Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak to you about the current situation of small craft harbours in the Magdalen Islands, as well as related problems, from the perspective of our fishermen's association.
We are the oldest organization of its kind in Quebec, having existed for 32 years. Our members are classified as inshore fishermen with boats under 50 feet. We work in many areas of the fishery, and the issue of conservation is one we are passionate about: preservation of the resource, of course, but also the preservation of the core infrastructures which are the harbours.
Having said that, in the Magdalen Islands we have nine small craft harbours for fishers. There are 400 boats and landings average 20,000. We land 9,000 tonnes of products, of which 80% are lobster with a value of approximately $45 million.
The problem in harbours is one of congestion. In fact, the rate of occupancy of these structures is very high. In the Magdalen Islands, it is a problem that requires a great deal of maintenance and dredging. There are also structures that can be said to be rusting out, that is to say that their useful life is very advanced, if not to say near its end.
The dredging budget for the Magdalen Islands is about $800,000 out of an operations and maintenance budget of approximately $1.7 million. We are therefore talking about 45% of the budget, which increase constantly, because our needs, which we shall see in greater detail later on, are greater and greater. One must not forget that the Magdalen Islands sit smack in the middle of the gulf; it is a layer of earth deposited on a mountain of sand. You must understand the particular situation of the Magdalen Islands in the overall gulf area, in relationship to the urgent and growing dredging needs.
As far as I know, Quebec's operations and maintenance budget is perhaps $3.5 million, including $1.5 million for dredging. Therefore, if the Magdalen Islands are receiving $800,000 of the $1.5 million provided for the other regions of Quebec as well, like the North Shore, the Gaspé and others, we can see that we are eating up 50% of Quebec's dredging budget. The needs are therefore enormous.
We will give you an overview of the situation. Clearly we are here to describe the situation in the Magdalen Islands, but we are primarily here to encourage you to ask for more money. We know that there is a need, as I have said, not only at home but also elsewhere in Quebec. We need more money at home for dredging, but also in order to settle the issue of congestion. We need to see some expansion, and we also have needs concerning rusted out structures, that is to say structures that have reached the end of their useful life. We also have renewal project needs. Therefore, we need money and we strongly encourage you to speak to the people in charge of increasing the small craft harbours budget.
Very quickly, without being a numbers expert, perhaps only for the Quebec region—and I offer these figures parenthetically and I am talking about the situation over several years—we could easily use an extra $5 million a year. Certainly if we include all of the other regions in Canada, we would perhaps be talking about $40 million or more. In any case, we feel this is necessary to meet our needs because, as I said earlier, the situation is desperate.
As far as the situation in the Magdalen Islands is concerned, I will give you a rapid overview. Mr. Desrape, who is an experienced fisherman, would be pleased to answer questions more specifically afterwards.
If you look at a map, the Magdalen Islands are to the north and somewhat on an angle. I will start from the south and move towards the north of the Magdalen Islands.
In the southwest, there is Millerand. In this location, the general state of the infrastructures is rather good, but the big problem is siltation, which requires very significant annual dredging.
In the southest, there is the village of Havre-Aubert. We have been relatively lucky, because a construction project ended there in 2007. We thank all of those who worked on this file.
Moving now towards the north, we reach the central area of the Magdalen Islands. On the west side, there is Étang-du-Nord, where there is an aging infrastructure we call the COOP wharf. There is a lot of wave action in this basin, because of its extent. A documentary was filmed in this area. We have to decrease the wave action in the harbour and make the marine conditions safer by building a finger pied. Work is underway on this issue, because it is an urgent need.
Still in the central area, there is Cap-aux-Meules, which is situated on the east coast. The infrastructures are in good shape, the problem here is more one of congestion. There is a great deal of congestion in this harbour, which is a very important one. The harbour authority for the area has been asking to expand the harbour for several years now. There is a planning study also that is underway. These needs will come under the major budget, as we say in the departmental jargon.
Still on the east coast of the central area, there is l'Île d'Entrée. Reconstruction work ended in 2004, but there are still enormous needs in terms of annual dredging. At Pointe-Basse, there is also a big congestion problem. The harbour is full to capacity. There is also a significant siltation problem, which requires annual dredging.
A little more to the north, we arrive at Pointe-aux-Loups, on the west side of the islands. The infrastructure is rusting out and the wave action is significant in the basin, which forces the fishermen to bring their boats up onto the slipway most of the time, rather than mooring them to the wharf, because there is no protection at the end of the wharf. We would have to build a protective section at the end of the wharf. There again also siltation requires annual dredging. In 2008, we will have to make a significant investment into dredging the Pointe-aux-Loups basin.
Still moving north, on the west side, at Grosse-Île, the infrastructures are generally in good shape, except for the crib at the entrance to the harbour. The cribwork at the harbour entrance has crumbled significantly. This has also required significant annual dredging. The extension of the jetty at the entrance, once again to cut off the high waves, could help to somewhat reduce the dredging. There again, we need significant funds.
The final area, which is situated completely at the other end of the Island, on the northeast shore, is called Grande-Entrée. There is an infrastructure that dates to 2001, on the eastern part of the wharf. However, there is an old part that dates back to 1970. More than 50% of the regional fleet moors on this older part. We have replaced some of the sheathing over the course of the last few years, but there seems to be a depth problem on this section. We will therefore have to redo a portion of that sheathing.
Those are our needs, and they are enormous. Once again, the needs are urgent and require additional funds.
On that note, I thank you once again. Mr. Desrape will be able to answer your questions.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and committee members.
Let me begin by saying how very pleased I am to be here today to speak to you on the issues that face all harbour authorities on Prince Edward Island.
It has been my pleasure over the past six years to be involved with small craft harbours in my capacity as harbour manager for the Port of North Lake harbour authority, and I would like to address some of my concerns and some of the concerns of other members of our fishing community concerning small craft harbours in Prince Edward Island.
As members of the standing committee, I am sure you have been made aware of some of the shortcomings that Atlantic Canadian fishermen face when it comes to repairing and protecting our harbour structures from the rigours of Mother Nature and from the normal wear and tear of time.
Small craft harbours in Prince Edward Island is made up of 44 harbour authorities, only five of which have harbour managers. The bulk of the work at the remaining ports is left to a very dedicated group of volunteer boards comprised of fishers and harbour users.
My hat goes off to these volunteers, as I know the time I dedicate to trying to secure funding, to environmental assessments, to doing project proposals, and to the day-to-day running of my harbour. These volunteers deserve our utmost respect and support. They do all this while they are fishing their own fleets to provide for themselves and their families.
While the day-to-day running of our harbours is our main concern, one of the toughest tasks we face is the lack of funding given to small craft harbours to allow us to provide a safe environment for our users and for the general public.
On P.E.I., most of our infrastructure is fast approaching the end of its life cycle, which in turn means we are all fighting for the same replacement dollars. Our relationship with small craft harbours is very much a landlord-tenant arrangement, and we must both do our part to meet our commitments under this arrangement.
From the fishers' perspective, maintenance is a very essential necessity if we are to keep our wharves in a usable condition and safe for the fishers to access in their day-to-day activities. Over the past number of years it has been apparent that the funding provided to small craft harbours' budget is being cut, while the need for repairs to existing structures is increasing.
That being said, we were ever so grateful for the motion placed on the floor of the House of Commons by the member for the riding on June 6, 2006, to increase the budget by an additional $35 million, reinstating $20 million that was to lapse and increasing it by $15 million. We understood that part of that request was included in the next year's funding.
I understand that departmental officials estimated back in November 2006 that it would require an ongoing budget of $130 million per year to carry out the small craft harbour program, but in fact it is my understanding that the annual budget is much less.
You must understand that without the appropriate dollars, a job that would cost a few thousand dollars, not done when repairs are needed, can escalate to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and one such incident comes to my mind.
At the port of Mink River, it was determined that approximately $30,000 was required for a small maintenance project to repair a section of wharf. Due to the fact that it was not secured and the project was not done, an 80-foot section of that wharf collapsed into the harbour in the spring of 2007, leaving fishers with nowhere to tie their boats and no place to land their traps at the end of the season.
Now, six months later, the part that fell into the harbour is being retrieved by a contractor, and instead of fixing the problem, basically what they are doing is infilling with a bit of rock, up to the old, existing piles. I was to Mink River yesterday, and from what I saw yesterday and from what I have been told by various officials, it is not suitable, it will be totally unusable to the fishers in the spring, and, furthermore, if the other section of wharf that is there is left untended, it may meet the same fate and collapse into the harbour in the spring.
Small craft harbours officials tell us there is nothing they can do, as they have no budget for such a problem as this, which is outside their normal maintenance.
Tracadie harbour also comes to mind. Over 12 years this port, which is home to 19 lobster fleets and large mussel operations that require space for 25 to 30 vessels, has faced problems with insufficient berthage space.
Also at Tracadie, the boat slipway is only usable at high tide, so if you happen to be fishing and happen to break down and happen to have to go up the slipway, you had better pray it's high tide or you will sit until the tide turns.
Also at Tracadie, dredging is an annual problem, as it is with most of our harbours in Prince Edward Island.
In the spring of 2007, ice damaged a section of wharf at Tracadie, and to date only band-aid solutions for their problems have been offered.
The problems at Mink River and at Tracadie are not isolated. They occur on P.E.I. from tip to tip, and everywhere else in our Atlantic coastal communities. If we are to provide a safe environment for our users, more funding must be put in the hands of small craft harbours.
On Prince Edward Island, an increase in the minor maintenance budget, which now is approximately $700,000, would go a long way in helping to ensure that problems like the one at Mink River are taken care of, which in turn would result in dollars saved that could be used elsewhere.
Now, I am not saying that everything is negative, as we enjoy a very good working relationship with our colleagues at small craft harbours. They do the best they can with the limited funding they are provided. But let me emphasize that cutting funding only leads to more disasters, disasters that are predictable without proper maintenance. I can think of a few harbours—Graham Pond, Savage, Launching Harbour—where the problem was seen, the problem was rectified, and things are well.
I manage the harbour at North Lake, and North Lake is a very heavily used harbour. My harbour numbers—my vessel number count—is 92, and 93 in the spring. My transient population during tuna season brings the vessel count in my harbour at night up to 200.
I am a harbour that was made for 78 thirty-eight-foot vessels. On a night when I would have 200 vessels, they would not only be from Prince Edward Island, but from Îles-de-la-Madeleine, the Gaspé, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. We also have a fairly high aboriginal fleet that comes in because of our adjacency to the snow crab grounds.
We are also known as the tuna capital of the world. We've played host to a lot of world class fishers and provide a service to an overcrowded population for that period of time. And let me tell you, our port, like many other fishing ports in the Atlantic region, was not designed for the size of vessels that fishermen use today, whether it be for tuna, lobster, scallop, herring, or other species, because the method of fishing has changed dramatically since the early days when these ports were built and designed.
As well, there has to be ongoing dredging maintenance at some of our harbours to ensure that fishers can travel in and out safely without going aground on sandbars placed by strong tides or storms.
We are always at the mercy of Mother Nature, and sufficient funding for small craft harbours is essential for the fishers to carry out a safe fishery on Prince Edward Island.
In conclusion, the harbour authority program has proven it can and does work. While we as harbour authority members do our utmost to ensure that our harbours remain vital pieces of our coastal communities, we ask that you strongly consider putting more funding in place to allow each of us to maintain safe and functional harbours, for our use as well as that of the general public.
Why are breakwaters essential? Because in a number of harbours, the wave action is too strong, given that there is no shelter. Furthermore, you have to stop the siltation, and in order to do so, you have to change the currents so that the sand is deposited elsewhere than the entrance to the harbour. Those are the two main reasons.
In the Magdalen Islands, there are 400 boats, but they travel from port to port. We are not always assigned to the same one: in fact, you have to follow the resource. In the case of pelagic fish or groundfish, you have to cover several fishing harbours. However some are not safe, and there is more than one. Put yourself in the place of a fisherman who's coming in from offshore and has to enter a harbour when he is not sure how much water he is drawing at the entrance. The dredging may or may not have been done that particular year, or it may have been done in early spring. In the mid-season, the entrance may become blocked in an instant.
We did not say so specifically, but in several seaports, dredging needs to happen twice or even three times a year. At Pointe-Basse, among others, it is done in the early springtime, that is in the month of April. If there are heavy windstorms from the southeast afterwards, it is already blocked up by May. I am not joking. I saw my brother-in-law, when his boat almost capsized at the entrance to Pointe-Basse. He had to turn around. I had to accompany him all the way to Cap-aux-Meules just so that he could get shelter. That kind of thing has been seen and is still seen regularly.
We are 400 fishermen, but our fishery is competitive. Every spring is windier than the last, it seems to me. Obviously, we want to earn a living like anyone else, so we push the envelope as far as the weather is concerned. When the time comes to seek shelter, it is not always easy. Moreover, once we enter the harbour, we are not even sure of having shelter. Where are we to go, gentlemen?
We chose this profession of fishing because we like it, that is certain, but it is a profession that involves uncertainty and a great deal of worry. Our business income is uncertain, that we have well understood. Our fishing gear, which we leave offshore, is sheltered from bad weather, but there is one thing that we can neither understand nor accept...
Basically—I don't know whether you can see it or not—the front of the wharf, which was wood, fell off. The bolts let go; it just fell into the water. But when it was falling into the water, the pieces that were to replace it were sitting 35 feet away from it, paid for but never installed.
The sad part of it is that those pieces are still sitting there paid for but never installed. The repair work that is taking place right now looks lovely, but when they go to put the sheathing and the whalers back on, the repair job they have just done will all have to be torn back out.
Plus, if I were a betting man, I would bet that what they just did, and what I saw yesterday, won't be there next spring if we get one good tidal surge this winter. It will rip that rock out of there and put it in the harbour.
So as I said, we have very much a landlord-tenant agreement. As the tenant, we do our best to keep the grass cut, everything painted up pretty, and the whole nine yards. But the rooves are leaking and the basements are crumbling. If we don't stop putting band-aids on, and if we don't come up with more funding, all of the infrastructure on Prince Edward Island.... Most of it was built in the sixties and the seventies. There was a gap there, when there was not a whole lot done, and it's all coming down, and all coming down at once.
The scariest part, from where I sit as a harbour manager, is that I think back to Hurricane Juan, and I think back to the tidal surge we had on December 27, 2004, and I think of what would happen if we got Hurricane Juan times two.
But if the conditions were a little different than they were, and if the major part of that surge were on the north shore of P.E.I., where we have extreme problems with infill and siltation, the same as our colleagues in the Madeleine Islands, I'd hesitate to think what would happen on P.E.I. I would be very surprised if we were not to see, the next morning, a giant pile of toothpicks from North Lake to Tignish. All of the structures are in the same shape. They are not good.
We need to start taking care of some of these structures now. If we don't.... A little bit of money—I'm not talking about $100 but about $20,000 and $30,000—will save you $100,000 in the long run.
Clearly, it is all about safety, wether it is within the harbour or on the approach to it. It must be safe, and for that to be the case there must be water under the keel. The harbours were built many years ago; some are even more than 35 years old. Moreover, they were built to accommodate the boats of that time. Since then, boats have gotten bigger. If the boats get bigger, more space is required. Several of the harbours have become quite dangerous when you are inside. As I was saying earlier on, there is no more leeway in the harbour, and sometimes there is not even any place to moor. We have gotten to the point where they are using floating docks. As there is no more room on the fixed wharfs, they add these little floating wharfs, as we say. Unfortunately, they are not very stable. We now have rather large boats and several other boats around these small floating docks. In the wind, or in a storm, they don't hold. We are running the risk that the dock will come lose and the boats will find themselves on the rocks, on pieces of cement as we say. We fear that a great deal.
I will give you an example of the safety problem. In some ports, if we don't get there early enough in the day, there is no more room to moor on the fixed wharf. You therefore have to moor on one of these floating docks. There is no way to get there with a vehicle, we have to go on foot. Fishermen have to transport their baits, as they did on 1940, on trolleys and with two men dragging baskets weighing 150 to 200 pounds every morning and night. I do not think that is acceptable in 2007. It is archaic, but that is what we are experiencing every morning and every night in the Magdalen Islands.
The boats have a huge value. They are an enormous investment for fishermen. If the boats are not safe in the harbour, they lose them. You have to understand the fisherman. The fisheries sector has made enormous sacrifices to help the government deal with the Canadian deficit. I remember very well when the minister at the time came to see us and he said that the fishing sector had to do its part, like all Canadian citizens. Our permit prices tripled; you are aware of this, I do not need to repeat the whole story. Permits, insurance regimes, the wharfage fees that we pay today, all of that—and not only that, of course—has ensured that now the Canadian government has a surplus. I think that given that surplus, the pendulum should swing back the other way. The fisheries sector could at least have the right to the maintenance and renovation of its structures. The structures are overwhelmed because of the modernization of the fleets, the cost of living and life in general. It is the same thing as with highways, it is the same principle, but here, we are talking about the fishing harbours.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's a delight to have the three of you here from both organizations to provide some really strong and firsthand expert experience on the management and administration of harbours and harbour authorities in Canada.
I think we're all seized with the reality that the small craft harbours program is extremely vital to an industry that is valued at over $2 billion throughout the country, yet from an infrastructure point of view is facing serious deficits.
You pointed out that there's a lingering rust-out problem, an infrastructure problem. I can tell you that from all sides of this question, all sides of the House, we've heard directly that nothing affects fishing communities more than the quality and character of the harbour infrastructure. Sheila pointed out that the MP for Cardigan riding was extremely effective in making sure that case was made, as was Mr. Blais.
We had a wonderful opportunity to go the Magdalen Islands one year ago on a study related to seals and sealing. We also took Mr. Blais' request and guidance and looked at the harbours throughout the Maggies. We were very impressed with what we saw, but we also recognized that there was a serious deficit there in some of the infrastructure requirements.
Sheila, you mentioned that there were some significant shortfalls in the infrastructure, but you also recognized that you have changing fisheries. The tuna fishery, which is a highly migratory fishery, changes its character almost on an annual basis, depending on migration. Could you describe any changes in the patterns of fisheries that affect congestion and harbour requirements?
Mr. Poirier, could you do the same?
Could you also identify any other characteristics that you have your eye on for future years, such as changes in fleet size, vessel size? The Department of Fisheries and Oceans just came out with a new policy that allows a significant change to the structure of the cubic number—the size of vessels. Do you anticipate that a 38-foot vessel—or the 45-foot vessel, which is your primary customer—is going to change in the future? If so, how will it affect your harbour infrastructure and your future needs?
I don't anticipate vessel size affecting those 44 harbour authorities on Prince Edward Island. You have to remember that on top of those 44, we also have those four big harbours that used to be Transport Canada harbours, the deepwater ports, and most of the bigger vessels—the draggers and those types of things—are at those.
I don't anticipate our size getting too much bigger. I think maybe we've actually come to the balance-out point, because out of 93, I only have three boats left to hit 44/11. When they hit, it's going to squeeze me up for room again, but that will be it.
I think if I can come to the point that I can have enough room to safely berth those, I don't need.... I can always use extra, because I'm adjacent to the fishing grounds, but the answer to that question is no. I think that in a lot of the harbours in P.E.I., the boats are as big as they're going to get.
Your first question was on the methods of fishing and what trends may be coming down the line at us.
One of the things we have been looking at—but we really are stumped as to where to go with it at North Lake—has to do with our actual adjacency to the north shore fishing grounds and with an aboriginal fleet, especially, that fishes out of Surrey. We would love to have them. Other than their berthage, it would actually allow us to produce revenue for ourselves by charging them, as they are charged in other places, a fee to unload. It would be a percentage of a cent per pound to unload their crab. We are much closer to the crab grounds than Surrey is. We could save them anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours of steam time if they could actually berth at North Lake versus having to go to Surrey. Their boats are virtually the same size as ours. The problem is that we haven't got the facilities to put them in.
I have, God willing, a proposal in for an expansion on a bullpen, and if that were to happen, I could do that. It would in turn increase my revenue, and allow me to be a little more self-sufficient.