Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
I am thrilled to be here today. As commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, I report directly to the environment and sustainable development committee of Parliament, yet sustainable development is much broader than just the environment. I don't know if you're aware that Canada signed on to the UN's sustainable development goals, the United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
If you have a look at the agenda goals, there are 17 different targets. You'll see that sustainable development is much more than just the environment. I'm really thrilled, really happy to be here today to present in front of this committee the audit we did on fisheries, which was tabled in October of 2016. I am accompanied by Sharon Clark, who was the principal responsible for the audit. There are some other members of our team behind me in case I can't answer all your questions.
As commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, I wanted to perform this audit for one real reason. That was to make sure that Canada was not heading towards the collapse of another fish stock. Some of you, if you're of my vintage, will recall the effects of the closure of the northern cod fishery in the early 1990s. Some of us remember how devastating that actually was.
I wanted to make sure that Fisheries and Oceans Canada was managing our 154 major fish stocks in a sustainable way and that we weren't going to be faced with the potential collapse of yet another stock. That was my rationale.
As you know, being the committee on fisheries, fisheries are an important economic driver for Canada. Some 600 Canadian communities, often small, rural, and hard to access in some cases, depend on fishing and fishing-related industries for their livelihoods. The rest of us want fish to eat. At least I would like that.
The economic value of the Canadian fish and seafood exports was tabulated at $6 billion in 2015, and when I met with Mr. Sopuck here on the committee, he reminded us that the recreational fisheries also have an important value of approximately $8 billion.
What did we find in our audit?
The most distressing finding from my perspective was regarding fish stocks that were considered to be in critical condition. Of the 15 major fish stocks that were in critical condition at the time of our audit and that were still being fished, 12 did not have the required rebuilding plans in place. Think about it. We have 12 stocks, they're considered to be in critical condition, we're still fishing them, and we're supposed to have a rebuilding plan and we don't. These included certain stocks of cod, mackerel, herring, and scallop.
From my perspective, continuing to fish stocks that are in critical condition, without having a rebuilding plan in place, increases the risk of the stock's potential collapse. The officials at Fisheries and Oceans Canada also told us that they needed something called integrated fisheries management plans, with detailed information on each stock in order to manage each fishery sustainably. We went in and looked at these, what are called IFMPs, integrated fisheries management plans. We found that these management plans were in place for 110 of the 154 major fish stocks, including those with the greatest economic value. That's actually pretty good. That's 70% of the fish stocks with the greatest economic value having these integrated fisheries management plans.
However, for the remaining 44 of our major stocks, which is about 30%, plans were either missing or outdated at the time of our audit.
We also found issues with gathering, analyzing, and managing information on fish stocks. In particular, we found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada was unable to complete all of the scientific surveys of fish stocks that it had planned. This was partly due to the unavailability of ships, including Coast Guard ships. Specifically, during our audit period, of the 51 evaluations of high-risk stocks planned, 19 were not conducted during the year they were supposed to be.
Also, we found the department had systemic problems with their third-party observer programs, which calls into question the data's reliability and usefulness. We found issues related to conflict of interest and to the timely provision of data. For example, data from third-party observers in at least one case was only made available two years after it was gathered.
These deficiencies in surveys and observer programs contributed to the department's information gaps regarding the health status of Canada's major fish stocks. The department reported that 80 of the 154 stocks did not have all of the reference points required by the precautionary approach framework. These reference points are used to delineate the healthy, cautious, and critical zones for each major fish stock. This meant that the department was less certain about the health of these stocks. For 24 of the stocks, the department classified the health of the stock as “unknown”.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada had no consistent way to manage data on fisheries across the department. For example, in one case, fisheries observers in two neighbouring fishing regions used different codes for the same species. This inconsistency put the department at risk of not having access to sufficient information to make effective and timely decisions.
Our audit concluded that Fisheries and Oceans Canada had identified the following five key elements it needed for fisheries management, and those are the integrated fisheries management plans, scientific surveys, third-party fisheries observer programs, stock assessments, and reference points for establishing stock health.
However, the department had not put all of these elements in place for all major stocks. Without a clear sense of how many fish there are and how many are being caught, Fisheries and Oceans Canada cannot ensure that fisheries are sustainably managed for the benefit of current and future generations.
The department agreed with our eight recommendations, and its responses appear in our published audit report. I'm very encouraged by these responses and hope that Mr. Stringer can give us an update on where the department is regarding those recommendations.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We'd be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Again, thank you very much for inviting me to appear. I'm very excited to be here.
My colleagues and I are very pleased to be here.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to speak to you.
We appreciated the commissioner's report and the analysis of how we can continue to improve fisheries management in order to support fish stock health and ecosystem productivity.
First, I really appreciate that this committee is interested in this report and this work. The report is probably the first one we've seen that looks at the core of how fisheries are managed. It spoke to our sustainable fisheries framework, an approach and a set of policies that we formally adopted over the period from 2007 to 2009, that underlies our approach to managing fisheries.
It spoke to the core elements, which I'm not going to get into because the commissioner just outlined them. It also spoke to how we apply all of those policies and tools, how we're doing in implementing our own policies, how we're doing applying our own tools, and to the challenges associated with finding evidence. You'll see comments in the report about how difficult it was to find out how we are doing on these things.
The committee is well aware of the importance of commercial, recreational, and indigenous fisheries in Canada. An important economic driver, it's the lifeblood of many communities in rural coastal Canada. It's vital for indigenous groups. It contributes to Canada's way of life. The minister and the department take this very seriously, in enabling a healthy commercial fishery, supporting a robust recreational fishery, respecting indigenous rights to fish, and supporting economic opportunity for indigenous groups, and ultimately ensuring that the fisheries resource is there for future generations to enjoy.
The commissioner has already summarized the findings. I'd like to mention a few points about the findings and then talk about the actions we've taken to date.
The audit found that DFO does have the key management tools and policies to manage the fisheries responsibly, such as integrated fisheries management plans, reference points, and harvest control rules, but we have not fully implemented them for all of our fish stocks. We found we need to develop criteria to ensure consistent catch monitoring in fisheries, and that we need to strengthen our oversight of the at-sea observer program and dockside monitoring program. It noted a lack of evidence that current science surveys reflect key priorities, and that the department lacks some information on the Greenland halibut stocks that could introduce more certainty around long-term sustainability.
Let me touch on some context in terms of how we're doing in fisheries management, how we've already responded to the report to improve our record, and how we're seeking to do this to go further and to do it in a transparent way.
First, on how we're doing, the report does point to important gaps in the following areas: integrated fisheries management plans that are not complete or are out of date or without clear objectives, the number of fisheries with limit reference points that indicate where there are fisheries in the healthy or cautious or critical zones, and others. They're important gaps, and they must and will be addressed. The fact is that the department has focused its attention on the most significant stocks where the most valuable commercial, recreational, and indigenous fisheries are.
We have the second most MSC-certified fisheries in the world, after the U.S. We have 31 fisheries that are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. The bar is high for that certification, requiring all the elements of a well-managed fishery, including integrated management plans, sound and regular science assessments, bycatch and sensitive habitat measures, etc. We have 31 MSC certifications that include 41 of our fisheries, representing 75% of the landed value of Canada's fisheries. That is where our focus has been.
As the report says, we have a good, solid policy framework with a precautionary approach guiding decisions, and we have a suite of policies, including sensitive benthic areas, bycatch, rebuilding guidelines, etc. It's not fully implemented, but we have done much of it. Remember, they were established in 2009, so the report points out that of the 154 stocks, we have only 87 with limit reference points.
A limit reference point is something that says if you go below this point, you're in the critical zone, and that's where you really need to pay attention. We only have 87. When we established the framework in 2009, we had 34, so now it's more than double.
The report says we have 75 stocks with an upper stock reference point. That is the point between the cautious zone and the healthy zone, so we're basically at where we need to be once you get to that point. The report said out of the 154 stocks, we only have 75 with an upper stock reference point. In 2009 we had 33, so again it's more than double.
In 2009, we had 20 fisheries with harvest control rules. Now we have 104. Harvest control rules are when the stock is at this level, here's what we will do. They're pre-set rules with the industry so they know what we're going to do in various cases. Since we established the framework, we've established these key tools in virtually all of our key fisheries. Now we need to complete the 154.
On recovery of species, we do not have formal rebuilding plans as our policy says we should in all of the areas that are in the critical zone, but we do have a good record on rebuilding stocks. Haddock and Atlantic halibut on the east coast are maybe the best examples, but we have examples all across the country. We've been moving much more aggressively in the last year on species at risk, recovery plans, action plans, and protection for critical habitat.
We have good results and we have good practices, but there are gaps. The commissioner's report pointed out those gaps and was, we believe, an excellent report.
On filling the gaps on IFMPs, reference points, formal rebuilding plans, we've committed—and this is in the public domain—to establishing plans to fill those gaps with priorities, targets, and timelines for completing these; to filling the gaps identified in the report for all major stocks; and to have this plan by the end of March of this year. That's a response.
Another key element is science. The $40-million-a-year investment in ocean science from budget 2016 is a huge boost to enable us to do this, to fill the gaps. Just over half of this money is going directly into fisheries science—stock assessment, basic fisheries, biology. It will support and expand its survey program for fish and marine mammals, and we're doing more. We're aiming to finalize a national fisheries monitoring policy.
On our suite of policies, we have bycatch, we have sensitive benthic areas, and we have other elements. We do not have a national fisheries monitoring policy. We're going to have that in 2017 to ensure consistency and a standard of reporting and monitoring of catches in individual fisheries. We're developing a protocol to mitigate potential conflicts of interest in our catch monitoring programs. We're finalizing a verification program to ensure the observer and dockside monitoring companies are in compliance with their policies. We're prioritizing IFMPs requiring updates. We have 55 online now, and we're going to increase that number. We're reviewing our fisheries science monitoring activities to ensure that the new money is going to be effective in terms of filling the gaps that have been identified.
Finally, a point on transparency. The CESD, and other recent reports by Oceana and WWF, have pointed out it's difficult to find information on how we're doing. How many limit reference points? We made them go many extra miles to find the answer to that question, not on purpose—don't mistake lethargy for strategy—but we know we need to improve in terms of our transparency. We are seeking to do that.
To that end, this past October announced that we're publishing an annual survey of 159 major fish stocks. The survey provides Canadians with information on how we're doing in managing our fishery on all of the elements that were looked at in the CESD report, and on all of the elements in our sustainable framework. It measures against our sustainable fisheries framework objectives and the elements that the CESD report covered.
We will publish it every year and make transparent our progress to implement our policies and our commitments to respond to the CESD report, the audit.
We've taken steps to improve our fisheries website. Now you can click on a specific species, you can go to Atlantic halibut and you can connect there to the IFMP, to the most recent survey, to the results, to the science advice, and other information. We're committed to having more of our science information in the public domain.
Last year if we had appeared here, I would have had to tell you that we had fewer than 10 datasets available through the open data and federal geospatial platform. Now we have over 60 datasets available, vital information on hydrography, marine protected areas, critical habitat of species, salmon escapements, and abundance of each species of salmon spawning in each B.C. stream each year. More than 30 additional datasets are anticipated to be added by the end of this year: oceanographic data, climate indices, aquatic invasive species information, and many other areas.
We have a commitment to respond, a commitment to do better, and a commitment to continue to have the excellence that we've had. Canadian fisheries are so important. The minister and the department take their responsibility very seriously. We believe we do have a good regime, though we must do better.
The CESD report pointed out some important gaps for which we thank them. We're committed to address those gaps. The report also showed us how difficult it is to assess how we're doing and to get information, and we're committed to address that as well. We'll make the improvements, we'll measure our progress, and we'll report on our progress going forward. That's the commitment our minster has required of us, and we've already made a good start.
We're pleased to take questions today.
Thank you very much.
Just for the record, in terms of funding, our government instituted a new program in the department called the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program that has funded 800 fisheries habitat enhancement programs across the country to date, so let's not get too carried away with this notion of reduced funding all the time. Much of the funding was shifted to projects that actually created fish habitat and enhanced fish numbers, as opposed to studies, which I'm not belittling. The point is that it was the focus of our government.
I found the report, Commissioner, somewhat misleading—the title especially. This actually irritates me from the standpoint of loose language that's not specific enough. The report's entitled “Sustaining Canada's Major Fish Stocks”.
Mr. Stringer, I asked you a question a few years ago in committee: what's the most valuable fish species in Canada? I remember very well that you said the walleye. The word “walleye” isn't mentioned once in this report. Your title should have been “Sustaining Canada's Major Marine Fish Stocks That Support Commercial Fisheries” because that's what the report actually was about.
If someone was to pick this up, they would assume...because Canada's fisheries go far beyond marine commercial fisheries. I would strongly recommend in the next report, or in subsequent reports, that the titles be very specific as to what they are. If the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, for example, saw the title of this report, they'd say, ”Great. Let's see what's going on in the Great Lakes.” There's not a mention of the Great Lakes fish stocks, which are at least as major as any marine fish stock. That's just an observation.
I have another observation and question for the commissioner. In part 2.4, you write, “Fisheries and Oceans Canada is the federal department responsible for managing and regulating fisheries.”
Well, no, it's not. That implies that DFO manages all fisheries in this country, and they don't. Much management has been delegated to the provinces, especially in terms of allocating commercial fishing quotas, recreational fishing seasons, and so on. My question, Commissioner, is this. Why include that sentence that's so broad but so clearly inaccurate?