Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone. Bonjour, mes amis.
Certainly we're pleased to be back. I'm glad you mentioned the staff. You've had them here more often than you've had me.
When I hear some of my colleagues talk about their experiences before committee, and certainly their officials, quite often coming to a committee can be pretty onerous. Our department has always felt very comfortable coming here. We try to give you what information we can, or provide it to you. I must say that all of us have been treated in the type of manner you would expect from a group like this. I've been part of it for a number of years. It helps to get the job done, so I thank you for that.
With me today are some familiar faces: Claire Dansereau, my department's associate deputy minister; George Da Pont, commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard; Cal Hegge, the assistant deputy minister of human resources and corporate services; and of course, no stranger to you at all, David Bevan, my ADM of fisheries and aquaculture management.
I've know you've met them several times regarding main estimates for this year's budget. I trust the discussions were helpful to you.
Today I'd like to begin by taking a step back from the details of the main estimates to provide a broader perspective of the financial picture over the past couple of years, which will hopefully give us a bit of a background for discussion. Following that, I'd like to discuss matters of collaborative arrangements between fish harvesters and the department, and I will finish up by making a statement about the coast guard.
I'm proud of the investments we've made to support Canada's fisheries and better manage our oceans. Since 2006, and leading up to this year's federal budget, our government has committed about $860 million to help Canada's fishing communities. We've increased DFO's budget by just under $100 million a year in permanent funding. We have introduced, and then improved, the first capital gains tax relief for our fish harvesters. All of you are the beneficiaries of that, because I'm sure you take credit for it. We financed the health of the oceans initiative for cleaner waters. We've reinvested in science and funded integrated commercial fishery plans on both coasts. We've put funding in place to renew the coast guard fleet, and we have improved habitat conservation and protection. And we have stepped up fisheries enforcement.
Bill , a modernized fisheries act, will soon be at second reading in the House of Commons. I hope I can count on your cooperation to move it into committee, where you can do whatever work you want. There was some talk about us perhaps trying to limit the committee. I assure you that once it's in your hands, you will be the masters of it. There will be no interference from us whatsoever.
This extremely important piece of legislation follows extensive discussions over the past several years, with provinces, territories, as well as fishing interests, aboriginal groups, stakeholders, and others. Since tabling Bill in December 2006, people have had access to the bill. We have held numerous meetings with stakeholders to explain the content of the proposed legislation. As a result, almost 400 people and organizations provided us with feedback and suggested changes to the text. We listened. Where there was general agreement, we took action and modified the text. A lot of the major changes were your own suggestions on clarification and others. In terms of suggestions where there was no agreement, we will need to discuss that at committee stage.
I truly hope I can count on your support and cooperation during the committee stage to make this the best bill possible. I know from my own experience that the committee can do excellent work on this bill, just as it did on Bill S-215, an act to protect heritage lighthouses.
In terms of the bill, I say do your deliberations and make whatever changes are necessary. We want the best bill possible. And if we can't deliver that, we have a chance to vote for it in the House. Are we going to get perfection? Probably not; you never will. Is it better than what we have and as good as we can get under the circumstances? If it is, we should pass it. If it's not, then I'll live by your decision.
Together we can modernize this legislation, for industry, stakeholders, and Canadians. I call on all of you, in your duty as parliamentarians, to do just that.
This past February, with economic uncertainty around the world, we called for a prudent federal budget. We still found room to make key investments in Canada's fisheries. We committed $22 million over the first two years to help develop a more competitive and sustainable aquaculture sector. We have $70 million over five years, which has been accepted very positively by the aquaculture industry and the provinces involved. We devoted $10 million over two years to help fix up harbours. This is for community ownership. As you know, there was a commitment of $45 million to do that, so we can divest ourselves of harbours that are eating up the money you need to spend on your own wharves and breakwaters, etc.
Our government has also committed $8 million over the next two years to build a commercial harbour in Nunavut, one of several needed if we're going to see Nunavut benefit from its resources. It's going to be expensive, but it's needed in order for them to properly manage the resource and benefit from it.
The budget also set aside $720 million for a new polar class icebreaker. That's on top of the $750 million last year for a number of coast guard midshore patrol vessels. This vessel will have a far greater capability than the one it's replacing, by the way. As well as icebreaking, it will support a range of DFO programs and services like fisheries management activities, fishery science, and it will also help maintain Canada's presence in the north.
The government also devoted $20 million over the next two years to complete required mapping of the Arctic and Atlantic seabeds. This is a sovereignty issue, and it supports our claims to the outer limits of Canada's continental shelf. This funding is not from our department exclusively, but it will certainly help us manage, protect, and develop northern fisheries, while helping Canada stake its rightful claim to our northern continental shelf.
As I mentioned, my second topic concerns the matter of collaborative arrangements between fish harvesters and the department regarding the use of fish. You recently received my department's response to your follow-up questions on collaborative arrangements. You will recall the Larocque and APPFA decisions made in 2006. The issue was whether collaborative arrangements put in place years ago fit with legal decisions made in the Federal Court in these cases. In the wake of that, a number of agreements we had, arrangements we had with the fishing industry, were struck down.
In all, we have reviewed 206 activities and projects that could have been impacted by court decisions. In 2006, 68 out of the 206 agreements we have with different groups involved use of fish agreements in exchange for scientific or fisheries management activities; 138 did not. We reported this to you in February. You have asked for more detail and it's in our response.
To recap, all but two of the 68 arrangements have continued in a modified form that is consistent with the Federal Court decision. We have returned most allocations that were previously used to form joint projects to the total allowable catch. We've just put them back in the common pool. Thirteen allocations have remained with the fishing industry association or a community, but now they do not require help in the department with fish management or science. Eleven did not have a use of fish component, while the two that did no longer have an obligation to fund DFO activities.
I have always believed that the fish quota should go to fish harvesters, but in the past, special allocations were provided to some community groups. We are also continuing to review these allocations to make sure they are in line with court decisions.
The bottom line is that we're still gathering the data needed to run the fishery. This is thanks to an increase in our budget of $12 million per year until 2012 and to using the industry resources in a manner that complies with the court. Also, by reducing costs we're focusing on essential conservation information and exploring non-financial options for staying the course.
I'm satisfied these measures are minimizing the impact on my department's programs and services as well as on Canada's fish harvesters.
As I mentioned, to wrap things up, I'd like to say a few words about the coast guard.
We're well aware of the tragedy at sea that took the lives of four sealers—Bruno Bourque, Gilles Leblanc, Marc-André Déraspe, and Carl Aucoin—aboard l'Acadien II in March. This is a loss of the deepest order for their families, the community of the Magdalen Islands, and all of Canada.
I know that one of our colleagues, Monsieur Blais, was very, very close to that. We spoke often during that terrible tragedy, and he certainly did yeoman service for his people in that regard.
In the days following the incident, we sent an official from coast guard to the Magdalen Islands to provide support and information to the grieving families when the bodies of their loved ones were returned home.
I grew up in a fishing village, as did a lot of you. While Renews was a lot smaller than the Magdalen Islands, when we have a tragedy at sea, as we've all had—especially in places like the one Bill Matthews represents, and maybe more so than anywhere—we know what it's like and what effect it has, not only on the community but also on the whole area.
In circumstances like these, people want answers and they want them quickly. As you know, the coast guard is carrying out an internal incident safety review. That review is being led by an independent investigator, retired Rear Admiral Roger Girouard. I've met him, by the way, and I would think he is as fine a person as ever I've met. He certainly knows what has to be done, how to do it, and I have every belief he will do it well. His team will, of course, be cooperating with the RCMP and the Transportation Safety Board, which are also reviewing the matter. We want these investigations to be quick, but we also need to be thorough, so that when all the facts are clear we can proceed accordingly.
We have remarkable people in our coast guard, people who have dedicated themselves to serving others and who don't hesitate to put themselves in harm's way to save another. So this tragedy weighs heavily on their minds, too, I can assure you. Day in and day out, the coast guard does an awful lot of work for Canada. This, too, is worth noting. Even during these difficult times, our work continues. It is still our coast guard, and we are fortunate as Canadians to have it.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for the question and your comments on the Farley Mowat
One of the interesting things about the sealing exercise—I include Paul Watson and his group on the Farley Mowat—was the solid support from everybody. It wasn't a petty political thing. It was something Canada had to do, should do. Regardless of who was there, it was something that should be done, and I certainly appreciate the support.
In relation to the herring, my own impression is that the Julianne III is not part of the equation this year and will not be part of the equation. I'll ask David Bevan to correct me on this if I'm wrong. We have asked the FRCC to have a look at herring. Herring is the fish that has given me more trouble than anything else. A lot of it is because of the ups and downs, the downturn right now, in the spring stock. The fall stock seems to be half decent. There are concerns about having enough for bait, and the cost of bait has certainly exacerbated the problem.
Fishermen are concerned about the herring stocks because they're so important to them. Yet when we fish it commercially, we get very little return compared with what others are getting in other parts of the country. So the whole thing leads to the need for a hard look. We need to maximize the philosophy that we've adopted with the provinces and the fishing groups—to get every cent we can out of the herring and fish it in ways that will keep jobs going and benefit the people.
We've always had a defined quota from the inshore, the gillnetters, and the seiners. But the poor old seiners have been banished everywhere. It's not for me to judge whether this is right or not, but they have no place to go at all. That makes it very difficult. And yet they have a quota.
I assure you that we will monitor it, so that whatever happens there will have no adverse effect on other fishermen—seiners, trawlers, border trawlers, or whatever. But they only have a quota. They only have so much. Whether they have three football fields or ten football fields, they can only catch what they have.
David, do you have an update on the Julianne III?
Minister and gentlemen, back in December the committee produced an interim report to the House regarding the small craft harbours program. It was intended to provide evidence of the need for over $1 billion, potentially, in additional support for the small craft harbours program. We didn't get it. Instead of the $1 billion, we got $10 million, which is going to be directed at tearing down certain harbours.
You still have certain amounts of money. There was a project that was listed on the Government of Canada website on December 2, 2007, pertaining to Nipper's Harbour on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. The Government of Canada website said that the project is scheduled to be carried out during the spring and summer of 2008. That's information directly from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, posted on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website.
We haven't received any announcement on that as yet. You wrote to the harbour authority last year, Minister, saying that you would be prioritizing it and that the project would occur when funds became available. We've heard direct testimony from your assistant deputy minister and deputy minister that the projects for small craft harbours for this year are basically approved. The entire allotment has gone to your desk and it's waiting for announcement.
We need to get this project, and several others like it, out the door so that we don't miss the construction season, which has a narrow window in Newfoundland and Labrador. We need to get the public tenders completed and equipment mobilized. If you don't announce the project and others like it, it probably will not occur.
Can you tell this committee, the people at Nipper's Harbour, and citizens in communities throughout Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and other areas that depend on small craft harbours when you are going to be completing the round of small craft harbours announcements for this year?
Mr. Chair, again I thank Mr. Byrne for the question. Certainly it's one that has always been before the committee. The first day I sat on the committee it was the first issue we raised, and as a result of that committee, as I mentioned before, with the hearings and with pressures, the government of the day committed an extra $100 million over five years, $20 million a year. That ran out. Last year we made that permanent funding, not an extension of another two or three years, but permanent funding, adding $20 million to the base budget. On top of that we added an extra $11 million. So we have put $31 million a year into new funding. This year we've brought in $45 million over five years to deal with divestitures--because it's like interest on a credit card, soaking away our money--repairing and maintaining, trying to get rid of facilities we no longer need or want.
So we have a few more dollars to use. However, you can argue quite correctly that an extra 20% or 30% or 40%, or whatever we might have today...probably the cost of operating today compared to three or four years ago evens it out. So we're not making a lot more headway than we did. We're keeping our head above water.
Your own comments about the amount of money needed to really bring--if we're going to have very good facilities everywhere.... With the change in fishery, where we're seeing aquaculture becoming pretty important and requiring more facilities or more use of facilities, people going to larger boats, and a return of some of our groundfish stocks, we're seeing more activity than in the past, and we're seeing the shift from smaller communities to larger ones quite often, all requiring new money.
You mentioned Nipper's Harbour as a priority. We have many priorities out there, all equal, and we try to do what we can with what money we have.
Anything that goes on the website, unless it has been approved and okayed through the regular process and through the minister's office, is only a matter of many other jobs we have to do. Nothing is approved until it is approved by the minister, whoever he or she happens to be.
In light of that, when they tell you it's on the minister's desk...anything that comes on my desk doesn't stay there very long. Going to the minister's office is entirely different because that means final scrutiny and a number of levels of checks to make sure everything is in order. It's not something that's done down at the small craft harbours office in St. John's and sent up for signing. It becomes part of the total Canadian picture, the total Canadian budget, and then you go through your advisers, etc. We try to do it quickly, and we are very close.
I agree with you, the quicker we get those things out the door.... Quite often the announcements were made in mid-summer, but our announcements will be made long before mid-summer, and as quickly as I can make them. I won't give you a timeframe, but I will say certainly days rather than weeks or months.
If I understand you, you're talking about the incident with the Acadian II and where we go from here. I thought there might be a specific request there that I missed.
Immediately after the incident, as I said in my opening remarks, we sent people from the coast guard—and there were other people there also, including some of my own staff—to the Magdelans to make sure we were on site, that people had someone to go to and talk to as all of this unfolded.
We committed at the time—and we have not changed that commitment—to find out exactly what went on. The first thing we found was their concern that the search for the missing fisherman had been called off quickly. We immediately, as you well know, because you worked with us on it, got that search going and did a complete, extensive search well above and beyond the area involved to make sure that nothing was missed.
I personally talked to representatives of the family, to the mayor, etc. We said we would do three things. One, we knew the Transportation Safety Board would carry out their regular thorough safety, long-term check, looking at everything involved. The RCMP were involved, and I think we should soon hear their report, because theirs is probably the one that will take the least time, to see if there was any wrongdoing. They will be reporting on that.
We, ourselves, did the internal...well, from within, but covering all aspects, a study that is usually done internally by the coast guard. Because of the involvement of the coast guard in this, we wanted to make sure it was transparent and objective, and we arranged, after a thorough search, to find somebody who knew how to deal with people, who understood marine life, and who was competent enough to make such a study. As I mentioned, we got Mr. Roger Girouard, to head that independent study.
From my own observations and our discussions with people, I think they understand fully that we are covering every base possible from every angle. The question is, what happens when we get the final details? That is strictly hypothetical, but I assure you and I assure the people that there is nothing here...there is no fooling around, there is no covering up. We are making an open, objective series of studies, and not only will we not interfere, but if we hear of anybody interfering, we will take action. We will make sure the people will have the truth of what happened, and after that we will continue to work with them.
Again, Mr. Chair, I thank the member for the question and his comments.
I agree with you totally. I was surprised, very surprised. It was done without any consultation whatsoever. There was no contact made with me or my department prior to an open public statement by the two premiers. I don't think it was helpful at all. Even if the industry people were thinking about banning the hakapik—they've had some discussions about the pros and cons that didn't last very long, for the reasons you mentioned—you'd be trying to use it to gain some favour. If you're going to give up something, what are you going to get? If you just say ban it, those others will just applaud and say that's great.
We banned the killing of whitecoats. What did it get us? Nothing. We stopped killing bluebacks. What did it get us? Nothing. If we ban the hakapik, what are we looking at next year? It will be the gun.
It was nonsensical. I didn't even react, because I thought that was the best thing to do. I didn't even comment. When asked sometime after, I just said that if we made any changes to the hunt they would be dictated by the industry, not by a provincial premier or by me. Industry will decide what they need.
The hakapik is not only used in areas like the Magdalen Islands or by the sealers from Prince Edward Island, for instance. It can be a lifesaver. Many of our sealers on the front were very upset about the comments, because they listed occasions such as when you fall off an ice pan and it's the only hope you have of getting back on the ice. For pulling seals, for retrieving, for a number of reasons, the hakapik is used.
Again, just to say let's give it up because of perception, look, we are here, you are here, I'm here to try to do the best for our sealers, not to do the best for the animal rights people and the protesters. That's the philosophy we have, and we'll live by it.
Thank you very much for the question.
You're right, you hear about our problems and our concerns on the east coast in certain species. The west coast has its own problems--salmon in particular. When you talk about the fishery, the icon out there is the sockeye. Even though some of the fisheries are doing relatively well, an exercise we went through about a year and a half ago, shortly after I came in and took a lot of flak for it originally--the groundfish integration plan--has worked out extremely well. It's been lauded by practically everyone involved.
We did a lot of work to minimize the costs that would be involved in bringing in such a plan, etc. It's enabled a lot of fishermen to continue to fish and catch species they depend on while sharing bycatch with other fishermen, etc. It's a total integration of the groundfish operation and it's been very successful. In some species they are doing very well.
When it comes to salmon, we have major problems. You never know, of course, until you get the returns, but the predictions this year, certainly on sockeye, are rather dim. In the way we look at sharing any fish, it doesn't matter if it's B.C. or anywhere else, conservation comes first, and it has to come first. If not, we're not going to have a fishery in the future.
In areas where we have first nations, the food, social, and ceremonial fishery comes next. We are very pleased with the input from first nations. Instead of dealing with them from afar, which might have happened for too long in the past, we've brought them around the table. They are heavily involved in decision-making. Last year we saw real leadership even in their food, social, and ceremonial component--not the commercial component, but in how much they caught and spread it to those who had less, etc. Again this year they're making some suggestions, knowing it will be tough and knowing that further up the stream some bands just won't have access to the fish, and they're talking about sharing, etc. That is laudable.
David can add to this, but for some of the species--chum, I believe--later on in the year it looks as if there might be a very good fishery. But again sockeye seems to be key, and even though it's only a small percentage of the total fishery on the west coast, it's like cod off Newfoundland. If you don't have cod, you have nothing, even though we make more money on the fishery than we ever did.
Do you want to add something to that, David?
The federal and provincial departments quite often have their own acts under which they operate, and they have certain responsibilities. Some of them are similar; some are actually duplicates, to a point. Even if they don't have them in some areas, they pretend they have them or get involved, and that could happen on both sides.
When we came to the department, one of the things we did in relation to our work, particularly in relation to habitat, where you usually see this, whether it be in working with a community on a housing development, working in relation to problems caused by a river or a bridge or whatever, or whether we're talking about the part we play in the development of a mineral operation or a mine site, where we quite often become the lead department.... We're heavily involved with the tar sands, even though, as you know, there's probably not a lot of water or fish, but there's enough to cause us to be involved. In anything that affects fish or fish habitat, we are involved.
When environmental conditions are involved and we're doing inspections and whatever other studies, do we have to do it, and then does NRCan have to do it, and then does forestry have do it, and then does the provincial environment...? My answer to that is no. That's where, by working together, we can save a lot of time, money, and particularly a lot of aggravation for the proponents of whatever is going on.
One of the first things we did was amalgamate within and talk to the heads of our different divisions to see where we could be more concise within our own department. Then we set up key contacts with other departments, particularly NRCan and Environment Canada. These are the ones we work more closely with.
At the same time, the Minister of NRCan, Minister Lunn, was coming up with the idea of a major projects office, which speaks more or less to this, bringing all these assessments under one sort of umbrella.
We've developed a pretty good relationship with many provinces. I would point out particularly British Columbia, which has been front and centre; we do a lot of work out there. New Brunswick has been very cooperative, and P.E.I. has, and Nova Scotia, and we've worked closely with Newfoundland, to an extent.
It comes down to the relationships you build yourselves, when you can feel free, when you have that open relationship where you can sit and plan and agree beforehand on doing something. When you don't work together, when you don't talk to each other, when you're out to try to get one up on somebody else, it doesn't work.
I don't see a lot of that. I see a lot of cooperation coming. I think the time is right, Mike, to zero in on all these studies, whether for the small housing development or the tar sands project, to work with the provinces and the agencies to cut out duplication and waste and to set certain standards, whether for provincial involvement or federal involvement, as long as these standards are met and not compromised and time can be saved. Everybody benefits, and the people themselves are the winners in something like that.
I'm happy to report that I was not on them at the time—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Scott Simms: —and I left standing.
I hope you have a pen because I have a few quick questions. I'm just going to run through the questions and I'll let you answer them.
DFO estimated last September that the European Union had already overrun its 2007 Greenland halibut or turbot quota by 10%, and the EU fleet just kept on fishing after that. What is the assessment of the EU's NAFO Greenland halibut quotas in 2007? What did DFO estimate the EU's catches were as against those quotas?
The proposed new NAFO convention contains provisions for reviewing objections, which you talked about, so what provisions does it contain to review and redress the violations of accepted quotas? You may want to talk about the reforms that were made.
Also, your government has now committed to bringing all significant international treaties to the House. So the question is not if, but when, the new NAFO reforms will be brought to the House.
Also, how will your commitment to extend the 200-mile limit affect issues such as the turbot quota?
Finally, changing gears just a little bit, I received correspondence regarding , and it says this:
||We also recommend that the government send Bill C-32 to the Parliamentary Standing Committee prior to second reading to allow for adequate collaborative consultation and accommodation of Aboriginal and Treaty rights. We ask for your support in this regard.
Unfortunately, that was not done. It continues:
||Given the important implications to First Nations of these proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act, failure to fully and adequately engage and consult First Nations may result in eventual legal challenges.
This correspondence was signed by Phil Fontaine, the national chief.
Obviously, that's a serious way of going about the issue. Why has the government not pursued taking the bill to committee prior to second reading?
Could you start with the issue of Greenland halibut or turbot, and also the new NAFO convention?
Working with the local groups and agencies, we have investment funds on both coasts now that are used for salmon enhancement. We have a number of people who are extremely dedicated. Yesterday, in fact, I presented recreational fishery awards to people who basically give their lives. A lot of them are retired people who spend a lot of their time, but some of them are very active; some of them are young people.
Also, a lot of work has been done in the schools. I think that's laudable, and certainly I encourage members, when you get a chance, to go into the schools and talk about preserving the resource and getting involved and experiencing the joys of seeing our fish, of sitting on the bank. Whether you're catching or looking doesn't matter. To be there when the sun is setting and the trout are jumping, or the salmon.... You can't buy stuff like that. The more we get people to buy into this, the more we get them involved in the organization.
Government can't do everything. We can provide some funding, we can provide expertise, we can provide direction, but we have so many challenges when we're fighting the environment.
One thing I didn't add when I was talking to you before about concerns with some of the salmon stocks is about predation. The first time ever I've heard concerns coming out of British Columbia came during the last couple of trips I've taken out there.
In the first few years, predation was never mentioned, certainly on the east coast, but in almost every salmon river or trout stream now you have a pile of seals parked at the mouth of it, or sea lions, or whatever. They don't eat turnips, as Morrissey Johnson once said.
Consequently, we have to be careful of the balance of nature. If you get a lot of big predators just sitting there waiting for home delivery, our stocks are going to be decimated in a hurry.
Putting it all together, we need the involvement of people. And I think we're getting that; I really think we are. But it goes right from the hatcheries through to cleaning up the actual habitat itself and then our laws and rules that will protect the species.
Mr. Chair, I don't necessarily agree with my colleague. When I say “my desk”, it's something I have control over myself, and when it comes to me for signing or reading, or whatever the case might be, it moves as quickly as possible.
Mr. Blais is talking about discussions coming out of a forum called by the fisheries minister of Quebec that he and I co-chaired, as we did in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and to a lesser extent in Prince Edward Island. There was also a round table in Nova Scotia, one in which I wasn't directly involved. These were all forums called by the provincial governments. We went in there as co-chairs to work cooperatively with them, which we said we would do.
In these round table discussions we had all of the industry in the province, all except.... Some people in Quebec who didn't participate in it came to the table afterwards, and they have been very cooperative since. In Newfoundland they certainly did, and in New Brunswick everybody was involved--harvesters, processors, marketers, towns, you name it. After lengthy, open, and heartfelt discussion among all of them, committees were put together to come up with a plan to improve the fishery.
The bottom line across the board was an ocean-to-plate concept, meaning you would look at the product in the ocean and then proceed to see how to catch it when it's at its best quality, without affecting other species--for example, avoiding soft shell if it's crab, etc. Then it's how to land it in good shape, how the processors can process it, how much they will need at any one time, and what the best time to market it is. All of this is common sense and it takes coordination, but it's something we haven't seen. Everybody wanted to get out and get as much as they could, sell it as quickly as they could, get a few dollars, and worry about tomorrow afterwards.
That's changing, and as times get tougher, people realize we can get more out of less if we handle it properly. That was our commitment, and we've been doing that.
Coming out of that, a lot of the decisions had to be collective. A lot of it had to be on shore; a lot of the things had to be done by the fishermen themselves, and a lot had to be done by the processors. A lot of it had to be done with provincial regulation. The Quebec government came out with their report just a short while ago. It's very good and very aggressive, and we can participate in a lot of it.
We talked about things we can do at sea. The first one is working with the people in relation to the best time to open seasons and make sure they get their share of the fish. In Quebec we talked about regional shares, which we are developing as we get through the new species. You'll see in the next few days that as we allocate the quotas, they are based on permanent regional shares, as Quebec has asked for, so there'll be stability. Others also want the same thing.
We talked about the shrimp concerns they had. We moved to deal with them as well as we could, realizing this year the price almost doubled, so it wasn't the crisis it was last year.
So we have moved on a number of the things we have under our control. Some of the things will take developing through working with the province, with the fishermen themselves, and with the markets, etc. It's not something a federal or a provincial government can dictate. You can't say, “Here is what you have to do. You have the fish; you have to bring in so much, and here is where you have to land it.” You can't do that. Fishermen have to have some flexibility.
As we see in Newfoundland, what we can do is give them the opportunity to take advantage of buddying up, working together to save costs, and having the ability to buy out others to improve their standing, which they never had before. From our point, it's better management of the resource, etc.
David, there may be a few things we can add. Have we covered all of it?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I apologize to the committee and to the minister for being late this morning. I had a personal matter to take care of.
Mr. Minister, first of all, I want to thank you and your department very much for the effort on behalf of the sealers. I know it was a very difficult winter this year with the Paul Watson group. Personally, I think you handled it very well, so I want to thank you for that.
Also, with respect to the recreational fishing awards yesterday, I know one person from my riding is a very happy man today, so again, thank you for that. And thank you for the heritage lighthouse protection act. Your department worked very well with this committee and others, and your group should be congratulated on that.
My questions are a little different from that. First, as you know, the west coast indicated there will be a shutdown of the chinook fishery this year, although I didn't hear from the U.S. or state governments whether there is any compensation for those fishermen. If indeed Canada goes the same route, or doesn't announce a closure but just doesn't announce any openings, is there any possible compensation for these fishermen in those communities?
Mr. Bevan will know about my second question because I've asked him before. In the far north, in Grise Fiord, Arctic Bay, and Resolute Bay, would there be any opportunities for those fishermen who are wanting some access to the turbot fishery on the other side of the zero A line--and Mr. Bevan indicated that the line couldn't move because it's quite a technical thing within NAFO--to have some economic opportunities from the resource up there?
My third question, sir, deals not just with DFO but also with the provinces regarding the mining act, especially schedule 2. As you know, two lakes in Newfoundland were slated for destruction--two in Nunavut--and we hear there are more across the country, where mining companies can use fresh water lakes as tailing ponds. We're obviously all concerned about the protection of fish habitat and the fish resource itself. I'm wondering whether you plan any changes to that act. In brand-new , even though it says you can only kill fish by means of fishing, the order in council still gives the Governor in Council the authority to kill fish by other means. Unfortunately, filling in healthy aquatic systems with tailing ponds is another means of killing fish.
I'm wondering if you could answer those questions, sir. And I thank you for your time this morning.
Thank you very much, Peter. It's good to see you here. Also, thank you for your comments and support in relation to what we did for the sealers. You were quite open and vocal with that, and with your personal support. And thank you for your support of the lighthouse bill as it went through several phases. You solidly supported it right through the process. I appreciate that.
In relation to the shutdown of the chinook fishery, at this stage we don't know what effect it will have. We know what's going on in the U.S; we'll see what will come of it. There is no plan for compensation at this stage. Compensation is always the first thing that comes up whenever there's talk about any kind of downturn or whatever, and it's a slippery slope when you get into it. But we know people depend on it for a living, and sometimes you can mitigate in other ways. But you deal with what you have at the time you have it.
The far north access to turbot is probably becoming, as we say, an issue. Some time ago we did transfers between the fleet that was fishing.... Because of companies getting in or out of the fishery, there was movement back and forth of the large companies, as there always is within an existing quota. There was no disruption or change within the fleet sector, just movement within.
Nunavut was extremely upset. Newfoundland seemed to be upset. I cautioned them, because as it has been historically, it secured that the fish were caught by Canadians and landed in Canadian ports for the benefit of Canadians. Nunavut was upset because it thought that with any change whatsoever, all the fish should go to Nunavut.
Adjacency is a wonderful thing. It is one of the prime reasons we allocate resource. But historic dependence is also very important. If there is a resource that has been developed off British Columbia and somebody else gets the benefit, British Columbia is not going to be happy. They should be the prime beneficiaries.
One of the problems in the north is that they have this great resource of turbot and shrimp, and as we said earlier, they haven't got a wharf to land it on. What is happening, and you've been through this here at committee, is that a lot of that resource is sold in the water to other companies that provide minimal employment--I'm making the same arguments you've made over the years--and then they land it and transship it to other countries, in some cases going into markets duty-free, so we get no benefits except the royalties that are paid to a group.
I have concerns with that. Even though we have tried to maximize the benefits for the people of the north--there's no doubt about that--if we're going to take away something from other Canadians to give to foreign companies, I have concerns about that too. As we open up fisheries and the north has more access, we have to make sure that their people are the ones who benefit, not the Danish or the Finns or anybody else. I think you agree with that, because you've fought that battle for a long time.
I agree with you that things need to be done. Things are being done and things will be done. Something can be done relatively quickly, and something can be done by the fishermen themselves.
It gets back to us having to maximize resources, to fish at the best time, and to fish in order to land quality product to get the best prices we can. If we are going to put poor product on the market, the price drops and everybody loses, consequently. So I think the fishermen are really, really changing their methods of fishing to make sure they land quality product. And then the processors, etc., have to be a part of it, as they are part of it all, or part of the overall ocean-to-plate philosophy.
What we also need to do, and what we have done since we came in two years ago.... A lot of the shrimp goes to the European market. We only had 7,000 metric tonnes going in there at a low rate and we were paying a 20% tariff on the rest. We've increased that threefold to 20,000 metric tonnes and have worked for the elimination entirely of that tariff, which would certainly be of help.
Last year the fishermen in your area were held up for a while because the processors were paying only 27¢ a pound, despite the fact that much more was being paid in New Brunswick and Newfoundland. It was the same shrimp and the same markets, generally speaking. This year they started with 52¢, which is almost double what we got last year. I know you'll say that fuel has gone up, etc., but it is still a fair jump, and certainly one that didn't necessitate our involvement with fees on a specific case—because there are a lot of specific cases there.
What we have said, and I'll say it quite clearly, is that the whole fee structure is completely and utterly inadequate. Quite often we set fees when the price is relatively high, and in the last two years we saw the strengthening of the Canadian dollar, which had a major effect on the product we're sending to the States—which is a lot of our product. That hurt everybody. We saw fuel costs go through the roof. That hurt, and we are still this big bad government charging them the same fees we charged them a few years ago.
We made a commitment last year to change the whole fee structure, which is now working its way through the process. If the fees were set by my department, we would change them overnight. They're not, and fee structures have to go through the whole governmental process. It is a lengthy, time-consuming, and idiotic process—pardon me for using that word—and it is being reviewed. In fact, I think the Auditor General, in her latest report, deals with fee structures. So I know where you're coming from.
That's what we can do. We will change the fees. The fees will be commensurate with the net profits—they have to be. Other than having them that way, people will pay a heavy price.
A lot of you here are looking for wharves and breakwaters. I suggested to my Newfoundland colleagues, in light of the new spirit of our premier, who is willing to help Ontario financially, that we have a lot of wharves and breakwaters and might help Quebec and some other areas. But you'll have to move them at your cost; that's the only thing.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Loyola Hearn: We could probably solve that with the Digby wharf. It's big enough to help about 10 of you at any one time. We have a monstrosity, of course, that right now is a major fishing area.
Digby is a name that is known throughout fishing communities, certainly all around Atlantic Canada and probably the world. They have this major transfer wharf, which the former government sold to a private interest. It didn't work out. I don't know whether the money was used to repair the wharf or not; apparently not much was done.
Then the wharf was in disrepair and the fishermen were looking for a place to land. The government had to step in and basically get it turned over to a local group who were really concerned, or I think bought it back, even though whoever had it originally had been paid for it. But that's a story for them to work out.
Transport, the ACOA minister as the minister from Nova Scotia, and we are meeting on that, in fact this very week. We have plans; we will look after the people in the Digby area. We will do it, despite the fact that they've been thrown to the wolves. We will be there to make sure they have a place to land.
In relation to the west coast, Ms. Bell raised this question when we were here the last time, and subsequent to that I talked to my good friend—and I say that factually—Minister Penner from British Columbia. We have worked very closely on a lot of touchy projects, and he's always been there, ready to take up his share of the burden. We talked about the best possible way to take care of this.
You get all kinds of arguments: that it is better to leave it alone, or whatever. The safest and securest way seemed to be to remove the possible fuel containers—the tank and another container containing fuel. That is going to be done. We've collectively agreed to pay for the cost of removing them.
That should take care of it. The only concern we have there is the whales that pass through the area. We have to get it done before they come, or we might have to wait until they pass through, in case anything happens and it has an effect on the whales. We don't want that to happen.