First, thanks for inviting me to present to you today, and apologies for not being there in person. I was unable to fly to Ottawa today, but I think that in light of the recent carbon tax announcement, flying less is likely a good idea.
I know we presented to you on your study on Atlantic salmon, but I'll introduce you to the Ecology Action Centre. It is Atlantic Canada's oldest environmental organization, founded in 1971, and the largest, with 35 staff and 4,700 members.
We're based in Halifax in one of the greenest office buildings in Canada, and we work at the scale where we can make a positive change to the environment for fisheries and marine conservation. This means we work regionally, nationally, and internationally.
We've been active on fisheries issues since the early 1990s. We're currently the only civil society organization from Canada that attends international fisheries meetings like NAFO and ICCAT, as well as related United Nations meetings. This gives us a unique perspective on how Canada manages its marine resources here at home.
Our marine work began immediately following the groundfish moratorium, when we realized that there needed to be an environmental voice for Atlantic Canadian fisheries. Perhaps we should have started about 20 years earlier, but hindsight is 20/20.
We work on fisheries policy, research, and advocacy. We work together with fishermen to increase the value of their catch, promote low-impact gear types, and ensure that these types of fisheries are rewarded in the marketplace. Our vision is a healthy ocean and vibrant coastal communities. We have published numerous reports over the past years, for example, guidance on how to fix the crisis in the groundfish fishery, a national review of fishing gear impacts, and how to create a seafood value chain.
Last year we published a paper in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, together with scientists from the University of Victoria, entitled “Missing the Safety Net”, which outlined the relative lack of protections under the Fisheries Act for at-risk marine fish in Canada that either have been listed under the Species at Risk Act or where a decision for their protection has not been made. Cod falls under this set of species.
On a personal note—and I think this is relevant—I've been working for the Ecology Action Centre full time since 2006 and on and off before that since 1995. I completed my Ph.D. with the late Ransom Myers, who some of you might remember. He died about nine years ago. He left DFO after the cod collapse, partly out of frustration that science was not being followed, but largely because he had violated a gag order put on him by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which did not allow him to speak publicly as a scientist. Luckily, we no longer muzzle our scientists.
I recently co-authored a report with my colleague Julia Baum, entitled “Canada's Marine Fisheries: Status, Recovery Potential and Pathways to Success”, which I believe you heard about earlier this week during a presentation from Oceana Canada.
Finally, I was born in Newfoundland. My father fished on the last two years of the Portuguese white fleet in the early 1970s. These are the last sailing vessels that fished on the Grand Banks for cod.
I want to outline a few gaps in the conservation for northern cod. It's rare, with a natural resource that we have so badly mismanaged, that we get a second chance.
We have a second chance with northern cod, but it will require a full admission of the mistakes we have made in the past and a commitment to not repeating them. Notably, cod recovery—and I'm sure you heard this in Newfoundland—is mired in the complexities of a much more valuable invertebrate-based fishery over the last three decades, as well as the ecosystem conundrum that we cannot recover shrimp and cod at the same time.
While fisheries science and management tools in Canada have arguably improved considerably since the cod collapse, the release yesterday of the Auditor General's report on sustaining Canada's fisheries makes it very clear that we have a way to go in implementing scientific knowledge and modern fisheries management tools.
Canada was instrumental in the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, which includes, among other provisions, an obligation of compatibility in management of fisheries in state waters. We are not currently living up to the ambitions of this international agreement. I'd like to give a few specific examples, some of which you've likely heard already, but northern cod does not yet have a rebuilding plan, 25 years after its collapse.
First, despite the development of the sustainable fisheries framework and its suite of policies that cover the application of the precautionary approach, rebuilding plans, bycatch, and the protection of sensitive benthic areas, to name a few, we don't have a rebuilding cod. Indeed, it has taken the efforts of an environmental group, WWF-Canada, to start fisheries improvement projects for both 3Ps cod and 2J3KL cod.
Second, there's not a complete set of reference points. While efforts have been made to establish science-based reference points, there is no upper stock reference point, and increasingly, the limit reference point is seen as a target. While the stock is slowly increasing toward the limit reference point, it is nowhere near what is required to sustain a fishery. There is no harvest control rule in place. This is a continued example of shifting baselines.
Northern cod stock was reduced by 99%. Recovering, as an example, to 10% of that former biomass is not a responsible management target. As of the latest assessment, of which I'm sure you are all aware, northern cod is only at 35% of its limit reference point. It is considered to be in the critical zone of Canada's precautionary approach framework.
Third, as an example, in 2011 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, which comprises government-appointed scientists, many of them on the marine fishes specialist subcommittee or DFO or former DFO scientists, assessed northern cod as endangered. If cod were listed under the Species at Risk Act, there would be a prohibition on catch, no fishery allowed under its current status. Yet we rarely make the decision to list commercially targeted fisheries under the Species at Risk Act because of socio-economic concerns. We have some sympathy for that, but a do-not-list decision has become an excuse to do nothing.
Northern cod collapsed 25 years ago, and it's astounding in my view that this is the first time that members of Parliament are conducting a holistic review. I urge you to do what you can through this process to ensure that Canadians can be proud of the recovery of northern cod in the years to come, rather than feel ashamed of our systemic failure.
Additionally, I understand you're beginning your study of the Fisheries Act at the end of the month and I look forward to speaking to you at that time, but I encourage you to think broadly about the scope of that review and how it might be applicable to the northern cod. Our fisheries deserve better protection than they are receiving under the current act.
Moving on to the economic benefits of a recovered cod fishery, as you know the collapse of the northern cod was devastating for Newfoundland and its coastal communities. It required huge amounts of investment by the federal government in the TAGS program, social assistance, and retraining. Had we managed the cod fishery properly, we could have spent that money elsewhere. It's also very difficult to market an endangered species, and for now that is what the northern cod is. To maximize socio-economic benefit for coastal communities, this needs to be rectified.
Small-scale and low-impact gear types should be used and marketed as such. There's a growing demand for place-based traceable seafood, and northern cod can potentially benefit from this if it's managed properly. If cod's recovering, let's ensure the maximum benefit to the Canadian public and those communities with adjacency to the fishery.
To conclude on a very practical note, I have several recommendations that we hope will influence not only your process, but also the ultimate recovery of northern cod, as well as the other 15 marine fish populations identified by the Auditor General as in the critical zone, 12 of which have no rebuilding plan.
Our recommendations in order of immediacy are as follows. First, complete a rebuilding plan. A robust peer-reviewed rebuilding plan for northern cod should be a government priority. Consideration should be given to the lowest impact gear type. We know what high-efficiency bottom trawlers can do to the most abundant fish population on earth.
Second, request a reassessment by COSEWIC. It should be tasked with reassessing northern cod so we are not in the position of increasing quota, marketing, etc., for an endangered species. This puts DFO in a direct conflict of interest with itself, which it is in currently with 3Ps cod, which is considered endangered, but is also certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
Third, modernize the Fisheries Act. Our Fisheries Act must be modernized to include, at a minimum, the following concepts.
First is key principles of modern fisheries management, including the precautionary approach and ecosystem approach, which are critical in terms of ensuring protection of key species and the ecosystems upon which they depend, including foreign species. I'm sure you have heard much about the capelin in Newfoundland.
Second is legal obligations for rebuilding depleted fish populations with targets and timelines. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in the United States does a good job of this and could be a model. Third is a legal obligation to report on the status of our fish population to Parliament and the Canadian public. It might strike you as odd that the only public reporting on sustainability of our fish stocks is being done by Environment and Climate Change Canada and not by DFO.
Fourth is adequately resourced fisheries management with a more of a view towards long-term sustainability and less towards short-term economic gains. Fifth is support and direction for the good people who work for the department to rebuild our fish populations. Proper resourcing would mean that the next Auditor General's report would be much more promising in terms of how DFO is achieving its mandate.
Finally, we need to rebuild public trust. The cod collapse, the recent Auditor General's report, the general sense that DFO is not doing its job, and the lack of transparency in decision-making data availability and management plans have all led to a significant erosion of public trust. Our fisheries are a public resource in Canada. They contribute to biodiversity, ecosystem function, economies, and our cultures. A commitment to doing things right with northern cod would go a long way to rebuilding the public trust of Canadians in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and in the Government of Canada in general.
I am Andrew Bouzan. I am the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Wildlife Federation, the largest and the oldest conservation group in Newfoundland and Labrador, founded in 1962. We have a wide range of groups and affiliated organizations, not only across this province but across the country as well.
I want to talk about some key points here today, a number of which were just discussed. Not to give too much of a history lesson, we all know what happened in the 1992 cod moratorium and the devastating impact that it had on this province—the largest Canadian layoff in history—due to clear mismanagement and governance of this resource.
First of all, I'd like to thank the committee for pulling this off here and inviting me to speak on behalf of the wildlife federation.
The main issue that I want to talk about is the cod food fishery in the province, one which many people near and far feel is not fair or equal, not nearly to any other fishery in any other province in this country. We get less time allowed on the water than any other province. We get less allowable catch than any other person in any other province, stretching all the way across the country.
Up to date this year, we have exactly 46 days on the water, up two whole weeks from what it used to be previously. Thankfully, there was some sign of good faith on behalf of the new federal government to allow us extra time on the water. At the first meeting with the new government I had, with back in January, I had a good sense that there might be a better relationship built between this province and the federal government, in particular the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Of the key issues that I want to highlight here today, the first would be the issue of food security and food sovereignty in Newfoundland and Labrador.
First of all, the vast majority of food that we get in this province, over 90%, is either flown in here, shipped over here, and trucked across the province. On this island, which is the 15th biggest island in the world, we have less than 5% of agriculturally viable land. Getting access to food or fresh produce here can be very difficult at times, and even during certain times of the year there are communities that can be completely cut off from boats and deliveries into certain rural communities.
The second issue I want to talk about is safety, safety on the water on the north Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, even this year past, we lost lives at sea. During this limited time that we're allocated for the fisheries, there could be high winds or there could be high tides. The northwest Atlantic Ocean is unforgiving. We all know this here over the years of tragic incidents.
But the main issue, which I highlighted earlier, is the fact of equality. We are the youngest member of the Canadian family, and at least the bottom line is that we deserve to be treated equally, with fairness and understanding on the issues we face in this province.
Now, from what I've read on DFO, and in the last meeting I had back in June, Department of Fisheries and Oceans is looking to implement a tagging system and a licensing system for the cod food fishery. This is highly disliked across this province. If you are aware of the current economic situation we are facing, we have an over $2-billion deficit, with increasing taxes on just about everything here. Nothing in this province is getting cheaper, I can assure you of that.
This activity dates back over 500 years of our ancestors here. It is a part of our culture, it is a part of a traditional activity, and the single most important thing I have to highlight is the fact that this is a heritage activity. There are people growing up today in this province who have never been on a boat, who have never had a rod in their hand to go fishing, because they were deterred from getting involved in this activity by what happened in the early nineties. The management of our fisheries, even still to this day, is not what we deem fair for the vast majority of people in the province.
People are looking to go fishing to put food on the table. They're not looking to go fishing to put a picture on the wall of themselves holding a fish. Fish is food here, in this province, and that's the bottom line. That is pretty much the highlight, here, for me today.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to address such a privileged bunch of gentlemen. I'm not sure if there is a lady present, but thanks again.
You have been going around and you've been hearing a lot of things about salmon management, how things are working, and how it would work in Newfoundland and Labrador as opposed to other regions. I guess one of those big things is that in Newfoundland and Labrador we tend to have probably 50% of all the North American Atlantic salmon. I know you've been hearing about the effects it's having on our stocks. I'm sure you've heard our concerns about aquaculture and how that's interfacing with some of the wild fish. I'm sure you've heard environment enforcement concerns. Over the last number of years there has been what we would refer to as a lack of science that's going on with the species. Of course we do have some issues dealing with foreign fishing, overfishing, and the big one that's on the block these days and that does particularly concern me, climate change.
To give you a bit of a background, Mr. Simms did say that we do most of our work on the Exploits River. As a bit of a background to that, we used to be a bit of a one-horse town. We were a pulp and paper town for about 100 years. Back in the early 1980s someone said, “You know, there's been a cutback at the mill. What would ever happen to our towns here if this mill should, God forbid, ever close?” Well, the mill is closed.
Back in those days there was a bunch of volunteer gentlemen in town who said, “We're sitting on the largest river in Newfoundland. It's the largest watershed, and the salmon only have access to about the first 15 miles. What can we do with this river? We could make this into a world-class Atlantic salmon river and bring some economic benefit to the whole region and all along the way.” You're looking at a river that's about 150 miles long. These gentlemen weren't pushed off their task easily. Just to summarize that, if you go back into the late 1970s, this river then contained about 1,700 adult Atlantic salmon. I'm glad to say that a couple of years ago we just about hit 50,000 Atlantic salmon coming back to the river. This wasn't easy and it wasn't cheap. In partnership with DFO and our association, we set upon a plan to put in fishways over natural obstructions like the Grand Falls and the Bishop's Falls, and to build more fishways around the power dams.
There are six different hydro production stations on our system here. We did a massive stocking program with over 50 million little fish fry that were incubated and then taken and spread all over the watershed. All these fish came from a river that basically was used for hydro production and for making paper. A lot of people would tell you that you can't have fish and have hydro. We were probably a little stubborn on that, and we've created this resource that's sitting here throughout the Exploits Valley.
What I want to touch on more today is the importance of this fishery and of the Atlantic salmon recreational fishery to all of Atlantic Canada. I want to also zoom in on the Exploits River. It's been a few years since we've had a full economic impact study done, but my estimate right now is that it's worth anywhere from $8 million to $10 million a year strictly on the Exploits River, and this revenue is shared throughout four or five different towns.
Atlantic salmon usually don't hang around big cities; it's usually found in rural areas all over Atlantic Canada. In Newfoundland, we have well over 200 lakes and rivers. This is an economic driver in some cases, for the outfitters, the hotels, the campgrounds, and pretty well all of the service industry. That's a very large impact, when you consider it's all rural dollars that are being spent. Some of this is out of province, out of country, but even within our province itself, you have people that will take their two-week or three-week vacation and visit a lot of these different rivers.
If you look at Newfoundland, we don't have many operas, there aren't many major sporting events, although some people did have to stay up a little late last night to take in the Toronto activities. What we're getting into now is quality of life and what will keep people here. To come for a job is one thing, but to keep these people here with things they can do is certainly a concern of ours.
One big thing that the resource does have, when we're looking at the Atlantic salmon, is that it has more friends than probably any other species that's out there. There are that many conservation groups located in Newfoundland and Labrador, and right throughout Atlantic Canada, that are not only lobbying to do something for the resource but are willing to help. There have been many partnerships over the years between not-for-profits, conservation groups, and DFO, to increase the numbers, so it's not the point of telling government that we want you to do this. Basically, what we're saying is that there are concerns, we have certain issues, but we're all in this together and we're willing to help out just as much as we're asking government to.
I'll take a little break here to see if there are any questions on that. I do have some issues I'd like to talk about around habitat, but I'll just give it a little break.