I call the meeting to order.
Hello, everyone. Welcome to meeting number 17. We are embarking upon a new study over a two-meeting period, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), on the relevance of the principle of adjacency and the owner-operator and fleet separation policies in the Pacific region.
We have four guests with us here today. Joining us in person is Joy Thorkelson. Ms. Thorkelson, it's nice to see you here. She's a northern representative of United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union-Unifor.
Also, we have Arnold Nagy, president of Local 31, joining us by teleconference, who is also from UFAWU-Unifor, and Conrad Lewis, also joining us by video conference from Local 31, UFAWU-Unifor.
Finally, we have Mr. David Boyes, director of the Pacific Halibut Management Association of British Columbia.
In no particular order, we're going to start now. We are going to have up to 10 minutes.
First of all, we apologize for starting late. We had more votes than anticipated, and therefore we're running a little late.
I'd like to remind the witnesses that after this, we'll have questioning in two rounds.
Let's start with Conrad Lewis. We're going to start with you, sir, from Local 31. You have up to 10 minutes.
I apologize, Ms. Thorkelson. What was that?
[Witness speaks in Sm'algyax
My name is Conrad Bernard Lewis. I am the vice-president of UFAWU-Unifor local 31, and I am also a general member of the executive board of our union.
We come to you today with a major concern over the closure of the canning operations in the Prince Rupert plant and the number of people who will be subjected yet again to major quality-of-life challenges. These challenges are created by one group, and in our particular case, it is the Canadian Fishing Company, owned by the Jim Pattison Group.
We are told that other industries will come as a replacement to our invaluable resource, a resource that we treasure, that we hold sacred. When there is danger to our source of sustenance, then they are not replacements; they are tools for destruction of our haun, our salmon, and we always stand steadfast against these types of threats.
In the north, we Tsimshian, Nisga'a, Haida, Haisla, Gitxsan, Wet'suwet'en, and Tahltan have always benefited from a shared commodity, haun, salmon for invaluable sustenance, sustenance beyond calculable or appraisable value.
Since time immemorial, we have lived by an unwritten, solid rule, a rule of adjacency. We Tsimshian and others could not go to Gitxsan territory and harvest from there, just as they and others could not come to Gitxaala and harvest there. We harvested in our own territory, according to adjacency. Then we travelled and traded with our fellow nations.
Through time, industries slowly but surely encroached on that. I use the word “encroached” because they built their canneries near our territories for easy access to the resource of haun, salmon, and they employed our people.
Through time, however, they started consolidating their operations to urban areas, closing plants close to our territories, so our people moved as well. We moved as transients at first, but then because of the monetary gain from our invaluable resource, we were able to buy homes and cars and live in those urban centres.
Now the Jim Pattison Group has moved to Alaska, using transient workers there and canning just as much and more as they have ever done. They are packing up our invaluable resource and exporting it to other places.
This committee has an opportunity to stand by our people, all first nations, and enforce a rule that has always existed here among us, here on the coast of B.C. That rule is, again, adjacency.
Please do not make a decision from desks in the east without seeing us, without coming to talk to us. Come and make a solid decision that works for all: all Tsimshian, Nisga'a, Haida, Haisla, Gitxsan, Wet'suwet'en, and Tahltan. Bring adjacency back to our people and stand proudly beside coastal first nations, as your government has openly stated it wants to do.
Wai wah. Thank You.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
My name is Arnie Nagy. I've been working in the fishing industry for 37 years. My family's history as members of the Haida Nation goes back generations. Since time immemorial, fishing has been important to us.
Growing up, I witnessed how big the fleet was here in Prince Rupert, how important the economic opportunities were that those boats generated for the people of Prince Rupert and for the people of the outlying coastal communities who came to Prince Rupert to work. Over the years, as DFO policies have changed, I've seen the reduction of the fleet to the point that now it's so small that it's even hard to recognize that there is a real fishing fleet here in Prince Rupert and on the north coast.
The reason for those changes was the monopolization of the licences and quotas, which were being bought up by companies such as Canadian Fishing. These companies took the right of anybody else to go back in and survive in the fishing industry.
The latest announcement of the closure of the cannery sent panic throughout the community I live in. The fishing industry here in Prince Rupert is the economic driver for many of the people. It's what helps carry people through the winter. You cannot make it on just one job here. That was what gave people their livelihood.
I've heard many people come up and say, “Well, then, the union should just buy the fish plant. Offer them a dollar and take over the cannery.”
We could. We have the expertise. We have the knowledge. We could get that place up and running in a matter of a couple of weeks, and start canning salmon. The problem is we do not have access to the fish, because the licences are all owned by one person.
As we see in the video, 70% of the salmon and 80% of the herring are owned by Mr. Pattison. That does not give us access to the fish we need in order to get that cannery going if we wanted to.
Millions of dollars were spent In the village of Lax Kw'alaams, just north of Prince Rupert, to upgrade that plant so that it could generate economic opportunities for the people of that native village. They can't get enough access to the fish, because they don't have enough boats that own licences to be able to go out there and catch the fish. They are forced to try to access fish from Alaska to try to keep that plant going, and in an off year, there's not a lot of fish there, so any of the economic opportunities that could benefit that village are gone because of the licences.
This committee must understand that those licences were passed down from generation to generation, from father to son, from grandfather to grandson, and they were all being taught. That fish caught in the north was always delivered here in the north. Now that the companies own the boats—the big boats, the seine boats—own the licences, and own the quota, that history is lost. This committee must take it to heart that you have the chance to save what is left of the fishing industry here in the north.
The processing of fish that is owned by the people of Canada should benefit the people of Canada and these communities. The boats should be owned by the people who fish in them, not the company.
The company should not be able to buy the boats and the company should not be able to own the quota and the licences. It is time we started realizing that we are standing here to try to defend not just the job but the very important aspect of protecting those wild stocks. If the people of Canada do not start seeing that they're benefiting from those resources, it makes it that much more difficult for us to stand up to defend and protect those resources.
These jobs that we've had in the past were jobs that could go on for time immemorial, generation after generation. The knowledge, the trade...the knowledge and understanding that we have on how to do that fishing could be passed down to future generations and give them some hope.
This is an extremely important issue. I understand that this might be the last time that we're able to talk to you about it. I implore you to hear what we're saying. Fleet separation is an extremely important issue to us. You've heard it from our membership, who spoke in the video. The owner-operator provisions.... Owners of the boats own the licences. License the fisherman. That is how you rebuild the commercial fishing industry, not by privatizing it.
I don't know how much more I can say to you to try to get it across, but if you could see the panic and the hurt, not just among our membership but among the people of Prince Rupert, or if you could look at the eyes of those people who are now forced to sell their homes because both of them worked in the fish plant...it's something we can't ignore.
You'll hear a lot of things thrown out about money and costs and things like that. Well, people, those numbers represent what Jimmy Pattison is going to get, but the numbers we talk about are actual human beings who have made a living off this resource through the fishing industry. It was the government policies of the past that forced us into this situation, and now it's the trade deals that force us to watch our fish get shipped to China for further processing and then come back and be sold in stores here right in Prince Rupert.
The owner-operator, fleet separation, and adjacency issues are ones that we take to heart. It is what is needed here in British Columbia, and I ask you, please.... I'm not a man who begs, but I'm asking you to give us that opportunity to keep this community alive. LNG is not going to create the economic opportunities; it's a finite resource. Our fish, our fishermen, and our shoreworkers are an infinite resource that can provide benefits for Canada for many, many generations to come.
I'd just like to point out that both Conrad and Arnie hold seniority in the plant. Arnie is a millwright who was just displaced. He's working now as first aid. Conrad was what we call a warehouse checker, whose job was to trace the cans as they come off the lines and before they are shipped out to the market, so he keeps track of them like a shipper-receiver. I'm a union representative. I'm on staff and I also hold seniority at the Canadian Fishing Corporation, but I'm think I'm getting too old to go exercise it.
The union proposes that a public, accountable, and transparent process be set up by the department. The objective would be to enable fishermen to become economically viable once again, to return control over fishing to active fishermen, to eliminate corporate control of our commercial fisheries, and to assist communities to retain fisheries income and processing jobs.
We would suggest that an independent panel be formed to travel throughout our B.C. coastal communities to talk with our communities, commercial fishers, and plant workers.
The work of the committee would be to evaluate the status quo in B.C.; to develop made-in-B.C. owner-operator fleet-separation policies that reflect the differing and presently existing fisheries licensing quota arrangements on the B.C. coast; to determine ways to assist active fishermen to acquire ownership of quota, and retired and non-fishing quota owners to divest themselves of quota in a practical and positive way; to recommend a plan and time frame for processing companies to divest themselves of quota licences, co-adventure agreements, partnership arrangements, and the like; to develop an adjacency policy for fisheries in B.C. that puts communities, local fishermen, and shoreworkers first and returns processing to rural coastal communities; and, last but not least, to investigate and make recommendations on other approaches, such as having further support for first nations, licence banks, fishermen's loan boards, and policies such as having community licence banks, and, most importantly, allowing youth access to licenses, affordable quotas for generational transfers of fishing opportunities, and access to commercial fishing opportunities.
The recommendations from this committee would form a basis for change.
This is what we ask of this committee. I'm never quite sure how committee structures work, but if you make recommendations to the government or to the minister, that's what we're asking for.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee.
I was made aware of this hearing just late last week. I had my boat in the shipyard, and we were pulling 12-hour and 15-hour days trying to get the propulsion machinery out and inspected by Transport Canada and back in again. I apologize. I didn't check out what I'm going to say here until over the weekend, so I wasn't able to get it translated into French.
I also have a couple of informative little videos that I'd like the committee to see at some point. Once again, they've never been translated into French, but maybe at some point we can get those to you in some form.
I'll get started here with a little context, a little bit of my background.
In 2016, it will be my 40th fishing season. It has been 40 years of pulling fish over the rail, mostly one at a time.
Back in 1977, I was working on a planer chain in North Vancouver, earning money to complete my undergraduate degree in marine biology, and I ran into an old high school friend at a bar one night. He asked me what I was doing, and he didn't seem too impressed with my employment on the planer chain. He asked if I wanted to go herring fishing. “Sure,” I said. “What's that?” That's how my fishing career started.
I fished herring from 1977 to 2007, salmon from 1977 to 2010, and I've been concentrating on groundfish since 1988, up until the present. That's tuna fishing, as well as trolling, gillnetting, seining, longlining, and a little trawling over the years.
For the first 20 years or so, I fished mostly out of Ucluelet because I was a shareholder with 30 other fishermen in the Ucluelet Fishing Company Limited. Although our fishermen delivered salmon all over the coast, most of our production came in to Ucluelet. Lately I've been fishing groundfish more, and mostly based out of Port Hardy and sometimes Prince Rupert, although we've delivered a lot of fish into Ladner on the Fraser River over the years.
I've had four different boats, and a lot of crewmen and women have walked their decks during that time, including students, relatives, and old friends, among them Pete and my nephew Angus, who are running the boat down from Campbell River right now. It should be landing in Comox any minute, I hope.
Pete and his two daughters have both fished on my boat. I went to high school with Pete, and to university with him. This will be our 39th season fishing together. The crew that will start winding the gear on in a couple of days for our halibut fishery include Pete, my nephew Angus, and my daughter Tiare, along with her boyfriend, who fishes halibut on his own boat.
In August, in all likelihood we'll be doing another research charter, the inshore rockfish survey for DFO. For this survey, halibut fishermen relinquish a portion of their halibut quota each year to pay for essential rockfish stock assessments. Charter vessels like ours are sent out to do the work.
My partner Judy and I both fished herring and salmon together for many years before she came ashore to look after our daughter. We live in the Comox Valley on the east side of Vancouver Island, but have fished the whole coast, from the Washington line up to Alaska.
My fishing business, Arbegar Fishing Co. Ltd., has been incorporated for some 35 years. Over that time, Judy and I have repeatedly mortgaged our house to upgrade the fishing business, then paid off the loans as we caught fish. As we've moved into new fisheries and moved out of other ones trying to keep up with the times, we've bought and sold vessels and licences and quota, and the company has been involved.
As I'm now a pensioner near the end of my active fishing career, I'm engaging in succession planning with my crew so that they can carry on the enterprise and support their families. Both my nephew and my daughter are buying into the quota holdings of the company year by year, as they can afford it. My nephew will be running the boat at some point, but not yet. I'm not quite ready to hand over the wheel.
I've been active on the co-management side of the various fisheries, sitting on a number of domestic and international advisory and industry boards over the past four decades. Currently I'm on the Halibut Advisory Board, which is an elected board that co-manages the halibut fishery with DFO and the Commercial Industry Caucus. I'm also president of the associated BC Commercial Integrated Groundfish Society, an entity that contracts with service providers to provide monitoring in the groundfish fisheries on the hook-and-line side.
The Pacific Halibut Management Association, of which I am a director, is an industry association, and we represent about 70% of the halibut quota on the coast. I am also serving as an industry commissioner to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. This will be my fifth year, if I am reappointed—I think it is in process—and while there I served two two-year terms.
I was part of the group of seven distinct fisheries and the processing sector that met for four years, in concert with DFO and the provincial government, both of whom jointly funded the process, to hammer out the integrated groundfish management system that we have been using here in B.C. now for 11 seasons. It is a world-leading system that some 15 foreign delegations have come here to learn about over the last half-dozen years or so, with an eye to adapting it to their home fisheries.
Individual accountability for all mortality resulting from fishing, monitored 100% at sea and 100% at dockside and validated by an audit of each trip, is the core of this management system and the key to its success. The fisherman is responsible for staying within the annual limits for some 53 separate species/area combinations if you include the trawl fishery and all the hook-and-line and trap fisheries, and since its inception in 2006, no TAC has been exceeded.
The system is complex and expensive, and at first fishermen were skeptical, but now the fleet is proud to fish within the most conservation-minded management system there is. I should point out that it costs me, on average, about $1,600 per trip to have the monitoring done.
The halibut sector was the first fishery to get marine stewardship certification in B.C. We could never have achieved this gold standard in marine conservation had we not made it possible for the groundfish fishermen of B.C. to move quota by species, by area, from boat to boat and sector to sector and even season to season, to cover their catch and their mortality. You don't always know just what you're going to catch.
To conclude, the way in which the B.C. fishery has evolved since the province joined Confederation and the current licensing and co-management structure to which many fishermen like myself and my crew have fully committed are very different from the evolution that has taken place on the east coast.
Allocation via some sort of adjacency to coastal towns or jurisdictions would gut the integrated groundfish management program. The owner-operator and fleet separation concepts are a century too late in B.C. Processing companies have owned vessels and licences and have been vertically integrated for many decades, if not for almost a century in some ways.
Most B.C. fishermen, like me, utilize some kind of corporate structure in their fishing business to sell their catch to processing companies and to move quota around as necessary to cover catch and mortality by species and by area, as well as to effect succession of the business to the next generation.
Unwinding all this and converting to a completely different regime is unworkable and unnecessary, in my opinion.
You will have noticed that most of what I said was focused on groundfish. That is what I am doing these days, and it's my area of expertise these days, although I did fish salmon for 35 years or so.
That's the end of my presentation. I'd be pleased to try to clarify any points on which I was unclear.
There's just one note I would like to make, though, from a previous presentation. The Canadian Fishing Company—and once again I'm talking about halibut, because that's the fishery I'm most involved in now—owns eight licences, which is about 2% of the licences, and they own 2.96% of the quota. They're a very small player in the halibut business. To my knowledge, they haven't gotten any bigger since the inception of quotas, back about 21 years ago.
Well, I don't know. That would depend on what the rule was or what the regulations were.
I think for halibut, Prince Rupert is still a pretty big port. Port Hardy is probably just as big or bigger, and then a fair amount of fish goes into Ladner, and not too much to anywhere else.
Halibut is landed, gutted, and head-off—better than head-on—and then traditionally and for the most part, it's entered on the dock and then repacked, and away it goes. It's primarily an I-5 corridor market down into the States. Most of the fletching takes place closer to the retail end of things. At least, that's my understanding. That's what I've heard. It's almost never canned.
If I can just make one other comment, though, on adjacency, it's not just where you land the fish. At least as I understand it, this is a possible extension.... Maybe I'm wrong.
Groundfish is managed on this coast through a bunch of statistical areas. Salmon is managed by a bunch of other statistical areas. The two systems don't really mate up, but the allocation of groundfish is by that statistical area. Some allocations are coast-wide, and many are for one or two or four statistical areas combined for biological reasons. The TACs are allocated by the statistical area, especially for the relatively non-migratory species, so that becomes an issue too, because the statistical areas that might be adjacent to this community or that community are going to have a certain amount of TAC available to them for species like rockfish or ling cod.
Right now the system is the ITQ holdings by statistical area by species for these kinds of fish, and when a fisherman goes out on a fishing trip, he may fish in a particular statistical area until he bumps up against a critical bottleneck species for him in terms of his quota holdings of that species. Although he may still be able to catch plenty of fish of other species, he's got to move on because he doesn't have that critical bycatch, so then he moves on to another statistical area and tries to catch some of his other fish out of that area. It's a complex system, and we're always moving fish between vessels, between areas, and trading and lending and leasing fish in order to stay within the TAC by area.
The way it's done today is not a system that's really amenable to just saying, “Okay, this area is off of this community, so that's where you've got to do all this.”
I can't give you the exact numbers because a lot of the information that the province used to put out in regard to canning of fish was stopped a while back because they needed three plants, three canning operations, to be going so that they could get an average. Giving out that information.... They would perceive it as unfair to Canadian Fishing just to release their numbers.
What I can tell you is that last year I ran the iron butchers, and pretty much every pink salmon that we got into the plant last year was headed, the eggs were removed, the fish was gutted, then it was sent into fibre totes to be shipped down to Vancouver and then to China.
As for the inland fishery, when there were fish for us to be able to pursue a commercial fishery on the Skeena, we were denied that opportunity. That fish came back down from the inland fishery. It was not very good fish, but the roe was taken out and the fish were once again headed, the eggs taken out, the fish were gutted, and then that was shipped down for freezing and also for shipment to China.
I want you guys to understand how it used to be up here when we were allowed to fish and we were allowed access to the resource. We used to can a million pounds of salmon a day in that fish plant. A million pounds. That fish would come into the plant and it would be in the can within half an hour. By going two shifts around the clock, we were able to do that. Because of all of the changes....
Back then, we used to have almost 1,400 people working in that plant. It was the largest salmon cannery in the world. Now we have nothing.
I still say, with regard to adjacency, that we have always stated as workers in the plant that we are willing to sit down with the companies to come up to some solutions to be able to process that fish. We're highly trained, experienced fish workers. If you want to fillet and freeze them and cryovac them, we can do it. There are all these missed opportunities. If they're not going to can here, we can use them to keep that attachment to the industry here.