My name is Bill Wareham. I am with the David Suzuki Foundation. I've been working in the non-profit environmental sector for about 30 years, primarily in western Canada, and I've been with the Suzuki Foundation for about 14 years now.
On behalf of the Suzuki Foundation, I just want to thank your committee for inviting us to speak to you about the establishment of marine protected areas in Canada. The foundation appreciates your inquiry on how we can best meet our commitments to secure our natural marine heritage through the establishment of marine protected areas.
For the purposes of this presentation, I'll consider as protected areas those areas established by DFO, by Environment and Climate Change Canada, and by Parks Canada, knowing that there are different designation tools but we frame them all as marine protected areas.
The Suzuki Foundation's interest here is because the protection of nature and the application of resource management practices based on the principle of ecosystem-based management is one of our long-standing objectives. We see protected areas as one of the essential management tools in this overall frame of ocean management. We strongly believe that human systems, both cultural and economic, are interconnected and interdependent. We propose that without healthy, productive natural systems, both cultural and economic traditions and opportunities are diminished, and in the worst cases, as we have seen on both coasts, can be eliminated.
Every day the Suzuki Foundation hears from Canadians who ask us to uphold strong values for nature, environmental rights, collaboration, and respect for indigenous culture and rights. It's based on these values that we have committed to work in collaboration with indigenous people, communities, and commercial stakeholders to seek solutions aimed at protecting the coastal ocean and resources that we all depend on.
As we do, I ask that you view the oceans and the protection of our ocean environments in the same context as safeguarding freshwater systems for clean drinking water and agriculture, or saving forests and wetlands to control hydrologic systems, or maintaining clean air to accommodate overall human health and prevent harmful substances from entering our environment. We see this issue of protecting oceans through the management of protected areas as fundamental as caring for the rest of the landscape.
In the context of the 10% target, we are encouraged by the federal government's stated commitment to realize the international commitment to protect biodiversity and establish marine protected areas for at least 10%—and we underscore the “at least” because we do believe it's a floor and not a ceiling. How Canada attains this level of protection is a question that many Canadians have grappled with for decades. We commend the government for its efforts to take this bold step, and we feel strongly that enhanced effort is required to meet these objectives.
The Aichi targets have set a challenge for Canada to seriously consider the benefits of spatial protection. At present, we do not feel there is enough being done, or at a significant enough scale, to truly reduce the risks facing our oceans. Given that Canada has in the order of only 1% of its marine protected areas established now, we have an enormous but inspiring task ahead of us. Although we view these targets as a strong basis for action, we also strongly advise the committee to consider that the ecological values that are being conserved and the ultimate health of the oceans and the marine life are the two metrics that we should measure our performance against.
Why MPAs? Canada's oceans are a gift of abundance in productive capacity that is spectacular, yet very vulnerable at the same time. It is a system so complex that even our best scientists do not fully understand it, which accordingly requires precautionary management to minimize the risk to its healthy functioning. We believe that a proactive effort must be undertaken to ensure that the maintenance and recovery of natural systems and the species they support is paramount. We view marine protected areas as an important tool in the mix of management strategies required to meet this goal. Even within the context of marine protected areas, there is a range of management options, tools, and designations that create a matrix of protection measures that ultimately, we hope, can meet that overarching goal of protecting biodiversity and recovering degraded populations of species.
What is needed? In our view, our oceans need to be managed with an overarching framework, with goals and objectives that serve our commitments to protect biodiversity as per our biodiversity convention and the Canadian biodiversity targets, to ensure food security, and to support economic opportunity. In that context, we ask that marine protected areas and other effective area-based measures be used to ensure this long-term health of the marine system.
We propose that, as a country with a relatively high standard of living, Canada has a great opportunity to get it right by being precautionary and finding the effective means to manage, protect, and build our understanding of ocean ecosystems so that they continue to provide a bounty of food and of cultural and economic opportunity to Canadians. Whether the ultimate outcome is 10% or 50% protection, we believe that success will be realized by ensuring application of the correct management tools and conservation practices required by specific ecological values and conservation needs.
Protected areas must be effective, and there is significant evidence from around the globe in regard to what kinds of conditions and management practices result in effective protection.
To be successful in realizing marine biodiversity, conservation, and protected areas goals, we recommend that the government significantly increase its investment, capacity, and funding in the responsible agencies; support interagency decision structures to address overlapping mandates; establish effective governance structures with indigenous communities; accelerate the stakeholder engagement process; ensure comprehensive consultation; undertake appropriate cultural, scientific, and economic analysis to inform the decision-making process; ensure that effective monitoring enforcement mechanisms are in place; and continue scientific study to enable adaptive management and continued learning about our collective effects on ocean health.
Those are some of the key things. I'll send you a paper we have that has more context on some of the issues I've raised, which you can read. For now I'll summarize some of the key things that fall under international commitments.
We feel that Canada has made bold commitments on the convention on biodiversity. We've made commitments around the CBD targets. There's a lot of rationale for MPAs. There is a lot of science evidence and there are a lot of economic benefits that can be developed out of MPAs.
The biggest thing for us is really accepting that we don't know what's going on out there. Oceanographic conditions are changing in ways that we haven't seen before. Changing ocean conditions, oceanographic movements of warm waters, and acidic water and such things are changing both the distribution and abundance of species, and we need to learn more about these so that we don't risk eliminating species inadvertently by overharvesting in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We also see a very strong public perspective for MPAs. You'll get more evidence for this, I'm sure, from the World Wildlife Fund, but they conducted a poll this last year on the perspective of Canadians in regard to marine protected areas, and there's very strong evidence. More than 98% of Canadians support the creation of marine protected areas, 87% say that the current levels of protection are not enough, and 90% believe that there should be a minimum standard for MPAs.
That's one of the issues for us: setting minimum standards and really trying to understand what we need to do to constitute a protected area and define it formally vis-à-vis other types of management in the system that also offer some forms of protection but may not be in the same frame as the protected area that people have in their minds or that our legislation accommodates designating.
There's been a lot of effort on the west coast, where most of my experience is, and the paper outlines some of the things we've done in regard to MPAs and some of the challenges we have going forward.
With respect to our performance to date, the question for us is whether we are doing enough, and the short answer is no.
I'll give an explanation why I think that's the case. We've been at this for years. I have personally been working on this issue for more than 20 years on the west coast, and we don't have a lot of results to show for it. There are some small results, but on an area basis, they're miniscule in comparison with what we're trying to achieve with the 10%-plus target.
There's an enormous amount of work to do, and we can't see any other variable than putting more resources and capacity toward the file. We're falling behind other global developed nations in establishment of MPAs, so we think there's a need to accelerate our efforts to meet what we think is our responsibility globally.
The issue of indigenous protection and indigenous co-governance is very important to us. Particularly on the west coast there's a need to define how we can engage the reconciliation commitments and marine conservation and marine economic opportunities together to benefit communities, particularly those of coastal first nations, which depend on those areas for food and subsistence.
I'll summarize with some concluding recommendations. One is, as I mentioned, maintaining ecological integrity. Two is maintaining commitments around the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Three is that protected areas should be defined using rigorous science and evidence. Four is that we really need to engage marine planning within the broader oceanscape so that we can contextualize where we put those MPAs.
There are two more quick points, the first on current funding levels. We've asked through the Green Budget Coalition for additional funding to go to each of the agencies. Second, the interagency requirement to collaborate is key, because that's where we see a lot of the bottleneck.
I'll leave it at that. In closing comments, again thank you for providing the opportunity. I'm happy to answer any questions in regard to the points I've raised.
Thank you, and thank you for inviting me to speak here today.
The Ecology Action Centre is Atlantic Canada's oldest and largest community-based environmental organization. We work toward sustainable environment and sustainable livelihoods.
I am pleased to be able to speak to you, on behalf of our over 5,000 members, on this important issue to Canadians. I would also like to congratulate you on your report on restoring lost protections and modernizing Canada's fisheries act as well as the reports on northern cod and Atlantic salmon. Clearly, you're all up for hard work in now undertaking this next study on marine protected areas, and this subject is not independent of your last three reports. The recommendations of those reports provide important context for marine protection.
I would strongly encourage you to consider the recommendations of the March 2017 report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, entitled “Taking Action Today: Establishing Protected Areas for Canada’s Future”. The completion of that report enhances what you are doing today and over the next few months. Before I provide my substantive comments, I would like to let all of you know that the world is watching Canada as it works toward catching up to other countries on protecting its marine environment, and achieving this protection in a meaningful way.
To give you some perspective, the island nation of Palau has set aside 80% of its EEZ as a marine reserve. The United States, to our south, has protected 32% of its waters with 3% fully no-take areas. These examples help to keep our 2020 target of 10% in perspective. Countries will be reporting on their efforts at the first United Nations oceans conference in June, and I look forward to Canada being one of those countries.
I will focus now on a few key points that come directly from my experience in Atlantic Canada as a member of the advisory committee for the Sable Island Gully MPA; the St. Anns Bank area of interest, soon to MPA; experience both inside and outside of Canadian waters with respect to efforts to protect coral, sponge, and sea pen concentrations from bottom trawling activity; an active member of several fishery advisory committees; as well as a stakeholder in Marine Stewardship Council certifications.
The first key point is that it's high time we give back to our oceans. With less than 1% of Canada's coastal and marine environments currently protected, it's clear we focused on using, extracting, and harvesting from our oceans, rather than anywhere near an equal measure of protection. Canada is one of the few countries in the world with three oceans. Perhaps because we have so much ocean, we've come to think that it does not need more from us. Given the depleted status of many of our fish stocks—this year, as you all know, is the 25th anniversary of the northern cod collapse—we are still struggling with recovery to a point that allows commercial viability. We have increasing competition for our ocean space, and growing and unpredictable impacts of climate change. It's time to give back to the ocean.
The Royal Society report on Canada's marine diversity in 2012; a report on fisheries recovery in Canada, which I co-authored last year with Dr. Julia Baum at the University of Victoria; and the most recent Auditor General's report on sustaining Canada's fisheries, all conclude that we are not doing enough to protect our commercial fish stocks and marine biodiversity in general. I have no illusions that changing how we take care of our oceans will be easy, but I do know that maintaining the status quo is not an option. As noted in the ENVI report:
|| The single most important factor that witnesses identified as being necessary to develop and implement a plan to reach our protected area goals is political will and commitment.
We have the legislative ability to do it, and we have the technical ability to do it. We need to actually commit to it.
Second, the pace is challenging, but we must stay the course. I hear on a regular basis from various ocean stakeholders that the pace of protection, 5% by 2017 and 10% by 2020, is challenging, difficult, impossible. However, we had an early warning on our progress in the 2012 report issued by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, which stated that:
||...Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada have not planned, established, and managed a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in accordance with their legislative mandates and policies and good practices in order to conserve and protect Canada’s marine biodiversity and fulfill Canada’s international targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity. As a consequence, Canada’s marine biodiversity remains at risk. By extension, the prosperity of many coastal communities in Canada with marine-based economies also remains threatened.
I have a significant amount of empathy for ocean stakeholders, particularly from small fishing associations, who you'll hear from later today, and first nations communities who may not have the capacity to meaningful engage when it's most needed.
However, I want to make the point that we are only experiencing this pace because very little effort was put into the commitments Canada made in 2010. We are starting at year six instead of at year one. In fact, we really only started this in the past year, hence, losing an opportunity to do this well and maintain good relationships. Proposals for MPAs have sat on the fisheries minister's desk for over 18 months with no consideration. This is not respectful to those of us who have spent significant time, some of it voluntary, around the table on advisory committees. I'm working with others to come to an agreement on protection measures.
Government responsiveness to commitments could have made this process much less onerous. We cannot slow down. Our oceans will not wait much longer for well-deserved protection. This is also the first time I've ever heard that DFO is moving too quickly, so I see here an opportunity to set a new expectation for other DFO-led processes.
Third, the selection of protected areas must be based on science. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for Canada to use science as the basis for protected area selection and to set conservation-based objectives in areas legally designated. This practice must be consistent across all of our oceans, which means changing our culture of marine management where short-term socio-economic considerations are generally the primary consideration.
By focusing on using the best available science, we are creating a level playing field for all ocean users. We are also setting a consistent and predictable process. This is something we have long struggled to do in fisheries management. We need to get this right because failing is not an option. Closed areas, in the right place and with the right objectives, can help protect endangered species and vulnerable habitat, and they are an important tool for restoring depleted populations.
My one caveat to this point is that there is a much greater requirement and burden of proof for science in marine areas. It's interesting to note how different it is in terrestrial areas. We are able to protect terrestrial areas with much less science. We can't let the absence of all the information that we might want slow the progress of protection.
Fourth, we must have minimum standards. My colleague Bill Wareham mentioned this, as well.
An area is not protected if it allows industrial activity. This means bottom fishing activity, oil and gas development, ocean mining, etc. Canadians are clear about what they expect, as indicated by national polling completed by WWF in 2016. I believe you all have a copy of that polling, but if not, WWF will be presenting on it.
Currently, we have proposed MPAs that allow some of these activities to happen. These areas should not be considered to count towards our targets until industrial activity has been restricted, with a minimum of 75% no-take areas. Amending Canada's Oceans Act is an opportunity to establish these minimum standards by providing more consistency and predictability to MPA designation.
Fifth, indigenous protected areas need to be part of how we move forward in protecting our oceans. We have a national imperative to begin the process of reconciliation with indigenous peoples. One way of doing this is to encourage and facilitate the establishment of indigenous protected areas. We have a long and difficult road ahead of us to rebuild indigenous peoples' trust in federal departments and in settlers, to recognize decolonization as part of reconciliation, and this includes our coasts and oceans. Indigenous peoples should be empowered to declare indigenous conserved and protected areas.
The Ecology Action Centre recently co-hosted a workshop with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs on this subject. Once we receive permission from our Mi'kmaq and Maliseet partners, we will share the recommendations of that gathering with you.
Sixth, communities need to be supported in putting forward coastal protected areas, and provinces need to be on board, as well. I can say, from my experience in Nova Scotia, that there are coastal communities that know where the best areas to protect are, and in some cases, have already begun the process through informal agreements among users, mostly fisheries.
Community leadership and ownership, particularly in coastal protected areas, will be important in engaging Canadians and making government employees' jobs easier. It's also a key aspect of long-term monitoring and enforcement. As part of this, provinces also need to be supportive.
I've been very disappointed to hear representatives of the Nova Scotia provincial government state publicly that they do not want any more burden of protection. For a province that has protected 12% of its terrestrial environment and that relies so heavily on the ocean for food, economy, and culture, I find this attitude extremely unfortunate.
Seventh, as we move forward, it will be necessary to ensure adequate funding for ocean planning and protection. We won't be able to protect our oceans without good science, management, and enforcement. We must fund marine planning processes and ensure stakeholder engagement so that protecting our marine environment becomes part of who we are and how we see ourselves as global leaders.
Currently, on the east coast, there's a significant amount of focus on what happens in a protected area—we're zoning in our protected areas instead of committing to ocean planning—rather than viewing those as a larger piece of how we manage our oceans. Ocean marine protection and planning, particularly in its early stages, need to be adequately funded.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for inviting us to appear before you.
MPAs constitute a very important subject. My comments will refer to the one that was contemplated for the western side of Cape Breton, the Cape Breton Trough, as it's best known.
My past experience in the fishery is as a fisherman for 33 years. I recently retired, about three years ago, and I am now the managing director for the Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board. We represent in excess of 500 harvesters, of whom 100 or more would be directly affected by this MPA, should it be designated.
All these harvesters are primarily dependent on lobster and snow crab but also hold other species licences. The Cape Breton Trough is a very important fishery in the area for these harvesters, and naturally they are concerned about what may happen. I'll give you the financial concerns they have.
The DFO consultations on these areas of interest began on November 10. We had two meetings, one on November 10, 2016, and another one on January 18, 2017. The process DFO used to approach harvester associations and consult on the areas of interest for designation was unorganized and totally not transparent. They indicated that the process to establish MPAs is typically a lengthy process over many years, yet they seemed to be rushing the process along to meet strict deadlines by 2020.
Additionally, there was apparent confusion within DFO about the newly proposed area for MPA designation, with some key departments—by this, I mean management and science—not being on the same level as the consultation progressed. This led industry to believe that the consultation process was not well planned, organized, or transparent even within DFO, and this surely was a red flag for us.
It was also unclear at the consultation meetings why the Cape Breton Trough was chosen for protection, and there was absolutely no scientific baseline provided for why the area was considered biologically important. No answers were provided at any of the meetings. When questions were asked, they were deferred, to be answered at a later date.
Additionally, the science peer review for this area had not been completed before consultation began, and when industry asked whether they could observe the peer review science process, they were originally given a blunt “no”. Again there was a lack of transparency in the process. This meeting was supposed to be held on January 18, 2017, and it was postponed.
It was difficult to understand why industry was not allowed at the science peer review, as industry has willingly participated in fishery science activities for many years, collecting valuable data, including data for scientific studies by Ph.D.s and people with master's degrees. Industry therefore got the impression that there was no scientific reasoning for the placement of this area of interest for MPA designation.
Following these issues, there were no guarantees at the consultation that the traditional fisheries in the area could continue in the wake of an MPA designation. As you can imagine, this was unsettling for harvesters, as there were no answers for what an MPA might look like or what restrictions there might be on their fishing activities.
This area is a significant traditional fishing area, particularly for the area 19 snow crab harvesters, with 156 licence holders. This year their gross landed projected value would be in the vicinity of $32 million, and the estimated net value of their quota trap share would be $136 million in that very box that was being talked about. You can understand their fears and concerns, when their main income was being somewhat challenged.
Finally, this consultation process on the area of interest for MPA designation in the Cape Breton Trough perpetuated the lack of trust between industry and DFO. The lack of inclusion and answers during the consultation phase, the lack of real scientific evidence for reasoning behind the area of interest, and the lack of guarantees that traditional fisheries could continue all led to further distrust of DFO's consultation and decision-making process.
Additionally, area 19 was in a co-management agreement with DFO as of 1996, and in 2010 DFO simply walked away from that legal and binding agreement. Therefore, harvesters, particularly in this area, are very wary about DFO and lack trust in its processes, based on the history.
At this point, you might think we're totally against MPAs, but we would like to think there's a way forward here. First of all, we think it was positive of DFO to have backed off the momentum they were building on the implementation of this MPA. We, along with our first nations friends, who also fish in the same area, had the same reservations. We thought we might want to pause the action and maybe regroup. That was done, and it was a good step.
We think that DFO should provide a concrete definition of what an MPA is and what it might look like in the area. In other words, come with the full package, put all the cards on the table, and let's have the discussion, instead of doing it piecemeal. Industry should be involved in the designation of an area of interest, not simply being told where the box is and here's how we proceed from here.
Second, scientific evidence for why the area is biologically important must be provided before consultation resumes. The first question at consultation will revolve around why we are protecting this area. There should be scientific evidence already in place to answer these questions. Additionally, industry should be invited to participate, with a minimum of two members. When they had finally opened the door to the peer review process, they begrudgingly said, “Okay, we'll give you one seat.” We said, no, we wanted two seats per association. This will increase the transparency and trust.
Third, there should be consideration for a legal and binding guarantee, or at least a contract with the Government of Canada that traditional fisheries must continue within an MPA, particularly in cases like the Cape Breton Trough, where fishing is the main economic driver in the adjacent rural fishing communities.
Lastly, DFO should take advantage of the MPA designation process to continue building trust with the industry. Harvesters in Gulf Nova Scotia are not opposed to protecting biologically sensitive areas of the oceans for the benefit of marine life; however, they are opposed to unclear, non-transparent DFO processes to establish such areas. The fisheries are the backbone of the economy of rural Nova Scotia, and MPAs should be established with this consideration and in collaboration with those who depend on the marine resources in the area for their livelihoods.
I'll conclude with this. Harvesters want to be involved in open, transparent DFO decision-making processes from the start to the finish, and they want guarantees that traditional fisheries will continue within MPAs. Harvesters want to protect marine mammals, marine species, sensitive benthic areas, which are good for the marine environment. At the same time, when we're protecting all of these species, it would be good if we actually protected the owner-operator and fleet separation, and to have that entrenched in the Fisheries Act, as others have mentioned to you in previous presentations. Let's protect the fish, but let's also protect the harvester at the same time.
Publicly, I would like to thank the Pictou Landing First Nation for supporting our actions. They're very much part of our association, and we dialogue with them continually. We really appreciate their support in this endeavour.
Again, I would like to thank the committee for allowing us to present our concerns, and we are willing to address any questions you may have.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chair. I want to make the committee aware we do have one more person in the room off-camera—Laura Ramsay, our research and liaison officer—if there were a technical question that we needed to caucus on.
On behalf of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, I would like to thank the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for the opportunity to present today on marine protected areas. My name is Ian MacPherson, and I am the executive director of the association. I am pleased to be joined by Captain Robert Jenkins, who is the president of the PEIFA.
The PEIFA represents over 1,260 core fishers on Prince Edward Island, who primarily fish lobster, with some secondary fisheries in herring, mackerel, halibut, and bluefin tuna. The PEIFA has been very interested in the MPA file since the declaration was made by to increase the coastal areas around Canada from approximately 1% to 10% by 2020. We would like to note some observations and concerns we have surrounding the implementation of these areas in the given timelines.
First, the PEIFA understands the requirement to protect marine environments, but we do have concerns surrounding the tight timelines to accomplish these goals. The first step to designating a ministerial order MPA is to gather existing scientific, economic, social, and cultural information on the area. Prince Edward Island is a small province driven by small fishing communities. The displacement of fishers from one community to another as a result of an MPA would shift the economics of the island. Throughout the consultation process, fishing areas were discussed, but not the economics of how a large MPA along the small coastline of Prince Edward Island would impact the island.
Second, scallop buffer zones are now going to be considered part of the other effective area-based conservation measures. We've been made aware of that quite recently, and that's a positive development. This requires a change in management of the zones from a variation order to local licence conditions. We are requesting written confirmation that these buffer zones will remain at a regional level, as they are now, and not be federally regulated like MPAs. We'd like that local control to carry on.
Third, on areas that require immediate attention the information updates to industry need to be more frequent. This includes updates stating that no changes are being considered for a particular area at this time. To date we receive a biannual report, which appears to be created for all of Canada. These updates give a generalized background of the current issues. We are looking for updates more specific to our area and surrounding regions. The Cape Breton Trough was announced as an area of interest in January 2016. However, the PEIFA has never received a formal update from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans stating this. These are the kinds of announcements that impact our bioregion, and updates should be provided on a more frequent and timely manner.
Fourth, in reference to the Cape Breton Trough, we received one email saying it was postponed, but conversations at the round table in Boston stated that the plan is to still go forward with this area as an MPA for 2020. Since then we have received mixed messages again. We are looking for confirmation that the Cape Breton Trough is moving forward toward becoming an MPA in 2020. I believe Mr. LeBlanc just alluded to some of those issues about communication and transparency, and certainly that supports our position.
Fifth, although there are numerous situations where MPAs have improved the fishery, there have been situations where MPAs have failed to achieve expected results for the area. Is there or will there be a timeline in place to ensure a positive contribution is being made to the sustainability of the area? For example, if an assessment timeline is five years, and after five years there is no improvement, will the MPA be removed, reassessed, or moved? Is a backup plan in place?
Sixth, the PEIFA was promised a map in January of this year that would note areas of interest. Is there a new timeline for identifying these areas as we have not received any map to date?
Seventh, it is our understanding that areas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are being identified for the protection of corals and sponges. If the fishing restrictions are put in place, these will not count toward any MPA totals. We would like to see DFO advocate that these areas be included in future MPA totals.
Eighth, the PEIFA is greatly concerned over the proposed oil and gas development of the Old Harry region near the Quebec and Newfoundland ocean boundaries. There are many indications that exploration for this project will be proceeding. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is one of the most diverse bioregions in the world. Why would we risk the many fishing and tourism jobs that sustain the region to develop a resource that is more accessible in other regions of Canada? It makes no sense to designate large areas of coastal waters as MPAs, but then to allow oil and gas development in the same region. An oil spill, particularly in the winter months, could significantly damage the coastlines and fisheries in all provinces in the maritime region due to prevailing currents.
In summation, fishing is the lifeblood of many communities on Prince Edward Island. Protection of the environment is paramount, but it must be done in a responsible and prudent manner. We encourage the standing committee to look at the implementation of MPAs through a community impact lens. The fishery in P.E.I. has the largest impact on GDP of any province in Canada. Protection of the environment is very important, but we must also consider the independent owner-operator fleets and their significant financial contribution to the economy of Canada. We ask that our input and concerns be seriously considered as we move forward with these aggressive goals in increasing marine protected areas.
Just before I conclude my portion, Mr. Chair, because I know the committee deals with a number of issues, I would like to request that for any future discussions on owner-operator or changes to the Fisheries Act that the PEIFA be consulted directly. I'd like that to go on the record.
This concludes our opening remarks.
Good morning, committee. I would like to thank everyone for their time this morning.
My name is Jordan Nickerson. I was asked here today to discuss my stance on both marine protected areas and sensitive benthic areas in Canada's marine conservation strategy.
I would first like to take a minute to give everyone some background information about me and the company of my family, which I represent.
Our family business started in 1988; however, our family roots as fishmongers started well before then in a small community called Woods Harbour, tucked away in southwest Nova Scotia. Three brothers came together and built a business buying lobsters and groundfish from independent inshore fishermen, creating a quality product to ship worldwide and developing quality business relationships with customers who are still with us today.
Over the years we have seen groundfish come and go, lobster catches rise and fall, prices at their highest, and prices so low the industry ground to a halt. Throughout this time our family business has managed to stay alive, battle the good fight, and earn a meagre living. We employ 50 employees year-round and try to give them a decent living in an area always held ransom by the rewards and debts of the ocean.
I graduated from Dalhousie University in 2010 with honours in earth sciences. Oddly enough, I spent several years studying the very corals and sponges that we endeavour to protect today. Upon graduation, my father urged me to go west for work, as the lobster and groundfish fishery was in a state of rebuilding and the future of our business model was uncertain. I worked in western Canada as a geologist for four years, coming home only in the spring and fall to try to effectively manage my father's recent purchase of deep-sea red crab licences.
For those of you who may not be aware, the deep-sea red crab lives in a very narrow band of waters on the Scotian Slope over 500 metres deep. They can only be caught by baited traps at very specific times of the year in a very unique area of the ocean.
My father first purchased the only deep-sea red crab licences in Atlantic Canada, as it was apparent that the future of any seafood business grossly relied on being able to source seafood for the increasing Chinese demand. He also realized that with such a niche fishery, and it was his opportunity to manage it for the future of his business, his community, and his family.
My father, with a lifetime in the fishery, was very hesitant to allow me to join the family business, as I had a very lucrative job oil-prospecting in a booming part of Canada. However, eventually I decided it was in my best interest to follow my dream and my passion, working in the seafood industry with my family. Some might even say it was in my blood.
After spending four years and countless hours experimenting, studying, and working with our developing fishery on the deep-sea red crab, we decided to literally put it all on the line, build a special-purpose, innovative vessel specifically designed to harvest this delicate crab species, and service the premium live market in China.
With a price tag of $1.5 million, 12 months of labour, and a novel approach to a fishery susceptible to boom and bust, our venture was hailed as one of the biggest risks anyone has ever taken in my area.
We launched our vessel Ina K, appropriately named after my grandmother, Ina Kathline Nickerson, in October 2015 and made two trips to the Corsair Canyon in which enough product was landed to deem the investment a possible success.
Of course you may remember the Corsair Canyon. It was announced as a sensitive benthic area in September 2016.
Our crab was landed in pristine quality and our customers were satisfied with our product. As a company, we were slightly relieved, as it looked as though we might actually achieve our dream and see a possible return on investment, while the idea of providing more long-term jobs was perhaps actually possible.
With our sample harvest landed, the vessel was taken out of active fishing duty for the winter as we developed our markets to prepare for the start of the next year's full crab season. As it was, during this winter we were all too quickly familiarized with the concept of MPAs, SBAs, and marine conservation targets, by DFO and the Government of Canada. Abruptly, our access to our fishing grounds was being called into question, thereby adding more complexity to an already strenuous situation.
This current directive to protect the ocean leaves me with more questions than answers. As harvester and processor, I would like to know how I, my business, my employees, and our shared future will be affected. What are our goals for MPAs and SBAs? I've often heard about collective goals of SBAs and MPAs; however, I feel I must describe our approach to our fishery and how the new mandate of SBAs and MPAs will directly affect us and our business.
Having sole ownership of the deep-sea red crab quota and unique fishing grounds that the crab inhabits moulded our concept of harvesting this species and ultimately forced us to become self-governing.
Our fishing grounds are found in the most remote, deepest section of the ocean, where science is lacking and information is virtually non-existent. Taking the time to survey the ocean bottom, sample fishing grounds, develop catch models, and map out our effective catch areas allowed us to justify building and investing in our fishery.
Since this deep-sea red crab is a very sensitive creature that has a very unique and slow-growing life cycle, we came out with the following catch model. First, fish where the crab are. Deep-sea red crab fishery will start in late April and May to coincide with their migration up slope to more fertile grounds as the lobsters migrate inshore to vacate the upper slope.
To be effective harvesters and limit lobster as a bycatch, we must use fishing history and models to determine what sections of the slope to target during various times of the year. With the implementation of SBAs in the Corsair Canyon, a sizeable section of my fishing area is now in jeopardy. Now I must increase my effort in neighbouring areas, which will increase my total exploitation rate to an unknown extent.
Second, avoid sensitive times and areas. Red crab mate, shed, and release eggs in a very small, definable area during specific times of the year. We avoid these areas for harvest to minimize disruption to this activity. As I lose ground to fish in, I and others may be forced to target these sensitive areas, causing more problems than solutions.
Keep enough crab in the water. Each year we tweak our catch according to productivity and profitability. This renewable resource approach is based upon the finite area that we are allowed to harvest. What do we do, without being able to fish the entire ground?
If our goals as harvesters and conservationists are not aligned, we will never find a common ground for a solution. Science and direct facts will lead us to a better understanding and ultimately may lead us to a shared interest. At this juncture, proposed closures seem to add havoc and limit the underlying science, save for the drive of achieving the same target under a percentage that would detract from the values we proposed to protect.
A second question is, who set the criteria for the goals and how will we achieve them in this timeline? Nova Scotia is now dependent on the fishery more than ever. Our offshore oil and gas sector has dried up, and the future of new offshore oil and gas royalties is bleak at best. Manufacturing in Nova Scotia will only provide a handful of jobs, and the combined effort of all other sectors makes Nova Scotia a have-not province without our fisheries.
I agree that conserving the fishery is in the best interests of our future generations, but only based upon science, true facts, and goals that can be attainable working with fishery stakeholders. The international arena has always levied huge pressure on any resource-rich country, especially if their goals are indifferent.
Canada should be a leader in listening to its people and taking the time to listen and spend the money and do the proper science before coming to a huge decision such as establishing SBAs and MPAs supposedly based on science. These decisions will take time, but they should be Canadian decisions based on Canadian timelines, not offhand commitments made to international arenas void of any voices of those who will be impacted most and who are most informed on the decision.
We should all understand the importance of saving and protecting the environment; however, environmental groups don't depend on the fishery to put food on the table and tax dollars to work. They are using their campaigns to maintain their future funding strings and their own future, without considering the impacts on those closest to the resource.
I think Canadians as a whole would love to protect some of their beautiful waters and the creatures that make up our ecosystem; however, once again we must take the time to do proper science and establish realistic timelines to ensure that the values we are protecting are the right values.
Who will be affected, and for how long? Ultimately, we agree that there will be sound reason to close sections of the seabed in hopes of protecting groundfish and sensitive benthic organisms. The amazing thing about our oceans, however, is that most species have legs and fins and are highly mobile. Even the most sedentary species spend their time floating around in the currents before settling on the ocean floor.
Our oceans are warming, and organisms relocate to areas that are more conducive to living with their highly specific needs. If a location that was deemed an MPA or SBA were highly recommended based upon science and we were locked into a lifetime ban on fishing, what value would this MPA or SBA have in 10 or 20 years? Will we need to add future MPAs and SBAs to compensate for the mass migration of species?
If this is the case, we as stakeholders question whether there will be any fishing grounds left for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to come into the industry. Will they instead look west, as I did?
Will ill-informed decisions today ultimately force Atlantic Canadians to give up their true identity and heritage as fish harvesters and processors working and adapting to a changing ocean, or will future generations be forced to live their lives in mundane jobs in which their true spirit as pioneers and their ancestry are crushed by ill planning and lack of true science?
I thank you all for allowing me to speak. As you can no doubt understand, this is an issue that's very close to my heart, as I have been forced to watch wave after wave of regulation and rules alter the very foundation that my family has based their livelihood on for generations.