Even though we're scheduled until 5 p.m., we'll stop at around 4:45 p.m. That should get us through two rounds, certainly, if the last meeting was any basis.
Don't forget, that we have committee business following this. We'll get into our study and we'll get into witnesses at that point.
In the meantime, as was scheduled, we have departmental officials: Arran McPherson, Tom Rosser, and Kevin Stringer, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Mr. Rosser, I understand you will be speaking on behalf of the group.
I wish to begin by thanking you and indeed, all committee members for inviting us to be with you today.
As the chair of the committee already said, members of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada senior management team are accompanying me today. We have Kevin Stringer, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management, and Arran McPherson, Director General, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector.
As you must know, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the main federal department responsible for managing fisheries in Canada and protecting the country's waters. Last Tuesday, our colleagues, Deputy Commissioner Jeffery Hutchinson and Mario Pelletier, talked to you about the important work being done by the Canadian Coast Guard. Today, we will focus on the department's mandate when it comes to fisheries.
Ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, we have committed to ensuring compliance with world-class standards in an industry that employs many Canadians, especially in coastal communities. Thanks to its coastline and its healthy environment, Canada has become the 7th largest exporter of fish and seafood in the world.
Internationally, there's a growing demand for sustainable fish and seafood products. Accordingly, we foresee that, at a global level, aquaculture will play a key role in this regard in terms of meeting that growing demand. We are committed to the development of the industry in a sustainable manner that protects marine ecosystems and conserves wild fish populations.
As a department, approximately 85% of our workforce is located outside the national capital region, which makes us a highly regionalized and decentralized department. We have six regions that are responsible for delivering departmental programs: Pacific, Central and Arctic, Quebec, Gulf, Maritimes, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Honourable members, our work is grounded on sound science, forward-looking policies, and operational and service excellence in an effort to ensure that we were able to deliver on our mandate. The work that we do also enables economic prosperity across maritime sectors and fisheries, including those in local, coastal, and first nations communities.
To meet our mandate, the department supports strong economic growth in our marine and fisheries sectors to enable greater economic benefits. It supports innovation through research in key sectors, such as aquaculture and biotechnology, and contributes to a clean, healthy environment and aquatic ecosystems through habitat protection, oceans management, and ecosystems research.
Our minister, the honourable , will appear before you in the coming weeks to discuss his mandate commitments and departmental direction. These include: increasing Canada's marine protected areas to 5% by 2017, and 10% by 2020; ensuring that we are continuing to use scientific evidence and considering climate change when advising our minister when he is making decisions affecting fish stocks and ecosystems management; continuing to work at fostering strong relations with the provinces, territories, indigenous peoples, and other stakeholders, and to co-manage our ecosystems and oceans; working with other departments and agencies to carry out key initiatives, such as reviewing Canada's environmental assessment processes, meeting the commitments of the national shipbuilding procurement strategy, improving marine safety, and examining the impact climate change is having on Arctic ecosystems; developing new programs and policies to enable strong commercial, recreational, and traditional fisheries while growing key industries; and supporting important habitat and conservation efforts.
We are very proud of our department's work, as we have made significant contributions to Canadians from coast to coast to coast. We will continue to build on our past successes, and we look forward to new accomplishments that will benefit all Canadians.
I want to thank you for this opportunity to meet with you today. We look forward to working closely with you over the coming months and years.
I will now yield the floor to my colleagues Kevin Stringer and Arran McPherson, who will provide a brief overview of their area of responsibility.
Very briefly, my sector is the ecosystems and fisheries management sector.
The Ecosystems and Fisheries Management Sector is responsible for operational policy, the management of programs and the daily administration of most aspects and operations vital to the department that do not come under the Coast Guard.
My sector consists of fisheries management, so managing fisheries in Canada's three coasts and our international responsibilities; fisheries protection, habitat, aquatic invasive species, and authorizations under the Fisheries Act; the oceans program, integrated management of oceans and the protected spaces strategies; aboriginal affairs, where we work with indigenous governments and groups on their fisheries and other related matters; aquaculture, as the lead federal agency for aquaculture management in Canada; small craft harbours, repair, maintenance, dredging, and related matters working with the harbour authorities in Canada's small craft harbours; aquatic species at risk, for the 111 species that are listed and advice on listing, recovery strategies, and prohibitions and permitting; licensing and planning, where we operate the national online licensing system to support fisheries and the catch certification office to enable exports; and conservation and protection, which is really the fisheries officers corps who oversee compliance strategies for all of the above.
As Tom said, like the rest of the department, the sector which I have responsibility for is 87% outside of Ottawa in regions from coast to coast to coast. It makes it a challenge, but our view is we're far richer for it and better connected to stakeholders.
We rely on partnerships with everyone, within the department, other government departments, indigenous groups, provinces and territories, key stakeholders, the fishing industry, etc. We rely first and foremost on our colleagues in science, on all of the issues that I've talked about: fisheries management, aquatic species at risk, aquaculture, etc. We depend on science advice; we're a science-based department.
I think Arran's going to say a few words about science and then throw it open for questions.
Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you for inviting me to be here today to talk about the work that science does at the DFO.
There are more than 1,500 DFO science employees across the country working on board Canadian Coast Guard vessels, some of which you heard about earlier in the week, in coastal and freshwater laboratories, and in offices in regions across the country.
Through the research and monitoring activities we undertake, science supports management decisions in a number of key areas, some of which Kevin has already described.
We undertake work on the status and trends of aquatic species to inform on sustainable harvest levels and conservation objectives. We look at work to study the potential impacts of human activities on aquatic ecosystems and how changing environmental conditions are affecting the species and the ecosystems that they inhabit. Finally, by monitoring our oceans, including their physical, chemical, and biological features, we inform predictive ocean graphic models and navigational charts.
I wish to make a couple of other points. One is on the value of peer review. Peer review is really fundamental to the work of DFO science, as it ensures that we're able to provide the best available information and advice to guide decision-making. We generate more than 300 peer review pieces of advice a year, all of which are available online.
Partnerships and collaborations are very important to the work we do. Through our collaborations with all different types of research partners, we're able to leverage the data and expertise of others in the field to ensure that the work that science is doing is the best quality for the department and the Government of Canada.
With that, I'll turn it over to the Chair.
I'm happy to answer that. I'll talk a little bit about small craft harbours writ large; it's a really important program.
The core program is $95 million a year. Of that, $75 million goes to repairs, maintenance, dredging, and those types of things. Again, as with all of our programs, it's really operated in the regions, including in the Newfoundland and Labrador region. Our regional headquarters in St. John's.... As in other regions across the country, we have a set of criteria, and in terms of repairs, maintenance, and dredging, there are always more requests than we have funds for, but it is a pretty substantive program. There is, as I said, $75 million across the country. I'm not sure what the specific amount for Newfoundland and Labrador is.
We work very closely in Newfoundland and Labrador with the harbour authorities, as we do elsewhere. They're an enormously important resource. For the most part, harbour authorities have been established in most of our key harbours across the country, and they really run things. They're volunteer organizations. We estimate that their volunteer work adds up to about $24 million of additional contribution.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, as elsewhere, we work with them on priorities. We have a set of criteria for projects, and the projects range. There is a large number of harbours in Newfoundland and Labrador, more than in most other areas. That's the nature of the history and the importance of the fishery, as you well know, in that province. So there's always a lot of work to do.
There are specific criteria that we apply. There's a program of works that's designed every year, and they're announced as the year goes on.
I guess I'd begin by saying we didn't come with our chief financial officer today. I would anticipate that when the minister returns to speak to the main estimates, which we anticipate will happen in the next several weeks, he may be able to provide a more detailed answer than I can, certainly with respect to Newfoundland. But it is true there have been a number of reductions in the department's budget in Newfoundland and Labrador, and indeed across Canada. There were three major exercises over the past several years. We've tried to cope with those reductions through realizing efficiencies in our operations. In many cases that has proven possible.
As I believe our Coast Guard colleagues may have shared with you when they were here a couple of days ago, despite realizing those efficiencies, there have been a couple of areas where, as an organization, we have felt pressures as a result of those reductions. Some of those are common both to the Coast Guard and to DFO. For example, I believe our real property portfolio, our portfolio of assets from coast to coast to coast, is the third largest in government. These are often aging assets, and the cost of maintaining them increases over time. That has become a pressure for us.
I know that our Coast Guard colleagues have spoken as well about recapitalization of their fleet, which of course is critical to their ability to carry out their mandate, but it's also critical to our colleagues in science, as they use those Coast Guard vessels in order to undertake their work.
So yes, we have seen reductions in the order of roughly 10% of our budget over several years. We have been able to respond to those by finding efficiencies, but it has created challenges in some areas as well.
I would invite either of my colleagues to elaborate.
I will just offer an overview and then turn the floor to my colleague Arran.
Certainly one of our priorities as a department is to renew our workforce to ensure it reflects the diversity of Canada to bring new people into the organization. Our demographic is getting older. We're seeing retirements and attrition in the organization, and we view it as a priority, as I said, to recruit the best and the brightest of a new generation. That is particularly true on the science side of our organization, where I believe the demographic of our S and T professionals is even older than it is of our workforce as a whole.
The minister's mandate letter didn't talk specifically about renewing our science complement, but as the member rightly noted, it did put an emphasis on evidence-based decision-making, and on the importance of science and reinvestments in science.
I'll turn to Arran.
It's good to see all of you again.
I have a couple of things. In the press recently, on February 24, there was an article that was reporting on a briefing note that was given to the minister, and I'm sure you're familiar with it. It was interesting, and I want to put something on the record here. Now, this was a reporter's report on your briefing notes, so I want to make sure I'm accurate here. In the briefing note there was a byline that read “Coast Guard in dire straits”.
I went back to the testimony of the highly respected retired commissioner of the Coast Guard, Marc Grégoire, who you all remember. In testimony to our committee on December 10, 2013, I'm quoting Mr. Grégoire, who pointed out:
||You're right to mention that the coast guard is cherished by this government.
It was cherished by the government that I was a part of. He went on to say:
||Never in the life of the coast guard have we seen such a massive investment at one time. In the last few years, the government has invested over $6 billion, and just in budget 2012, $5.2 billion....
|| Yes, it's extremely encouraging to see all those investments in the coast guard, but it doesn't stop there.
Mr. Grégoire, the highly respected commissioner of the Coast Guard, made that point very clearly,clearly so I think it's disingenuous of anybody to suggest that our government shortchanged the Coast Guard.
In the same article there was a quote from the briefing note. This is the note to the minister. It said:
||As minister, you are well-positioned to attest to how Canada’s fisheries are managed in an effective, science-based and sustainable manner and thus position Canadian industry to benefit from new trade....
Ms. McPherson, it's quite clear from this statement in your briefing note that Canada's fisheries were being very well managed using the highest scientific standards. Is that fair?
There have been international studies that have looked at different management systems and compared Canada to our colleagues in Australia, the U.S., etc., and we do well. In the most recent one I remember—and it's not that recent—Canada was rated to be number three.
In terms of the level of science, as a manager of fisheries, as a manager of species at risk, as a manager of aquaculture, we always want more science. We will say, and we will stand by our view, that our regimes are well managed now.
Can we use more? We can always use more and there is no question. I don't think you'll find many public servants who wouldn't say that.
I'm a fisheries biologist who's done science in the past. One trade comment to all of us is that we're always asking for more information.
I'm glad to have you state on the record that under our watch—because we were in government for the last 10 years—the scientific capability of your department, as evidenced by the state of Canada's fish stocks, was clearly not degraded.
I would assume as senior civil servants you watched the election campaign closely, which I think is important for you. You would specifically key in on any election commitments that would relate to your department's functions, and develop plans related to those statements and platforms, depending on who won the election. I wouldn't expect otherwise.
I have a quote from the Liberal platform on the Liberals' commitment to unmuzzling scientists.
||We will value science and treat science with respect.
||We will appoint a Chief Science Officer who will ensure that government science is fully available to the public, that scientists are able to speak freely about their work, and that scientific analyses are considered when the government makes decisions.
You made a point that there are 1,500 scientists in DFO. I am assuming that based on this commitment we are now in a position to invite anyone of those scientists to appear before this committee. Is that correct?
I would like to thank the department officials for coming to the fisheries committee and talking to us today. We appreciate your testimony and the information you provided.
I'd also like to ask Ms. McPherson to thank the 1,500 scientists and technicians that work for the department across the country for their good work day in and day out.
I have lots of questions, but I'm going to start off with a quote from the minister yesterday. This is in reference to the recommendations of the Cohen commission. He said:
|| Many of those recommendations have already been implemented and we are in the process of developing ways to move forward on the remaining ones.
Could you comment on just how many have been implemented?
Mr. Chair, I thank the member for the question.
Over time, action has been taken on some Cohen recommendations. The minister's mandate letter, as committee members will likely be aware, did reference moving forward on the Cohen recommendations.
As the minister had done with many of his mandate priorities, within a few weeks of assuming office, he travelled to British Columbia and met with a number of experts and stakeholders in the Cohen commission's final report, including Justice Cohen himself, to seek their advice on how best to move forward with that mandate commitment.
I think what the minister was referencing in the commentary was there are some activities that have been undertaken. He's assessing what those are and assessing what a sensible way forward would be. That's how we're approaching Cohen.
I don't know if Kevin has anything to add.
There were 75 recommendations made by Justice Cohen, and the minister was obviously briefed in his response, so there is a number. Could you provide this committee with the number of recommendations that have been implemented and the number that are being worked on? You can do that at another time, which we would really appreciate.
I'm going to move on to another issue, that of adjacency. I know this is a real issue of late on the west coast. Obviously, it's an issue on the east coast as well. A lot of owner-operator issues certainly are.
Where those fish are processed is critical. As you know, on the west coast we just had a shutdown at Canfisco, which means a loss of over 400 jobs on the west coast and essentially the loss of fish processing in British Columbia.
I don't know if you want to comment on this. Many are calling for a review with respect to adjacency, owner-operator, and processing in this country.
It looks like Mr. Stringer might provide a comment. I have another question as well.
The principle of adjacency is one that's applied when we deal with access and allocation.
The east coast fishery and the west coast fishery are fundamentally different in terms of how they are managed for access and allocation. I'd be happy to come and talk about this at some point.
On the east coast there are two fundamental policies for the inshore fleet. They involve most of the fishery and most of the fishermen, let's say most of the licence holders. The policies are owner-operator and fleet separation. It is about preserving the independence of the inshore fleet in Canada's Atlantic fisheries. Those adjacent to the resource get access to the resource in that approach.
On the west coast it has been more of a market-based approach, where there is trading of quotas, individual transfer of quotas and such. There has been that history.
We are following and are certainly aware of the cannery in Prince Rupert. We've heard from people. The minister has heard from people on this. Representations have been made to the minister about some of those principles in looking at the west coast. We are talking to the minister about how the fishery is managed on both coasts as he gets settled into his role, but we do need to reflect. There has been a different history in both areas.
I should also point out that processing is provincial jurisdiction, not federal jurisdiction. We can't tell someone they must process in a certain area. Provinces can and some provinces do, but B.C. doesn't, and we can't.
Maybe, Mr. Chair, I'll offer a high-level answer, and my colleague Arran may be better placed to offer some specifics.
As a department, partnership has always been important to our scientific effort. Certainly Minister Tootoo has spoken about this on many occasions, that he sees the way forward on science as being about collaboration.
I had mentioned earlier that he had travelled to British Columbia. He has travelled to all three coasts, all six DFO regions, since being named minister. In those meetings, he has met with a wide variety of stakeholders, including university presidents and vice-presidents, representatives of environmental non-governmental organizations, and others.
His message to them and his message publicly on many occasions and his message to us is that he sees the way to make the most of the available resources we have is through partnership and collaboration with industry, universities, and others.
Thank you for the question.
It depends on how you count, but it's about 1%. The Oceans Act was passed in 1997. The first major marine protected area established was the Gully, off Nova Scotia.
We have eight Oceans Act MPAs. We have a few national marine conservation areas, which are done by Parks Canada. We have a number of national wildlife areas, which are reserved for migratory birds; they're very small areas.
There's a fairly large number, but a grand total of 1%.
Thank you for that question.
There are enormous challenges. The minister has said this is very ambitious, but achievable.
You asked as to what challenges DFO faces. One of our objectives is that it's not a DFO issue. It's a whole of government issue, a federal-provincial issue, and we are also working with environmental groups, indigenous groups. To be able to do this will take an all-in effort.
It also means a different approach from what we've done. We tend to look at very small areas that need protecting and do small protection, but that means working with the fishing industry and other industries out there.
We're very excited, and were a bit terrified when we saw that item in the minister's mandate, but we're really mostly excited. It's a huge opportunity.
The minister has been talking to environmental groups, establishing a task group with the provinces, meeting with indigenous groups, meeting with the fishing industry about ensuring that we continue to have a robust fishing industry, meeting with land claims groups who are partners in this. It will be a huge effort.
We need to look at a number of objectives. I'll make this short, but I'd be happy to come back and take longer on it.
For us, for the Oceans Act MPAs, it starts with science and with understanding what needs protection. We have done work that identifies ecologically and biologically significant areas. These include corals, sponges, rearing areas, and spawning areas, the types of things that need protection for one reason or another. They're important habitat; they're important areas for part of the life cycle of a species, or those types of things.
It starts with the science and it ends with a management plan. You've identified the area. You've identified what activities can take place. Some people think they should be no-take areas. Others say you can have some things take place. But in between there's an enormous amount of consultation with users, with environmental groups, with local indigenous groups, and with provinces and territories.
That's a loaded question—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Kevin Stringer: —and it's an excellent one.
We can come back and talk for ages on that, but I would point again to the science. We've looked at the science, and we need to do more. We've looked at large areas of the oceans and identified where the corals and sponges are and where the protected areas are.
We actually identify vulnerable marine ecosystems, and that's kind of been the approach: what ecosystems really need protection to enable the broader ecosystem to function effectively. That's really been the approach with the ecologically and biologically significant areas, or EBSAs.
I would also say that an ecosystems approach with respect to fisheries and oceans management is probably something we've been better at talking about than doing, but we are, with more and more science, getting into that world. This work that we're doing now on protected areas will help us get there as well.
It is a huge challenge to be able to manage species one at a time. It is a gigantic challenge to be able to manage an ecosystem and understand the relationships between the trophic levels and the relationships between the various species. That is a work in progress and something that we're committed to moving forward on.
Yes. Our main two partners in the federal system are DFO and Parks Canada. Environment Canada is also important.
When we talk about national marine conservation areas that Parks Canada does, these are in marine areas. They're often contiguous to parks. If you have a park that is on land, and you can establish a marine conservation area—they've done some really important areas—Parks will actually look at representative areas. We look at protection for vulnerable marine ecosystems.
We have different objectives, but at the end of the day, they are protected areas. We work very closely with them. Particularly since we've all seen the same mandate letters, we've been working together to make sure we will meet these objectives together.
First of all, I will thank the witnesses for coming.
I am looking forward to hearing but haven't heard any update yet on when we will have the minister as a witness. We invited him a while back. I was encouraged to hear Mr. Rosser say that he'll be coming on the main estimates as well. We haven't even asked for that yet, but I'm excited that he will be here on two occasions in the very near future to answer our questions.
I was also glad to hear that, as per Mr. Sopuck's suggestion, we'll be able to have scientists here to discuss their work at our request. We'll look forward to making those requests during future committee business, perhaps. That is a good sign.
I want to go back briefly to Mr. Donnelly's questions on the Cohen commission. The minister was very clear yesterday in the House in response to a Liberal lob question that several of the Cohen commission recommendations had already been enacted, I assume under the previous government. I would like to request that if you have an analysis, which I'm sure there is somewhere in the department, as to which of the 75 recommendations have already been implemented, and the list of the others, perhaps, if they're partially implemented, showing why they haven't been implemented, if there is such a list, attached to it, I'd like to also know what the cost of implementing each of them one time annually would be.
Perhaps I'll just ask for that to be tabled at a later time.
On marine protected areas, I met with a number of stakeholders who are very concerned about what this will mean for them. Their advice, hopefully, if the minister is consulting with industry groups, is that first you need to determine what you're protecting and why you are protecting it.
In your view, can you protect, for instance, sponge reefs on the bottom and still fish above them and have that considered to be part of a marine protected area, or are we talking about fishing at all depths? You mentioned that some want it to be closed. I've heard, even from the shipping industry, that some want there to be no passage, even, over these areas, which I think is a very scary prospect for many of our coastal industries.
Perhaps you could give me a quick indication whether it's possible under the IUCN qualifications that you can still perhaps have a productive ocean at the same time that you have a protected ocean.
Thanks for the question.
There are two points. One is, the minister has met with the fishing industry on this. He met with people on all three coasts who have expressed this concern and has given assurances that they will be involved as we go forward.
With respect to the example you used—a very good one in terms of there being corals and sponges to protect—as to whether, if you're not impacting them, you can continue your activity as long as you're not impacting them, the answer is that you can. There are some views from some stakeholders who would say that when you establish a marine protected area it should be as a matter of course a no-take zone, but it is not required in our current Oceans Act. The Oceans Act MPAs don't require it. The Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act, the act under which the marine conservation areas for Parks Canada fall, requires that part of it be a no-take area. It doesn't say how much. It could be 1%, 2%, or it could be 80%. But there is no specific requirement to make them no-take zones.
At the end of the day, for us and certainly for the IUCN, a marine protected area doesn't need to be a no-take zone. It needs to be a specific area. It needs to have conservation objectives. It needs to have a management plan that speaks to how you're going to meet them.
First of all, in terms of some of the types of protection for corals, sponges, reefs, and those sorts of things, if you're destroying those areas with certain types of fishing or any type of activity, it's not good for the fishery. There's absolutely no question. I think all stakeholders would agree with that.
With respect to having specific areas set aside and then increasing the pressure in other areas, in neighbouring areas, the theory—and there are different views on this—is that by protecting a certain area you're really going to allow it to grow and it's going to populate, because fish tend to move around. It's going to populate those other areas, and there's going to be a benefit from that. MPAs are fairly new. For some, there's documentation that shows it does work. Others are saying that if it's a well-managed fishery, it doesn't make that big a difference.
We are going to have to keep all of those things in mind to ensure that there is an ongoing robust fishery in Canada, but that we are applying the proper protection. It's not an easy thing.
Tom, did you want add something?
Thank you for the question.
Atlantic salmon is an enormously important issue. It's an iconic species and a driver for the economy, and Miramichi is certainly a key area. We are seeing challenges. In the U.S., it's endangered. Some say it's pretty much gone. It's doing much better in Labrador and northern Newfoundland, less well the further south you go, and almost gone in the U.S., so it is a challenge.
That ministerial advisory committee tabled a report on, I think, July 31, so the department has had an opportunity to look at it. We are going forward to the minister with some advice about the implementation of various of the recommendations. I've forgotten exactly how many.
There weren't as many as in Cohen, but they weren't that dissimilar. They actually recommended that we look at the wild salmon policy on the east coast as well as the one on the west coast. It's something we're looking at very carefully and will be going forward to the minister with advice on.
Thanks for your question.
Actually, on your last point, this is a really important issue. There are habitat issues, predation issues, and at-sea mortality issues. There are many, many issues, and the Greenland issue is certainly one of them.
The way we address that is through NASCO, which stands for North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization. In any case, there's us, the U.S., some European countries, and Greenland. All of us have been talking to Greenland about that. Greenland did make some changes in the last year to put more monitoring and management in place to restrict the harvest, which has been helpful.
We continue to be concerned about the commercial take in Greenland. There was not a commercial take a few years ago, and they started, but in the last couple of years, it seems to have actually reduced.
We continue to be concerned and we continue to put pressure on. It's largely through NASCO, but it's also something that the minister would raise with the EU and with others on a regular basis. It is one of the issues, and we're continuing to put on the pressure.
It is a really interesting question. It's not specific and unique to B.C., but it is different in B.C. in this instance.
The Constitution says that the minister is responsible for coastal and inland fisheries. Inland fisheries, for the most part, have devolved to the provinces. Devolved is not the right word, but there have been arrangements with the provinces that they manage inland fisheries. What about salmon? Salmon begins inland and spends a lot of its time swimming down that river and then spends time in the marine area and then comes back. How do we divide that up? The way we've done that is that DFO is responsible. DFO manages salmon, but the province has some responsibilities around habitat and those types of things. For some reason, which I hope you won't ask me, they have responsibility for steelhead, which is very salmon-like, but we have responsibility for the five species of salmon: coho, chinook, sockeye, chum, and pink. We work closely with the province on that. We try to make sure that when they're establishing an opening in an area for steelhead, it's not in the way of our opening. We do work closely with them.
With respect to the habitat side, we have a responsibility for fisheries habitat protection in inland areas, but the provinces have responsibilities around riparian areas, and they have a number of responsibilities as well. We actually have joint committees to try to work those things out. They work reasonably well, but there are always challenges. Again, there is that unique challenge around some species in B.C. that's a little bit different because anadromous fish spend their time in inland areas, in fresh water and in salt water.
I appreciate your being here. This is a big country, and you have a very big mandate. It must be terrifying sometimes, especially when you have to navigate the rocks and shoals of politically charged questions. I'm going to try to avoid that for you.
Having said that, there is an issue of public confidence that rubs off on DFO where it seems that commercial interests have made science a subservient issue and where the precautionary principle of looking after the wild stocks has maybe taken a back seat because you've been tied to things like aquaculture. Like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, they've been designated as clients.
I don't expect you to comment on that because that's not your thing to fix. Having said that, though, I'll go to the Cohen commission. It's very clear that there are some outstanding issues there. I'll give you a simple one first. Justice Cohen called for the creation of an associate regional director general to implement the wild salmon policy. Is that position now in place?
I want to pick up on your comment earlier about your harbour authorities. While they were very controversial when they were introduced and there was a lot of opposition, I do agree they have been an excellent management tool for small craft harbours, especially on the east coast.
You commented on a national online licensing system. One of the issues that I constantly hear from fishers is the inability to deal with personnel, one on one, when they have an issue that's confronting them on short notice.
Could you respond to that? That seems extremely frustrating when they're just referred to online. They can go to the local DFO office, and they're told, “We cannot deal with it; you have to go online.” Am I accurate on this?
Yes, often that is the case.
There are a couple of things. One, we did move to an online licensing system, I think two or three years ago, so fishers can get their licence online.
I would say in the first six months we had a lot of “This doesn't work. We want to go to the office and get our licence, thanks very much.” I would not say that it is now a beautifully functioning system where nobody has any issues. But we have always had a 1-800 number where you can receive online help. We've always had people available to engage directly when we need to.
What we don't have is a licence officer sitting in the local DFO office who is actually able to write out the licence. That we generally don't do. We have some exceptions where we will do that.
It has been a transition. In terms of cost, it has worked well. I'll say one other thing, and that is, we talked about the harbour authorities being really good partners. Fisheries organizations have been enormously helpful. To be candid, they've stepped in and helped fishers to make it work in terms of the online licensing system. They've been good partners for us as well.
We're aware of challenges. We've tried to deal with some of the challenges. We try to make sure there is a live human available when we can. The excitement happens when you have an opening of a fishery, with 1,000 licence holders who all decide at the last day that they should really go and get their licence. Then the system crashes for a little while, and some of us get pretty excited. We try to keep those to a minimum.
We appreciate that you hear some of this. It's useful for us to hear it as well.
Three minutes is not a lot of time, Mr. Chair, so I'll make a few comments and then ask a question.
Many people have spoken to me about topics such as the status of fish habitat protection, Fisheries Act changes, the Freshwater Fish Marketing Corporation, implications of the Ahousaht decision, labelling and genetically modified fish in Canada, illegal fishing and organized crime in Canadian waters, and monitoring and enforcement. I'm sure you're aware...I'll add that I've just introduced my private member's bill on moving to closed containment. In the last Parliament this standing committee looked at closed containment technologies.
Mr. Stringer, you mentioned that you're excited and slightly terrified on MPAs. We had a pretty good discussion here on that, and you provided some good information. I would add that some of the concerns I've heard about trying to meet the targets are regional concerns, for instance, looking at the Arctic as major possibilities at the expense of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
My question is about the issue of SARA and species at risk. We have beluga whales and we have resident killer whales on the Pacific coast. In terms of the killer whales, this has been in the courts as we know, and I've been approached on the question of whether the department has put the necessary funds in the budget to deal with this, and specifically with this endangered species, the Pacific killer whale.
Thanks for the question.
I'm going to touch on the MPA thing. You talked about the three coasts, and the Arctic, and all that. There is no question...and the question before was about what areas. I know I said “excited, but terrified”, but “ambitious but achievable”, as the minister says, is a far better way to say it. There will need to be different approaches on the three coasts. A different amount of work has been done. You can do more through fisheries closures in one area. MPA network planning has been done in other areas. Land claims agreements need to be respected, and we need to make sure we're taking the appropriate approach in the north. We're aware of all of that. It is interesting and exciting times.
On species at risk, I can't speak to what's in the budget. What I can point out is in mandate letters, and certainly the mandate letter for the speaks to ensuring that the species at risk issues are upheld. Our minister is the responsible minister for aquatic invasive species. We've had the opportunity to speak to him about those things, and we've also spoken about critical habitat issues around killer whales, around understanding that, and the recovery plan that exists there.
We're mindful of our responsibilities there, and we will ensure we're carrying out our legislative responsibilities.
This study is very important because depending on who you talk to, at least in Newfoundland today, you get different versions of where they think the cod fishery is, where the stock is, and whether there should be a commercial fishery, and even if there should be what we commonly call a recreational food fishery.
I'd like the committee to look at it and come back with some firm evidence as to where the stock is, as well as its affect on other species. We heard this week that the shrimp are down in some areas, up in others. Is the resurgence of the cod having an effect on that species? Is it affecting the snow crab species? Why is the stock high in one place and low in another? Again, with the food fishery involved as well, I'd like to see what effect that has on it.
Overall, it's not just to evaluate the state of the stock. When and if the stock is ready to be harvested commercially, it comes down to a lot of lead time, because the fish plants that were once dependent on the cod fishery don't exist anymore for the most part. For any plants that want to start production of the product from the raw material, it is going to take a while for them to gear up and get ready for it. If we could find some way to show them evidence that if not this year, two years down the road we expect the cod fishery to be a viable commercial fishery....
I'm just seeking clarification. We're in favour of looking at this study as well, but I'd like to clarify a couple of points.
Mr. McDonald mentioned snow crab and others. I'm sure he's aware that we did an extensive study on the snow crab in the previous Parliament. We travelled and presented a major report.
He also mentioned shrimp. Is that something you wanted to include in this study, the impacts on shrimp? Mr. Strahl had mentioned not only the relevance of associated species that are affected but that are affecting.
I'm looking for clarification, because I would ask if that's maybe a friendly amendment to include the words “including shrimp” at the end and its relevance to associated species, or is that implied?
The second clarification is, when was the last northern cod stock study done by this committee, if there has been one? Five years ago?
Okay, so we have two votes.
We have to vote on the amendment.
(Amendment agreed to)
The Chair: It has been amended. Now we have to vote on the main motion, which states all that was said before, plus it now includes “report its conclusions to the House”.
(Motion as amended agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: It's unanimous.
The meeting is now adjourned.