Good afternoon, everyone.
Welcome back to committee members who were here earlier in the day as well for a session.
Pursuant to order of reference of Wednesday, June 6, 2018, we are undertaking a study on the situation of endangered whales, M-154.
Joining us this afternoon for this particular session we have Area 19 Snow Crab Fishermen's Association, represented by the president, Basil MacLean.
From the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia, we have Martin Paish, director of business development, and Owen Bird, executive director. Welcome, gentlemen.
By telephone from Omega Pacific Hatchery Inc., we have Carol Schmitt, president, and Brian Tutty.
We'll get to statements by our guests with a time frame of up to seven minutes, and then we'll get to our rounds of questioning.
First off, Mr. MacLean, go ahead when you're ready, sir.
Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Basil MacLean. I am the president of the Area 19 Snow Crab Fishermen's Association. It is located on the west side of Cape Breton Island on the Gulf of St. Lawrence side.
I am a fisherman myself, 27 years as an owner-operator in the fishery. I represent all the licence holders in our zone. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a lobbyist. I'm not a very well-educated person, but I'm here, and I thank you once again for allowing me to come and speak to you about the right whale issue.
Just for a little bit of knowledge for everybody, our fishery is a snow crab pot fishery. We border the coastline of Cape Breton Island, and around us are other crab fishing zones, the biggest zone being the area 12 fleet. We're made up of all owner-operators. There are very small communities on the west side of Cape Breton, so everybody knows everybody, and we've always had a fear of the depletion of the biomass, of the stock, and how that would affect us, and we worry about the price in the markets and how that affects us.
Up until last year, we never expected that a whale would be the possible death of us, maybe, if that's the right word to use, but we're here now. You know, fishermen in my zone feel we have a moral obligation to save the whale, to save all marine mammals. It's not the fisherman's intent to have happen what happened two years ago. It was the dynamics of the fishery and how it was executed, and possibly mistakes were made, and hopefully we've learned from them and we're on the path to fishing with the whales, to co-existing with the whales. I guess that's the best word to use, because the whales probably aren't going anywhere. There may be more coming in the future.
The fishery, the snow crab fishery, is probably the major economic driving force on the west coast of Cape Breton. The lobster fishery is there as well, but the snow crab fishery is a very lucrative fishery for the communities, and closing the fishery, in our minds, is not an option. The fishery has to be maintained. If we close the fishery, we might as well as swing the bridge at the causeway, turn off the lights, and that's the end of it for our coastal communities. We don't have a big industry, so it's very important to us.
We took measures last year to protect the right whale for this year, for the 2018 fishery. We're all very happy that we had no deaths in Canadian waters. What factors were the driving factors in those deaths, I don't know. Which measure was the key one? I don't know, and I'd be doubtful if any biologists or professionals could tell you either. I'm just thankful that we did get through the season and that there were no deaths or entanglements, but I don't know how we're going to proceed.
Last week in Halifax I met the . He was down looking for ideas. It was a good session. Everybody has ideas of what can be done and what should be done. I'd like to say my ideas are right, but I can't say that.
I don't know that. Nobody else can say their ideas are right either because 2019 will be a different season, as is every season, from weather to tides to what will come for whales, to biomass in the gulf, how the fishery is executed, and the effort that will be there. So 2019 could be a very different year, but I hope not.
I just saw on the news this morning that whales are an international issue. I saw that Air Canada and WestJet have cut their ties to SeaWorld. It's not only the right whale, it's all whales. It's definitely an international issue.
I don't really know how to end it or what to say. As I say, I'm unprepared. Coming here today got dropped on me.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
My name is Owen Bird and my colleague is Martin Paish. We are here to talk about southern resident killer whales, or SRKW. We both represent the Sport Fishing lnstitute of British Columbia, or the SFI.
I will take a moment to provide details about our organization and about the sport fishery in British Columbia, and Martin will detail our concerns and observations about SRKW recovery strategy development on the B.C. coast.
The SFI is a non-profit association that represents the interests of 300,000 licensed, tidal-water anglers in B.C., and thousands of businesses that support them. The latest figures available indicate that these businesses produce $936 million in annual sales, and create more than 8,400 jobs and 3,950 person-years of employment, resulting in a $144-million contribution to the province's gross domestic product. The sport fishery is the single-largest economic driver of all B.C. fisheries even though anglers take only 15% of the annual halibut catch and less than 10% of the annual salmon harvest.
As you may know, the sport fishing contribution to the Canadian economy is at least $8.3 billion annually. The SFI are strong supporters of the recovery of SRKW and of the residents of the small B.C. coastal communities who depend on fishing and related tourism activities as a key component of their livelihoods, family, social activity and food security.
As such, Martin will provide specific details regarding our suggestions and approach to the SRKW recovery strategy.
Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee.
We would like to suggest to you today that the goal of having both a recovered southern resident killer whale population and a vibrant, sustainable recreational fishery should be the Government of Canada's stated objective.
As the recently declared, “In the 21st century, we don't have to choose between a healthy environment and a strong economy. They must go together.” We believe this is certainly true in the case of southern resident killer whales and the communities that share the environment with them. However, the government must make the necessary investments in chinook production and sound scientific research to enable this to happen.
The challenge we face is that so far, DFO has focused mainly on restricting recreational fishing activity in its attempt to address the problem. While no research has been conducted nor evidence collected that these large-scale closures are in any way effective in enabling southern resident killer whales to access more prey, the closures have created significant social and economic disruption in communities like Sooke on southern Vancouver Island, and threaten to exacerbate the disruption with the designation of critical habitat extensions. To make matters worse, these closures were implemented against the advice of both Pacific region DFO staff and a group of marine mammal scientists and fishery managers who convened in November 2017 to come up with solutions to address the accessibility of prey for southern resident killer whales.
We believe that both the whales and the residents of small coastal communities in British Columbia deserve better, and we are seeking your support in ensuring that they get that moving forward.
The unfortunate fact is that the recent proposal for the designation of a huge area of the west coast of Vancouver Island as critical habitat is based on inference, faith and hope rather than science, evidence and sound research. The data used to support the claim that this is critical habitat is poorly designed and lacks the certainty that is required to justify the devastating impacts that large-scale closures will have on the communities that depend on recreational fishing activity. We don't have time to get into the details of the data gaps and potential economic impact today, but we would be pleased for the opportunity to provide the relevant documents and available reports.
As stated, we believe that the Government of Canada can do the right thing for both whales and local communities, but it requires investment, a transparent reliance on evidence-based research and science, and a multi-faceted approach.
First, we believe that DFO needs to invest in gaining a greater understanding of what represents critical habitat for these animals. As stated, the current critical habitat extension designation proposal is based on very infrequent sightings and acoustic monitoring data that demonstrates that in fact the whales are only sporadically present in the area, but counters this with the inference that, and I quote, “It also includes several other relatively shallow banks including La Perouse Bank to the northwest which, like Swiftsure Bank, are among the most productive fishing area for Chinook and other salmonids on the North American west coast. It is probable that the whales make greater use of these banks than the modest number of documented Resident Killer Whale encounters might suggest—this is likely a reflection of the relatively low observer effort in those areas.” That is Ford et al, 2017, which is the critical habitat extension proposal.
“Probable” and “likely” aren't good enough for either the whales or the residents of the west coast of Vancouver Island whose livelihoods and communities are on the line. We urge DFO to invest in the necessary research to make sure we make decisions properly and effectively the first time. It is very possible we may only have one chance to do this right.
Second, we urge DFO to understand that cutting back the 1% to 3% exploitation rates that ocean recreational fisheries currently produce on Fraser River chinook stocks has not and will not increase the availability of chinook to southern resident killer whales. While imposing huge closed areas may look good on a map, it won't do anything for the whales. That same working group struck by DFO of the leading scientists and researchers in the Pacific northwest reached exactly this same conclusion in November 2017.
To address the availability of prey we urge DFO to reinvest in salmon production using strategic enhancement of stocks favoured by southern resident killer whales and to consider focused predator control programs on seals and sea lions that are targeting juvenile salmonids as they leave the Fraser and other important chinook-producing streams in the Salish Sea. Similar measures are being considered in Washington state as part of their recovery plan.
Largely due to budget cuts, salmonid enhancement production of Fraser River-bound chinook, which are the key stocks that southern resident killer whales depend on, have been reduced from just over 15 million in the 1990s, when southern resident killer whales were increasing in their population, to less than three million today. We need to turn this situation around, and we have the expertise to do this. All it requires is funding and political will.
While a much more controversial issue, the population of seals and sea lions in the Salish Sea has increased tenfold since they were protected in the 1970s and they are now estimated to consume up to 47% of all salmon smolts leaving the river systems that drain into the Salish Sea.
We suggest that careful study is required to identify exactly where the problems exist, and that they are then addressed accordingly.
Finally, we urge DFO to listen to its experts, and instead of implementing large areas closed only to recreational fishing activity, to use the concept of a moving protective bubble of a minimum 200 metres in non-refuge areas, and 400 metres in important foraging areas. This would provide the necessary lack of competition for prey, and the elimination, not just reduction, of physical and acoustic disturbance, to enable effective foraging. Again, this measure is being considered in Washington state.
Implementing this measure is a function of education and awareness amongst boaters, whale-watching fleets and fishermen, and is largely under way as a result of the recent move this summer from 100 metres to 200 metres. Anglers have once again been leaders in this area, adopting voluntary best practices that include turning off sonar equipment, removing fishing gear from the water and slowly moving away from whales if they are spotted.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to listen to us. We urge you to consider meaningful, effective and science-based solutions rather than measures designed to provide the optics that something is being done. Both the southern resident killer whales and the residents of British Columbia's coastal communities are depending on our government to do the right thing.
Mr. Chair, yes, we can, and thank you for inviting us to provide our knowledge and experience in support of the endangered southern resident killer whales and all the fisheries, all of which are dependent on healthy chinook populations.
I'm an owner-operator of Omega Pacific Hatchery. We're located in the centre of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the centre of southern resident killer whale chinook country.
My extensive work has been with the provincial fisheries, as well as past federal fisheries hatcheries and private hatcheries. My 38-year career has been dedicated to chinook culture excellence.
In 1987, we built Omega Pacific hatchery, situated on the southern shore of Great Central Lake. This site has a remarkable cold-water supply, and there are no fish upstream, so it is disease free. This was conducive to growing a one-year-old, stream-type overwintering chinook.
Our natural slow-growth process results in a more physiologically competent smolt, has the identical life history of coho and is consistent with documented findings of wild yearling chinooks throughout Vancouver Island streams. The chinook eggs hatch and emerge in April and May at half a gram, slowly grow for an additional year in cold-water conditions and are released the following April.
With me is Mr. Brian Tutty, a DFO habitat biologist having 33 years' experience, who trapped and discovered overwintering chinook in the upper Fraser River during the McGregor hydro project and Nechako investigations. He has written a report, and in it cautioned that stream-type chinook were likely underpraised as contributors to the B.C. fisheries and that SEP should consider this important chinook life history within its planned Fraser hatchery development program.
Since then I've been consulting with Brian, and Brian has been consulting with us and providing additional advice to Mr. Chris Bos and me, who, together have a project concept linked with the subject of this presentation.
I'll say a bit about our hatchery results. We've grown yearling S1s for 30 years, and in early 1996, our smolts were assessed as part of the co-operative assessment salmonid health program for aquaculture, which attained 98% survivals to harvest. Our freshwater juvenile rearing program is transferable to the enhancement program. We predicted marine survivals would increase to 5% to 10% compared to DFO's hatchery ocean S0 marine survival, which is 0.02% to 0.06%.
DFO previously grew 16 trials with S1s, but did not have greater results. However, in 2009, Mr. Paul Sprout, who was the RDG, directed his staff to revisit the use of S1s and work with Omega Pacific, with the goal of increasing chinook survival rates.
To date, Omega Pacific has produced 478,000 S1 chinook for 10 releases, with four complete datasets. Seven years are required from the initial egg stage until all the adults return. All of our S1 juveniles released were coded wire tagged and adipose clipped. Omega's projects and support of the strategy were only possible due to the support and financial contribution of many groups, which I have listed in our brief.
The adipose fin clip and coded wire tag pin are numerical pins. The coded wire tag is placed into the fish's nose, and as the fish are captured in the wild as adults, the head of any fish missing the adipose fin is removed, and the pin later read. The number, which is specific to that release group of fish, is placed in a Pacific-wide data bank. Therefore, we can assess where all the fish we have grown are captured: their date, fishery, number of fish captured and overall survivals.
To date, for Omega's S1 releases for the West Coast Vancouver Island and Georgia Strait, our first four-year results had greater than 5% marine survivals, a two to eight-times greater number of adult spawners as compared to the same stream S0 releases. An eight to 31 times greater number of coded wire fish were recovered, compared to federal production S0 releases; few jacks—
We have fewer jacks, low straying, and older and larger tyee—over 30-pound—chinooks have returned from the S1 releases.
We have a solution here. SARA outlined four objectives for the recovery of the southern resident killer whale. Our work is applicable to objective number one, which is to increase feed availability. Seventy-five per cent of the diet is preferably large chinook salmon. Many wild chinook stocks have been reduced to low escapements and have been unable to increase due to a low survival. Our hatchery demonstrated that a 50,000 S1 release will increase adult returns from a few hundred to over 1,500 returns in four years.
The Office of the Washington State Auditor, which assessed 25 hatcheries growing S1 and S0 smolts, recommended that only those hatcheries that had survivals with the S1s should continue to grow them. The Washington state biologists only use S1s to rebuild low-level stocks.
Current releases from DFO are approximately 27 million, almost entirely S0 ocean-type chinooks. Over the past decade, we've developed an effective strategy for rebuilding some of the stocks in low abundance. ln addition, when coupled with smolt pen-rearing technology, even higher survival rates are possible. However, no other projects have been approved, other than one S0 versus S1 survival experiment, in the the last two years.
Omega's facilities and knowledge in improving chinook enhancement is an excellent, well-placed Canadian resource that is significantly underutilized.
The following are our recommendations for a solution:
First, Omega Hatchery's cold-water facility, which is the only site with a proven track record, should grow S1 chinook to be used to rebuild low-level stocks, which will feed orcas and recreational, commercial and first nations fisheries.
Second, DFO should provide support for the costs to grow the S1s, including the current 209,000 chinook we have at our hatchery.
Third, representing the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition, Mr. Chris Bos has developed an orca food sustainability program over the past three years at Sooke. It is a 30-day estuary pen-rearing component that increases the size of S0s prior to release and doubles their survival rate. Chris presented an expanded program to DFO's regional headquarters just yesterday in Vancouver, and has identified as many as 17 potential project sites.
Fourth, a cohort of S1 chinook could be introduced to the same pens before the S0s arrive to imprint prior release. This double-barrelled approach is an immediate approach that would substantially increase chinook food available to the resident killer whales by having both S1 and S0 chinook released in the same spring.
Finally, Omega Pacific can grow one million S1 chinook annually for 10 different projects in the southern resident killer whale critical feeding areas. This strategy could increase the number of adult chinook if Chris Bos's program and Omega's synergies were combined. This strategy may also avoid having to close areas that would cause a devastating local economic impact.
Dr. Beamish from the Pacific biological station and Dr. Brian Riddell, from the Pacific Salmon Foundation have encouraged Omega Pacific, especially in this era of climate change—
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks very much for being here. I appreciate your taking the time to come to our committee to share with us some of your wisdom.
Mr. MacLean, I'd like to start with you. I appreciate your being here on behalf of snow crab fishermen. It is important that you have a representative at the table to share some of your thoughts on this stuff.
Being from the southwestern part of Nova Scotia, I know exactly how important the fishery is to our small rural communities. It is the backbone of many of these coastal communities you talk about. I don't have as much of a snow crab fishery down my way, but obviously there's lots of lobster throughout Nova Scotia and in Cape Breton and your area, too.
I'm well familiar with how lucrative the snow crab fishery is in your area. I'm glad you mentioned the Marine Stewardship Council certification and how important that is to the industry. I'm wondering if you could explain to the committee, from your point of view and that of the people you represent, what the MSC certification means to you.
We'll see how we go from here.
Mr. MacLean, Mr. Bird, Mr. Paish and Ms. Schmitt on the line, I want to say how important it is that you are here. This is among the most valuable feedback we can receive. Let me give you a couple of examples as to why.
Earlier today, we held another committee meeting. I'm not sure whether you tuned in to it. We heard that seals were not really the issue, or that predation management wasn't needed. That was one of the testimonies we heard. In fact, collectively, I believe all five witnesses said that wasn't really what was needed. They suggested we should harass the seals instead as a way to make things better.
The other thing that was mentioned—which Ms. Schmitt might take some offence to—was that hatchery fish do not grow to the size that would be beneficial. The product that you would grow wouldn't be beneficial in helping solve the chinook problem. I believe that's what was said.
That's why it's important that you're here, because if we don't hear from you, the voices of others carry the day.
Mr. MacLean, in the past you have gone on record as saying that some of the policy process has been the most unopen and untransparent process out there. You gave us hope today that there was some consultation last week, but are they listening or are they telling? I've also heard, during consultation in the past, that DFO was telling you how it's going to be.
All of you, do you feel like your industry has been under attack?
Thanks to all the witnesses for coming to provide testimony on this important subject concerning whales.
We've been told for decades that there is a problem with whales and that their populations have been impacted. Just looking at the southern resident killer whale, it was in 2003 that they were first designated, so we've known this problem was coming.
We've also heard from the environment commissioner, who has told us that collective governments over the years haven't acted on recovery plans—in other words, that nothing has been done—unless it hit the news. In 2017 it hit the news and, for right whales, that prompted the government to try to do something.
Scientists have told us now, concerning southern resident killer whales, that noise pollution and food seem to be the main issues.
Let me turn to Mr. Bird and Mr. Paish to talk about salmon production. That was one comment. You also talked about seal and sea lion predation. I think you stopped short of a cull.
Can you talk about your recommendations for salmon production, and can you also talk about whether the organization supports a sea lion and seal cull and say whether there is some evidence you could provide to the committee that culling works?
I can handle this question, Fin.
First off, as it relates to increased production of chinook as a way to provide more food for southern resident killer whales, we do indeed endorse that approach. We think there is a strategic way of going about it in that we need to focus our energy on those stocks of chinook that are available to southern resident killer whales when they need them. That's not a broad scale “let's make a whole bunch more chinook” program, but more let's figure out when chinook are there based on their normal migration timing and enhance those stocks. We talk about mid and upper Fraser early time chinook, for example, the 5 sub 2s that grow really big, those types of things. We definitely consider that.
In terms of actually within a reasonable time frame being able to create enough chinook to help solve the accessibility of prey thing, that's definitely something we can do. We've done it before. I'll state again that in the 1990s, when the southern resident killer whales were demonstrating increases in their population, we produced 15 million chinook in the Fraser River through hatchery production and now we're producing three. It's a simple question of getting back there.
As it relates to seals and sea lions, we are not recommending a cull. We're recommending a targeted, science-based predator control program. Here's why: We know that there are about 70,000 seals in the Salish Sea right now. There were about 7,000 in the 1970s. We also know that it's a certain number of those seals in specific geographic locations that are causing the harm to outmigrating chinook. What needs to be determined is what those specific individuals are, where they're operating, when they're operating, and then deal with that type of approach rather than a broad scale cull.
Again, speaking to Todd's discussion of the Puntledge, it's a similar program to that. It's not a harvest, not a cull. You only need to take out a certain number of animals at a specific period of time to be able to accomplish the job from a predator control perspective, not a market harvest sale perspective or that type of thing.
I believe you're right in your comments on not taking some of the traditional knowledge of the fishers or the people there.
In terms of the closing of the fishery, DFO's mandate is to manage a fishery, not to close it. It should be managed so that it doesn't have to get closed. In 2017, things happened, and it was closed. It's important for people to realize how we got to 2017. It was mismanagement, if I dare say that, that brought us to 2017 and all the deaths. There were decisions made about quotas and how that was executed. It was a perfect storm, I guess, that brought everything into the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the same time and cost the sad death of those whales.
If I could rewind the clock and go back, there were some proper management pools put in place for a lot of the fleets that were entering the snow crab fishery. It's a tough question to answer. A lot could have been done in terms of the length and scope of the ropes, which I think we curbed in 2018, but the fishery went on for a long time.
The right whales were in the gulf prior to 2017. Nobody should fool themselves by thinking that they were new in the gulf in 2017. They were there prior to that, and I don't believe we had any deaths. I stand to be corrected.
I think that because I did waste a little time at the beginning, I should move on to another question here, but I take your point. Fisheries should be managed so they don't have to be closed, but that's our history in Canada.
Look back to July 1992 when John Crosbie closed the northern cod fishery. Things had been allowed to progress to a point where it collapsed, and boom. It's an on-off switch.
Mr. Paish, with respect, you're calling for evidence in science, which is a good thing, but DFO quite often finds itself in a position of having to apply the precautionary principle. There's a lot they don't know. We could spend a lot of money on science and evidence, and they'd probably tell you they still don't know conclusively what's going on.
With the application of the precautionary principle on coho salmon, particularly as it affected the sports fishing industry, how would you have changed what DFO did, still providing for the whales and for the forage that they needed? Did they go too far? I guess you're going to say yes, but what advice would you give to live up to the precautionary principle in the absence of all of the evidence that anybody would like to see?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I act as the chief executive officer of the Canadian Ferry Association. Our association represents ferry owners, operators, and suppliers to the ferry sector in Canada.
Our members run a fleet of more than 160 ferries, employ close to 10,000 people, and generate an additional 20,000 jobs. We transport 53 million people, 21 million vehicles, and billions of dollars of goods. More importantly, we enable people to go to school, hospital, and work. We are often the only link for remote communities.
Our members have operations in the areas in which southern resident killer whales, North Atlantic right whales and belugas can be found. This means that our members have for years been interacting with whales. Ferry operators have for decades and long before whales reached the national agenda implemented measures designed to protect them. Here are some examples.
Bay Ferries has, since 1998, put in place an education and monitoring program. It has worked with the company to provide training for its officers in the identification of mammal species and whale behaviours. A biologist was posted and made daily observations for many years. Data was reported and made available to the scientific community.
If an aggregation of North Atlantic right whales was observed, ferry routes would be diverted until the whales left the area. It happened once in 20 years, in the Gulf of Maine in the early 2000s. This company's voluntary program, leadership and due diligence have resulted in the avoidance of ship strikes.
The Société des traversiers du Québec is participating in a project to measure the underwater sound emissions of its vessels and new ferries, specifically for belugas.
The dredging carried out to maintain operations is limited to certain periods. This increases costs and creates some risks for the teams as a result of the difficult conditions during these periods.
Marine Atlantic has engaged marine biologists to develop a marine mammal management plan. Its vessel crews maintain an effective bridge watch for marine mammals. It has organized a whale monitoring group that monitors location of the North Atlantic right whale.
BC Ferries has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of technologies to monitor underwater radiated noises. It has invested more to look at technologies to limit such noises, and in this case, the federal government can certainly play an additional role. Its crews are trained to avoid whales. BC Ferries has assumed a leadership role in efforts to save the southern resident killer whales.
Those are only some of the examples of what our members are doing. As an association, we recently signed a conservation agreement with Transport Canada respecting the southern resident killer whales. We are committed to do what we can to help the nationwide efforts to save those whales.
Mr. Chair, my wife and I have two little girls, Audrey and Cleo, and I want them to be able to know that these whales continue to exist thanks to a nationwide effort to save them. We need to save those whales and do what we can. We certainly as a ferry association and with our members are doing our part.
We support the general objective of motion M-154. This issue needs to be discussed and debated. Our operators are doing what they can, and we know that other sectors are doing the same. We welcome the involvement of the Government of Canada and think that its leadership in bringing together stakeholders is crucial.
My name is Sonia Simard. I'm here today on behalf of the Shipping Federation of Canada, which represents owners, operators and agents of those big ships, ocean-going vessels, that are carrying Canada's international trade to and from the overseas markets.
The vessels of our members call ports in the Atlantic, the St. Lawrence, on the Great Lakes, on the west coast, and in the Arctic. As such, we have a vested interest in the safe co-existence of ships and whales. I'll take a few minutes here to outline some of the concrete actions we have undertaken so far.
On the east coast, for the North Atlantic right whale we were part of the protection efforts that took place in the Bay of Fundy and in the Roseway Basin in 2003 and 2008. Since then, these whales have moved to other parts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which led to a terrible situation in 2017.
The death of several of those whales in the gulf over a very few months has affected all of us. The shipping industry has been affected not only because there has been quite a challenge resulting from the very sudden imposition of a large area slowdown, but also because we have a shared concern for the survival and protection of those whales.
As such, from mid-2017 to the beginning of 2018, the shipping industry got together. We initiated discussions and worked with the North Atlantic right whale scientists whom you heard from this morning in putting together a proposal for dynamic management. The idea was to protect the North Atlantic right whales where they aggregate, which you can see in some of what we've distributed, and then allow the vessel to navigate at the normal speed in very limited shipping corridors away from the aggregation when the whales are not present.
The proposal from the industry was key, and it fed into the dynamic mitigation measures that the federal government implemented in 2018.
Looking into the St. Lawrence now, for the beluga, again the shipowners since 2013 have worked with several partners to put together mitigation measures, including a voluntary slowdown, to minimize the risk of collision with several different populations of whales that operate in the area from May to October. These measures, which have been in place since 2013, have led to a change in behaviour. They have produced a reduction in the risk of collisions.
I know that Carrie will soon be addressing the west coast, so I won't go too much into detail but will just again underline that the shipowners, the operators and the ship agents have for the second year in a row delivered voluntary measures that are delivering noise reduction in important areas used by the southern resident killer whales.
These are, just to complement some of the examples from Mr. Buy, some of the actions that the shipping industry is taking to protect endangered whales in all Canadian waters.
We know, however, that more needs to be done and we are grateful for the occasion to discuss with this committee what the next steps could be. I'll take the rest of the minutes I have to underline some of our perspectives.
First, for us regulations are not the be all and end all. We say this because we think it's important to take into consideration that in some cases, voluntary management mitigation measures implemented on an industry-wide basis are very efficient, adaptive in nature and very swift in results, if you compare them with some of the heavy regulatory processes.
Second, although there's a body of knowledge to the effect that reducing speed to 10 knots can indeed reduce the risk of ship strikes, the situation is not the same when it comes to addressing the issue of underwater noise from vessels. There is an important knowledge gap there.
To give you an example, we are still finding information about the noise that can be allocated to different categories of vessels and how the footprint of a vessel may vary because of such factors as loading conditions or even such fixed factors as the type of propellers on board vessels or the shape of those vessels.
It is then a very complex issue. Efforts are under way to gather the data we need to address some of the knowledge gap, but in our opinion, we are not there yet.
I'm saying this to underline that in some cases regulations may look good on paper but may not always produce the best solutions, because regulations tend not to allow for real-time learning experience and an adaptive approach such as is very critically needed when dealing with underwater noise.
The third point for us is that a “one size fits all” solution is not the way forward. What I mean by that is that if you take the situation of the North Atlantic right whales in 2018, we are seeing indeed that a dynamic approach to minimizing the risk of ship strikes is producing effects, and actually from our perspective it is much better than the big box with a static speed.
There is a learning curve. We are still in the learning process and we have identified elements that could be improved for the 2019 regime. I'll be happy to elaborate more in questions.
Looking at underwater noise, again, if you focus on one speed and crystalize that speed into a regulation, you run the risk that it's not going to be an efficient solution, and we have learned in the last two voluntary measures trials, in 2017 and 2018, that there are different ways of accomplishing a target noise reduction. We need to learn more from these. Again a “one size fits all” approach is not necessarily the solution. Also, if we focus all our efforts on speed reduction, we may deny efforts in ship design, and that's where the solution really needs to lie.
A fourth point that's very important and is common to the problems of ship strikes and underwater noise is the need to know where the whales are. For that we need sustained and very efficient investment in detection technologies.
I'll give you one example. This season we are urging the federal government to invest in real-time acoustic detection in the shipping corridor in time for 2019, so that we combine acoustic detection with aerial detection in order to improve dynamic management.
My very last point—I promise, 20 seconds—is something that this committee has addressed before. You've said that we need to be nimble in our actions to protect the whales. We agree, and for that reason we think that the industry must be part of all solutions. And it's not just about consultation. I'll go one step further: it's about constructive partnerships, which are essential to address and find dynamic management solutions that work and are sustainable.
Thank you for listening.
Thank you for this invitation to appear before you.
My name is Carrie Brown. I'm the director of environmental programs at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority. We are the port authority that's responsible for the stewardship of the port of Vancouver, Canada's largest port. Our mandate, as set out under the Canada Marine Act, is to facilitate Canada's trade objectives, protect the environment and consider the impact of port activity on local communities.
Since 2014, the port authority has been leading the way in engaging regional stakeholders on the topic of minimizing threats posed by shipping to at-risk whales in southern British Columbia. This includes initiating the enhancing cetacean habitat and observation, or ECHO, program. This is a regional collaborative initiative that seeks to better understand and reduce threats to at-risk whales through advancing research and voluntary threat reduction measures.
The ECHO program works collaboratively with marine transportation industries, scientists, indigenous individuals, conservation and environmental organizations, and Canadian and U.S. governments. BC Ferries and the Shipping Federation are members of our advisory working group. The program is recognized regionally, nationally and internationally as a model for effective collaboration and evidence-based decision making.
The program has focused its efforts currently on understanding underwater noise from large ocean-going vessels. As you've probably heard, what we know about the measurement and analysis of underwater noise is that it's complicated. The ways in which different levels of underwater noise affect the life functions of whale species are not entirely understood. To add to this complicated issue, each vessel has a unique sound signature. Operational or design mitigation that may reduce noise for one vessel may not be applicable to others: one size does not fit all.
However, knowing this, the ECHO program has made considerable advances in a very short period of time in understanding vessel-related threats to at-risk whales, including the southern resident killer whale, and we have engaged relevant interests to identify solutions and implement voluntary threat reduction actions. For instance, we have been working with stakeholders to formulate, trial and implement voluntary noise action measures. Such measures include both slowing down vessels and shifting vessel traffic away from key southern resident killer whale critical habitats. Vessel operator participation has been very high, on the order of more than 80%, and has demonstrated that voluntary measures can be an effective means of reducing underwater noise from vessels.
The large-scale voluntary measures implemented through the ECHO program in the last two years illustrate how much can be achieved through well-designed, adaptive and voluntary measures. The ECHO program fosters an environment for innovative thinking in which those contributing to the threats play a central role in developing solutions and taking ownership of and accountability for the implementation of threat reduction actions. We believe that the ECHO program's collaborative voluntary efforts can and will continue to yield positive results when they are implemented.
The port authority has expended and continues to expend considerable effort to better understand and mitigate the effects associated with deep sea vessels on cetaceans, particularly the southern resident killer whale, within and beyond our jurisdiction. The ECHO program is helping to address some of the key data gaps that are a focus of the amended recovery strategy for northern and southern resident killer whales; however, the most recent version of the recovery strategy acknowledges that much still remains unknown about resident killer whales and their critical habitat.
We believe that before government develops regulations around reducing underwater noise from commercial vessels through such measures as speed limits, time must be given to better understand science before imposing actions that could have unintended consequences on industry or the environment. There is a need to undertake research and consultation with subject matter experts to adequately assess both the benefits and impacts of environmental threat reduction. Any proposed regulations must be informed by a full understanding of not only the impacts on whales but the effects on navigational safety, operational feasibility, and commercial and economic growth.
We believe strongly that government should also give consideration to the potential implications of applying regulations only in Canadian waters. Whales do not recognize international boundaries.
For geographic areas located in proximity to international borders, a competitive disadvantage for Canada could be created, limiting the achievement of environmental benefits. Any measures that are implemented must have coordination from both Canadian and U.S. governments in order to ensure a greater overall protection strategy. Transboundary voluntary and adaptive efforts will likely yield much greater environmental benefits.
We would like to see government consider all vessel types in its mitigation strategy, not just commercial shipping traffic. The Salish Sea has seen and will continue to see an increase in all vessel traffic, including that of ferries and of government, recreational, whale-watching and fishing vessels. These vessels also have the potential to generate environmental impacts and should be given due consideration when addressing the cumulative environmental threat reduction.
Government should also consider both the anticipated short-term and the long-term environmental benefits and implications of regulation. Although adjustments to vessel operations on water, such as changes to routes or speeds, may in the short term reduce the effects of shipping on endangered whales, the long-term solution to vessel noise reduction lies in the design of quieter ships.
We believe that regulating short-term threat reduction solutions, such as vessel slowdowns, may consequently stifle progress and inhibit drivers for innovation and longer-term change, which could include the design of quieter vessels. The ability to create an environment in which innovation is encouraged will yield much greater conservation benefits regionally and globally in the longer term.
Alternatively, instead of regulation, we would encourage voluntary measures that provide vessel operators with choices about ways to offset their effects. For example, vessels could slow down or maintain regular speed by installing quiet technologies through critical feeding areas or could make an investment in vessel quiet design.
Last, regulation must be adaptable over time. As our knowledge of both threats and threat reduction measures evolves, there should be an ability for regulation to also evolve and adapt over time.
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority commends the actions taken by the Government of Canada to deliver its national oceans protection plan and protect endangered species. We hope that we can continue to provide insight into collaborative and voluntary ways to reduce impacts to at-risk whales here on Canada's Pacific south coast and that these learnings can be applied across Canada and around the world.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.
I'll just take a moment to say thank you to the committee members for having me here. I appreciate it. As you can imagine, it's a long drive from northern Canada.
I'm the owner and founder of Lazy Bear Lodge Limited. Lazy Bear is based in Churchill, Manitoba, and has been in operation for over 20 years. It offers a unique lodging experience to its customers, which, along with various other activities, includes beluga whale-watching tours in the summer months. I also operate an organic farm and greenhouse on Hudson Bay.
I am also the chair of the Churchill Beluga Whale Tour Operators Association, the CBWTOA, a group of independent small businesses that operate beluga whale-watching tours in and around Churchill and adjacent areas of the western Hudson Bay coast. The tours operated by members of our association include viewing and interacting with beluga whales from the shore, aboard vessels and in small craft, including but not limited to kayaking and canoeing. I am also president of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary for Churchill.
CBWTOA has created a series of policies and protocols that protect beluga whales and endeavour to educate, inspire and communicate the value of this unique marine mammal throughout the world. A copy of our code of conduct, which governs our whale-watching tours, can be found at CBWTOA.com. This policy was drafted in part in recognition of the marine mammal regulations issued under the Fisheries Act as they existed prior to June 2018.
The town of Churchill is in serious economic distress. Initially, the port of Churchill closed, and then, approximately one year ago, the Hudson Bay rail line washed out. That rail line was Churchill's primary transportation link to the outside world. OmniTRAX, the railway and port owner, was in a legal dispute with the federal government over responsibility for bringing the rail line back into operation.
The tourism industry is Churchill's largest employer, and that industry is keeping the local economy afloat. The members of our association employ approximately 200 persons, including many indigenous persons. The summer tourism industry in Churchill generates approximately $10 million in revenue. Even prior to the commencement of last summer's whale-watching season, our members were accepting guest reservation bookings for next year. We're hiring and training new employees and making new capital equipment purchases. The Province of Manitoba has spent millions of dollars through Travel Manitoba advertising the products provided by our members.
Regarding the beluga whale population, I want to draw to your attention some facts from a Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat study issued in October 2017 and titled “Estimated abundance of the Western Hudson Bay beluga stock from the 2015 visual and photographic aerial survey”. This study illustrates that the beluga whale population in the western Hudson Bay area is thriving. This population is currently estimated at somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000.
The study illustrates that in the western Hudson Bay area, including the Churchill River and Seal River locations, there is a high density of beluga whales, which congregate in these areas during the summer months. There's a high density of beluga whales that travel up the Churchill River right up to the Port of Churchill. It has been estimated that there can be as many as 5,000 beluga whales in the Churchill River at certain times.
I have been involved in beluga whale-watching activities in and around Churchill for roughly 37 years. I can attest that beluga whales are very intelligent, extremely curious and highly social animals. Because of the high density of beluga whales in the areas mentioned above, and because of their natural curious and social behaviour, it is virtually impossible to avoid coming into proximity with beluga whales during our tour operations. As soon as our boats leave the docks, they are approached by beluga whales, which then follow the boats to any destination they choose. Even if we attempted to sail away from the belugas, they would follow us.
In all my years of involvement with whale-watching, I have never seen any beluga whale injured by whale-watching tour operations. Even though our boats use prop guards, these are virtually unnecessary because beluga whales, in my experience, are far too intelligent and agile to be injured by boat propellers. I have never seen any beluga whale bearing scars from a propeller injury.
Further, in all my years of involvement with whale-watching, I have never seen any beluga whale appearing to be distressed by the activities of whale-watching tours. To the contrary, they exhibit playful conduct and curiosity. We do not attempt to lure beluga whales by feeding them or inducing them in any other way. Frankly, there is no need to do so. As noted, beluga whales approach our vessels the minute we leave shore.
You're no doubt aware of the regulations amending the marine mammal regulations, which were registered on June 22, 2018, and published in the Canada Gazette on July 11, 2018. Attached to the amending regulations is a regulatory impact analysis statement.
The statement identifies the matters that were considered by the government when drafting the amending regulations. For instance, the statement refers to the “risk of injury through collisions with boats or being slashed by their propellers”. It also refers to circumstances that exist in other locations, including the St. Lawrence Seaway.
None of these considerations applies to the whale-watching industry in and around Churchill. As noted, to my knowledge, no beluga whale has ever been injured or distressed because of whale-watching tour operations in this location. As further noted, the beluga whale population is thriving in western Hudson Bay. Their numbers are currently estimated at between 50,000 and 60,000. In contrast, it is my understanding that the beluga whale population in the St. Lawrence Seaway numbers approximately only 500 to 600, and there has been notorious publicity regarding the injury or death of many whales in that area because of collisions with large commercial vessels.
The statement refers to Churchill, but says very little about the circumstances that exist in the Churchill area. It states that an “estimated 366 small to medium whale watching businesses were operating in Canada” in 2015. However, it neglects to mention that there are currently only three whale-watching tour businesses with boats in the water operating outside of Churchill. It also fails to mention that the beluga whale population in western Hudson Bay is large and thriving, and that there is no evidence, scientific or otherwise, which suggests that there is any harm or risk of harm to the beluga whale population in western Hudson Bay because of whale-watching operations.
Further, it fails to note that, unlike other parts of Canada or internationally, beluga whales in western Hudson Bay, because of their dense population, natural curiosity and social behaviour, actively approach boats in the water, including whale-watching tour operation vessels. It further fails to have regard to the fact that it is literally impossible to put a boat in the water in the Churchill area without immediately being near beluga whales.
It therefore appears clear to me that by expressly including the Churchill River, Seal River and western Hudson Bay areas as areas where whale-watching tour activities are restricted without any regard to the actual circumstances that exist in these areas, the amending regulations are extraordinarily unfair, arbitrary and discriminatory with respect to the whale-watching industry in Churchill, which is so vitally important to the economy of Churchill.
The members of our association possess over 100 years of combined experience of watching and interacting with beluga whales in and about Churchill. A copy of our association's code of conduct, which I have provided to the clerk, has been drafted to incorporate rules and restrictions that ensure the welfare of beluga whales being watched. I sincerely believe that the whale-watching activities in the Churchill area are beneficial to the whales and enhance their conservation and protection.
Thanks to all of you for being here today. When I put forward this motion, I thought it was important not only in my particular area of the country in Atlantic Canada, but certainly nationally when we look at the risk that we're all facing. It's about maximum protection and minimal disruption for industry, and I thank all of you as industry participants and partners in all of this, because we can't do this without you. I'll jump into my line of questioning regarding shipping.
Serge and Ms. Simard, thank you for our initial consultations and for supporting the motion. I look forward to seeing you in Beaver Harbour in the summer with your daughters.
I have a couple of questions. These are some of the questions that I hear from industry, from fishermen. They're specific to shipping.
For whales, do you know if the initial cause of death is actually ship strikes or is it potentially that they were already entangled or weakened because they could not find the prey to feed upon and that put them in harm's way when coming across a boat? That's the first one.
The second one, if I could ask you to speak to this as well, is on the research and development side. I know from the consultations I had with the shipping sector that in some areas, particularly with the southern resident killer whale, slowing down the speed of a boat in some respects can actually be detrimental, because at slower speeds there is a tipping point where it actually makes the boat louder.
Last, I'd like to hear your comments on how one size does not fit all. That is an entirely consistent message that I've heard from the beginning of the motion to now at committee.
I'm going to start with Serge.
I think the ship strikes were an issue for the right whales in Atlantic Canada, and on the west coast we're talking about noise reduction. I'll talk about Atlantic Canada.
I think Mr. Doherty asked whether or not ferries were responsible for ship strikes. The fact of the matter is that we have had no ship strikes on ferries in Atlantic Canada that were ever reported to me or to the government or through any of our operators. Indeed, we have an operator, CTMA, that provides services to P.E.I., as an example, and in 75 years of operation from the Magdalen Islands, they have had no ship strikes. We're really proud of that. The work done by our members has ensured that we avoid any ship strikes and we mitigate any impact.
Our members have implemented programs. Those are voluntary programs. I do want to stress that. Those programs have been implemented with the full participation and full happiness of our members, because they want to be part of an effort to save the whales. There have been no issues. The staff has been great to deal with, and there has been support. There has been support even from Transport Canada on some of the things and from Fisheries and Oceans.
We've just heard about the issues at DFO from Mr. Sopuck. I can tell you about the opposite experience at Transport Canada. Michelle Sanders, who heads the program for us, has been wonderfully responsive on the issues and very good. We've had no issues on that.
Thank you Mr. Chair.
Ms. Brown, we sit on this committee, and quite often we hear comments like, “Well, we shouldn't do anything until we know for sure what's going on.” There's something compelling about that, except we never know for sure what's going on. That's sometimes code—I'm not saying in this case—for “Don't tag me with something that I'd rather dodge, because it's in my self-interest not to see something else happen.”
So, if you don't want nasty government regulations coming in and messing things up, how will you apply the precautionary principle—which is what you should do when you don't know everything—to make the situation better on the west coast?
We know that the orcas use noise to find their prey, especially in the dark and murky water. You guys make noise, so what are you going to do about it? How will you apply the precautionary principle to forestall government regulations which may be far from perfect?