I call the meeting to order.
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for hearings today. We're going to have two hours of hearings, and we have our guests with us.
Of course, as we mentioned before, this is a review of changes to the Fisheries Act, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, September 19, 2016. The committee resumes its study today to review changes made to the Fisheries Act.
I would like to welcome our witnesses. We have, from the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters' Federation, someone who is no stranger to this committee, Monsieur Marc Allain. It's good to see you again, sir. Also from the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters' Federation, we have Mr. Graeme Gawn. They are one group and will give a 10-minute presentation.
From Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, we have Mark Mattson, president, and also Krystyn Tully, vice-president. They are joining us by video conference.
From the Mining Association of Canada, we have Justyna Laurie-Lean, who is vice-president, environment and regulatory affairs. We also have Mark Ruthven, associate biologist, from Amec Foster Wheeler.
Also, from the World Wildlife Fund-Canada, we have Elizabeth Hendriks, who is vice-president, freshwater. We understand that Mr. David Miller, CEO, could not be with us today. He was originally scheduled. We wish him the best.
Ms. Hendriks, it's good to have you here on behalf of the World Wildlife Fund.
Normally we get a 10-minute presentation from each group. I will look to you to choose your spokesperson.
Mr. Allain, will you be speaking on behalf of the fish harvesters?
Thank you to the members of the committee for inviting our federation to testify on what is, to our members, a very important topic.
Our federation is a national organization of associations that represent men and women who fish for a living, own and operate their own boats, and live in fishing communities. In Atlantic Canada our owner-operator fleets generate roughly $2 billion a year in landed value. That's $2 billion going directly into the pockets of fishermen and spent in small fishing communities. This money drives fishing communities on our coasts, communities that often have no other resources or industries to support them other than tourism.
I would like to address the first part of your mandate, which is to review the scope and application of the Fisheries Act. My colleague Mr. Gawn will address our concerns about habitat protection.
As was suggested by the when he appeared before you recently, we would like you to take a holistic and sustainable development approach to the changes to the act that are needed to restore our lost protections. Forty years ago, when we created the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, we took a holistic and sustainable development approach to our fisheries as a country. Our first Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Honourable Roméo LeBlanc, understood that we have fisheries for a purpose, and that this purpose should be to generate social and economic benefits to the fishing communities and the people who fish.
Mr. LeBlanc protected fishermen and fishing communities. He understood that sustainability is a three-legged stool with ecological, social, and economic legs. Mr. LeBlanc did two very important things: he put limits on corporate concentration in the fishery, and he made sure that a fishing licence was a licence to fish, that the people who received fishing licences for our coastal fisheries had to be owner-operators. Mr. LeBlanc was a man of vision, and his vision worked, especially in Atlantic Canada. His policies freed fishermen from company control and lifted them out of poverty and into the middle class.
Since then, independent fishermen and fishing communities have lost ground. The department has moved away from a holistic, sustainable development approach to our fisheries and become narrowly focused on only one aspect of sustainability, the conservation and protection of fish.
The Fisheries Act has become a one-legged stool. It tells us a lot about conservation, but virtually nothing about our social and economic objectives for the fishery. You may be surprised to learn that the Fisheries Act does not have a statement of purpose. The purposes section, section 2, was repealed in 1985. We now have a section 2 that says “Purposes”, and the rest is blank.
This is something that needs to be fixed. Our Fisheries Act needs a clear statement of purpose. The Fisheries Act should say why we conserve and protect fish and fish habitat. We have some specific recommendations on how that might be done. I believe you received this, but I'd like to table the letter we sent to the two weeks ago outlining the details of our proposal.
In summary, we believe it's critical that the “Purposes” section of the act clearly establish the authority of the minister to manage the fishery in pursuit of cultural, social, and economic objectives in addition to the conservation and protection of fish. The absence of such a clear statement in the act creates an ambiguity regarding the scope of the minister's authority. This is very, very important. The government can correct this by drawing on rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal, as the courts have been very clear and very consistent on the broad scope of the minister's authority to manage for social and economic objectives.
In our letter, you'll see that we propose changes in other sections of the act and the fisheries regulations to make the relevance and legitimacy of social and economic objectives for fisheries management very clear.
We would also like to see the owner-operator and fleet separation policies in regulatory form to give them the force of law. We've been asking for this for 20 years. We were promised it in 2004 by the Honourable Geoff Regan—you know where he is now—when he was Minister of Fisheries. When he announced a policy framework for Canada's Atlantic fisheries, it was in black and white: regulatory form for owner-operator and fleet separation. We're still waiting.
There is a broad consensus among fishermen, fishing communities, and the provinces that fishermen's independence needs to be protected. In 2012 the legislative assemblies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and Quebec all adopted unanimous resolutions calling on the federal government to maintain the owner-operator and fleet separation policies. A few weeks later, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities adopted a similar emergency resolution.
I want to end with a comment on the urgency of the situation.
We have just come through a very long period of neglect of our social and economic objectives for the fishery and for fishing communities, and much damage has been done. In British Columbia, a federal fishing licence is no longer a licence to fish; it has become a licence to tax fishermen. The situation is bankrupting independent fishermen and destroying the fishing economy of B.C.'s coastal communities.
The problem is not restricted to B.C., despite the owner-operator and fleet separation policies. The same thing is happening in Quebec, the Maritimes, and Newfoundland.
There are ways to fix this, and we hope we will see our concerns and proposals reflected in the committee's report to Parliament.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman.
I'm Graeme Gawn, and I have been an inshore, multi-species fisherman in southwest Nova Scotia for over 40 years.
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, no one can have more concern for the health of our marine resources and the sustainable management of them than those closest to them. Those resources depend on a pristine environment, as do our livelihoods as fishermen and the well-being of our fishing communities. For as long as I have been a fisherman, fishermen's organizations have been at the forefront in making public our very reasonable concerns about protection of fish habitat in the face of projects proposed by others for our waters.
Where I come from, we have the Clean Ocean Action Committee, a coalition of organizations made up of 9,000 fishermen, processors, fish workers, and associated trades. Our committee has the unanimous written support of all municipal councils in our region. This committee is raising broad-based community concerns about oil and gas exploration on the Scotian Shelf, concerns we've been raising since the “no rigs” campaign of the 1990s that led to the moratorium on exploration on Georges Bank.
When we go before the government agencies that are responsible for regulating this activity, such as the CNSOPB, we are met with blank stares. In this case, we don't seek to block such projects, but we do insist that there be some objective, independent oversight on the environmental impacts of these projects on our fisheries and our communities. We need assurances that reasonable environmental precautions, monitoring, and response plans that have been accepted by the affected communities are in place first, as well as a guarantee that our fisheries are protected from any collateral damage caused by these projects.
What we are asking for is already part of the government's program. This government's own policy statement on environmental assessments states, “We will make environmental assessments credible again.” It further declares:
||Canadians must be able to trust that government will engage in appropriate regulatory oversight, including credible environmental assessments, and that it will respect the rights of those most affected, such as Indigenous communities. While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.
With the environmental and social protections that we have lost, we have also lost our trust in government. Restoring lost protection must also restore our trust that government is working to protect us, our communities, our environment, and the economy it supports. For us, restoration of lost protection means restoring section 35 as a trigger under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Without the trigger of section 35, fishing communities, coastal fishermen, and the ocean floor no longer have full protection from increasing uses of the coastal marine environment by other industries. Activities such as dredging, pipelines and cables, aquaculture operations, and renewable energy operations all impact fish habitat and must be subjected to very careful environmental impact assessments before being approved.
In the case of oil and gas exploration on the Scotian Shelf, some of our most important marine conservation areas find themselves with drilling rigs on their very borders, at the same time as we fishermen are being told to protect more areas to meet the government's commitments for MPAs. This is puzzling to us. We see several alternative energy projects operating, experimenting, and being proposed, often in sensitive areas, including wind and tidal power, and expanding ocean aquaculture plans in areas that we think should be protected. These projects, as innovative as they may be, must not be allowed to threaten or risk harming the marine environment, which sustains tens of thousands of jobs and a renewable resource that injects billions of dollars into the economies of hundreds of coastal communities and indeed that of Canada. Just for the record, we independent inshore fishermen consider ourselves part of that ecosystem too.
The Fisheries Act should be Canada's strongest environmental law and a key tool for regulators responsible for protecting the environment. In terms of lost protections, we would like to see a restoration of the wording of the act concerning the “harmful alteration, disruption and destruction of fish habitat,” as it served us well in the past.
We are also asking that under the scope of restoring lost protections, you fully consider changes to the Aquaculture Activities Regulations. For fishermen, the use of pesticides in open-net salmon farms poses a direct and significant threat to our coastal lobster fisheries, the most valuable fishery in Canada. The pesticides that the aquaculture industry uses to kill sea lice don't discriminate. They kill crustaceans. They kill lobsters too.
In the past, Environment Canada successfully prosecuted the aquaculture industry for illegal pesticide use. The changes brought about by the Aquaculture Activities Regulations diminish the prospects of these kinds of protections in the future. We want to see those restored as well.
I want to close with comments about the broad scope of the protections we've lost and need restored.
In the last two decades, our coastal communities and the independent fishermen who live in them have been facing an assault by corporate and foreign interests seeking to gain control over our independent owner-operator fisheries. Corporate interests have influenced officials to bend, alter, and ignore the critical fleet separation and owner-operator policies to allow them to gain control over our licences, effectively siphoning the earnings of our inshore fisheries from those coastal communities and into corporate treasuries.
In Nova Scotia, where I fish, thousands of inshore seasonal owner-operators have effectively been disenfranchised from their traditional fisheries in the drive to privatize, as the government looked the other way. This is not good public policy. It is wrong that this is allowed, and the DFO seems unwilling, or is unable, to deal with the problem.
We look forward to your report and recommendations to Parliament on how to restore our lost protections and our confidence in government.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Chairman Simms. I'm Mark Mattson, and I'll be starting. Again, I will split my time with Ms. Tully.
Good afternoon, and sorry we couldn't be there with you today, but this seems to work fairly conveniently.
People in Canada are more likely than any other nation to say that they value water and nature, yet Canada ranks lower than most developed nations when it comes to key environmental protections.
It wasn't always this way. Canada's environmental descent is a relatively new phenomenon, prompted by a decade of deregulation and the failure of governments at all levels and of all political stripes to set policy goals that reflect people's need and desire for swimmable, drinkable, fishable water.
The Government of Canada's review of the Fisheries Act, the Navigation Protection Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the National Energy Board is a chance to put Canada on the right side of history. It's time to realign federal law and policy with the values shared by people all across this country so that communities can prosper.
I'm Mark Mattson. I'm here with Krystyn Tully. Our organization is Lake Ontario Waterkeeper/Swim Drink Fish Canada. In total, we represent a million people who care about swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. We have participated in and commented on every major change to the Fisheries Act in the last decade, including the omnibus hearings, brief as they were, in 2012.
Prior to that, I was a lawyer and investigated or prosecuted pollution offences under the Fisheries Act privately and with governments in Kingston, Hamilton, Deloro, Montreal, Port Granby, Moncton, Toronto, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Sarnia, and Vancouver.
The Fisheries Act was once the heart of our work at Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. Because we gave meaning and force to environmental law, an estimated $2 billion is being spent on restoration today in many communities across Canada.
When the law was changed in 2012, proponents argued there would be no impact on fish or fish habitat. We disputed those claims at the time, as did most experts. It is now clear that the changes do impact fish and fish habitat. What was once illegal is now legal. What was once prohibited is now permitted. It is our position that the existing act is so deeply flawed that there is essentially no federal protection for fish, habitat, or water in Canada.
Our presentation today focuses on the nine things a new Fisheries Act must do if Canadian communities are to thrive.
There are nine things the new Fisheries Act must do to make Canada healthy and prosperous.
The first is to protect fish by protecting ecosystems. Some of the most devastating changes to the Fisheries Act were the cuts to habitat protection provisions previously found in section 35. The changes were not rooted in science, traditional knowledge, or even common sense. In an ecosystem, all things are connected. Fish cannot be protected if their environment is not protected.
Legally, the shift is also problematic. Traditionally, the Fisheries Act placed the burden of proof where it belongs, on the proponent. The proponent had to prove their project would not harm fish or fish habitat. Today that burden rests on government and residents. Ultimately, the changes made to fish habitat provisions in 2012 will ensure that the Fisheries Act fails to protect any fish in Canada. Those changes must be reversed.
Second, we must simplify the rules against pollution. The pollution prevention provisions in the Fisheries Act once made it Canada's most important and effective environmental protection law. Subsection 36(3) once protected water from pollution by prohibiting the deposit of deleterious substances into water.
Thanks to small changes and new regulation-making powers, the Fisheries Act now allows government to do by regulation what parliamentarians didn't dare do: eliminate federal protections for water quality. We see the impacts already, from sewage to aquaculture.
This shift is problematic because the Fisheries Act was designed to protect water quality without requiring an itemized list of what substances in what amounts under what conditions could be considered deleterious. This is the only efficient way to ensure the Fisheries Act remains relevant over time and protects all communities equally.
Microplastics, triclosan, certain pesticides, and fire retardants are all examples of substances we know to be deleterious, but they were invented after the Fisheries Act was written. That was the beauty of the previous act. The traditional deleterious substance test must be restored to the heart of all pollution prevention provisions.
Third, the Fisheries Act needs to embrace the precautionary principle. When there is uncertainty, decisions should favour the protection of fish and fish habitat. Fish are part of interconnected ecosystems we can only partially understand. The consequences of one change or one project cannot always be predicted. Emerging issues, such as the invention of new contaminants, cumulative effects of multiple projects in one area, climate change, shifting land and water uses, and population growth, make it virtually impossible to predict impacts with any certainty. For that reason, the principle of precautionary decison-making should be part of the Fisheries Act.
The fourth thing the new Fisheries Act must do is ensure Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the federal government remain responsible and accountable. The Fisheries Act must affirm the federal government's authority for protecting fish and fish habitat equally across Canada. Section 4.1 of the act, for example, doesn't belong in a federal Fisheries Act. Provinces should not be empowered to encroach upon federal jurisdiction. Within the federal government, Fisheries and Oceans should also not cede responsibility to other departments and agencies.
Fifth, protect the natural resource, not industries. The Fisheries Act had one purpose: protect fish and fish habitat in Canada. Changes have been made to the legislation that shift its purpose away from protections and towards permitting pollution and habitat destruction, especially by favoured industries. You can see this in the exemptions now being given to mining, sewage, and nuclear projects.
Six, eliminate self-regulation. Self-regulation is not appropriate to ensure compliance with a quasi-criminal statute. The federal government must be responsible and accountable, because self-regulation cannot protect fish and fish habitat. It can't prevent cumulative impacts, also known as death by a thousand cuts. It doesn't allow for public participation or take advantage of local knowledge. It will not catch the truly bad actors who are doing the most harm.
Seven, support a strong environmental assessment process. We recognize that there is a federal panel reviewing the EA processes and we support efforts to improve that legislation. The Fisheries Act should be part of a federal government culture of environmentally responsible decision-making, transparency, and public participation.
Eight, empower the civil service to enforce protections. There must be sufficient funding and staffing for enforcement activities. Enforcement officers should report to an independent supervisor, such as the Attorney General, to avoid the influences of regulatory capture.
For the most part, the Fisheries Act once did all of these eight things. Our ninth and final recommendation is to add something new. It is that the Fisheries Act should promote the development of scientific and traditional knowledge.
The way forward isn't just to patch the Fisheries Act and hope for the best. The Government of Canada's goal shouldn't be to prevent the deaths of a few more fish or to restore a tiny fraction of the tiny fraction of habitat that we have left. The goal should be to become a world leader in the protection of fish and fish habitat. The way forward is to develop a knowledge base that can inform not only Canadian decisions, but decision-making around the world.
We should be investing in scientific study, commercial research, and traditional knowledge to become a world leader. Knowledge—not oil, trees, rocks, or water—is the greatest gift that we can offer the world. Committing to sustainability and informed decision-making will drive innovation, and that is the foundation for Canada's prosperity.
Thank you for this opportunity to present the Mining Association of Canada's views on the Fisheries Act.
The Mining Association of Canada, MAC, is the national organization representing the Canadian mining industry, comprising companies engaged in mineral exploration, mining, smelting, refining, and semi-fabrication. Our members account for the majority of Canada’s production of base and precious metals, uranium, diamonds, metallurgical coal, and mined oil sands.
I am accompanied today by Mark Ruthven, associate biologist and assistant group head of Amec Foster Wheeler. Mr. Ruthven is a member of the MAC Fisheries Act task force and has been deeply involved in our work with Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials to understand the 2012 amendments to the act. He has direct experience with the section 35 review and authorization process.
MAC had not advocated for legislative change to the act, fearing the uncertainty and confusion that would be caused by departure from decades of jurisprudence and established practice. However, once the act was amended, we worked with DFO officials to understand how to adjust and continue to comply with the act.
In the mining industry's experience, the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act have in practice broadened the circumstances in which the section 35 prohibitions apply and increased the circumstances in which an authorization and offsets are required.
While noting the increased burden on mining project proponents imposed by the amendments, we are not requesting that they be reversed. In our members’ experience, the amendments have encouraged greater attention to sound science and the purposes of the act.
However, our experience underscores just how critical planning for, and executing transition to, amended legislation is to avoiding confusion and imposing unfair costs on companies. In the case of the 2012 amendments, there were significant challenges with the implementation and transition, and the department was not resourced sufficiently to assist project proponents. Training was not provided until well after the provisions came into force. This resulted in unacceptable delays and costs to some projects caught in the transition.
Should your committee recommend any further amendments to the act, we urge you to accompany them with recommendations for appropriate resourcing, training, and planning for future transitions, including having an implementation plan fully in place prior to the coming into force of any amendments.
Mining projects observed several problems in managing the transition to the amended act when all the amendments came into force in late 2013. DFO did not provide timely or adequate explanatory guidance and training that would have helped proponents and DFO regional staff to interpret and implement the amended provisions. That explanatory guidance, such as how to identify commercial, aboriginal, or recreational fisheries and fish that support such fisheries, or how to assess fisheries productivity, still falls short of what is necessary for clear and consistent national application.
As well, DFO reduced the number of its regional offices and staff at the same time as the amended provisions came into force, further reducing the assistance available to project proponents.
Finally, DFO did not account for the impact of the amendments on projects that had already substantially completed the studies and consultations recommended by DFO staff to prepare an application for authorization. Abruptly and without strategic use of a grandfather policy, proponents were advised that their application plans had to be modified to include more water bodies and to incorporate productivity and other new policy concepts without guidance on how those new concepts were to be operationalized.
Despite the initial challenges observed by our members during the implementation of the amendments, some members report that the application of the revised act has begun to evolve into a consistent and predictable process. We believe that the amendments have encouraged improvements to the scientific rigour of the fisheries protection measures of the act, specifically with the administration of section 35 reviews and authorizations.
The increased enforcement provisions and regulations governing applications for authorizations have resulted in an applied movement towards better-defined and scientifically defensible productivity metrics as well as project success criteria and clear and defensible monitoring commitments. The integration of contingency measures and defined thresholds directly linked to monitoring provides additional controls, ensuring that impacts to Canadian fisheries are accurately identified, appropriately monitored, and successfully accounted for by offsetting measures.
In light of MAC members' experience with the Fisheries Act, MAC recommends that the committee urge the government to improve and increase the department's compliance promotion capacity, including increased guidance and training.
Should the committee choose to recommend amendments, they must be accompanied by transition provisions, and for any recommended amendments, the committee should also urge the government to have in place, before coming into force, adequate implementation and transition plans, departmental capacity, and compliance promotion.
Thank you, committee, for giving us the opportunity to contribute to your study. My name is Elizabeth Hendriks, and I'm the VP of freshwater for WWF-Canada.
For half a century, WWF-Canada has worked to protect nature. Our global mission is to stop degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. We create solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important so that nature, wildlife, and people thrive together.
Our recent Living Planet Report revealed that worldwide, freshwater wildlife populations have declined 81% over the past four decades. That's more than twice the population decline for land-based or ocean wildlife. Habitat loss is the number one threat to that decline.
In Canada, WWF's watershed reports also show us that habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to our watersheds. Eight of 19 watersheds in Canada have a high to very high threat of habitat loss, and six of 19 watersheds have moderate threat of habitat loss.
We're here today because we're deeply concerned about the health of Canada's species, its freshwater and marine ecosystems, and its fisheries, and about the communities across the country that depend on them.
The Fisheries Act is a critical piece of legislation, and I commend you on the important work you're doing as a committee to lead Canada through this review.
As you heard from the minister when he testified two weeks ago, without fish habitat, there will be no fisheries, and we know that healthy habitat and sustainable fisheries are needed to ensure community prosperity for so many Canadians.
I also want to take a moment to express our support for the West Coast Environmental Law submission on the review of the Fisheries Act. We understand that their excellent and comprehensive briefing was submitted to the committee last week and was mailed to each member.
I would like to deliver the remainder of our testimony today in two parts. The first is on restoring lost habitat, and the second is on the opportunity to modernize the act to ensure our environmental legislation is fit for addressing the challenges of the 21st century.
First I will speak to restoring lost habitat protection provisions.
Restoration of the habitat protection provisions is essential if Canada intends to take conservation of biodiversity seriously. Since coming into force in 1868, the Fisheries Act has been devoid of specific principles relating to biodiversity and sustainability. Prior to the 2012-2013 amendments, however, the act did offer legal protections for our oceans, fresh water, and habitat with sections 35 and 36 working together to prevent the destruction and pollution of Canada's bodies of water.
The Fisheries Act was Canada's strongest environmental law mainly because it prohibited HADD, the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat. We need to reinstate HADD and reverse the narrowing from protecting fish habitat to just protecting fisheries.
Protections for all native fish and not just commercially viable fish are required to ensure that biodiversity is protected. An ecosystem approach to management requires that this—and not just fish that support an established fishery—be protected.
The 2012 repeal of section 32, the prohibition against the destruction of fish by means other than fishing, created a gap in the protection of fish. Along with the return to HADD, it is also necessary to restore section 32 as it appeared in the Fisheries Act before the passing of Bill . When section 32 disappeared, so did protections from industrial activities. To modernize this act, West Coast Environmental Law has recommended adding prohibitions against sub-lethal harm, which we support.
WWF-Canada understands that mitigating cumulative effects is vital to ensuring the health of fish habitat, and this is why we contributed to a cumulative effects assessment in B.C. as part of the marine planning partnership for the north Pacific coast. Prior to the 2012-2013 amendments, the Fisheries Act worked in concert with Canada's environmental assessment legislation to ensure oversight for harmful activities resulting from industrial activity. This level of scrutiny must again be recaptured through strengthening of both the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to ensure that the cumulative effects of development and activities are understood, avoided, or, where absolutely necessary, mitigated.
Now I will speak about the opportunity to modernize the act. We have three core recommendations.
First, unlike other important environmental acts such as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Fisheries Act has no preamble.
By including a preamble, we can ensure fundamental guiding principles to the act are included, such as, but not limited to, evidence-based decision-making, an ecosystem approach, the precautionary principle, transparency and accountability, co-management, and incorporation of traditional knowledge.
These principles would not only strengthen the act but would bring it into line with progressive fisheries legislation of other countries, such as the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens act and Canada's other environmental legislation, such as the Oceans Act, as well as DFO's own sustainable fisheries framework and Canada's international obligations under the UN fish stocks agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Additionally, these principles are critical to the successful rebuilding of Canada's fisheries, including some of our most iconic fisheries, such as the northern cod fishery.
The second recommendation is that these guiding principles need reinforcement by prescriptive provisions for fisheries management objectives, principles, and procedures and by safeguards to remove the absolute discretionary power of the minister of fisheries and oceans in fisheries management decision-making. For example, including quantitative definitions for overfishing and recovery, mandating recovery plans, and rebuilding timelines for overfished and depleted stocks would go a long way toward increasing political accountability and transparency.
Finally, a modernized Fisheries Act needs to ensure legal obligations for monitoring, open data, and transparency. We would like to see updating of the monitoring and reporting requirements of the act.
As the committee heard in Professor Olszynski's testimony, fish habitat monitoring has been inadequate for a number of years. In particular, we would like to see the monitoring and reporting requirements of the act updated to include provisions for citizen monitoring and enforcement. Adequate resourcing must support these provisions so that a range of communities, indigenous groups, and coastal communities can actively participate in monitoring.
Increased powers for monitoring will also help with understanding cumulative effects. For example, freshwater monitoring to demonstrate the state of the watershed reveals how effectively fish and fish habitat are being protected and can identify where improvements are needed. A framework that effectively communicates results in a report back to Canadians is vital for transparency.
Of course, a baseline understanding is required, and currently that does not exist. Here I would direct the committee to WWF-Canada's watershed health assessments, which assess at a national scale the health of watersheds—and as proxy, fish habitat—to Canada's waters. It is through this tool that governments can regularly report back to Canadians on results and progress of fish and fish habitat protection. At the very least, this framework is a tool to prioritize, but it also provides DFO with a tool as a solution towards better monitoring, communication, and transparency.
In summary, the Fisheries Act is a critical piece of legislation.
First, WWF-Canada recommends the return of HADD; protections for all native fish, and not just commercially viable fish; and reinstating section 32, the prohibition against the destruction of fish by means other than fishing.
Second are the WWF recommendations for modern safeguards to ensure that the Fisheries Act is brought into the 21st century and is an effective cornerstone in Canada's environmental legislation by including sustainable principles, and specifically an ecosystem approach; the precautionary principle; community-based management to guide fisheries management decision-making and cumulative effects; prescriptive guidance on fish management objectives, principles, and procedures; and better monitoring, open data, and transparency.
These are just our top-priority recommendations for you. We recognize that time is limited, so we will be following up with a written brief for your consideration as well.
At this point, we're ready for questions.
That's a good question, and it's one that I get, as I'm sure you do, often.
Something we worked on in Moncton, the causeway back in 1968-1969, is one of the great examples we have of local knowledge and discussion about fish and fish habitat not being taken into consideration in a project. When they went ahead with the causeway, they didn't apply for a Fisheries Act permit to destroy fish habitat or for a Navigable Waters Protection Act permit. They didn't get any of the information from the local community about fisheries. It was about a decade later when the salmon fishery disappeared from the Petitcodiac River.
When we put together our case to support a new assessment of the project to see if they needed free flow in Moncton, I went out and collected evidence from all the old fishermen, who were now in their seventies, because there wasn't a consolidated or aggregated area where this evidence was collected, evidence such as who caught salmon and how often. We collected that as affidavits. That was a great example of a project that for 30 to 40 years really did incredible damage to the 17 rivers upstream and to all the species of fish in that river, because it exempted itself from the type of environmental law that the Fisheries Act now requires—well, it did require it until 2012, and now it doesn't again.
I see how prosperous that community has become since it opened up the causeway gates. When I look to the future, I think now of what's possible under the new Fisheries Act. If you put up “no fishing” signs in your community, on your river, in your bay, in your harbour, the Fisheries Act no longer applies, and the habitat protection provisions no longer apply, because there isn't a significant commercial, recreational, or indigenous fishery.
What sort of knowledge are we excluding? What sort of information are we missing out on? What sort of traditional ecological knowledge are we just ignoring? It's hard for environmental groups like ours to prove the damage, but we know from experience that it's happening. I think it's going to be a real onus on all our groups to make sure that we truly do a better job of documenting those changes and bringing them forward to government. Unless we're able to carry that burden forward with the government, it's going to be very hard to answer questions about what we are losing and what damage is being caused.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I have a few questions.
I'll come back to the cumulative impacts, but I want to raise an issue. I received a letter from the Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, dated November 3. It was addressed to the minister and to you, Mr. Chair. I was cc'd on this. They have brought up the issue of feeling that there isn't enough time for adequate consultation with their members. They represent first nations from Hope to Vancouver, an area along the Fraser River, which is one of the greatest salmon rivers on the planet. There are a number of first nations there.
Their concern is that with the deadline being the end of November, they feel there's not enough time to provide adequate consultation for all of the different nations along the river and not enough time to organize a response on such an important topic. I hope the committee will look at and respond to this letter. They suggest moving the deadline to the end of March of 2017.
Certainly I've brought up that concern. I've received numerous requests from witnesses right across the country to be part of this process. I hope that you, Mr. Chair, and the committee will respond to their frustration and their concern.
I also have a concern about having four witnesses at this committee. Because we have so few committee meetings to hear from witnesses that we maximize the number of witnesses we can hear from, I was hoping to take advantage of this. Today we're hearing from four; I think we probably would have had time for six. That's certainly a concern I'd like to address going forward: that we take advantage of the short time this committee has chosen to adequately hear from as many Canadians and organizations across the country as possible.
Returning to the issue of how to improve the act in terms of the cumulative impacts, I want to go to the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper witnesses to ask them to perhaps finish where they were at.
If you've already finished, I could move on to the WWF and hear their comments.
Mr. Donnelly, I'll address your issue in just a few moments, since we're officially into overtime and allowed to be there.
First of all, I want to thank our guests for being here today. Thank you to Mr. Gawn, Mr. Allain, Madam Laurie-Lean, Mr. Ruthven, and Ms. Hendriks, and for joining us by video conference, Ms. Tully and Mr. Mattson. We appreciate your time today and the expertise and the testimony you bring.
Mr. Donnelly brought up a point about the witnesses and how we're doing thus far. A lot of the invitations we've sent out, suggested by you, have not been responded to yet. Some of them have said no. I don't want to get into details as to who they are right now, but since we have some concern around the table, I would suggest that in the first hour on Wednesday we have the minister to talk about the supplementary estimates (B), and in the second hour we hope to conclude our study on Atlantic salmon.
Following that, can we use five to 10 minutes to discuss the witness list? I did say to Mr. Sopuck in the last hearing, when the minister was present, that we would talk about it. It is not written in stone. We can be somewhat flexible. Therefore, I ask you to do one thing as a homework assignment: can you bring me two or three names that you would like to bring forward? I would like us to talk about it in camera. We'll talk about some of the witnesses we would like to bring in addition, if we have the space. By Wednesday we may be able to conclude that some spaces are available for people who wish to be witnesses.
Go ahead, Mr. Doherty.