Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Good morning, everybody. My good friend Mr. Byrne just reminded me it's Valentine's Day, so happy Valentine's Day to everybody.
I'm very pleased to join you. With me today are my deputy minister, Michelle d'Auray; my new associate deputy, whom you haven't met before, I don't believe, Claire Dansereau; Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner George Da Pont; DFO's assistant deputy minister of human resources and corporate services, Cal Hegge; and no stranger to you as members of the committee, Mr. David Bevan, my department's ADM of fisheries and aquaculture management.
As always, let me recognize the value of advice the committee provides to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, particularly your recent work on small craft harbours. Thank you for the interim report in December. I look forward to seeing its final version after you return from visiting the east coast harbours.
As I was mentioning to one of your members just a few minutes ago, I sat on this committee for five years and thoroughly enjoyed it. During that time we had an extremely good cohesive relationship with everybody. I credit a lot of what is happening in the field of fisheries—some of the initiatives we have taken, some we continued from previous ministers, some new ones—to the work of the committee. In fact, if you look at some of the key issues with which we're dealing, you will see that the ideas, the reports, and the suggestions and recommendations really came from this committee. So again I thank you for that.
As minister, my top priority has been renewing our fishery for the long-term prosperity of its participants. This means considering the economic viability of the fishery and positioning the industry to provide the right products to the right markets at the right time. This approach is about improving the value, rather than the volume, of the fishery for everybody up and down the seafood chain, to preserve a good livelihood for the many Canadians who fish in our waters. That's why I've gone to great lengths to work with stakeholders on an ocean-to-plate management approach that supports economically viable fisheries, a collaborative approach that I announced last April.
I believe that all players—the provinces, territories, and all facets of industry—must come together for the future of our fishery. We need to share ideas and a common direction to build a sustainable and economically resilient industry. I don't for a moment underestimate the challenges to the fishery or believe this vision of viability and resilience will be achieved easily.
At the same time, I'm proud of the progress we've made in stabilizing the industry and setting the stage for its long-term success. We see elements of this progress in the renewal policies I announced last spring, which have given fish harvesters greater flexibility and opportunity in running their businesses successfully. We see it in the multi-year integrated fishery initiatives that our government has put in place on both coasts. These initiatives are helping stabilize commercial fisheries for all participants and encouraging greater participation in the fishery by first nations under a common set of rules.
We see this progress in our policy to preserve the independence of an inshore fleet in Canada's Atlantic fisheries by phasing out controlling trust agreements. We see it in the new measures we're working on to help fish harvesters more easily secure financing from lenders.
Let me add that moving forward toward a collaborative and transparent management of an economically viable fishery lies at the very heart of Bill , a bill that has had the support of the provinces and many stakeholders. The bill will modernize Canada's Fisheries Act to bring it more in line with today's industry and market realities. It will give participants a greater role and a greater say at the decision table.
After second reading we will look to this committee to help make the legislation the very best it can be for Canada's fishing industry and invite any further input from Canadians as you see fit.
In addition to the viability of related investments and initiatives, we've made progress on other fronts as well, such as enhancing marine safety, providing additional tax relief for retiring fish harvesters, and improving the health of our fishery resources and oceans.
For example, we committed $324 million in the last budget to bolster the Coast Guard fleet, which has been part of the $750 million overall commitment to the agency since February 2006.
We made permanent $20 million in annual funding that would have otherwise expired for the small craft harbours program to maintain safe and accessible harbours.
In 2006, our government introduced the lifetime capital gains exemption of $500,000 on the sale of fishing assets, and we increased that to $750,000. Of course, you know if it's sold within the family, there are no clawbacks whatsoever.
Of course, my vision for an economically viable fishery does not forsake the importance of other imperatives like sustainability of the resource, because without sustainability, there can be no long-term prosperity.
Internationally, our work with other nations in combatting overfishing and in improving Fisheries and Oceans governance is paying dividends. In 2005 there were 13 serious infractions in the NAFO regulatory area. In 2006 there were seven. Last year there was only one.
You may recall that in October we announced a total of $61.5 million over five years toward improving the health of Canada's oceans through a number of initiatives led by DFO and other federal departments.
DFO is also leading a $13 million investment in six research projects on climate change in northern waters as part of Canada's participation in the International Polar Year. We hope this research will provide a broader understanding of the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems in the north and what we might expect in the future further south.
Through last year's federal budget we were able to make substantial new investments in fisheries science and ecosystem-based management to the tune of $39 million over the first two years. This new funding has allowed us to stabilize our key science activities in collaboration with the fishing industry and to augment our ecosystem-based approach to research and fisheries management.
I'm not going to go on through a lot of other things, Mr. Chair, because I know you want to get into questions, and undoubtedly we'll talk about some of these things. But one of the key things that I believe we did over the last couple of years was to work with a number of provinces on what they refer to as fishery summits. In New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, and P.E.I. to a lesser extent, we held major round table discussions, major summits, involving every single player in the industry, from the towns to the industry representatives, harvesters, processors, marketers, and governments.
The interesting thing was that at the end of each one we had—and this is something I'll put in your heads for a later study, perhaps—a questionnaire asking, what is the biggest problem facing the industry in your region? A lot of us would think it would be wharves, Mr. Blais' area, or too many people chasing too few fish, as we hear. No, it was marketing. Every single area, all four, unanimously, said the biggest problem we have is marketing. If you come down to it, it's the end product that counts. If we don't put a good end product on the market and if we haven't achieved every possible ounce, inch, or cent out of that resource, then we haven't done our job. Somebody has fallen short.
So Mr. Chair and honourable members, I'm proud of what we're doing. I'm proud of the work the committee has done to help us do that work, and I recognize that the achievements alone can't address all the challenges that face Canada's fisheries. Because these challenges didn't manifest themselves overnight, there are no quick-fix solutions. But I believe, on the whole, we are taking the right steps in the right directions.
It will take time and the focused efforts of our government, our provincial and territorial partners, fishery stakeholders, and this committee to secure a brighter future for our coastal citizens. Providing Canada's fish harvesters with a modernized legislative framework would certainly be one way to keep the industry competitive, and it would help ensure that Canada's proud fishing heritage continues for generations to come.
I look forward to the continued guidance of the committee in building an economically viable and environmentally sustainable fishery.
Thank you very much, and certainly I'll be pleased to answer any questions you have.
Yes, Mr. Chair, if I could take the opportunity to split my time on the first round with my colleague, Mr. MacAulay, it would be appreciated.
Mr. Minister, colleague and friend, welcome back to the committee. As you've served on this committee for five years, you're always welcome back here. I know you're going to have a lot to say this morning. I hope you took the opportunity to remind yourself of what you said in those five years. It could be very helpful.
One of the reasons this meeting is very helpful to us is that we're engaged in a small craft harbours study. We deliberately took an opportunity to table an interim report on small craft harbours prior to the Christmas break to prepare you and your department for a budget submission on February 26, as we now know the date is.
Minister, you've said on numerous occasions that there's a substantial infrastructure requirement within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The Auditor General has reported on the Canadian Coast Guard fleet, and you did say that you will be rectifying that problem. That's a problem in the billions of dollars.
In our interim report we identified, in terms of the small craft harbour program, upwards of almost $1 billion in requirements. The interesting thing is that the information came directly from your officials. Between the rust-out problem within the small craft harbour portfolio, divestiture, the needs of the north, and other issues, there's close to $1 billion that really needs to be injected into that particular program.
Are we expecting to see big news for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on February 26?
Thank you very much for the question. The short answer is, who knows? I make my requests the same as everybody else, and then you fight for your share of the budget along with not only other departments but other needs within your own department. And you do list those things as priorities.
I totally agree with everything you said. In fact, going back to my very first day on this committee, I was appointed at caucus, I guess. The first meeting was in the afternoon, and the first day they were setting the agenda for the coming few months. I happened to suggest that one of the things we should look at--I highlighted three things, actually--was the coast guard. The other was overfishing, and the third was infrastructure.
In fact, the committee, through some travel, but through a lot of spadework by some of us, and even some good pictures, demonstrated the need to immediately move on infrastructure. That fall, in the budget of the former government, they brought in $20 million a year over five years, which expired last year. We made that funding permanent, because we couldn't do without it, and we added, I believe, an extra $11 million to that last year.
At the time, one of the witnesses was the person who looks after small craft harbours, Mr. Bergeron, and if you look at the minutes of that first meeting we had with departmental staff, he mentioned that it would take, I believe, $400 million at that time to bring our infrastructure up to standard, not to say make gains.
Certainly in terms of the work that has been done over the last few years, even though we've increased funding, I don't think we've made any major headway on that. Second, the price of everything has gone up substantially, particularly in recent years, which aggravates the problem.
There are a couple of things. Perhaps I should do your study. I'll try to sum up very quickly.
First, you mentioned divestiture. That is an issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves. In the departmental budget over the last number of years the amount for divestiture has been around $1.5 million. Really, in divesting, if we could just take the wharves and say to the communities or the fishing groups or the marina associations, “Here, take it, it's yours”, it would be great. I believe, David, we could get rid of over 300 wharves across the country that we're not using any more.
In some cases, towns or marina groups or whatever would love to have them. But the deal is, basically, that before we give them to anybody, we have to bring them up to standard, and it's not cheap. However, if we could find some way of offloading a lot of these, then instead of annual maintenance and insurance and whatever, we could put it into the wharves we need. With all this stuff we talk about in the fishery and what we have to do, if you haven't got a wharf to fish from, you're not going to fish. So I recognize the importance of it.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Welcome, Mr. Minister, and your great support staff.
Of course, small craft harbours is a major issue in my district, and there are always a lot of problems. Some of the complaints are about the patch-up work done, that if the money had been put toward general maintenance of the wharf, the end result would be a lot better. Sometimes things are done that don't seem to be financially sensible. But whatever--you can't stop that.
I have a question, Mr. Minister. Last year DFO transferred two licences from the large purse seiners to two boats, one of which was 125 feet long and capable of seining and towing a mid-water trawler the size of a football field and a quarter of a mile long. This caused great concern in the fishing industry. The large vessel also carried the two types of gear and was capable of changing quickly at sea.
I'm aware that the owners decided to not exercise their option, but there's a great concern in my province, and in the maritime provinces for sure, about this type of licence being issued.
I think PEIFA has been in contact with you. They've been in contact with me. Do you plan to issue those licences to the two mid-water trawlers this year to fish herring in the gulf region? It's an important issue for stock that's in jeopardy in the gulf.
Thank you very much for the question, Mr. MacAulay, and thank you for your comments about my officials. We have a very good group, as a lot of you know. You've dealt with them for a number of years. When we've lost some, we've picked up people who can certainly do the job. We're very pleased to have such a group around us. We like to talk about them as our team, throwing in our political staff as well. It's the only way you get things done.
On the trawlers, there are a couple of things. Number one, there are two distinct categories in relation to fishing. You have your inshore fishery and the allocation that's set for the seiners--not mid-water trawlers. This was a new experiment a couple of them were going to try.
It doesn't matter what they use, as I've said before. Whether it's a dory or the Queen Mary, there is the same amount of fish; they can only catch it in certain areas, and what they use doesn't matter as long as they stick to the rules.
The seiners have been pushed from pillar to post by everybody. Is it even going to last? I don't know. Will there be an application? I don't know because they seem to be very frustrated. They're not allowed to fish near P.E.I. any more, as you know. Parts of the gulf have been shut off to them. Herring is migrating.
We are concerned about the herring fishery because there are so many things happening to what was once a lucrative fishery. We had a bait fishery and a roe fishery, but we also had a very good fishery that provided a lot of jobs, particularly in New Brunswick, when a quality product was landed. A quality, fresh product that could be consumed by humans was landed by the seiners. All of that is gone.
If your question is on whether I will issue a licence, I will only issue licences to boats that will fish in the areas where they have quotas--not beyond that--not to do any more destruction than anybody else would, because they only have their own quotas. I will not in any way jeopardize the stock by issuing licences to anybody.
Will I be fair and give people their just desserts? The FRCC is now looking at this whole issue. If changes are recommended, we'll certainly go along with that. But I know about the concerns you've raised.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
First of all, I want to emphasize that I am disappointed we can only have you for an hour. Apparently you were only available for one hour. You'll readily understand that the subject to be covered requires more time.
I'm going to ask my questions quite quickly. I know that you will cooperate by answering them quickly as well.
First, I would like you to give us the 2007-2008 financial data in the small craft harbours file, by area. I'd like to know how the money was distributed and the area distribution. I imagine you'll cooperate in that regard. As you can imagine, quite easily and without surprise, the small craft harbours file is the first one I'll be addressing with you.
Unfortunately, we have to revisit this subject, and you know very well why. We're starting to feel the very serious effects of a lack of action in this matter, not only on infrastructure, but also on volunteers. Last year, they repeated to us that they were frustrated, tired and fed up with the situation. They are indeed the first people to receive the message from users who feel the present situation makes no sense and are suffering from it.
In the riding that I represent, for example, the L'Étang-du-Nord port authority is preparing the way for a mass resignation. Unfortunately, this could well occur elsewhere.
I'm going to side with Mr. Byrne in that regard. Has a request been made to the Department of Finance for a substantial amount of money in the February 26 budget?
I'll reply very quickly.
By the way, you mentioned having only an hour. If any of you, members of the committee or not, have specific questions and want some time, contact my office and we will arrange to meet with you. Whether it's from myself or the staff that you're looking for the information, we can arrange that. That's not a problem. If you want me back again, I'll come every second week, if I'm free. So that's not a problem either. It's finding time. As some of you know who've been here before, we don't have a lot of it.
First, the total amount of money, we've already determined, is somewhere between $400 million and $1 billion to really bring all our facilities up to par. Am I going to get that kind of money? Of course I'm not. So is everybody going to be happy? Of course not. But if you work with us, we'll try to make sure the job is done. That's the same in other sectors, not just the fishery and not just wharves.
In relation to shrimp, that again has been a concern for all of us, last year in particular. We have some plans for this year. However, first of all, we want to see what the industry is going to do. If you remember, last year there was a crisis in Quebec, and New Brunswick to some extent, but New Brunswick and Newfoundland depend on the same fish, fish the same product the same way, process it the same way, and send it to the same markets. The plants in some areas, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador paid significantly more to the fishermen than they did in Quebec. So it wasn't a government problem or the fishermen's problem. The problem was that the processors were not paying the price to the fishermen. When they did pay the price, we didn't have a problem. If the processors think government is going to come out front and say, “We'll subsidize you—your fuel, your price, or whatever,” they'll have a field day. So let the market determine the price, but if fishermen need help, we'll be there to help them.
Thank you, Minister, for making time to come to the committee today. If I were your scheduler, I'd be a little worried that we might have to be changing that every two weeks for you to come here.
But I appreciate the openness you have extended to us. Also, I want to thank your department for taking leadership on an issue that caused great concern in my riding, which is the sinking of a barge in Robson Bight. Unfortunately, it took a little bit of time to get DFO on board to go down and do the investigation that was so necessary, but we're really happy that you did that, and now the video has been released of what is down there, and we hope this can be brought up as soon as the weather gets better.
The people of the west coast are very concerned about issues like that because of the sensitive waters. We have a lot of issues with disappearing salmon, the whales that create a huge economy in tourism, and things like that, so people are very concerned about keeping the area clean and healthy for the fish and the economy.
I know DFO has introduced the Pacific north coast integrated management area plan, or PNCIMA, on which you'll be working with provinces and aboriginal groups. But there's a concern that fishermen, stakeholders, industry, and the communities will not be part of that process. Also, there doesn't seem to be any movement on that front at this time, so people are concerned that the process is stalled.
We'd like to know where that process is, what's happening there, and if you will be engaging communities, stakeholders, and those kinds of people to make sure you hear all those voices so that we don't have another accident such as we had in Robson Bight. So I'm wondering, what are the plans to implement the PNCIMA?
Thank you very much for the question.
Let me say to you, since you are a west coast member, that we have put a lot of money into fisheries on the west coast, into the health of the oceans in particular, which is of great interest there, but also into the whole initiative of trying to bring together a unified fishery in British Columbia. This has been worked out with all the partners, bringing everybody to the table.
We have had peace on the rivers, we'd say, these last couple of years. We've added a number of habitat people in the region. We have added enforcement officers. The enforcement officers are doing work where they should be doing work, and habitat people are doing work where they should be doing work, and working with the groups, and agencies and councils, etc.
I think the major achievement was bringing the first nations around the table where they became part of what we're doing rather than being excluded. They have made major contributions. Consequently, we've been able to solve a lot of problems in tricky situations, so it is all coming together.
I should also mention Mr. Kamp, my parliamentary secretary, who is representing the west coast and doing a great job, as he is on the committee. If some of you have a concern and you want to talk to the minister or that type of thing or you want to make it political, don't hesitate to run it by Mr. Kamp, because we talk every day, and we can deal with that for the sake of the committee.
In relation to the independence of the inshore fleet, a number of you were around this table with me over the years. We were on the committee. Every time the representatives from the east coast--I'm thinking of people like Earl McCurdy and those--would come to the committee, they would talk about the fact that big business and people with money were starting to control the fishery. They were starting to buy up licences. Instead of the fisherman being able to go out, get his quota, fish it, and benefit from every cent he could derive from it, he was really only fishing, receiving a set wage from somebody who really owned the licence under the table through a trust agreement.
We talked about it a lot. We did nothing about it. We did when we came into power, again, mainly because of stuff we picked up here at the committee. We said we would clean it up. We have brought in a program that will eliminate trust agreements, that will put the licences back into the hands of people who depend on the fishery for a living. It will put the benefits derived from the fishery into the pockets of those who make a living. We've given them a relatively short time to get all of this and put their act in gear, as we would say.
Consequently, the whole initiative is to make sure those who operate in the fishery are the ones who benefit from it. That doesn't mean we're going to try to shove people out and destroy business--not at all--but it does mean that on the harvesting side, the people who will harvest the product will be those who will get the licences and will be operating their boats or businesses.
Thank you very much for the good questions.
Let me briefly reply to Mr. Kamp. You asked about the west coast, whether we would look at an independent operator operation on the west coast. Again, the west coast fishery is significantly different from the east coast, but undoubtedly there are great commonalities, and over a few years we will do whatever benefits the fishermen themselves. These initiatives are not ones generated in Ottawa; they're ones that came from the people themselves when we worked with them.
The issues you raised, Mike, are extremely important. Aquaculture has become one of the priorities in our department, and I say that from two sides. Number one is trying to alleviate the concerns or verify them, as it might be, and deal with them. But we see aquaculture, not only in Canada but throughout the world, as becoming extremely important as a creator of major employment and putting a major protein product on the shelves, which we can no longer do with the wild fishery because of how we've handled it over the last few years.
We have taken major initiatives, both in relation to the fish we manage inside the 200-mile limit and in dealing with our international partners outside it, to try to concentrate on conservation, which is the bottom line in every decision we make. By working with them, we are seeing less pressure on the stocks. We are actually seeing growth in a number of our stocks.
The ones that are healthy, we are trying to preserve. The ones that have almost been destroyed, we are trying to rebuild. But in the meantime, we cannot meet the insatiable demand for good, clean fish product. Can we have good, clean, fresh product from aquaculture? Absolutely we can, and we're showing that in a number of areas in our country: New Brunswick leading the way, British Columbia, and now Newfoundland and Labrador coming in.
The recent stories on salmon concentrated probably on two things. One is sea lice. We have had numerous studies done--independent studies, internal studies--and it is difficult to determine whether sea lice is any greater problem around salmon farms than it is anywhere else.
But I think the most concerning thing in one of the studies I read recently is that we are seeing a decline in salmon and trout around areas where there are fish farms. We are seeing a decline in salmon everywhere, to the same degree where there are no fish farms, never were, and never will be. There is something happening in the ocean. It might be migration. We are seeing a lot of our pelagics, in particular, migrating north. The sardines that were abundant off California are now abundant off British Columbia. Our herring that were never seen in Labrador are being seen in Labrador, etc.
But we are not seeing the returns to the rivers. We could predict within a small percentage point how many salmon would come back to any one river, and we would be very close. These last few years we're not even close to that, and there is no explanation except that something is going on from the time the salmon leaves the spawning grounds until it comes back—on the way out, on the way back, or out there.
One of the commonalities throughout the country now—it used to be just off Newfoundland and Labrador—is predation. We always talked about seals. One of my predecessors, John Efford, always talked about seals and the destruction of fish. On my last two trips to British Columbia, the major concern raised by a number of people was predation. That is something we have to look at, and certainly in your own area in the gulf, in particular, it is a major issue. So we have to find out more about what's happening.
Good morning, Minister, ladies and gentlemen.
I contacted you last year, I believe, concerning the beluga quotas granted to various villages in Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay, as well as the calculation of those quotas. You informed me at the time that you would be prepared to meet with those people, and I passed the message on to them, and I believe you did meet with them. Ms. Dansereau has previously had occasion to meet with those people, and she is familiar with their demands.
The village of Akulivik, for example, is at the point between Ungava Bay and Hudson Bay, and the belugas pass nearby. The people of that village fish very close to villages further to the south, but the landing quotas for the southern villages are included in those of the village on the point. This has become a problem.
Furthermore, I believe you asked people from Nunavik to monitor the beluga populations. However, when they filed their reports, departmental people were still supposed to come and check to see that they were accurate. However, when the departmental people appeared, the number of belugas had already been exceeded, which had the effect of reducing the quota opportunities for the people on the coasts. I believe you've discussed that. In any case, I hope that a solution has been proposed in that regard.
At the other end of my area, in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, cod quantities are a problem. Last year, the cod quota was 2,000 tonnes, I believe. We're familiar with the problems prevailing in that area. Will a minimum be set in 2008, to enable North Shore fishermen and businesses to survive?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Minister, for being with us this morning. Mr. Byrne had mentioned that you were a long-time member of this committee, so welcome back here.
I have one comment and two questions, and I'll ask them in that order.
The first comment is to thank you for your position on sealing and the work and cooperation of your department. I think for the first time in a long time we've had a beneficial and proactive relationship with the ministry on sealing and in pushing Canada's interests around the world—but especially in Europe. So we appreciate that. Thank you for that. It's a difficult and sensitive subject, but it's one where we're on the right side.
The second question is about boat length. You've mentioned, and I've heard you say many times, that the length of the vessel really shouldn't matter. Often that vessel length is about safety, but at the same time, sometimes the bureaucracy in DFO tends to allow divisions and jealousies between the fleets to govern boat length.
We have a number of instances in my riding where we've asked people to move to become multi-species licence holders. You have a person with an LFA 34 or LFA 33 lobster licence who would require a boat that is 44 feet, 11 inches, or a 50-foot boat today, and because their groundfish licence was originally on a boat that was 34 feet 11 inches, they can't put their groundfish licence on that 50-footer; therefore, they require two boats, and, effectively, we're preventing them from making a safe living because they can't move to that 50-footer. It's a real problem, and one that's not going away.
The other question is about your fleet separation and owner-operator policy, which has a different effect in southwestern Nova Scotia—where you have an independent fishery—than the rest of the country. And we still haven't dealt with the problem that the big players, who have thousands of tonnes of quota, continue quite often to sell that quota to the small guys, the small boat fishermen, and then we end up with a situation where you have small processors who can't vertically integrate with one or two or three trusts, and who use those trusts to guarantee their supply but are now in a situation where they have to get rid of them. I know that's a difficult issue, and it's one you've been wrestling with.
If the committee would like me to come back and we can work something out, I will come back whenever we can find time. I enjoy it here.
Let me answer some of the questions and deal with some of the points that were skipped in my five minutes.
To Mr. Keddy, let me say that the bureaucracy doesn't run the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I do. If I am the one who gets the limelight and the credit, I am also the one who takes the blame if something is not done. I have a great team that works with me. Collectively, we try to do what has to be done. I challenge anybody to compare what was done in previous years with the initiatives that our group has had the guts to do. We have done things nobody else would do. Does everybody like what we're doing? Maybe not. Have we made headway and have we helped people? Yes, we have.
As to boat length in your area, that's great when we're talking about certain fisheries, where the length of the boat doesn't affect your competitiveness with your fellow man. But in fixed fisheries, lobster being one, there is no quota. Whoever has the biggest boat, the fastest boat, can go out in bad weather and carry more pots. This puts some people at a disadvantage. Therein lies the problem. But I realize what you're saying. Safety is also an issue. These things have to be looked at, but in a way that's fair to everybody.
As to the cod for the north shore of Quebec and the northern areas, it depends. The bottom line for all of us has to be conservation. When I saw first nations people, this past summer, not even accepting their social and ceremonial fish because of conservation, that really made a statement. We've come a long way. We have to be conscious of that. But will we allocate fairly and will we provide what we can? Absolutely.
I am disappointed that we didn't talk more about ice and sealing. We have an expert on ice here this morning, Mr. Dryden, and I wish he had been able to get involved. He probably handled himself better on ice than any of us or the sealers.
We're trying to create an economically viable, sustainable fishery. If we don't conserve what we have, we're not going anywhere. We have to protect what we have. We have to enhance it. And we can. You see the yellowtail coming back. You see American plaice coming back to the point where we almost have to open up a fishery because of the amount of bycatch. You see cod affecting turbot catch. Do we have a future in the fishery? Absolutely.
Do we have a lot of challenges? Absolutely. It's no good complaining and using excuses. We tried to do what we could, to bring as many people to the table as possible. It's amazing, when you put all the people involved around the table, all of them have a part to play.
So, Mr. Chair, we were pleased to be here. I want to say merci, mes amis du Québec. I want to thank all of you for your support.
This is a great department—I wouldn't change it for the world. But there could be an election tomorrow, the next day, next month, next year. We don't know. The scary thing is, one of you might be here next time you're having a meeting. So I wish you all luck.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and committee members.
l'm Allan Gaudry and I'm the interim chairman of the Manitoba Commercial Inland Fishers Federation. I would like to thank you for the opportunity to make this presentation on behalf of the federation.
In April 2005, the Manitoba Commercial Inland Fishers Federation was formed as a result of discussions between the Southern Chiefs' Organization and the fishers of Manitoba. MCIFF is composed of a chairman and 12 directors representing 12 regions in the province of Manitoba. The organization represents approximately 2,275 fishers and helpers in the province.
According to the 2006 census, 75% of fishers in the province of Manitoba are aboriginal. With the assistance of government and political organizations, the board of directors sets attainable goals and objectives that will assist aboriginal communities in the long-term sustainable initiatives for the fishery.
Proposed changes in government programs and services, as they relate to the fisheries, are a concern for all fishers in Manitoba. There is a lack of recognition of the role aboriginal fishers play in the fisheries sector. Fisheries regulations are currently being proposed by the provincial government without the full and equal participation of aboriginal fishers and their unique, traditional knowledge.
The fishermen face many challenges that have an adverse effect on their economy. Committees have been formed and have held open forums to gather information so that the public can voice their issues and concerns. To date there has been very little consultation with the traditional users and the fishers. The fishermen of Manitoba realized they needed a strong voice to have their concerns and issues heard and dealt with federally and provincially.
Issues that have been brought to the MCIFF by our members are touched upon in this presentation and are in no order of priority.
First, the watersheds span a large geographical area, from 500 miles south of Lake Winnipeg to 1,000 miles west to the Rocky Mountains. All of these waterways drain toward Manitoba. In Manitoba the rivers and lakes are filled to capacity when the spring runoff and heavy rainfall occurs, causing damage to our harbours. The cause of this problem is the rural municipalities in these regions, which have been enhancing drainage to such an extent that fields are dry after spring runoff in days when it used to take weeks.
Farmers in the rural municipalities have a tremendous amount of authority to drain their farmlands for production of crops or hay land. This practice needs to be reviewed. The agriculture industry needs to be held accountable for damages. With this type of drainage there is cause for other concerns such as water quality. Without the natural filtration, the chemicals and phosphorous farmers use on the fields end up in the rivers and lakes, having an effect on spawning areas.
As the fish spawn during the time when the drainage is filled, we see after a few days, as the water dries up, the fish are caught upstream. They have no means of returning to the lake and are killed off along with future stocks. There needs to be a gradual drainage instead of a fast-moving drainage. However, farmers get upset if they see water lying in their fields for more than five days.
Harbours in Manitoba have come a long way in the last few years and have improved since commercial fishing harbours have been formed with local control and partnerships with small craft harbours. There is a need for continued support for these structures in addition to maintenance and expansion of new structures in other communities.
There is a need for harbours in rescue situations to launch large boats. The small fishing communities cannot afford to expand their harbours or repair the existing structures, which become derelict and hazardous.
The fishing industry is in a crisis situation with low fish prices, and the fishers are limited to what they can contribute, if anything, during this crisis. Collecting fees from tourists is a challenge.
These issues must be looked at not only for community needs but also for safety concerns. We need to be able to enter safe harbours during windstorms. Places such as Princess Harbour and Lynx Harbour are ideal for pulling into and need to be upgraded. Many harbours have silted up over the years, and dredging programs are needed to improve them. Boats coming in are running aground and reef because of this problem.
Many rivers need dredging at the mouth, again, for access by boats. This is another safety issue.
The mouth of the Red River is a major concern in the spring. Since the province has been working on a floodway expansion, this causes major flooding in the Selkirk area.
Dauphin River Harbour has a similar problem in the fall and early winter, with frazil ice buildup causing damage to their harbours and flooding on Highway 513, the only access to the community and the first nation. The Waterhen River is another river affecting communities during spring breakup and freeze-up, with frazil ice buildup causing damage to their harbours.
The final issue of contention is the government's involvement in water flows to the Portage Diversion and the Fairford Dam. The loss of spawning areas and the loss of fish stocks and fish habitat are due to the untimely opening and closing of these structures. They impede the migration of fish. That's always been an issue. It's been brought forward to the department so many times; I'm touching on it today again.
These concerns, including other issues, are being brought to our attention on a regular basis. That is what the fishermen of Manitoba are faced with.
We thank you for this time.
Our organization represents all fishermen in the province, so it's first nations, Métis, and non-aboriginal communities. We have representation on our board of directors who are first nation, Métis, and non-aboriginal, and we deal with all issues concerning the fishery.
As far as how many Métis or first nations communities there are, we are the majority. To give you a number of how many communities, it's huge. The only economy we have is the fishery in our communities. We don't have any other economy. There are no other jobs that we can turn to. That's the only economy we have, and it's very frustrating to see some of the challenges and the effects they're having on our fishery, and we are concerned.
How do we deal with these issues? We're hoping we'll get some support, whether or not it's through program funding. We could administer the programs. And if the FFMC, the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, had a check-off and there was one cent a pound of production that would count towards the federation to deal with these issues, then we'd have the capacity to meet one on one and deal with the concerns. But funding the federation, funding the fishers' organization here to represent them, is a challenge also. FFMC said it could be legally challenging because some fishermen might not say they want a check-off of a cent a pound for production for support. Is it voluntary? Is it mandatory? Those are the issues we have to look at.
I believe there is a need for this organization and there's need for support for it. But how do we get continued funding to manage the fishery, to be involved in the management? We want to be involved in the management, not just to say, here are the regulations and this is what you have to live with. We should be able to come up with a compromise and say, we'll live together in harmony, but we'll also be a part of the decision-making.
That's why this federation was formed. Hopefully we'll get to that point in the future and hopefully we will see some results. That's our goal.
Yes, there is a charter, and there is also a membership fee to join the organization. The membership fee was set at $25. That was initially to get it started.
The challenge is to get all the stakeholders to contribute. They're in remote areas, remote communities in the north. They're also in the other lakes. They're not in the loop to be able to contribute. The mechanism to contribute is not there where the fishers can say, “Well, here's my annual $25.”
The only way we could see this happening is if there was a check-off by production, and then everybody would be in. We brought this issue to FFMC to ask if they would administer it, collect it, and forward the funding to us after the collection had been done. That way, it would represent all the stakeholders.
But it has been a challenge as to how to get all members to contribute their $25, because there is such a large area and there are remote communities involved. For us, it has been a challenge.
When we go to the meetings, we have a good representation of members, but there is the challenge of trying to get everybody to contribute some kind of fee so that we can say legitimately that we are an organization supported by our members. That's the challenge we're still facing. We're only three years old, so it's in the works.