I call the meeting to order. I want to welcome everybody here.
For those who may not be aware, we are the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans of the House of Commons. We are in the process, over the past number of months, of travelling and meeting with people across the country to study the small craft harbours program of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Our purpose is to gain as much feedback as we can from people who use the facilities, so we can hopefully enhance the program not only in the financial aspect but indeed in any and all ways, knowing full well that many of the people involved with the harbour authorities throughout Canada are volunteers.
We did an east coast trip about a month ago. We're delighted to be in Richmond today. We head up to Port Hardy, I believe, tonight and will spend a couple more days here in your beautiful province. I hail from Newfoundland and Labrador, so I'm a long way from home. We have interpreters here with us who will be translating our dialect. So I will ask our witnesses to keep an eye out for that, because we have a couple of people here we have to have interpretation for.
As I said, coming from Newfoundland, sometimes I have to carry my own interpreter, but my say here today will be very limited. Each of the committees of the House of Commons has a job to do their work without their staff and people who surround them, such as our analyst here, François, our interpreters, our technicians, our people back here. We are also delighted to have our clerk, who happens to be from British Columbia and who happens to have her mom and her two brothers in the audience today. Her mom, Margaret, and Gus and Mac, who are twin brothers, have joined us. We could have a couple of budding politicians here in the audience maybe.
We're delighted to be here today. Our process is that we open up the floor to have opening presentations from our guests and then we have a question and answer period where we go around. Just to give you an idea, the committee has representation from the four parties in the House of Commons: the Conservative Party, Liberal Party, Bloc, and we bring along this guy down here from the NDP, just for moral support every now and again. We have a very good working relationship, I must say, among our committee members. Most of us represent areas that have large fishing areas, and the small craft harbours program is a very important part of our work.
With that, I would like to ask Ms. Elizabeth McLeod, from the Harbour Authority Association of British Columbia, to give her opening remarks.
Maybe before we start we will ask each of you to introduce yourselves and the organizations you represent, for the record, and then we will go back to Ms. McLeod for opening remarks.
Thank you very much.
On behalf of the Harbour Authority Association, I would like to welcome you gentlemen to British Columbia. I commend you for your willingness to visit every region of Canada. And although there are huge regional differences, I think you're going to find while you're here that our communities and volunteers share a common commitment to the harbour authority program with the rest of Canada.
Throughout the history of B.C., our red-railed harbours have provided a safe haven for the working vessels that ply our coastal waters. These harbours are the infrastructure of our fishing industry, and many of our northern communities are still reliant on these harbours as a vital link in their transportation network. Our harbours are also part of the economic mainstay of many of our communities.
In B.C., we have 76 core harbours coast-wise, managed by 54 harbour authorities. Our harbours tend to be larger than those in other regions and more consolidated, the average harbour being between 100 and 200 vessels. Due to the capacity of the larger harbours, we have the ability to generate quite a lot of revenue because many of our harbours are operating with a volunteer board but professional staff. Having a permanent staff gives many of our B.C. harbours an increased ability to plan and take advantage of the economic funding opportunities as they become available in the west.
The Harbour Authority Association of B.C. is a provincially incorporated not-for-profit society. It's important to note that the HAABC is a grassroots organization developed by our harbours in 1997 in response to the needs of the harbours. Although we work very closely with small craft harbours directorate in the Pacific region, we're not a creature of the government. Of the 54 harbours in B.C., 49 are members of this organization. Our major role is to establish effective communication among harbour authorities, foster a good working relationship, exchange information, and network. The HAABC has split the province into six distinct areas, and our volunteer directors are elected to the board by each area.
Each year, the HAABC organizes an annual three-day conference to provide information and educational workshops and networking opportunities for our members as well as feedback to the board of directors. We have one quarter-time staff member to assist in our conference planning, and because of this, our organization relies heavily on our board of directors to provide hands-on administration and management services for this organization. This severely limits our ability to address the growing needs of our membership. There is an identified need to provide training, education, mentoring, and support for many of the smaller remote and less-developed facilities far beyond what we can achieve at our annual conference. Without additional resources, this will be extremely difficult for us to provide.
We've taken on some initiatives over the last few years. The first one, and very important to our harbours, was we have begun to develop a toolbox of standard documents for use in our harbours. We've completed a standard berthage licence agreement to ensure each harbour has a legally vetted document that will assist in the collection of fees and clearly lay out the terms and conditions of berthage in our harbours for our users. Through small craft harbours directorate, we intend to share this document with all the other regions in Canada.
Derelict and abandoned vessels continue to plague the harbours in B.C. This problem has resulted from the DFO licence buyback programs that have littered the coast with former working vessels that now have no purpose. Without work, they sit tied to the dock with little or no maintenance in many of our working harbours. In many cases, the owners of these vessels have simply walked away, leaving the harbours holding the bag on what is becoming an enormous and costly problem. With buyback under way purchasing licences and not vessels, we expect this problem to continue to escalate. In response to a request from our membership, the HAABC, in conjunction with small craft harbours Pacific region, is in the process of forming a subcommittee to develop terms of reference to investigate the magnitude of this problem and explore options for dealing with the issue.
In addition to this, my colleague Art Childs has been working with the Pacific Coast Congress, as have Hiltje Binner, who is the harbour manager for Port McNeill, and Linda Franz, in developing educational curriculum.
The PCC has partnered with the University of Alaska Southeast in developing a distance learning program for harbours and marina personnel, focusing on common areas: structural and construction, maintenance and repair, environmental business practices, and customer service.
Some of the course development work is being done jointly with the HABC members, and the long-term goal will see a stronger partnership in the area of training and professional development. This online program will enable many of our harbours to access appropriate training for staff without the added costs of travel and accommodation. We're hoping to see this in the near future, because like everything else, we're now suffering from attrition, as more and more of us reach retirement age.
I'm going to touch on some of the common issues that are now being experienced by all of our harbours in B.C., the first and foremost in my mind being the Fishing and Recreational Harbours Act and its regulations, which govern our harbours. These were designed many years ago to enable the federal government to manage the harbours. No changes or updates occurred when the harbour authorities came into being, and the legislation does not facilitate or acknowledge our role in the management of these harbours. While we were required by our lease agreements to abide by all applicable government acts and regulations, we do not have the ability to enforce these regulations on our users.
We would urge DFO to review the act and regulations, as well as the standard harbour authority lease agreements, with a view to making the necessary changes to facilitate good governance in our harbours.
Increasingly, B.C. harbours are taking on a more innovative approach to increasing our capacity to recapitalize and improve our harbours. We are constantly seeking funding from other sources as well as looking for development opportunities within our harbour lands to improve our own finances.
We would like to see our partnership with small craft harbours directorate enhanced to allow strategies that will enable us to continue with the next logical steps in our creative approach to meeting the needs of our harbours.
In order for our B.C. harbours to continue to grow, we require supportive regulations to enable us to recapitalize investments, buy land, and increase services. Obtaining matching funds from outside sources is dependent on an increased flexibility in small craft harbours funding guidelines.
Finally, our harbour authorities need to work with small craft harbours directorate to become an integral part of the planning for our harbours and maximize all of our available resources. There's an ever-increasing demand on our facilities, resulting in conflict for waterfront resources evident in our province. It is important to note that the majority of our harbours are full and require increased capacity and expansion to meet the growing needs of B.C.
The Pacific coast infrastructure is also aging. While small craft harbours directorate and Pacific Region have been doing an excellent job of maintaining our assets with the limited funds available, it's evident that it's time to recapitalize our harbours. Many of the structures in our harbours are in excess of 60 years old and have reached the end of their lifespans and no longer can be maintained. They require replacements.
Adding to this problem is changing weather patterns and the increasing severity of coastal storms. These storms are resulting in wind, wave, debris, and flood damage to our facilities, which jeopardizes the safety of our vessels and our harbour users. Many of the stop-gap measures used in the past in many of our harbours, such as floating breakwaters, are no longer adequate to protect our harbour infrastructure and need to be replaced with permanent rock structures.
Dredging, as I'm sure you've heard everywhere you've come in B.C., is a major operational issue in most of our Pacific coast harbours, especially those on the Fraser River. Our larger-draft fishing vessels can only access our harbours at high tide and are unable to move while in berth, which creates a serious safety concern in our harbours. In the case of a fire at low tide, we would be unable to move these larger vessels away from the dock, resulting in disaster for our vessels and facilities.
Dredging is not just a problem within our water lots. Since Transport Canada ceased their dredging program the channels leading into our harbours are silting in, resulting in a major access problem that we do not have the jurisdiction or the funding to address. We feel this problem is not unique to the west coast, and we're hoping to see a national strategy put in place to address these dredging issues. It would be really nice to see one arm of the government take over the management of dredging, as Transport Canada did in the past.
Our Pacific coast harbours are also dependent on the efforts of our volunteers, and they're supported in that endeavour by our Pacific region small craft harbour staff. At a time when all of our harbours are suffering from volunteer fatigue, we found that our staff support at the small craft harbours level is stretched to the limit due to attrition, leaves, and the functional review. It's a credit to the dedication and commitment of Pacific region staff that they've managed to maintain a professional level of support to our harbours throughout this period. There's an urgent need to increase small craft harbours support to maintain and enhance the interest and capacity of harbour authority volunteers and staff if we're to continue to move forward.
Another niggley little problem that we face on a daily basis is access to information on vessel ownership. If a vessel is not listed in the ships registry, we are unable to find out the ownership of that vessel without an access to information request, even in an emergency situation, and this can have some serious consequences as well.
Our commercial fishing harbours are necessary for the survival of the fishing industry in B.C. Commercial fishing remains a viable and major economic contributor to our west coast economy. We require flexibility to change with the needs of our industry. When major changes are being planned in different areas of DFO, such as licensing that will affect the usage of our harbours, we need to be informed and consulted. What we're seeing now with the onset of quota fisheries is that an increasing number of vessels are sitting at the dock just to hold the licence and the quota, and they're not moving out during the fishing seasons as they were in the past. Also, they're creating a problem that I would call a licensed derelict, where there's not the maintenance going into these vessels that there used to be when they were out fishing.
In closing, I would like to thank you for your interest in our organization and in our harbours in B.C. We require your continued support to increase the viability of our Pacific coast commercial fishing harbours.
Thank you very much for coming out here.
Good afternoon, everybody. On behalf of the Pacific Regional Harbour Authority Advisory Committee, I would like to welcome the members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to the west coast.
When I was asked to be here today, I sat down to think about the message I hoped to convey to you. You've heard from Liz McLeod about the Harbour Authority Association of B.C. and the great work they do on behalf of all HAs in the Pacific region. I'm sure that on the rest of your trip you will see and hear of many successes and challenges from the HAs you visit. The main point to remember is that all of these organizations are run by volunteers, who are the backbone of all harbour authorities across Canada.
We have 54 harbour authorities in the Pacific region, managing 76 fishing harbours. While some of the HAs are able to have full-time paid staff, most can only afford part-time staff to assist with fee collection and secretarial duties. The rest of the work is done by volunteers. It is estimated that the 54 HAs spend an estimated 50,000 volunteer hours annually on harbour authority operations.
I would like to go over a few of the initiatives that the Pacific advisers, along with the regional advisers and small craft harbours, have been working on to assist the HAs in becoming viable and self-sufficient. The first is the formation of the Harbour Authority Corporation.
Together with our regional partners, and after many years of struggling with the issue of directors and officers' insurance and bodily insurance, we formed the Harbour Authority Corporation. This corporation, run by volunteers, makes available at a cost of $100 per year both types of insurance to all HAs across Canada. As of today, 414 of the 579 harbour authorities in Canada belong to this corporation. With D&O costs of approximately $2,000 to $4,000 a year per harbour authority, the savings to the HAs are substantial. Now those funds are available to be reinvested in their facilities.
The Gislason report states that for every dollar going into harbours, there is an estimated $50 in associated spinoff benefits. The estimated savings of the program are $1.1 million, with a spinoff benefit of $55 million, or approximately $94,000 per HA community.
The advisers are also working with small craft harbours on inspection and maintenance manuals. These will allow HAs to do more of the day-to-day inspection and repairs. HAs have requested an increased contract signing authority, from $40,000 to $200,000. We are hoping that more harbours will be able to take on more of the smaller projects that HAs are expressing a desire to be involved with. This will ease our reliance on the Department of Public Works to get projects completed.
As you may be aware, we are also working on a new long-term vision for small craft harbours. While it's still in draft form, the vision is:
||The existence of a critical, affordable, national network of safe and accessible harbours, in good working condition, that meets the principal need of the commercial fishing industry, while supporting the broader interests of coastal communities and Canada's national interest.
|| The harbour will be fully operated, managed and maintained by viable, professional and self-sufficient harbour authorities representing the interests of users and communities.
This vision clearly indicates the connection between our fishermen, our harbour authorities, and our coastal communities. It brings forward the desire of all of those involved to see harbour authorities evolve toward self-sufficient community-based organizations.
The point I'm trying to make is that as volunteers managing federal assets, we are working hard to provide our fishermen and our communities with safe and accessible harbours, but we can't do this alone. We need an effective partner for small craft harbours, one that is able to provide good programs and funding when necessary to allow us to provide these services and also to respond to the changes that are occurring in our fisheries and our environment.
The funding for small craft harbours has not significantly increased for eight years. In fiscal year 2000-2001, the actual spending budget for small craft harbours was $90 million. The budget for 2008-2009 is $91.5 million. Considering inflation and the rising costs of labour and construction, this could and should be considered a decrease in funding.
The fisheries committee in its last report highlighted the fact that an estimated $400 million is needed just to bring the core harbours up to an acceptable condition. This shortfall has been put on the backs of harbour authorities, and this is unacceptable. We need a commitment from the federal government for stable, long-term funding that takes into account all of the challenges that harbour authorities deal with daily.
I believe, based on my discussions with HAs in the Pacific region and across the country, that it is the goal of most of the HAs to become viable, professional, and self-sufficient so that decisions can be made that are in the best interests of not only the fishermen but also our communities that rely so heavily on these facilities.
We understand the challenges about revenue generation. It's not just about fee collection; it's about working together to solve financial issues such as insurance and maintenance. There will continue to be challenges, and we look forward to working with small craft harbours' excellent staff to solve them.
Thank you again for the opportunity to be here today, and I hope you have a nice day on the west coast.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
I was very keen to listen to what I thought was a very well articulated, very understanding knowledge base of the small craft harbour program, not only from what was clearly a ground point of view, but also from an administrative point of view within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Mr. Mabberley, I'm going to direct my question to you, since you specifically brought up the matter of funding. You quite rightfully, in my opinion, pointed out that there has indeed been an overall funding cut within the program, given the costs of inflation. Construction inflation in particular is outpacing the consumer price index by about 7% per year, so you've come to the conclusion that we really haven't kept pace.
Collectively you represent all the harbour authorities of B.C., but you and Elizabeth in particular are chief spokespersons of that. I want to ask you, Ben, and then probably move to Elizabeth to respond as well. With that funding cut, have you noticed a substantial rust-out or decrease in the capitalization of harbours within the area? As well, with such scarce dollars, is there competition within the harbour authority family within British Columbia? Is there a certain amount of tension that gets created as you compete for capital projects for funding?
Specifically, you all had mentioned the fact that you have a very positive working relationship with the small craft harbours officials. Small craft harbours officials represent teams of technicians and engineers and people who are well aware of the program. They produce lists each and every year to forward to Ottawa for funding. Would you be very upset if you were under the understanding that local officials had developed plans for capital projects only to have those projects cut short at Ottawa, whether the funding was shifted around or diverted to other sources? Do you really think that there should be a rules base on which the funding is put in place, that local priorities are put in place, and that within the B.C. family of harbour authorities funding should be decided within B.C. and not elsewhere?
I think you got the overall tone of my questions. There are a few things in there, Ben and Elizabeth, that you may want to address, but could you just expand on some of the points you raised and sort of integrate what I just had to say?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon. I want to thank you for your warm welcome.
It is my turn, Mrs McLeod, to thank you for your presentation. You have given us a very good overview of the issues. When we talk about small craft harbours, aside from the fact that we are dealing here with valuable and crucial infrastructures, we always come to the conclusion that there is a lack of funding and that with more dollars things could be improved. But you are going further. You have provided evidence about the various aspects of funding and showed how essential these docking facilities are. At the same time, you raised new issues that arise today: climate change, dredging problems that become more and more difficult to manage, insurance issues and derelict ships. People are looking for solutions to all these problems.
You gave us a very well researched presentation, Mrs McLeod, and it is my understand that up to now the government is not providing any long term vision in this whole area. Indeed, it looks like they are applying a band-aid on a wooden leg. One could even say, without intending offence to anyone, this is like prescribing aspirin to somebody with cancer. There is a budget of some 100 million dollars but we know very well that things are getting worse every year. So the money is not enough.
I do not get from you any sense of exasperation or discouragement. You still are optimistic about the future of the small craft harbours program, which is commendable.
I would like to hear your views on a possible long term action plan. What would be the priorities? Some are more costly than others. It is my feeling — and you will tell me if I am wrong — that we need a long term plan based on a vision. If we had a clear vision, this would lead to actions that would allow us to meet the huge challenges we will face in the coming years.
I would like to know, Mrs McLeod, if you share my views on the need for a long term action plan.
I think you're quite right in saying that there is no long-term plan by government for issues such as dredging and derelict vessels. It needs to be noted that both of these things are really outside the guidelines for the small craft harbours program, so we're looking at the rest of government to pick up the ball with this. What you're seeing in B.C., in my understanding, was that when Transport Canada decided to remove the dredging program across Canada, they were depending on industry to pick up that ball and go ahead, but because we are still dependent on government for our funding, we don't have the dollars that it's going to require to come in and dredge out the channels leading to our harbours. We don't have the money within the budget to dredge out the harbours. Again, everything that is affecting that is the increased climate change, weather patterns, and flooding on the Fraser. All of these things have an effect.
One thing we do know is that if the dredging situation is not looked at, then we are not going to have usable harbours in many of our areas. I can speak for one of my harbours, which is dependent on the channel leading up to it. If nothing changes, we're certainly going to lose that harbour as an effective portion of our network within probably the next five years because of siltation.
Derelict vessels is also another one that has never been looked at. It's not just the problem with fishing vessels, but it's a problem with other vessels as well. Not long ago in B.C. we had refugee boats from China being dumped on us. Again, there's just no venue for anybody to plan around the removal of these things. They're extremely costly. Off the top of my head, to destroy the average 35-foot fishing vessel because of the contaminated waste and everything else on board, you're probably looking at $10,000 a vessel. And we have many of these in our harbours.
While our larger harbours are fairly effective because we have staff in moving these vessels along, they wind up in areas such as the north, in Lutz's harbour or Ben's harbour, where they don't have the staff to be on the dock saying, “Wait a minute. You can't bring that boat in here.”
These are the areas I would certainly like to see government focusing on, as well as our funding issues within our program, but certainly multi-government committees perhaps, to address those two issues.
We're very aware of our location and we've tried very hard to develop a very good relationship with our neighbours. We've invited strata managers down to the harbour, introduced them to the operation, because I think most of the time they were thinking, “Those awful fish boats are down there, and we just want them to go away, because they're ruining our view.”
We've taken the attitude that False Creek Harbour Authority is one of the most unique harbours in Canada, in that it's in a very urban location and actually can be a very strong community tie to bind our community together in False Creek. So we welcome the public down to our harbour and we encourage their involvement in the harbour; we encourage input from our neighbours on how we do things. It's a little different. It has many challenges, but the majority of the challenges we face have a lot to do with and are very much in common with the challenges that all of the harbour authorities on this coast face, and I'm sure all of the harbour authorities across the country face.
I'd like to step back a couple of questions to Mr. Blais' question, if I may, when he asked whether we felt there was an absence of vision. We had this very conversation this morning. As a harbour manager and a member of the Harbour Authority Association of B.C., and as a member of a larger organization that spans from California right to Alaska, I would love to be in on the long-term vision, actually, as to what the whole plan for the industry and for the whole small craft harbour program is.
As Mr. Mabberley pointed out, you guys in your last report indicated the need for solid long-term funding and the very real need to take some of our harbours from an unacceptable condition now. We're still expected to operate those harbours in a viable and fiscally responsible fashion, and it can't be done. It simply cannot be done, not when you're relying on volunteers. We need a strong, committed level of financial support as well as that strong, committed level of program support from the small craft harbours directorate.
These guys are doing their damnedest out here. They really are. And they work very hard to fill the needs of the harbours, but it's a tough row to hoe. I know you hear this all across the country, I'm sure.
When I look at the harbour authority program and what's going on out here in B.C., I see a very enthusiastic group of people trying to maintain and keep a program alive out here. And every time we turn around, we're running up against a roadblock. If I were sitting in your shoes, and God knows I'm glad I'm not, I would be saying this is an organization, a group of people who want to see this program survive and flourish. We should be giving them some level of support.
Everybody talks about small craft harbours as being centred around the commercial fishing industry. These harbours are not only the commercial fishing industry; they are literally the lifeblood for a lot of these coastal communities. Without them, what happens to those communities? They go away.
Welcome back, everybody.
Once again, the process is that we'll have some opening remarks and then we'll have a question and answer period.
I want to thank our guests for their presence here today. I also want to make note--I forgot earlier--that Mr. Robin Richardson, from small craft harbours directorate, DFO, is in the back. I'm sure you're quite familiar with him. He's joining us on our tour this morning and is participating in our meetings here today.
I certainly want to thank all of you for coming together this afternoon. It's a bit different from what we had planned originally, but due to time constraints we have no choice. We do certainly thank you for doing that.
I also want to thank you for our great visit this morning. It was indeed an eye-opener to sail along the harbour. We haven't done that before. We did in Nova Scotia; we went from one side to the other. It was a drop-off. But this morning was very beneficial--and I got a chance to stop at the gift store. I like to throw that in, because everybody else was waiting on the bus. My five-year-old daughter wanted a pink T-shirt from Vancouver, so she's going to get it. And Mr. Blais had to pick up a T-shirt for one of his friends in Quebec too.
I want to ask you to do what we did before: everybody introduce yourselves and the organizations you represent. Then I believe Mr. Hugh Fraser is going to start our presentations this morning. So first of all, could everybody introduce themselves?
We'll start with Mr. Williamson.
In essence, what I did today was I prepared a kind of powerpoint presentation. I'd like to just step you through it and give you a bit of an overview with respect to Ladner Harbour and some of the issues the harbour faces.
On the second slide, first of all, I'll give just a little bit of background with respect to that harbour and the harbour jurisdiction. I want to discuss some of the local issues and concerns with respect to the harbour and then finally some recommended improvements that you can take away and consider.
The third slide, moving on to the next page, outlines for us a bit of the history. The harbour was constructed in 1983, and then following that there was a five-year agreement signed by the corporation. It wasn't until 1998 that we signed a 20-year agreement, so the corporation has a long-term arrangement with respect to the management of the harbour.
The next slide outlines the location of the harbour. You can see we're in the delta, right near the mouth of the Fraser River, right across from the historic and main community of Ladner.
Moving on to the following page, you will see, outlined in red, the specific area that is the jurisdiction of the Ladner Harbour Authority falling under the small craft harbours program. The harbour itself is quite a bit larger. When you were out today you saw there are a couple of marinas. There are docking facilities and commercial facilities all along that Ladner Slough area, but the specific area of the jurisdiction is limited to that small area outlined in red.
Moving on to the next slide, one of the interesting things relates to the management structure of the harbour. With respect to that, there is a close relationship between the Ladner Harbour committee, which are the volunteers, and the Corporation of Delta, the professional staff that provide the support. What we have done there, in an overview way, is outlined for you the way that structure works. I understand there is some interest in that and the issue of volunteer burnout. That's not one we have specifically faced in our community because there is professional support that can be drawn on by the volunteers who are running the committee.
Moving on to the next slide, I just want to highlight and go over with you some of the local issues. First of all, there are things that are working. There are positives. We think the community development model is an excellent model, and it should be retained, maintained, and enhanced. The support from the small craft harbours program for capital improvements we think is a good model and it's working fairly well. Also, currently with the financial model in the corporation, the volunteers aren't responsible for collecting that. We have a wharfinger, and the moorage fees and the accounting is done by a private firm, with an overview by our director of finance.
Those are some really positive things that are very good, but there are areas for improvement.
Moving on to the next slide, these have already been touched on with respect to some of those things. First of all, it is extremely difficult to manage derelict boats and abandoned boats, unlike the east coast. Furthermore, we think there is a need to empower the harbour authorities to remove the vessels.
Moving on to the next page, safe harbour access is really critical, and we need, through some organization, support for sustainable funding for secondary channel dredging.
If you move down to the next sheet, in essence what we've outlined there are some of the reaches where we have significant challenges with respect to the issue of secondary dredging. The main river channel is dredged on a regular basis, and you'll see the main river channel at the top of the slide. In order to get access to the harbour, which, you'll recall, is just opposite the community, we need to ensure there is adequate depth for the vehicles to move up that channel and into the harbour area. There are also a lot of recreational and other vessels that use these reaches, and they have to be extremely careful in terms of their access to those channels.
The next slide points out some of those issues. There are float homes along there. The slide on the bottom right shows a tug that was bringing in a barge and they've run aground. They are trying to dig themselves out.
Moving to the next slide, there are several issues I've highlighted.
Infrastructure funding has been discussed, and obviously it's important from a boat ramp perspective as well as all the other infrastructure in the community.
Communications are very important, particularly with respect to DFO staff internally, so that we are ensuring that the fishery will be sustainable in the long term and that there are adequate funds to pay for moorage and to keep the harbours going. Also, we just want to outline that the website that is currently available for staff and the annual conference are very important tools for staff to communicate, to meet, to discuss problems, and to share ideas.
The issue of climate change and adaptation was discussed. Our harbour doesn't necessarily face the wind effects, but storm surge effects and sediment loads are very important issues for us. Overall, the desire is to ensure a sustainable, safe, viable harbour.
Moving to the last page, these are what we've summarized as what we would call some of the recommended improvements.
First of all, we would suggest there is a need for legislative changes to facilitate the removal of the abandoned and derelict vehicles. We would also suggest that there be appointment of enforcement officers for each harbour authority to assist with that, particularly in the context of the current legislation.
Regarding secondary channel dredging, we need long-term sustainable funding for that item, to ensure continuous and safe harbour access.
There's a need to maintain—and you've heard this already—and enhance funding for harbour infrastructure.
We would think there could be opportunities to improve internal communications. DFO is a very large department, with many different branches, and sometimes it appears, at least to us on the ground, that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.
And assistance with local climate change adaptation measures is also needed.
In summary, I'd like to thank you for your support and for your interest in maintaining these local harbour authorities.
I'm Harvey Gifford. I met all of you this morning, but I actually didn't realize I was going to meet you again, so it's probably going to be pretty repetitious, as dredging is one of my main points here.
We have 93 vessels in our harbour, and 23 are recreational. We have a decline in the commercial boats basically due to the way the salmon fishery has gone. But we have no problem filling the harbour and are doing the municipality a service, I guess, by creating space for these recreational boats. But I will say that commercial fishing vessels have a priority, because they are what the harbour was built for.
I think our harbour is running very well under the harbour authority, as we've managed to put some money in the bank and vessels are paying their own way. We have a residence in the harbour now, which the municipality helped us get, and it's occupied 24-7 by our wharfinger. Of course, he has joint duties; he looks after the harbour for four hours a day, and then he has jobs he does for the municipality. It's good that we have him there; he keeps an eye on everything, and he's the one who collects the money for us.
We have the storage building. I think there are 16 lockers in there—or 17, as I think Simon said—which are all rented out to commercial fishermen. I don't know if you saw our pump-out station, thanks to the government, which funded it. We have that installed now to help keep the harbour a little cleaner.
I think we have a good relationship with the staff at DFO, but being one of the smaller harbours, we sometimes feel we're being put aside for larger projects and larger harbours, which may or may not be true. We would appreciate some funding for an electrical upgrade; our docks are in need of an electrical upgrade. We're badly in need of some dredging, as we have boats now that sit on the bottom at low tide. Everybody's talked about that.
Access to the harbour is another big problem. We have space at our docks for larger vessels. I think the reason we're not getting the docks filled up is that we don't have proper access to the docks. You can get in on high tide, but you can't run a business when you have to wait for high tide for your vessel to be able to leave the harbour. It's getting to the point now, as you saw, in the harbour today that some of the larger vessels need a six-foot tide to get out into the river—or into the main channel, anyhow.
There was lots of water down there today, but with the freshet running, it brings it up a couple of feet. It was a mid-tide, at 8.9 feet at 9 o'clock this morning when you were out there, so there was lots of water there. But it's too bad you couldn't see it at zero tide, with no freshet. It's getting to be a really serious problem.
I've brought a bunch of photos, with quite a few copies. There's a CD to look at when you have the time. When you're all together, maybe you could look at the CD. It is quite interesting. It's from a helicopter that took aerial photos of what's going on and how bad the situation is. There's also a map in there. It shows the reason we're having the problems we're having now. They redirected the river to keep the main arm open for freighter traffic. The main channel used to come down through Ladner, but then they blocked that off and directed it down what they call the South Arm now, and they put in all of these training walls, so that the whole flow of the river runs down. And we get the slow-moving water in which the silt settles and doesn't get swept out.
I don't know if you'd call it a map or chart, but there's a chart on which I've pencilled in red where all these training walls were put in to get that flow of the water going down the river.
I think I might have mentioned this morning that I'm not really too sure that it's the best thing for salmon fingerlings coming down the river, either, because—I'm not positive about this--with all that force going down the main river, they get pushed out into the salt water sooner than they should. It takes them a little while to adapt from the fresh water to the salt.
For some reason or other, there seems to be less water in the river now than there was years ago. I'm talking about maybe 30 years ago. I see it with pilings, the cut-off pilings that were cut off at low water 30 or 40 years ago. They're still there, but now, in low water, they're sticking three feet out of the water. I don't know that anybody can answer that question, but I definitely feel that there's less water in the river than there used to be. I've been playing down at that river since I was a kid.
I don't want to repeat myself too many times on the dredging. I understand that dredging all comes under what is now known as the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. We used to have three authorities: the North Fraser, the Fraser, and the Vancouver. Now they're amalgamated. I think their interests are all in shipping and trade.
I went to a presentation they had for harbour users, and nothing was shown about pleasure craft, float homes, or commercial fishing. Nothing. Everything was all about freighter traffic. I understand they're the ones who are responsible for this dredging. Well, every time a freighter comes into a river, they get paid for that. They get so much a gross ton for the freighter coming into the river. They pay their own pilotage fees, so the pilots aren't costing us any money. When they do dredge that river, they're selling the sand.
Now, I don't know how much money they're taking in from all this, but the whole dredging thing shouldn't be a direct cost to the government. They have to have some profits in there somewhere, I would assume. They're helping to pay their way selling the sand. They're talking about coming up with a dredging strategy. Maybe it will happen. I hope it will happen. I would say that we're going to be swept underneath the carpet, because it all fits into trade and freighters and what not.
I don't know if you people can help us on that dredging issue, but I'm sure you can put pressure on the powers that be. On behalf of all river users or water users, I just hope you can do something to help us get these side channels dredged to keep the water running.
I'm a commercial fisherman and long-time resident—well, as long as my life has been, anyway.
My family goes back four generations at the mouth of the Fraser River. From speaking to my grandfathers when I was young, I learned a lot of the history. My great-grandfather was a tugboat skipper on the Fraser. He named Calamity Point, up by Harrison Hot Springs. There's a lot of history.
They told me about the old route of the Fraser River. Harvey Gifford went to the archives and looked up some old maps. The very important part that Harvey touched on was the alteration of the flow of the south Fraser River. Someone in the past made the decision to make the northern part of the main river the main flow.
I live on Westham Island—you guys didn't get quite far enough down the river to have a look at it this morning—where I own an old fish cannery site. It's the first cannery site when you come up the river. Right in front of that site was the old main arm of the river, where the tugboats and the freighters used to go up. We had deep-water access for the freighters to unload their cargo, right up into Ladner Slough. The dynamite boat used to go up into Ladner Slough—I call it a slough now, but it used to be the main river—and that was in my lifetime, thirty years ago. I can plainly remember it.
Now they've taken these islands, and what used to be an island is no longer an island. They dammed off the top end of it when they built the Massey Tunnel. It stopped all that water flow from coming down into Ladner.
They've taken Kirkland Island and built a 500-foot-long rock wall up there that stopped that flow of water from coming down into Ladner. They've built the Woodward Dam. That stopped the main flow of the river from coming down into the Ladner area.
It's hard to believe that in this day and age, someone can actually dam the Fraser River and alter the natural environment of the wetlands, but it has happened. You can see it on any map you look at. It says the name “Woodward Dam”, and Deas Island was an island. It's insane how much the water flow has been altered down there.
As they've diverted 80% of the water flow away--roughly, because initially it was 80%--we were left with 20%. Over the years, as that 20% has slowed down, the siltation has increased because there's just not enough water to have the corrosive or erosive effect of the river flowing. In my life, the water in front of my dock.... I used to be able to tie up at a dead low water and have 15 feet of water. There's now eight feet of mud. This is not a small issue; it's huge.
The way it's going right now, Ladner Slough will probably fill in completely in twenty years. Once the flow stops, the sediment settles down. It comes out the main river, it backs up with a flood, and the sediment just settles down at the bottom.
As for the effect on the fingerlings, it's like Harvey said. We used to have salmon fry swimming by the dock all the time in the spring. You'd see it coming out. I don't know what the effect of it is, but probably one of the most vast areas of marshland and wetland of the Fraser Delta is in the south Fraser area.
Safety issues are just incredible. The boats tip over at the dock. We all have Dickinson oil stoves in our boats. They can tip over and cause fires, but who's going to come and put out a fire? There's no one there. The houseboats are lifting over. People have candles going. That's a fire hazard.
Right out in front of my dock, below the Woodward Dam where the old main channel used to be, it's high and dry. On the low tide, there's eight feet of mud all the way across the whole expanse of what used to be the main river. There are three training walls out there that used to keep the river flowing in the direction they wanted it to flow. They're so far in the marsh grass now that you can hardly even see them.
In terms of the channel, there's not a weekend in the summer when there's not a boat high and dry up on it and stuck for a tide. There are guys coming by the river in front of my house. They just hit that bar and they're stuck there for the day.
I don't know what can be done, but something needs to be done. Someone made a comment a while ago, and to me it seemed to hit the nail on the head. Dredging is like shovelling your driveway in a blizzard. Unless we get the flow of water going back down there to some degree, it's not going to do the job it needs to do.
We seem to have the great desire to bring all that deep-sea traffic up into the Fraser River and keep that one arm of the river deep. I can see that there's financial benefit to it, but is it really what the people want, to have that happen, when it's possibly a detriment and such an alteration to the wetlands out there? I'd like to see someone look into it to see what the long-term effects are going to be or how the environment is altered, because it is, and that's how it has been altered out there.
Another thing I would say, as representing fisheries, is that the guys are forever getting heck for prop-washing. I guess you probably all know what prop-washing is. When our boats go dry at the dock, we run the boats so that they don't tip over at the dock. Prop-washing—something that's not supposed to be there—shouldn't be a problem. We're silting in because the water doesn't come there any more, so we shouldn't be getting heck for doing this. I don't know whether there should be a funding program to hire someone to do the prop-washing. We're not talking about one mile of water; we're talking about miles and miles of docks and waterways that are filling in.
Thanks for taking the time to come out here to have a look around. As Harvey said, I really wish you guys could have seen it on a low tide. I had a great big dock that's 100 feet long and 40 feet wide, which on a one-foot tide looked as though it was going to break in half, about a month ago. If you'd come down there and seen that, and the one on June 4 that we have coming—it's a minus-one-foot tide.... It very well might. It is a real, serious issue.
I've listened to my colleagues, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Gifford, and we're going to sound like broken records here. I wish you had come at a low tide as well, because Steveston is no exception to this, when you see how low the channel is from the tour today.
My presentation basically was the tour. I can't emphasize enough the need for a dredging strategy, because it really is an abysmal situation out here. I'm constantly approached by our harbour users, the big boat users such as Mr. Holkestad. He represents many of them, who ask: “What are they doing about it? What are you doing about it?” And I can only do so much.
If anything, if you leave Steveston with any sort of message, it is that we need a dredging strategy and we need funding to make it functional. We can have the prettiest harbours in B.C.—Liz and I joke around about that a lot, but we do have wonderful harbours in B.C. and we're all very proud of them—but if you can't get to them, what's the point? For the functionality and for the commerce that comes up through the Steveston channel to the unloading station, in particular where Mr. Holkestad sails up to, it's essential that they can get up there and not be restricted to tides, because the risk is as well, as other big boat owners have told me, that if they're forced to leave the harbour, all those funds that go into the local community are just lost.
We're really hopeful that something can be done about this, that some funds can materialize.
I know we're not unique in this in B.C. I know from my friends across the country and from being involved with the NAC and so on that it's not a problem unique to British Columbia; I'm aware of that. But for the matter at hand right now, in Pacific region, I can't stress it enough.
With all the other problems in Steveston, for the most part we're doing okay. It's just the functionality of getting to the harbour. So for the sake of time, my presentation was the tour, and I'd like to save the other time for any questions that may be building.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. You're very generous.
Bob, I enjoyed the visit this morning.
You're talking to members of Parliament and government, and it certainly doesn't hurt to repeat your points to that crowd; perhaps after a while they might get the message. And if you think you have a problem with repetition, we've been at this for a while, and I don't mind repetition at all, because the fact of the matter is that you have problems. But we have heard some new things along with a lot of the older problems. Your problems with abandoned vessels and those types of things are unique to your area, and certainly not something I've seen anywhere else across the country I have been. So, indeed, you do have unique problems.
I want to welcome everybody. There are a lot of problems to discuss in a small period of time.
Mr. Bennett, regarding the south Fraser, I truly believe that when you start messing around with the flow of water anywhere, you cause trouble. You've told me, and Mr. Gifford has also told me, that it's caused a major problem that can only be handled by a large amount of money for dredging or for dealing with the flow of water in the south Fraser.
Could you give us, in a capsule form, what you think should happen? What could happen in order to increase your flow of water?
Also, somebody mentioned that in front of their harbour was eight feet of mud and that boats were getting stuck in the channel. It's pretty sad if they're stuck in the channel. So I'd just like you to elaborate on that, as it's important to get it on the record.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I took note, Mr. Fraser, that you speak rather good French.
I am struck by the inequities I see in everything that is presented. We travelled to the East and the Centre and today we are out West. There are similarities, especially in terms of the access fees to the harbours and docks, the service costs and the power of harbour authorities to force people to pay a fair rate.
Today, we are hearing about a problem which does not exist to the same degree in the East: derelict vessels. I am wondering if it would not be useful for authorities to establish fees by order in council in order to set base rates for tying a boat to a wharf.
As far as silting is concerned, obviously there are some areas on the coast where it is more an issue than in others. In Quebec, for example, the St. Lawrence has had such low levels of water that we had to open dams in order to get the ships out, otherwise they would have been stuck. We do not have in Montreal the tides you have here. I talked this morning with Mr. Fraser about shore erosion, which might contribute to the silting up of the Fraser. I wonder if anything is done to protect the shore against erosion which contributes to silting.
I am struck by another inequity. When we toured the harbour, I asked how the dredging was working. Somebody answered that $200,000 would be spent one year to do part of the work and that some other year there would be more funding to do another part. It seems to me that it is as if we bought ten clunkers for $200,000 because we do not have the means to buy a new car for a million dollars. But a million dollar car, if it is well built, could last for 10, 15 or 20 years.
Has any study been done as to how one could prevent the shores from eroding, with the technologies we have available, in order to reduce silting in a river such as the Fraser?
First of all, I would like you to tell me if setting basic fees by order in council would be helpful for small craft harbours.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'll address the issue with respect to erosion. The Fraser River system is a massive river system. It stretches from near Jasper over to Prince George, and then down to Delta. I don't exactly know the length offhand, but it's in the range of maybe 1,000 miles—1,600 kilometres—and probably a bit more. As well, there are many large feeder systems flowing into that river system. There are particular areas, particularly in the Cariboo Plateau, where the silts are just part of the natural system.
Since the river was first discovered, it has been known as the “muddy Fraser”. It's very interesting when you see the river where it meets the Thompson River. You have the beautiful clear water of the Thompson River coming in, and 100 metres downstream from where the Thompson meets the Fraser, you can't even see that there was clear water there. It's just swallowed up.
So we see that there is a lot of sediment that comes down in the system. Stream bank erosion is just part of the natural system, and stream bank erosion protection won't resolve that.
But it is every interesting from a climate change perspective. You've probably all heard of the mountain pine beetle. That has affected a huge area in British Columbia, and it's a growing concern. We discussed that a little bit earlier in terms of how it is going to affect the runoff patterns and potentially the sediment loads. We could possibly be seeing some of those effects already in terms of the increasing rate of silt that's being brought down the river, as well as in terms of the overall hydrology and runoff patterns in the river system.
So I don't think extensive foreshore or management erosion protection work would be feasible or cost-effective.
Maybe I'll just defer the rates question to Nancy, and she can add to that.
I'd like to talk about a little bit further up the Fraser, just opposite New Westminster. That's where the freighters come in. They're in behind one of these training walls. The training wall is here and they bring the freighters in behind it. They're pumping out of there constantly with a dredge. They're dredging it. I don't know if it goes on all year round, but it goes on lots.
They take it out and they pump into the river. They just spew it back into the river out here. That then comes down into the secondary channels below and silts them in. In the last five years, this silting in has been twice what it used to be.
The engineers have said this is the way to do it. Take it out there, put it back in over here, then pump it out, and then let it settle over in Ladner, Steveston Harbour, or wherever.
As far as FREMP goes, FREMP knows all about this. I couldn't bring a dredge in or a clamshell and dredge my two lots out in the middle of summer because there are fingerlings in the river. But they're dredging this stuff out of the Fraser port, dumping it back into the river, and letting it drift down the river to us. As far as I can see, there's absolutely no point to it.
In the main part of the river, all the dredging that's done there is done by a ship dredge. He picks it up down by Steveston, he takes it up further and dumps it back in the river, and a little dredge pumps some of that ashore because that's good sand. But the stuff at Fraser port is silt. Nobody wants to buy silt, so they dump it back in the river and we have to deal with it.
I used to have twelve feet at my float. Last year I came in on the eight-foot tide and ran aground ten feet outside the float. I had to sit there on bottom and wait about an hour an a half—the tide was coming up—before I could get in and tie up at the float. And I'm being charged for the foreshore that I can't get into part of the time. So on the whole issue of dredging, the complete lack of it is the problem.
Somebody mentioned $200,000. That's a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be here. Two million dollars might help, but unless there's some major funding and the harbour board doesn't put all the money they get into Vancouver Harbour, pretty soon you won't be able to get in at Ladner, which is where I live too. I'm already running aground in an eight-foot tide.
Anyway, I guess I'm getting a little carried away here. I wish I had time to answer some questions.
Thank you. That's fine.
I certainly want to thank everybody for their presentations here today. As I said, we've travelled pretty well coast to coast in Canada now, and everywhere we go, we learn something new and something to add to our study. Certainly today's visit is no different. The circumstances here are certainly different from those in the places we have visited before, but some of the concerns are similar.
Finding a way to address those issues is certainly the purpose of our study. Our plan is to clue up this week on our travels and hopefully make the presentation of the study to the House of Commons sometime this fall.
In the meantime, if there's anything you would like to add in writing, feel free to forward it to the clerk or to the analysts. Over the next while, if there's something you remember after we pass today or that may come to mind as time goes on, we will start the process of putting our report together over the summer months, so you'll have time to make that presentation.
I want to thank everybody for their presence here today. Thank you again for the tour this morning. We're finished up now, but hopefully we'll cross paths again. Hopefully some of the information that you have provided to us today will be part and parcel of our study. Certainly some of the recommendations that will be forthcoming will be ones you would like to hear, and hopefully they will be acted upon.
With that, I'll once again say thank you.
I find that we have added on another family member. Our clerk's family has arrived. Her brother Sandy has joined us. If we had to stay around long enough we might have gotten to meet her dad, right, but he's in Ottawa.