. Marshall started in 1993. We've had Sparrow, Delgamuukw, and now Marshall. I figure, what's next? The Millie one? You're absolutely correct. It is better to negotiate than litigate. And I appreciate you saying those comments.
Mr. Alex Dedam: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. O'Brien.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
It's a pleasure to meet you. I come from a riding, Labrador, with quite a few aboriginal people. There are the Innu, who you've probably heard of, and the Inuit. I have aboriginal and non-aboriginal fishers. So I can relate to the issue I think from a fairly comprehensive perspective. But the one issue I want to pick up on is I think on the second last page. It's to deal with compromise and resolution, I suppose, negotiation, cooperation, call it what you like, and in the final analysis, as you just said, litigation.
What's it going to take to not get a repeat of what happened here just a few weeks ago? Nobody wants that. You don't want it, Canada doesn't want it, the people in the area don't want it. So a compromise would do that. But from your point of view, what does it take to bring a resolution of the two parties, the non-aboriginal fishers and the aboriginal fishers, and have something that's going to be interim and then subsequently be long term?
I'd like to hear it from your point of view because... I'm saying this in the context of the discussions that took place with the Atlantic Policy Congress of first nations chiefs, where Minister Dhaliwal met with the 35 chiefs. Then there was almost agreement, but not quite, and then there were some compromise agreements, and you were involved in one of the compromise agreements between the department and bands. I think we're going to have to, in order to make something stick, get beyond that. So I'd like to get your perspective on that.
Mr. Alex Dedam: We have to be careful, because when we talk about compromise—and I know that in the opening remarks I mentioned compromise, and the other term is negotiate. One thing is we were not part of the 35 first nation communities who went for the voluntary moratorium. The people who went to Halifax did not have the mandate from the community. We have a community of over 1,200 people in Esgenoopetitj village. The chief and the councillors and the officials who went to Halifax did not have that mandate to agree to it. So it had to come back to the community. It is the community who are consulted and it's the community who determine whether they want to do this or not.
It was very evident at that community meeting that they did not wish to have a moratorium placed. They felt that we have the right now, and it's our intent to fish under the Marshall decision as we speak. It was not a big fishery. It was overestimated that we were raping all the lobster. It was not a big fishery, if you really look at it.
Even as we speak, I think there are people in our community who really feel we shouldn't be meeting with Fisheries and Oceans at the moment, because when we start talking, they say we're negotiating their rights away. When we agree to something, you're going to give something and you're going to take something away from me. It's a give and take kind of thing.
So the people in our community really feel we should not be negotiating right now, because when you do that you are “selling” our rights. You are doing that. You may not be doing it intentionally, but you're doing it unintentionally.
It's our view at the moment, though, that we live with our neighbours, and we have to really start telling our neighbours and educating them that the landscape of fisheries is changing and is going to change. We have to plan for that change.
In the short term, we want to make sure our people who want to earn a moderate livelihood are allowed to go and fish, for example, in this coming lobster season, or the smelt season and others. We're going to have to somewhere, somehow, ensure, without jeopardizing the stock and with conservation in mind, that we try to work out that particular compromise. So maybe by reducing the number of traps per lobster fisherman, maybe by the transfer of the licences, or buying licences and transferring them to communities, it can be achieved in that particular fashion. Did I answer all your concerns?
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: You were close.
The Chair: Mr. Bernier.
Ms. Millie Augustine: I would like to add to that, in regard to consultation and so on.
The Chair: Go ahead.
Ms. Millie Augustine: First of all, it has to be understood that our treaty rights are not for sale. Yes, we can sit down and we can negotiate, but not negotiate the treaty itself.
Another way of doing it... you have to understand, we will not negotiate anything while there's a gun held to our heads. It's threats instead—that's not negotiating, that's not consulting.
In the past, we've had no say in regard to making up the fishing agreement. It was done unilaterally by the government. We had no say in the matter, and it was brought to us. It was a generic one right across Canada. We had no say in it whatsoever, and to sit down and negotiate... they would not change one word in this agreement—not one word. I find it quite shocking. Maybe in the numbers, but the legality... I had to look at the legality, and I told them that based on my legal knowledge, this is affecting our aboriginal rights in regard to Sparrow and previous fishing agreements.
So therefore the agreement has to be written so that it doesn't affect our treaty and it's applicable to the needs of each native community.
The Chair: Mr. O'Brien, you have one follow-up.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: I have one last point. At the end of the day, everybody in this room, everybody in this country—and I'm sure you too, because aboriginals subscribe to this rule—wants to save the resource. That's the order of the day—conservation. There has to be something there for next year, the year after, and for the next 5,000 years or whatever to come.
That's the challenge, isn't it? To find a balance between what has been identified here and the various agreements you've named, in this case Marshall—the commercial fishery as it is and the inclusion of the aboriginal fishery as identified in Marshall. That's the challenge. Are you saying whether there's an agreement or not, come a certain time, you're going to do your thing regardless?
Ms. Millie Augustine: No. What I'm saying is that our treaty rights are not for sale. I think there has to be management. We know that. We discussed this last fall. We were creating a management plan in Burnt Church. We know everything has to be managed. When the second decision came out, we weren't surprised. That was our understanding anyway. We're not out to take all the fish out there. That's not our intention. We know... we look out for seven generations. If we take all the fish now, our children aren't going to have any. We are aware of that, fully aware.
What we're saying is that we can possibly work out some kind of system, but there are two things. Don't do it while you're holding a gun to our heads, with threats of violence. We will not bow down to threats of violence. We've been exposed to it, not just last fall, or for hundreds of years, but more obviously, in the last 10 years. We will not bow anymore.
Another thing is that you have to understand that no matter how much money you give us, we will never sell our treaty rights. We still can do it outside the treaty aspects. When you come up with a managed plan without shoving a licence down our throats... I think a proper management plan can be agreed to by the natives and non-natives if they work together. But please don't exclude us anymore.
The Chair: Mr. Bernier.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: Can everyone hear me through this brilliant interpreter in the booth?
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: Just carry on.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: I am saying that because the lady here before us, Ms. Augustine, said that there were no women with us. Perhaps there are no women politicians among us, but there are women supervising us during our trip.
Ms. Millie Augustine: All right.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: I noted the last question of Mr. O'Brien. He said that everyone in this room and across Canada agreed on resource conservation, including both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. I would add that even sovereignists, who are still part of Canada, agree on conservation.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: You're part of Canada.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: I won't go any farther with that, Mr. Chairman. I am pleased to see the witnesses here today.
I note the openness they show in their second-to-last sentence, where they say that the accommodation of treaty rights can be resolved through consultation and discussion. I think that that is what the Standing Fisheries Committee is starting to do. Of course, you will have to meet with the government mediators.
On the first page, you also say that you do not need the government's permission to fish. I took note of that as well.
All that I would like to know right now is whether we can count on your co-operation to keep telling your people that there is hope, that there are people in the government who are saying that we have to right the historical wrongs, but that we need time in order to do that. You need time to talk to your people, and we need time to talk to our fishing community, because the problem is now in our court.
We are all in favour of conservation and there may not be enough fish or lobster for everyone. Some players will have to leave the game, and it is our side that has too many players. I therefore wanted to know whether we could count on your co- operation. I think that the answer is yes, given what I see here.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would like to make a proposal that we can debate when we get back to Ottawa. Ms. Augustine said that there were no Aboriginal people with us. It might have been a good idea to hire somebody who knew the Mi'kmaq First Nations well to help us get in contact with the various chiefs.
Yesterday or the day before, I was pleased to learn from the people in Halifax that they had contacted the Aboriginal chiefs in my home region of Gaspé. I tried to contact them myself, but we never managed to get in touch. It was the Aboriginal chiefs from this region that contacted them. The goal is for everyone to talk to everyone else so that we can try to find a solution together. I wanted to be sure of your co-operation.
If Ms. Augustine would like to give us her card before leaving, I will take it.
Ms. Millie Augustine: Let me comment on that. Regarding my business card, I don't have any. What happens is that's not the way of our people to be that formal.
Mr. Alex Dedam: We'll scribble it for you.
Ms. Millie Augustine: I have just one sentence. Keep in mind the whole process here. Read the Sparrow case. Conservation comes first, then aboriginal rights, and then other users.
Mr. Alex Dedam: I just want to add that the Mi'kmaq people of Esgenoopetitj certainly have met the conservation challenge. They have voluntarily decided that they would follow the same conservation measures that are being followed by commercial fishermen, which are not taking buried lobsters or small lobsters, throwing back certain carapace sizes, and having escape mechanisms in place in all the traps. So all of that was pretty well met.
In addition to that we consulted with biologists to let us know about the lobster stock, and they basically said they didn't have enough information to say that the kind of fishing we were doing was detrimental to the lobster industry. In 1993-94 we had the same kind of argument that was put forward at that time. We didn't deplete the stocks then, and we have no intention of depleting them now.
The Chair: Ms. Miigam'agan, go ahead.
Ms. Miigam'agan (Technical Adviser, Burnt Church First Nation):
[Editor's Note: Witness speaks Mi'kmaq]
This is the original language of this country.
I've been sitting here all morning listening to your questions to the non-native fishermen, to the non-native organizations' representative, and to our first nations people, and it's always a sorrowful state for me to witness the arrogance, the ignorance on your part when you talk about good faith, good relationships that we can continually harbour on the path of the dealings you've done to our people. But nothing has changed; the systems and the policies are still in place that continue to hurt our people. Until that system begins to change, until your western viewpoints begin to change and alter to become sensitive to our own nation, to become sensitive to our own culture...
This country, North America, is no longer just dominated by the Caucasian nation, European nations. It's being dominated by different cultures, and that needs to be recognized. We recognize it as a nation, the first nations of this country, and I'm not talking about Canada or the United States. I'm talking about the continent, which is our homeland, something that western European history has not taught.
This kind of stuff could have been prevented if your ancestors, your leadership, would have taken the courage and would have stood in integrity and learned who we are as a people. When you arrived on our shores, the proper protocol would have been to begin on that first step on our shores to start knowing who we are as a people. That hasn't happened.
Today your questions are coming from your own viewpoint, from your own value system. You don't even understand anything about who we are as Mi'kmaq, our value system, and how we look at the fishery. You continually ask us of conservation, and it was stated by Chief Ginnish and the representatives here that it's part of our philosophy. Our whole existence, our whole Mi'kmaq philosophy, is founded on sustaining ourselves, sustaining all species of creation.
We've lived here for thousands and thousands of years, and we've never damaged the Earth, never damaged our mother. We've co-existed with all of creation, and we extend that respect to the rest of our non-native brothers and sisters.
You keep asking us about conservation. Is it truly conservation, or is it simply racism, that we're not entitled and we're not allowed to be the people that we are in our own homeland? This is our homeland, and the sooner you realize that, your leadership realizes that, that's when the relationship can begin.
The Chair: Thank you.
Paul, did you have a short question?
Mr. Paul Steckle: Yes, I do have a short question, and I'm posing the question in fairness to you to respond to, because earlier this day someone made the aspersion that an excess of food supply is garnered and then sold. I'm asking, in looking at the fisheries agreement, subsection 15.(1)—
Mr. Alex Dedam: That's the draft agreement?
Mr. Paul Steckle: That's the draft agreement—do you agree with that?
Mr. Alex Dedam: We agree with everything in there.
Mr. Paul Steckle: Would you then disagree with the party this morning who made the statement that there are more species gathered than can be used for food, and they're disposed of in profitable means and other ways? I'm only asking this so you can give your response.
Mr. Alex Dedam: I think early on in Sparrow, some surplus fish, surplus to food, ended up on the market. That happened. But the Mi'kmaq people felt they had a treaty right to sell lobster. That was the position they took and that's the position they continue to take. We ended up, of course, with court cases. Some of those individuals were charged. I believe the cases are still before the courts, as we speak. They've gone to trial and a disposition will be known pretty soon.
As I mentioned from the very beginning, it's our feeling that we don't need your permission to fish; we have that from the Creator. The Creator gave us that responsibility and we get our authority from the Creator. We don't need your permission to fish.
In saying that, we will tell you how much fish is required to meet our food needs. On the surplus fish ending up in the market, the position some of our fishers have taken is that they have the right—it comes from the treaty—and they will continue to sell the lobster in the marketplace. Yes, that happens.
Mr. Paul Steckle: But you would agree that in subsection 15.(1), that would be your new position.
Mr. Alex Dedam: Yes.
The Chair: Millie.
Ms. Millie Augustine: In regard to the fishing agreement, remember something. A lot of non-natives went to DFO and got copies of the fishing agreements that were signed. They based their information on the quotas that were given in the documents. However, Eel Ground, Red Bank, and Burnt Church couldn't even meet half of their quotas. So those are not the true figures. They're based on numbers on paper. Being realistic, they weren't catching all that stuff.
You know yourself there are poachers everywhere. They make it sound like all the native people out there fishing are doing what you would call poaching. That's not true. There are native people out there following the rules wholeheartedly, but it makes us sound like a lot of poachers.
What about the non-native poachers? DFO will tell you that the amount of fish the poachers catch just in the summer months, the aboriginal people, through the commercial and food fisheries, wouldn't catch in two years. That's why they've said there's no problem with the aboriginal people fishing. It's not hurting conservation.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Mr. Chair, a point of order.
The Chair: Go ahead, Peter.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Millie, with all due respect, we've listened to close to 45 presentations so far, from aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. Not one of those people or organizations has said it's only the natives who are poaching. What they have said is that if poaching is going on, it's done by a cross-section of everybody.
Anybody who is illegally fishing is not necessarily aboriginal or non-native—it's any group that's out there. In your reference people are saying it's only native people. No one has told us that, and we wouldn't believe that for a second.
Ms. Millie Augustine: But we're the only ones who are being attacked physically.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: That's incorrect, actually, but that's okay.
Mr. Paul Steckle: I didn't want to cast that aspersion. I just wanted to clarify it, so I'd know that what it's saying here is what you—
Mr. Alex Dedam: This document was done in 1994, and at that time we were negotiating with Fisheries and Oceans. We said we would respect the Sparrow decision. But we have the view in our community—and I'm of that view too—that you don't need anybody's permission to fish for food, social, or commercial purposes. Of course, the Marshall law has said it's very possible that the treaty of 1761 and 1762 gave us that authority.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: But it also says—
The Chair: Are you done, Paul?
Mr. Paul Steckle: Yes. It also says this doesn't refer to other groups, but basically to your group.
Mr. Alex Dedam: Yes.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: It also says the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has the right to set seasons and regulate and enforce, in terms of the clarification of the Marshall decision on November 17.
The Chair: I have a question in that regard, Mr. Dedam. In your presentation this morning there is no reference to the November 17 clarification by the Supreme Court. I guess my question really relates to whether you acknowledge the limitations the Supreme Court's November 17 clarification sets.
Mr. Alex Dedam: Which one specifically are you referring to?
The Chair: They say very specifically that it's a regulated fishery and it would be in areas traditionally used by the local community. In section 19 it says:
They outline seasons, etc.
Mr. Alex Dedam: Our community and our counsel feel that in the past they tried to regulate us out of the water. After the Sparrow decision, everybody wanted us out of the water. They felt that the Government of Canada could issue a variation order, just to make sure the Burnt Church people were not fishing.
We're not saying that all of the fish are ours, and we're not saying the fishery should be unregulated. We're saying we support a regulated fishery. But in a regulated fishery we have to make sure we have access to the resources. We're saying we don't need your permission to fish, sir. From that point we can start talking about it.
I know that when the moratorium was being imposed on us, for example—I'm just saying it was imposed on us—officials at DFO said, “We want to keep Burnt Church in the water because they aren't coming out of the water anyway. We want to keep them.” Do you know what they offered? They offered 300 traps. Larry and I were at the meeting that day, and that was an insult. That wasn't even one commercial licence for 1,100 people.
Mr. Larry Dedam (Councillor, Burnt Church First Nation): It was right here.
Mr. Alex Dedam: If it had been an acceptable number, I'm sure we could have reached an agreement with DFO then—an arrangement could have been worked out. The position we took was that we would continue to fish the number of traps we felt were necessary for our people to have a moderate livelihood. We would do it within a certain period of time. We agreed that October 31 would be a reasonable time to come out of the water.
If we can agree to a number, that's the kind of thing we can talk about and come to some kind of agreement on, as long as our people are not restricted. When you regulate, you try to restrict us. We're saying you can regulate it, but please don't regulate us out of the water.
The Chair: There's no question that from the committee's perspective we are talking about sharing the resource. But as the clarification also said, there has to be a recognition of the historical reliance upon and participation in the fishery in non-aboriginal groups as well. Whether we like it or not, we're at the here and now. We have to find a way to share the resource.
I don't want to get into a long debate. I think we know your position quite clearly. Are there any other points you want to add?
Mr. Charles Hubbard: I have just a brief comment. Putting this into perspective, we saw that outside the AFS you had about a dozen commercial fishing licences this past season. Is that correct, Alex?
Mr. Alex Dedam: We had two commercial licences and a permit until March of last year. Then ten additional commercial licences were transferred to Burnt Church, and five or six of those came with fishing packages, like a boat, traps, nets and that kind of thing. The other four or five did not come with any fishing gear; consequently, about four or five fishermen did not get a chance to fish commercially in the season.
It's really entirely up to those commercial fishermen if they want to fish in the regular commercial season, but what we've been advocating, and what our people are saying, is they do not wish to fish during the regular commercial season. They want a different season for a treaty fishery, aside from the regular commercial season. But these commercial fishermen who are fishing at that time may continue to do so.
Mr. Charles Hubbard: Probably, Mr. Chairman, your committee should get further details on that. This might also be worth looking into—at one time I believe there were more than 30 licences in Burnt Church over the years, probably closer to 40, and for some reason those licences have disappeared. Now, I don't know where they went; maybe people in the room know where some of them went. But it should be looked into. Burnt Church is a large community, as we mentioned—probably 1,200 on your band list, Alex?
Mr. Alex Dedam: It's in excess of that, yes.
Mr. Charles Hubbard: They do face the bay, and historically they've looked out on that area of the lobster fishery. So hopefully by looking at all those issues we can attempt to resolve within the context of what our group have presented to—
Mr. Alex Dedam: A historic moment.
Mr. Charles Hubbard: Alex and I never agree on everything, but—
Mr. Alex Dedam: We never agree on anything, he says.
The Chair: No, I think he said you never agree on everything.
Just one last question that Charlie triggers in my mind, and that is the impact on a local area. We've talked about this in a number of hearings. If you use the buyout provision, so you don't put any more impact on the resource, and you're able to buy licences for various species to fish—let's use the example of lobsters. If you buy licences from a number of areas, the difficulty you have is—I understand your Burnt Church is right on Miramichi Bay, which is a very sensitive lobster breeding ground. How do you prevent excessive impact on that resource in that particular area?
Mr. Alex Dedam: I'm not really sure how many, we'll say, lobster are in the bay, and I don't know if anybody really knows for sure. When we spoke to the biologists they were not really certain about the figures. But one of the things I've seen happening, and our people have seen happening, is that the equipment has changed considerably in the lobster fishing industry. I used to make those traps. I used to fish many years ago with my father, and they were smaller traps, but then they evolved into much bigger traps.
The biologists we speak with say those traps, the new traps, are much more effective, and they fish probably twice as much as those regular pots used to do. So one of the suggestions we made to somebody at one time was they should reduce the number of traps. And that's been happening. I think it went from 375 to 350 to 300. But it probably could be further reduced to ensure that the commercial fishermen are able to make a modest livelihood.
The other thing, of course, is there are always fishers retiring year after year, and those can be taken out from the area without any difficulty.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
I believe, Larry, you wanted to add a point there before I cut in.
Mr. Larry Dedam: Yes, I wanted to go back to the issue of poaching that was raised and the laying of blame. I think most of that should fall on the news media people, because they're concentrating on the event of the day, the destruction of traps, and they were asking the fishermen, and they were not seeking balanced coverage. People in the area and across the nation of Canada saw that.
Well, every night practically you see the wharf, the burning of a truck, and the destruction of our traps in the water, with a non-native imitating a native on a boat, dancing with a wig, and it's crazy. I think the news media people are the ones to blame. And the federal government's inaction, with DFO and the RCMP helicopters and coast guards and patrol boats just watching idly what's going on... they didn't do anything. They knew ahead time.
As a native person, I don't stay in my reserve hometown all the time. I go out. And I know a lot of people. Charlie was my high school principal. I knew ahead of time that the boats were coming in from other areas to the local wharf. There was talk. There was gossip that said it's going to go, it's going to go. They were preparing, even the DFO. The night before, I saw DFO officers being brought in from other areas, and the RCMP with police cars and helicopters. So they knew that was going to happen. They waited till the early morning, dawn, to hit. And they did. Anyway, that's what I wanted to say.
We did not agree, after Mr. Dhaliwal issued his Thanksgiving message to Canada, with the restriction of 600 traps for Burnt Church and 800 for Shubenacadie. Our people told us very clearly at a public meeting not to negotiate. That was our marching order. But in the absence of no negotiations, DFO issued a communal commercial licence.
I don't know if you're all privy to Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy's annual report. Under “Communal Licences”, page 3, there's a sentence:
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Larry Dedam: I'm not finished yet.
We have learned, as native people—and no offence to anyone—to use the tools the non-native people use, and that's the mighty pen and words. So we're getting very accustomed to that very fast.
In last week's newspaper there was a public statement that a hundred fishermen want to surrender groundfish licences in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I think there were 175 bids submitted, and 48 were accepted, but 5 fishermen removed their offer. So there's 43. So there are 132 more. This was the fifth and final round, I think, of the federal government's buyback program. If we could get access to those as well—not just lobster, but the fishery, groundfish and sea urchins and scallops... Do not limit us just to lobster. We'd like to get access to that, and we need the assistance of the federal government.
I think our MP said that back in 1960, I think it was, licences could be bought for 25 cents. Twenty-five cents was a lot of money at that time, and most of our people did not have that money. They only had what they got from the land, wood to barter and furs and animals to trade for their livelihood. Money was very, very scarce then.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Dedam.
Millie, I can see you jumping in your chair. You obviously want to have the last word.
Ms. Millie Augustine: No, I just want to remind you of something here. I'm not sure if you know the numbers or not, but in zone 23 they have 325 tags per licence as of last season, last summer. In zone 25, which is in the Richibucto area, it's 250 traps per licence. So it's obvious there's not as much of a conservation problem over here as there is in zone 25.
The Chair: Do you want to add the last word, Mr. Dedam, and then we'll have it closed?
Mr. Larry Dedam: You always have the last word.
Yesterday you heard Leon Sock, who is the president of the Mawiw Council of First Stations. I just wanted to point out that when he was speaking he was also speaking on behalf of the Burnt Church First Nation. At that particular time he outlined in detail some of the management of the fishery and the implications of the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. He mentioned that November 17 clarification ruling, so we didn't touch on it in our presentation. He said:
The Chair: Thank you.
I had one question that was almost overlooked. There was a ten-point plan laid out by Mr. Sock yesterday. Are you in agreement with that? Point number one was establishment of an aboriginal-sponsored venture capital fund, and it went on to a commercial placement program at the Department of Indian Affairs, and so on. I don't want to put you on the spot, but if you're aware of it...
Mr. Alex Dedam: Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to look at his presentation before it was presented. It was the chief himself who was part of the agreement, and we didn't get a chance as a community, as a council, to look at it. Most of those are probably in agreement, but there are some we don't quite see eye to eye on—just like Charlie Hubbard and me.
The Chair: Thank you very much. I know we took up more of your time than you probably had anticipated, but I thought we had to take as much time as possible. Thank you very much for your presentation.
Ms. Millie Augustine: Have the standing committee come down to Burnt Church. You're more than welcome.
The Chair: Thank you.
We're well behind time. In any event, the next presentation is the Fédération régionale acadienne des pecheurs professionnels.
Could we take a five-minute break, if you wouldn't mind, Joel and Jean?
The Chair: Okay, can we come to order again? We'd better get cracking.
Next we have Jean St-Cyr's group. Welcome, gentlemen. If you could, please give us a fairly quick overview.
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr (Executive Director, Regional Acadian Federation of Professional Fishers): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The Regional Acadian Federation of Professional Fishers would first like to thank the Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans for giving it this opportunity to present its views on the impact of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the Marshall case.
Although the initial effects of this ruling were felt in the lobster fishery, there is little doubt that the Supreme Court ruling will have a medium- and long-term impact on the midshore fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
However, the clarification made by the court on November 17, two months after the initial ruling, which was greeted with euphoria by some members of the First Nations and panic by commercial fishers, moderated the effect of the initial decision. Our views will therefore take into account the original ruling and the clarifications provided by the court on November 17.
Before getting into the issue of the Marshall decision, I would first like to briefly describe what we mean by the midshore fleet of the southern Gulf. This fleet naturally consists of more than just the boats of the Regional Acadian Federation of Professional Fishers, the FRAPP. The federation represents 63 boats. We are talking here about the entire midshore fishery in the southern part of the Gulf.
The midshore fleet in the southern Gulf primarily focusses on fours species: crab, shrimp, groundfish—at least, what is left—and herring. The fleet is composed of approximately 275 fishing boats of between 44 and 87 feet in length as well as three purse seiners of 114 feet.
The replacement value of each boat is between $350,000 and $2.5 million. It could even go up to $3 million if the large seiners were to be built in 2000. Included in this fleet are 130 midshore crabbers and 30 small crabbers from Prince Edward Island who have cosigned the zone 12 snow crab fishing agreement; 65 shrimp fishermen, 6 purse seiners and 75 cod fishermen, although with the buy-back program, the number of cod fishermen varies on a monthly basis. We will have a final count of cod fishermen once the fifth buy-out round is completed.
Between 1988 and 1997, the midshore fleet in the south of the Gulf had annual average landings of 33,288 tonnes for an average annual value of just over $45 million. On average, there were 5,907 seasonal factory jobs as a direct result of the operation of this fleet, which totalled an average of just over 2 million hours of factory work per year. Add to that the 1,056 jobs created on board the vessels and that gives you a total of nearly 7,000 people living directly off the midshore fishery in Gaspésie, in the Magdalen Islands, on Prince Edward Island, on the Gulf side of New Brunswick and on the Gulf side of Cape Breton island.
Therefore, it's no surprise that communities which depend on the midshore fishery are worried. They are concerned because many of them were hit hard by the cod and haddock moratoria. The last thing they want is for the underpinnings of their regional economy to be dissolved by overzealous federal politicians.
You had asked us to interpret the meaning of the right to fish. Even before the Supreme Court handed down its initial ruling on September 17, it was clear to us that giving someone the right to fish and to sell the product of that fishery for a moderate livelihood was not the same as granting someone unlimited access to the resource for commercial purposes.
The lobster fishing which took place last September by the Mi'kmaqs in the Miramichi Bay startled us. The way the First Nations interpreted the judgment, based on their lobster fishing practices, was obviously that they had been granted the right to unlimited commercial fishery.
Yet, in section 4 of the September 17 judgment, Judge Binnie wrote, on behalf of the majority:
Of course, I am quoting the official translation we received from the Supreme Court.
In section 8, after having indicated that Donald Marshall Junior was involved in a small commercial operation to meet his needs and those of his common law spouse, Judge Binnie specified that:
In section 59, the majority of judges specified what they meant by a moderate livelihood.
In our view, that was already clear and the Supreme Court ruling was just as clear.
Consequently, it's obvious that a Mi'kmak who operated 1,000 lobster traps from May to October would not respect the judgment and would exceed his treaty right to fish for a moderate livelihood.
Regarding the scope of the Marshall judgment, it does not behoove us, a fishermen's association, to define who may benefit from the 1760 treaty right. Even if we were asked our opinion, I don't think it would be duly considered. It's a matter best left to First Nations' legal experts and federal authorities.
Regarding the geographic scope of the ruling, we read the opinion of a legal expert hired by the industry who said that the geographic scope should be limited to the territorial sea, including its bays and estuaries. According to this expert, the offshore fishery was not covered by the 1760 treaty.
But then again, it's an issue best left to legal experts, since we are only an association of fishermen.
Future management of the fishery and potential management models: Irrespective of the species fished, all species should be managed the same way. Whether a fish is caught by someone who has treaty rights of by a commercial fisherman, the end result is the same: the fish dies. Over the years, the midshore fishing industry in the southern Gulf has worked hard and invested a lot of money to develop efficient management systems and strict control measures to ensure the viability of the species.
The management systems implemented over the last decade have yielded good results, particularly in the crab and shrimp fisheries. If First Nations whose rights are protected by the 1760 treaty must be brought into the midshore fishery, they will also have to respect the conservation measures applied by commercial fishermen.
For instance, in the crab fishery, there has been a harvest protocol based on the moulting crab numbers for several years now. When the number of moulting crabs catched goes over a certain limit, a ten-minute by ten-minute perimeter, which is the approximate equivalent of ten by seven nautical miles, is declared off limits. I would be completely inconceivable if a similar management system were to allow Native fishermen to fish in this area just because they had a different way of managing the resource. The protocol is obviously based on the biological dynamics of the stocks, and that is why that particular management system was put in place.
So, if First Nations chiefs are serious when they say they will respect conservation measures when they exercise their treaty fishing rights, they will have to abide by the management practices which have been shown to work in the commercial fishery. These management systems were not implemented at random. They were created because the resource is not unlimited. Midshore fishery harvesting equipment, specifically, has become very sophisticated. Anyone wanting to enter the midshore fishery will in all likelihood have to use the same equipment we do.
If part of the fish caught by midshore fishermen has to go to First Nations communities covered by the treaty, there is nothing to prevent part of the resource from being included in a co- management agreement between theses communities and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This gives First Nations a certain amount of flexibility in how they can adapt the management of the fishery to their needs.
No sub-contractors in the fishery: that is probably the issue which is dearest to our hearts. Since the November 17th clarification, it has become obvious that the Marshall decision does not confer exclusive property of rights over natural resources to anyone. In the days following the Supreme Court decision, there were rumours that Native people were trying to charter boats to fish crab. In our view, if First Nations covered by the 1760 Treaty must be integrated into the midshore fishery, they will need the skills necessary to that type of activity.
The Supreme Court judgment has given Native people the right to fish and to sell their catches for a moderate livelihood. Nowhere does the judgment say that a person owns part of the resource and may sell it to commercial fishermen who would then harvest the resource, or even that a person has the right to charter boats and non-Native crews to go out and fish.
So, in our view, the idea of exercising one's right to fish clearly implies that the people who fish should themselves benefit from that activity, by means they have developed themselves and by respecting other regulations, for instance Transport Canada's regulation on navigation permits.
Politics: a worrisome perspective. Since our time is nearly up, allow me to speak directly. Every time a politician from a Maritimes province has tried to advise the Minister on the allocation of species, more often than not, we were disappointed by the type of management systems which were put in place.
Since the implementation of the joint Agreement between mid- shore crab fishermen in Zone 12 and the department, we are told that several politicians have tried by whatever means were at their disposal to scuttle the Agreement. And yet, the whole point of the Agreement was to put some order into the crab fishery and especially to give it a certain amount of stability.
The Marshall decision is undeniably not only a political issue, but also an extremely sensitive one. Add to that partisanship, the need to please and the tendency to make decisions based on perceptions rather than facts—we have plenty of examples, if you are interested—you have there all the ingredients which are dangerous to the health of the midshore fishing industry.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced last November 9 a process of negotiation to help integrate Native people into the commercial fishery. We were not consulted on the process which was unveiled. We can only hope that when the Minister said that he was committed to taking into account the views of commercial fishermen, he meant that our commercial interests would be taken seriously and that we would have a say in the allocation of the resource, that the negotiation process would be transparent and that ultimately a rational decision would be taken.
The Chair: Thank you very much for an extensive brief, gentlemen.
Mr. Bernier, you can start.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: I'll start with a comment. It seems that today is a day of consensus. The same points were made by various witnesses. On page 4 of your brief, you say that competent Mi'kmak Natives would be integrated into the midshore fishery. You also say that the person fishing should be the owner of the permit.
This morning, we heard from representatives of the MFU, who said that the principle of the fisher-owner should apply to everyone.
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr: We rarely agree with the MFU, but in this case, we see eye to eye.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: A lot of people seem to think alike today. As I told the representatives of the MFU, the definition of an operator may not be the same for Native people. If Aboriginals have a community licence, the usufruct bestowed upon one fisherman may very well help 10 families. Will you be open-minded towards their definition? I realize you don't want a wave of people coming in at the same time and that it is important to keep track of who does what. Could you be a little more specific?
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr: I want to be clear that this is not the only case where we want to apply the principle whereby only licence holders benefit from the resource. Indeed, we are against giving temporary shrimp allocations to fleets which are not equipped to fish shrimp. The mobile gear operated by cod fishermen was not only appropriate for the shrimp fishery, but the cod fishermen themselves badly needed the catches. Instead of allowing them to enter that fishery, the Department decided to collapse, if I can put it that way, the temporary allocations by spreading them out amongst many parties.
We want to prevent the creation of what are called armchair fishermen, that is, people who sit around in their living rooms, receive an allocation, turn around and sell it to someone else without ever leaving their living room.
We defend this principle. First Nations should not feel they are being targeted because it is a principle which applies to everyone, not only to the people affected by the Marshall ruling. Our interpretation of the ruling is that Native people have the right to fish, but they did not receive the right to collect royalties on our natural resources.
In our mind, it is very clear that, in light of the Marshall ruling, sooner or later, First Nations will enter the midshore fishery. If only based on Transport Canada regulations, this type of fishery is another kettle of fish and requires more skills than what is involved in the coastal fishery. First Nations Natives will have to learn how to operate in the midshore fishery.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: All right.
The Chair: This is your last question, Yvan.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: Even the members of the MFU had offered to help teach them. To put things into perspective, it would probably be easier to teach Natives how to fish than to teach members of Parliament, except for one of us who was a fisherman in a past life.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: It can't be done.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: I know, but I'm pleased you were.
I will ask you a question which I have already asked of another group which came before the committee, since it seems that today many people think alike. The individual quota management program was created by yourselves to solve problems which happened in the past. Some people, such as Natives and some so-called non- traditional crab fishermen, might be in favour of such a system.
How do you feel about the idea of new fishermen who would buy the licences of some of your members wishing to retire on their own volition? I realize that you are a target for many people and I saw that when the department cleaned off the best of the fishery, nobody was happy and fingers were pointed in all directions. Nobody was happy, including those who got the best deal, because even they complained it wasn't enough. I'm wondering whether a negotiation is still possible in this whole situation and if you foresee any problems. I'm not talking about money for now; I'm just talking about principles. Once that's settled, we can talk money and try to figure out how that whole issue can be settled.
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr: As I said a little earlier, Mr. Bernier, the moment the Supreme Court handed down its ruling—I have to hold myself back from hitting the table—it was clear for midshore fishermen that it would only be a question of time. Natives immediately began lobster fishing and the same is happening for the crab and shrimp fisheries.
I think there will be room for them, depending on the number of people or communities affected. But for us who live around the Acadian Peninsula, one thing is sure: the crab fishery is crucial for us. As soon as there is a problem with the crab fishery, repercussions are felt throughout our midst. So it's a very, very touchy subject.
But we do agree on one thing: we can accommodate a reasonable number of new First Nations fishermen. From a resource and income perspective, as you said, these people never seem to get enough and their presence destabilizes the traditional fishery.
Our community has invested a lot in the crab fishery because so many of us depend on it. Some people seem to think that it is enough to own a crab licence to become a millionaire. Yes, some fishermen have indeed become millionaires, and some are still becoming rich, but the ones we know have been in the business for 30 or 35 years. They did not get rich overnight.
If you ask this question of young people who have bought crab fishing businesses, you will hear another side of the story. Given new fishing management techniques, the costs of co-management and access rights, these people must spend an awful lot of money before even getting started. The money they make in the first few weeks barely covers their expenses. They can start making good money if there is a lot of crab to fish if it is selling at a good price. But people only seem to remember the good years when it comes to the crab fishery.
In 1989, fishermen had already decided on their own to stop fishing, but everything had already started to go downhill in 1987. Back then, nobody wanted to fish crab. In 1984 and 1985, they wanted to get into the business because the price rose quickly when the Japanese arrived on the scene. 26,000 tons of crab were caught. But when the resource withered, so to speak, people lost interest in the crab fishery.
In 1993, 1994 and 1995, thanks in large part to the discipline crab fishermen exercised in managing the resource, crab stocks increased again and people became interested in the fishery once more for several reasons, including its high selling price. Everyone wanted to get in on it, which evokes the famous image of...
The Chair: Could we tighten up the answers a little? As I understand it, there is another event in this room. We're going to run out of time, and we still have one more witness.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Quickly for the record, Mr. Chair, it's interesting to note that the head of the MFU yesterday was very concerned about the lack of DFO willingness to do something about the concerns, and today we've heard an aboriginal person say the same thing from their perspective. Obviously they did something right if they ticked off both sides in that regard.
My one and only question for the presentation—and thank you for this, by the way—is about the fact that we're not going to be talking about any fish species at all unless we have a habitat in order for the fish to survive. Is your organization at all concerned about or working towards the concerns of the oil and gas leases happening in the gulf right now?
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr: We are, but the only contact we've had on gas and exploration was from a consulting firm working for someone who was preparing a demand. After that, we didn't hear anything.
Obviously we are very concerned about some of the techniques that are employed. In reacting to the questionnaire the consultants sent us, we gave them a fairly good assessment of the value of the resources that are there—crabs, shrimp—in the territory that was covered by the projected demand. We pointed out the value of these resources. We've been told that whenever exploration comes in, it takes priority over anything else. If that's true, obviously we would have very big problems with it.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you.
The Chair: Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Hubbard, and then we'll have to close.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
It's nice to know my colleagues across the table recognize me as being knowledgeable in the fishery. Thank you, Yvan.
I just have a couple of points. On page 4 of your report, the second-last paragraph referred to the fact that the minister didn't consult and was new when he announced the federal representative. Do you support the concept of the federal representatives, Mr Thériault and Mr. MacKenzie? Do you think that's a way to proceed to try deal with this discussion that's under way?
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr: We were reassured afterwards, but our initial reaction when we read the material that was announced was that there didn't seem to be a lot of place for consultation with the commercial fishermen. Now, since then we've been reassured that, no, there will be consultation with the commercial fishermen, and that's precisely why Mr. Thériault was there, because of his knowledge of the industry.
We've been in contact with Mr. Thériault, and as we say at the end of our presentation, we'll be satisfied if the process is transparent and we have a voice in whatever dealings will surface around the access of first nations into commercial fisheries. As long as we're consulted and we're part of the discussions, as long as we have a say and if something comes on the table, we can explain—and they'll hear us out—about the real impact should that measure be applied, how it will affect our sector, and as long as it's taken seriously, if the data that we put on the table are listened to, analysed, and really integrated into the decision process, then we should be satisfied.
Unfortunately, it does happen very often that people will brush off the data, saying that you can play with numbers. And this is very frustrating. When you document the history of the fishery and the investments that were needed, and you do a very serious study of that with outside consultants or outside competence, then someone just brushes it off because it doesn't suit their political aim or whatever, that is very frustrating.
So we're talking about facts, and we want to preserve what we've been striving for for a couple of decades now, which is to try to bring to our sector a minimum of stability. It's bad enough that the market fluctuates a lot, the resource also fluctuates, and sometimes they both fluctuate in the same sense, without having decisions taken that do not take into account the reality of being in this industry, because it is an industry.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: I'll ask very quickly, are you doing ITQs? How many boats do you have in your fleet, in your total crab allocation, and when was the last time you saw a downturn in your crab sector?
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr: The last downturn? Well, 1998 could be considered a downturn. We had a decrease in price and a decrease in the amount of resource available. But in 1999, even though we stayed pretty well at the same level, at least the price came up a little bit. And I understand that the effect of the crash of the Alaska resource—you know, they've crashed their king crab and now they've crashed the opilio—is beneficial, to a certain extent, to our industry. But these are circumstantial. Right now we're on the upswing in terms of resource, because we feel we have a very good handle on the management of that resource. That was achieved with a very close cooperation between DFO science and our people.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Saint-Cyr and Lawrence.
Mr. Hubbard, you have the last word.
Mr. Charles Hubbard: Mr. Chair, just very briefly, we're listening to probably one of the most lucrative fisheries that we have on the go.
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr: In many years.
Mr. Charles Hubbard: In many years, yes. When I hear—
Mr. Saint-Cyr: Mr. Hubbard, between 1987 and 1993, how many years do you think on this—
The Chair: Mr. Saint-Cyr, could you just let Mr. Hubbard ask the question?
Mr. Charles Hubbard: Today we've heard some very disturbing statistics in terms of employment among our first nations peoples.
You are a very professional group. Would there be opportunities for employment for native peoples on the various ships in your fleet? Would there be opportunities whereby any of them might go out and earn, as a deckhand or as a helper? I don't think there are many now; it hasn't been something they'd look towards. But if they wanted to, would there be any opportunities for them to participate in the economy of the fishery rather than in the fishery itself?
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr: Well, if you're talking about unemployment, you should come to the Acadian peninsula in February. You should know—
Mr. Charles Hubbard: I know very well.
Mr. Jean Saint-Cyr: —the statistics of unemployment down our way, not only... I mean, already in our communities there are people who are trained and have experience but have no jobs.
Is it possible? Absolutely it is. Would it happen? I don't know. Anything is possible.
Mr. Charles Hubbard: I think probably we should look at it, Mr. Chairman.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Hubbard.
Thank you, gentlemen, for your presentations. I wish we had a little more time—I have a couple of questions myself—but I guess we had better move on.
We have the last witnesses with us, from the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Stephen Chase, who's vice-president of government affairs, and Danny Bird, regional director for New Brunswick.
Mr. Chase, we understand that your younger brother knows the clerk of the committee. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
Go ahead, Mr. Chase—and we are under an increasingly tight timeframe.
Mr. Stephen Chase (Vice-President, Government Affairs, Atlantic Salmon Federation): I appreciate that. I'll try to keep my presentation brief and to the point.
Mr. Chairman and committee members, I'd like to thank you for allowing me the time to present today. We're very pleased to be here to represent the Atlantic Salmon Federation. I have Danny Bird, my colleague from ASF, with me.
My purpose in seeking an appearance before you is to present our perspective on what we need to do collectively to promote conservation of wild Atlantic salmon now that the Supreme Court has rendered its decision in the case of Donald Marshall Jr.
At the outset, I'll acknowledge the right of first nations people to participate in matters pertaining to wild Atlantic salmon resource. The perspective of the Atlantic Salmon Federation is that the more parties there are interested and involved in conservation, resource management, and protection of this important resource, the better off this precious resource will be.
Now, just a bit of background on ASF: we are an international, non-profit organization that promotes conservation and wise management of the wild Atlantic salmon resource and the environment. We consist of seven regional councils, in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Maine, and New England. We represent 150 affiliated organizations. In total, we have approximately 40,000 volunteer members.
I would note that our board of directors has an Indian member on the board and that we have several native volunteers among our affiliated organizations.
ASF takes the lead on issues of national and international scope. The regional councils take the lead at the regional level.
I'd like to give you a word on the state of the species. We're speaking specifically of Atlantic salmon here. The short story is that wild Atlantic salmon are at historic lows.
Briefly, here are some facts. Within the last 20 years, the large salmon have declined from approximately 800,000 fish returning to the rivers to, this year, approximately 80,000. If you include the grilse or small fish, the decline has been from about 2 million fish to about 400,000.
By DFO estimates from the river surveys they've done, only 21 out of the 17 index rivers they use to assess the health of the stock will meet the minimum spawning targets. Some rivers, such as the inner Bay of Fundy rivers, are in danger of losing the species. In New Brunswick, 57 out of 108 rivers are actually closed to Atlantic salmon fishing.
I say all of this in order to underscore that this is a resource that's very much in need of conservation.
With respect to the commercial fishery question, the Atlantic salmon is not a commercial species in Canada, and it's of limited commercial value throughout most of its natural range. Commercial fishing of Atlantic salmon has all but ended in Canada through the buyout of commercial licences by DFO. The commercial aspect of the species has been largely supplanted by the salmon aquaculture industry.
Here are some brief facts. The last year for a commercial salmon fishery in the Maritimes was 1985. That was followed by the 1992 moratorium in Newfoundland, and more recently last year by buyouts of commercial licences in Labrador. That cost Canadian taxpayers approximately $72 million and retired approximately 10,000 fishermen. At this time, negotiations are still ongoing off Greenland through the international bodies, which ASF participates in, to further limit the Greenland commercial fishery.
All of this is to say again this is not a commercial species we're talking about. The recreational fishery for Atlantic salmon in Atlantic Canada is the only substantive use of the resource, and that's subject to various native food fisheries. Here are some facts pertaining to that.
Recreational anglers and conservationists are the backbone of wild salmon conservation. Recreational anglers have been subject to conservation measures for several years. ASF is primarily responsible for promotion of such measures, and has been on an ongoing basis over the years. Anglers in New Brunswick are currently limited to eight tags. They can take two fish per day or four catch-and-release.
Recreational users of Atlantic salmon contribute significantly to the enhancement of stocks, habitat improvement, protection, and other activities that have promoted the survival of the species. Millions of dollars in funding and thousands of hours in labour are provided through volunteer effort to save Atlantic salmon.
There's also considerable historic economic and social reliance throughout Atlantic Canada by natives and non-natives alike on recreational angling and the angling industry. Many jobs in rural and remote parts of Atlantic Canada depend on a viable recreational Atlantic salmon fishery.
On conservation and management action, ASF's policies are directed toward responsible conservation and management of wild Atlantic salmon. The overall objective of the Atlantic Salmon Federation is to ensure the resource is managed back to the former levels of abundance, which would then present new options that are not available today. To achieve this goal, we need concerted action through a partnership of all parties.
Salmon rivers should be managed on a watershed basis by the community, with the active involvement of all stakeholders who live around the rivers. Conservation and management plans must be customized to individual rivers, depending on their unique conditions. Dependent on the river system, stocks may permit limited licensed, recreational, and first nation food fisheries.
There are very successful examples of first nation food fisheries where grilse are harvested selectively to permit the release of larger salmon that contribute so much more significantly to spawning and egg deposition in the river. Moreover, there are very successful examples of first nation involvement, cooperative action, and leadership in the wild Atlantic salmon conservation activity.
ASF's position is as follows. This parliamentary committee process calls for interpretation of the Marshall decision and for witnesses to provide advice on practical solutions to the implementation of treaty rights while ensuring sustainability of the resource and the economic viability of the industry to all participants. So ASF would submit the following in response to your questions.
First I'll speak of the implications of the Marshall decision. The Supreme Court's decision in Marshall builds on a series of cases respecting first nation fishing rights. Marshall deals with access to fish, wildlife, and other resources for purposes of commercial trading. Specifically, Marshall and its clarification decided the following.
The federal responsibility: The federal government has all the necessary powers and the paramount responsibility to regulate a fishery so long as the regulatory measures are properly justified. I would only add that I think DFO's inaction in the dispute in Atlantic waters has been deplorable. We certainly would be calling on DFO to act in accordance with its paramount responsibility.
For conservation, evidence-based conservation rather than lip service to conservation on a species-by-species basis is clearly established as a primary factor governing access to a fishery resource such as the Atlantic salmon. The evidence base is important.
Compelling a substantial public objective: these include economic and regional fairness and historical reliance on the fishery by non-aboriginals. It's clear there has been historical reliance on the Atlantic salmon recreational fisheries by non-aboriginals throughout Atlantic Canada and Quebec for decades, well into the last century.
Consultation: Where a regulation would limit a treaty right, reasonable consultation with and the inclusion of first nations in determining access to a resource is necessary. This supports the need for all users entering into negotiation discussion in establishing such access.
The nature of the right: In our interpretation, the treaty right to hunt and fish is communal, not an individual right, and limited to a community's traditional hunting and fishing grounds, per the clarification.
With respect to the future management of the fishery, ASF wants to work with first nations, government, and the people living along salmon rivers to promote wise management, conservation, and reasonable access to the wild Atlantic salmon resource. The continued involvement of all people who want to conserve the Atlantic salmon must be assured.
The Supreme Court's clarification of the Marshall decision lays the groundwork for the following.
A strategy must be jointly developed among government, first nations, ASF, and its regional councils this winter, and implemented for the salmon fishing season of 2000. It's imperative that this be achieved quickly to allow management measures to be in place for the return of salmon to our rivers in 2000. That would take place ordinarily around June 1, 2000. The strategy must recognize the following:
Wild Atlantic salmon is a fragile species requiring strong conservation and protection policies. The wild Atlantic salmon is not a commercial species.
Non-native Canadians are historically dependent on the wild Atlantic salmon resource. Natives and non-natives should participate on an equal basis with respect to access, management, and protection of a non-commercial resource such as the Atlantic salmon. Appropriate consultation of all parties is necessary. I don't mean just a meeting, I mean proper consultation.
Conservation and protection regulatory measures developed with input through consultation with parties will be necessary to ensure the success of wild Atlantic salmon conservation, restoration, and management.
So our call to action, based on the above, is the following. Atlantic Salmon Federation calls upon the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to initiate the immediate development of such a strategy. ASF urges that this process begin immediately to ensure that conservation and protection measures are in place by spring 2000, when precious Atlantic salmon begin returning to Canadian rivers. I would submit that the minister can do this without necessarily waiting for all deliberations to terminate. There is some action he could take.
So in brief, just to summarize, our objectives at the Atlantic Salmon Federation are for the future management of the Atlantic salmon fishery. We want to build watershed partnerships with first nation participation to meet conservation priorities and appropriate access to the Atlantic salmon resource. We want to rebuild Atlantic salmon runs to abundance so there's a fair share for all stakeholders.
Thank you very much.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Chase. In particular, thank you for directly responding to the questions we raised. That's helpful, without having to have a lot of discussion.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
In just a historical aspect, and correct me if I'm wrong, wasn't it the ASF that gave a previous minister an award for conservation last year? The Atlantic Salmon Federation gave Minister Anderson an award for conservation?
Mr. Stephen Chase: Yes.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: I say that because it is correct, right?
Mr. Stephen Chase: Yes, that's right.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: This organization gave the minister of the DFO a conservation award, and about a year later, in your words—and I quote—“DFO's actions on this recent concern have been deplorable”.
Mr. Stephen Chase: Yes.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Would you give the minister an award today?
Mr. Stephen Chase: No.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you.
You mentioned conservation and how important it is. I asked the previous witnesses about the oil and gas leases that are happening in the gulf, especially off of the Cabot block. Have you had any consultations with the provinces or with the federal government regarding the proposed leases for oil and gas seismic drilling in the gulf?
Mr. Stephen Chase: No.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: I would suggest that you work on that, because habitat is extremely important for fragile stocks like salmon.
Mr. Stephen Chase: Yes.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: As well, you say commercial fishing is more or less dead in Atlantic Canada. Would you consider a sport lodge—one that relies on people coming in from around the world and going to the lodge and catching salmon—a commercial activity, with salmon being the resource?
Mr. Stephen Chase: It is a commercial activity because it generates income and it creates jobs. But it's a different kind of a commercial activity from the harvest of salmon. There is a harvest involved, but it's not the same as indiscriminate netting off-coast. It's much more selective and much more highly regulated.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: This is my last question for you, sir, but again I would first thank everybody in the Miramichi for all their presentations. They were very well done, yours included.
Has the Atlantic Salmon Federation expressed concerns on a more public basis about the rise of aquaculture in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I.?
Mr. Stephen Chase: Yes, it has.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Could you explain just briefly the concerns that you would have about aquaculture in terms of finfish farming as compared to what it may or may not do to wild stock?
Mr. Stephen Chase: Based on evidence that we have, the aquaculture industry has contributed to declines in the wild species in the Bay of Fundy. We don't have the definitive science—I like to call it the silver bullet—to prove that, but there's considerable circumstantial evidence and some science that would support that.
I quickly point out that the Atlantic Salmon Federation is not against aquaculture. What the Atlantic Salmon Federation stands for is responsible aquaculture that's practised in such a way that it minimizes the transfer between wild fish and aquaculture fish.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Stoffer.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: I would like to welcome the witnesses. I apologize for having missed the beginning, but I did read your brief.
You said that many commercial fishing licences were bought back. I would like to know if there are any left in Atlantic Canada. I met a group of fishermen which owns several types of licences. In Quebec, in the Gaspé, there are still 10 or 12 of them who have salmon fishing licences. In the past, they had simply decided not to use them as long as... I'd like to ask you the question while you are here and while the parliamentary secretary is listening. Last Spring, there was a buy-back program on the North Shore or in Labrador. Do you think you could get the Minister of Fishery to come round? I believe these fishermen are willing to forever forego the right they now have.
I'd like a little help to be sure that there won't be anyone fishing in the rivers as long as the limits you are seeking have not been reached. Did you know that there are still about a dozen fishermen who have that right?
Mr. Stephen Chase: Yes, we understand that there are some commercial fishing permits that still exist in Quebec on the north shore. There has been a standing offer since at least last year to buy out those remaining licences. We would call on the minister to give further stimulation to that buyout process, as the ministry has consistently for other commercial licences in Atlantic Canada. Does that answer your question?
The Chair: Maybe Lawrence can clarify this. Mr. O'Brien.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: To you, Stephen, my understanding was that Labrador went the year before last. Last year there was a two-year plan between the provincial Government of Quebec and the federal government, and last year was the last year. Am I correct?
Mr. Stephen Chase: It's still on the table.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: Oh, it's on the table.
Mr. Stephen Chase: In fact, I was in Labrador earlier this week, and the commercial fishery has effectively ended there, although there is a move by a Métis group to re-establish a food fishery of some sort. We have some concerns with that.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: Which I support.
Mr. Stephen Chase: Yes.
The Chair: Mr. Bernier, you wish to make a last point, quickly. There are two minutes left.
Mr. Yvan Bernier: The last buy-back program was for the Lower North Shore and Labrador, but the 12 fishermen I mentioned operate at the mouth of the Chaleur Bay. Most of the members of this group had sold their licences at the time. They felt it would be to their benefit to take the compensation offered in return for not using their fishing licences, since they hoped that the fish would come back someday. But now, they are ready to give up their right to fish.
I won't address the issue of costs. They don't expect to receive as much as the others, but as long as there is still a buy- back program, are these people who operate in the Chaleur Bay and who are willing to forego their right to fish eligible for it? I will need the input of the Atlantic Salmon Federation as well as for the parliamentary secretary to listen carefully.
Mr. Stephen Chase: The short answer would be that the Atlantic Salmon Federation would support further buyout of licences. The funding for that program comes from DFO. We're certainly prepared to understand the situation and then to raise with DFO some constructive action in that regard. We would support that buyout if there are people preparing to put their nets in the ocean.
The Chair: Mr. O'Brien, you have a question.
Mr. Lawrence O'Brien: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'm a member of Parliament. I'm also a recreational fisher in salmon; I have been all my life. On many things you do, I share your view, in terms of conservation, of course, and I think you have some good ideas on watershed management. We just started that in Sandwich Bay in Labrador.
On the catch and release, I have some concern, and I think your association should share a similar concern. The concern I have is that I've seen too many salmon go downstream belly up, never to recover, and I've released them myself as much as anybody else. If we are going to talk truly about conservation of a resource that is in danger, we're going to have to be very careful of what we do. I think we need to get into further suggestions and recommendations on how to deal with catch and release.
Mr. Stephen Chase: I recognize the concern you have. The Atlantic Salmon Federation and its regional council have promoted a public education and awareness campaign to promote proper technique. Through proper technique, we can minimize the mortality through catch and release.
Catch and release is very important because it keeps angler groups. If you close a river, then the volunteer effort dries up. The Saint John River is a classic example of that, where most of the organizations are giving up because there's no incentive for them to work on the resource. That's something we absolutely have to avoid, because the volunteer effort is of incalculable value.
So we've taken it upon ourselves to promote the proper technique, and we can get the mortality rate far below the very liberal estimates of DFO. I think they estimate 10%. But it's far too high. People need training, and that's what we're doing.
The Chair: I'll ask Charlie to close.
You had a point of clarification, Peter.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: Yes. In terms of your organization, are you at all associated with groups from St. Pierre and Miquelon, and are you aware of any commercial licences that are from St. Pierre and Miquelon? They also play a vital role in salmon conservation in the gulf area.
Mr. Stephen Chase: The answer is no. I understand what you're saying, and it surprises me a bit. I won't pass this off to the fact that I've been with the federation for six weeks, but I'm sure the St. Pierre situation has... Through the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, NASCO, I'm sure that safety error situation has come up. I can say yes and no to your question.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: It's a suggestion to maybe head over there and say hi.
Mr. Stephen Chase: My friend is making note of it. I'd be happy to go, because my wife and I honeymooned there.
Mr. Peter Stoffer: You also support the previous gentlemen about—
The Chair: I'll have to cut you off, Peter. I don't want you to get in a row.
Mr. Charles Hubbard: I have just one brief comment. Stephen probably is aware of this, but on our own river here we have approximately 10 commercial salmon licences that are still held by the commercial salmon people even though they haven't been able to fish for some 15 years. It's my understanding that when they were bought out in New Brunswick, it was a tripartite buyout by the province, your federation, and the federal government. I know that a good number of those, Mr. Chairman—and I've brought this before a committee before—do want to get clear of those licences. They'd like to clean it up. Any indication that the minister would do that would certainly be appreciated, Lawrence, by the people here.
The Chair: Thank you, gentlemen. We appreciate your submission, as I said in the beginning, and the brevity of your key points in answer to our questions. Thank you very much.
With that, I'd like to thank everyone for coming today. I know that some people have been here all day, and it's quite an endurance test. We'd certainly like to thank the people of Miramichi for their hospitality.
There's just one last point. If anybody does think of something else they want to present to the committee or if there are further points of clarification, you are free to send written submissions to the clerk of the committee, and they will get to us.
I see the Deputy Minister of Fisheries for New Brunswick. We thank him for being here today, and we'd certainly appreciate receiving any words of advice at some point in the future.
The meeting is adjourned until tomorrow in the Gaspésie.