Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Members of Parliament, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Frank Pinhorn. I'm the executive director of the Canadian Sealers Association in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The CSA was formed in 1981 as an advocacy group representing the interests of all of our sealers. Our main goal was to try to redevelop an industry that was crippled in the late sixties and early seventies by animal rights groups. It's a big challenge.
When you look at sealing in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are over 10,000 licensed sealers. For most who earn a living from the ocean and are commercial sealers, about a third of their income originates from sealing. It's a third of their income. That's our setting today.
First of all, I would like to thank you for the invitation to be here today. I would rather have had some of our sealers with me, but the spring of 2014 has just concluded and some boats haven't been able to get out there yet because of heavy ice. From the bottom of White Bay right up to around St. Anthony, there's no access to the ocean yet because of ice. They tell me that the ice there this year was up to 10 and 12 feet thick. That's where that is.
Like I said, I would have liked to have brought some sealers with me to relay to you the importance of the industry to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Regarding Bill an act respecting the Marine Mammal Regulations, it is proposed that the distance to observe the seal hunt be increased from half of a nautical mile to one nautical mile. The Canadian Sealers Association have been requesting for years that federal Fisheries take a more stringent approach in licensing and monitoring the activities of those who observe the seal hunt. All too often they are there for the sole purpose of interfering and disrupting sealers who are trying to make a living in pursuit of a legitimate industry to support their families and their communities.
The Canadian Sealers Association fully supports the bill of MP Greg Kerr, which will increase the distance between seal observers and harvesting crews. It will offer a greater measure of protection and safety for both. However, this bill only applies to non-licensed observers. It needs to be expanded to also include licensed observers, who presently can venture to within 10 metres of a sealing boat—30-odd feet.
The present regulations put sealers and licensed observers in quarters that are too close, considering the environment, high-powered rifles, and powerful vessels. It is not conducive to any measure of safety or security for either the sealer or the observer.
Also, Bill is only an empty gesture, unless we take a close look at the bigger picture and focus on the status of the sealing industry today in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere. We can say with certainty that it is only a shadow of its former self and that we are bordering on an economic and ecological disaster that could play havoc with our rural population.
Let's look at what has happened over the last 20 years. From 1995 to 2006, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were taking 100% of the quota. For 11 years, we took 100% of the quota. Prices ranged from $40 to $100. They peaked at $115 in 2006. There was virtually full participation for all commercial sealers who wanted to go sealing. We had up to 2,000 boats out there in a given year. There were five processing establishments in full production, with several hundred employees. A key element to these 11 years was that the sustainable commercial fishing industry kept the seal herd—I'm talking of harp seals when I talk seals—at the 5-million to 5.5-million range. For 11 years they stayed fairly stationary.
Now, what happened after 2006? The world went into an economic recession, and it took two or three years for that to subside. But over the last eight years, we have taken 10% to 15% of available quotas—400,000 seals for the last five years, I believe—and taken, on average, 40,000 to 60,000 seals. One year, which was last year, we got 91,000. That means we have left almost three million seals in the water, unharvested.
Prices have ranged over eight years from $20 to $35. Just look at what happened before that: we were at $40 to $115. Participation levels are at an all-time low. We have one processing plant in partial production.
The harp seal herd now has increased from about 5.5 million to over 8 million. With a winter like we just had...which was probably the worst one we've had, they tell me, in 40, 50, 60 years. Sealers tell me that it's the first time ever in their life they went out to where the seals were and every mature female was carrying a pup; every one. The ice conditions were perfect for the seals. They got out there in the middle of the heavy ice and no one could get at where they were to.
If we total harps and hoods and greys, we have about 10 million seals. The impact on the ecosystem is devastating, and it's in dire need of correction.
For those who commercially harvest seals, about one-third of their income is derived from sealing. The guy in St. Anthony with a 34-11 boat, if he can get sealing in the spring and get anywhere from 900 to 1,200 seals, will gross about $40,000—four men in a boat. That means he can start the season on a positive note as opposed to being, as we say in Newfoundland, “in the hold”. It's so critical that they can pay to get their boat ready to go crabbing and shrimping and different things. They can pay their insurance. They can fuel up. It's a good start to their season.
The other thing that has happened here is that sealers are telling me that the seals they are getting are full of shrimp and full of crab; even young beater seals. We just saw a 10,000-tonne reduction in the shrimp quota, with snow crab quotas over the last five years, especially in parts of 2J and 3K, Labrador and down towards Cape Bonavista. The crab resources there in the last five years have decreased by at least 30% to 40%.
It's so critical to balance that ecosystem and to get the seals landed, get them into the marketplace, so that we can have a sustainable industry, a profitable industry.
We've been sealing in Newfoundland and Labrador for hundreds of years. On June 19, they're going to open the memorial in Elliston. It's about $3 million, and it's in honour of those who died on the SS Newfoundland and the Southern Cross. Sealing is just as important today as it was way back in 1914, and way back in the 1850s. It's a critical part of our livelihoods and our culture, and it needs to be sustained.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Pinhorn, for coming and presenting to us today.
It was an interesting presentation, and I have some questions that relate to the bill and to some of the things you said during your presentation.
We've indicated our support for Bill . There's a health and safety matter. The principle of that is that we want to ensure that the people who are prosecuting the harvest are not endangered as a result of the way the harvest is managed. We've indicated that.
I've been trying to get an answer from the department about why they've extended the regulations, what's happened that they felt the need now to extend the regulations, the distance from half a nautical mile to a full nautical mile. Have there been any incidents, or whatever? They've suggested there haven't but there might be, which is fine.
But I also understand when we began to make some calls and to talk to some folks, on hearing that this bill was coming, what the perspective was from the people in your industry. One of the things we heard was that there was a problem now with enforcement of the regulations as they exist. I think you mentioned it, that if this is going to mean anything, we're going to have to see regular and full enforcement of the rules. I wonder if you could comment on that for a second.
I worked with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Newfoundland for 28 years. We were doing research. One of the things the government can do is put in some funding. From 1985 to 2001, we had cost-shared agreements. We used to do research on the meat to deodorize the meat and to concentrate the omega levels. The seal oil capsules originated from that program.
What we have to do now is put more focus on the meat, the byproducts, and the oil industry. The oil is rich in omega-3. It's good for a food supplement. We can do a lot more work on the oil, the meat, and the byproducts. The fur will be a byproduct, as it is in the farm industry.
For the last 10 years, it seems as if we've lost sight of the fact that R and D is so critical here to changing everybody's thinking. Last year, the federal government came here and put some hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Northeast Coast Sealers Co-op in terms of doing more work with the meat. What will develop the industry is the sealers bringing in the whole animal to be used: the fat, the hide, the meat, and the byproducts. You bring in the whole unit. I think it would make it more palatable to the world to accept it as an industry, as opposed to going out and harvesting animals traditionally, for just the fur.
The SS Newfoundland
lost 74 or 75 people. They all froze to death on the ice.
Then the SS Southern Cross, with I believe 154 aboard, sank. The word is that the pound boards in the vessel were not in good condition and may have shifted. She was fully loaded and on her way across the southern shore and rolled over and sank, and she lost 154 people. Altogether I think there were 251 who were lost in one year in 1914.
John Crosbie is the honorary chairman of the group. He and some business people have a committee in place, of which I'm a part. Altogether they've raised upwards of $3 million. They're going to erect a memorial, and the name of every person who was lost in the sealing industry is going to be on that memorial, so there are going to be....
There's the story of Mr. Crewe and his son. His son went to the ice, and he was 16. The year before that Mr. Crewe had said he'd never go out there again. When his wife heard that the 16-year-old was going sealing, she turned to John Crewe and said, you've got to go out with him to look after him while he's out there in the boat and sealing. The young fellow froze to death in his father's arms. That's the story written by Cassie Brown in her book, Death on the Ice.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Hello everyone.
As you know, I am Trevor Swerdfager, Assistant Deputy Minister of Ecosystems and Fisheries Management—Operations.
On behalf of our minister, the Honourable Gail Shea, I would like to thank the members of the committee for giving me the opportunity to speak today about this private member's bill, which is Bill.
I have the pleasure of being accompanied by three of my fisheries officer colleagues, Mr. Jean-François Sylvestre et Mr. Yves Richard, both from the Quebec region, and Mr. Randy Jenkins, who works at central administration.
As you certainly know, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Conservation and Protection Program is responsible for enforcing the Fisheries Act, the Endangered Species Act, and more generally, federal regulations which apply to natural resources.
Given that our staff includes more than 600 active fisheries officers, they maintain a strong presence nationally. They often represent the department and even the government in many small communities from coast to coast.
As the tragic events that occurred in Moncton last week reminded us, people responsible for upholding the law, be it to ensure our safety or to protect our national heritage, accept tasks and face dangers that are truly remarkable, even if we often forget it.
I am therefore very pleased and proud to be here today with three of our best fisheries officers, not only to talk about this bill, but also to highlight the importance of this aspect of operations and our department's mandate.
Turning to the matter at hand, I'll also take just a very small amount of your time with a further couple of preliminary remarks. Simply put, in the fisheries management domain, particularly in the seal harvest area, the department really has two main preoccupations: the conservation of the resource and the safety of the people who are engaged in it. As my minister has noted elsewhere, our department strongly believes that Bill will advance us toward both of these goals.
As you know, the bill proposes a change to the marine mammal regulations to alter the minimum distance from 1/2 nautical mile to one nautical mile that an unlicensed observer can approach a person fishing for seals. Although, as you've heard, violations of this particular provision are infrequent, when they do occur and when people are determined to interfere with a lawful harvest activity, they put at risk the life of sealers, enforcement officers like those beside me today, and coast guard vessel crews.
The officers with me today have first-hand experience with these risks and would be happy to describe them to you should your questions for us happen to go there. We've also tabled with the committee a number of pictures that might illustrate some of the operational issues, and if the chairman wished, he could pass those around for people to have a look at.
Turning to the bill itself, we do feel that the changes it proposes, while modest in nature, would better equip us to manage access to the seal fishery and to better enforce or protect the safety not only of seal harvesters but also of our enforcement personnel.
As the committee will know, a vessel can cover half a mile in a matter of minutes, leaving enforcement personnel very little time to react to its movements. The new provision would give officers additional time to respond to incursions within the observation limits and Coast Guard vessels time to better manoeuvre into position. It would also afford us additional time to advise harvesters of the potential for danger and allow them to return to the safety of their vessels or to land, as the case may be. We feel that the safety of the harvesters and the managers of the fishery would be improved as a result.
Make no mistake about it, the department fully supports the right of people to observe the seal harvest. There is no debate, on our part, on that issue at all. Indeed, our regulations clearly allow for observers to be licensed. Applicants for licences are subject to a very stringent screening process to ensure that individuals are not intent on disrupting the harvest activity.
Compliance with this particular regulatory provision is very high. In our view, it is working quite well. We need to ensure that proper regulatory measures are in place to properly control those intent on disrupting lawful seal fishing activities. We feel this bill helps to do so.
As I said, we have plenty of expertise sitting around the table here in terms of past exercises, particularly those who I know may be of some interest with respect to the Farley Mowat and other incidents in the past and going forward.
We'd be very happy to take any questions you might have today.
We have a Type 1200 icebreaker, which is usually reserved for monitoring the seal hunt. It is a large vessel. On board, it has a team made up of six to ten fisheries officers and a supervisor. A helicopter is permanently based on it, whereas one or two others are ground-based. I will also raise the matter of monitoring within the Gulf, which is closer to my field of expertise and experience.
The location that fisheries officers are deployed to depends on the seals' movement. By movement, I mean the largest proportion of the seal population. That's where the hunters are found. Usually, hunters are almost all in the same location, which is in the Gulf's interior, depending on the seals' migration.
The teams of fisheries officers are deployed by helicopter when the ice conditions are satisfactory or safe. Fisheries officers proceed with inspections on board fishing and hunting vessels to ensure that seal hunt regulations are obeyed. They also monitor both licensed and unlicensed observers who want to move in closer than the one-half nautical mile zone. That is what we are here to talk about today.
The hunt can take different proportions. As has been observed in the last few years, and someone mentioned it earlier, the market is not very lucrative and costs are high for fishers and hunters who want to reach the seals' location. Over the last few years, the scope of the hunt has not been as broad as it once was.
It must also be considered that, during the three years preceding the year that just ended, ice conditions were not favourable. In that context, monitoring was not as important as it might have been between 2005 and 2008, when ice conditions were good, seals were available and the market was flourishing.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada developed a national monitoring plan for the seal hunt. It is a business plan that establishes the staff and equipment required. If the state of the ice does not allow helicopters to land, the ships on the icebreaker are used.
Mr. Sylvestre, I've read your statement. As I am the critic for my party for aboriginal affairs, I hope that you will forgive me if I sometimes take shortcuts.
If I've understood correctly, should Bill be passed and implemented, coercive power would be exerted first and foremost by your organization. For my part, I am a native of Manicouagan, whose shores cover thousands of kilometres. In communities along the lower North Shore, like Ekuanitshit, people still use seals for food.
I see that the situation still opens the door to an interaction. On the ground, we see that people can approach each other on the ice. In Atshuk, it is still relatively easy to reach these locations. Because there is ice, it's possible to get close and see seals with the naked eye.
Your organization would therefore exert power to uphold the parameters of Bill C-555.
You mentioned staff. Remind me of the number.
We have staff in Quebec that cover the seal hunt.
You no doubt already know that the Gulf of St. Lawrence becomes a hunter's playground during the seal hunting season. If the seals move north to the Magdalen Islands, sealers from Newfoundland, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and the Maritimes will go there.
We therefore assemble conservation and protection staff from other provinces or regions, and we adjust the number based on the number of hunters present on site. In fact, we will not mobilize a boat with 20 people on it if only two boats come to the hunting ground, as was the case in the last few years, given that there was not a market for this product.
Regardless, when it comes to staff, we are able to respond to these situations.
Yes. I came from a detachment where we had something tragic happen.
On the 10-metre rule, when I was going through training, we were trained that within that range if a person holding a knife or any type of weapon comes at you and you're carrying a sidearm, number one, your safety is going to be compromised and, two, the individuals you're trying to protect are also compromised.
But what I see in the pictures here is a lot of vessels, probably within more than a 10-metre range. Now, vessels can be used as weapons, to put it bluntly, and have been used as weapons. When you're on a vessel or on an ice floe, how do you guys feel when things escalate? Do you feel that your safety is in jeopardy? Have there been instances where officers have come close to putting their lives in jeopardy? Or have you experienced any losses?
Some clarification is needed.
The pictures submitted today are from cases involving the Farley Mowat.. These people did not have observer permits and were not even supposed to be within 10 metres of these places. There is a difference here. If you wish, we can speak to these photos more later on.
Let us talk about the people who have the permits allowing them to get within 10 metres of the hunt. Usually, we meet all of these people and experience has shown us that they are not all the same and they do not all have the same goals. There can be some confrontations between hunters and people with observer permits within 10 metres. Actually, this prevents the hunters from doing their job. They cannot work as well when they have a camera filming them 10 metres overhead or next to them, compared with when they are alone on the ice.
However, as fishery officers, we face the same danger whether we are aboard a crab or other fishing boat because there are many weapons on the boat. All fishers have knives and they often also have firearms on board. In addition, we often see fishers who are under the influence of drugs. And I am not talking only about seal fishers. The safety of peace officers must be ensured for any one of their duties. The most basic duties officers carry out during their day can probably also be the most dangerous.
As for the ten-metre distance, people have to undergo safety checks before being issued a licence. They must respect the strictest rules when they are on site. This does not eliminate the potential for an altercation with an officer or a fisher. Also, the hunters have weapons in their hands. There is a distinction between monitoring or a protest observation and observation that is more geared towards documenting than the hunt. Those with licences may be against the hunt but that does not necessarily mean that they will take radical action against the hunters.
On picture 7—I believe this is the one you are referring to—what you see is not a harpoon but rather a water cannon. The effect, however, is exactly the same. In the series of photos you see, the Farley Mowat
is going directly for the fishing vessel from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and is just about to deploy the water cannon on the fishers.
However, there are some things even more dangerous than water cannons. You will see a series of pictures of small boats. In picture 10, at the very left, for example, to the left of the yellow arrow, you can see the Farley Mowat. A few seconds before that, the fishers were on the ice, while the boat was getting closer. That is clearly within the half-mile. It is really quite close. I was onboard the patrol boat that day and we played cat and mouse all afternoon to avoid taking damage from that boat. We then stopped the boat. Of course, all the rules, agreements and approvals from senior management gave us the authority to end this violation. The ship was therefore stopped. I was the first to board the Farley Mowat to arrest the crew. They were led aboard our ship, that is the icebreaker. The Farley Mowat was towed to the wharf in Sydney. Charges were laid in the following days. The fishers' lives were indeed in danger that time.
As you can see on the picture, there are two fishing vessels, a red one and a blue one, which are the same size, about 45 feet. The people on these boats said that they were truly scared that day. Some told us that the Farley Mowat had brushed their stabilizer. Stabilizers are those long arms that are deployed on each side of a ship to stabilize it. The Farley Mowat had missed the stabilizer by a few centimetres. These people were scared. They were truly happy to have us there that day to put an end to that violation and allow them to see to their business and to earn a living.
I want to add on to what Mr. Jenkins was saying.
There is constant communication between people onboard the icebreaker who manage operations and those who issue observation licences. That is intended to ensure that an excessively high number of observations licences are not issued and to avoid having too many people observing just a few boats. This type of communication already exists.
Obviously, if someone with a licence follows a hunter, that can cause problems. For hunters, it is not simple to work in this type of context. Having someone filming them with a camera can lead to additional stress for hunters. Seal hunting conditions are not simple. There can be vast stretches of ice or small flows no bigger than three or four tables. Fishers jump from their vessels to the ice to hunt seals. Of course, it is not simple.
When we meet with hunters, we try to make them aware of this reality and make them understand that if they do their job correctly and if they use slaughter methods that are both accepted as humane and recognized by industry, observers will have nothing to report after their day of observation. We try to make them aware of this to ensure that they can still work safely. I admit, however, that it is neither simple nor easy.
That is what applies to those who have an observation licence. When it comes to those who do not have a licence, other problems crop up. We spoke today about people who clearly had no intention of obeying regulations and whose goal was to disrupt hunters activities. That is a whole other aspect of managing the seal hunt.