Good morning, everyone.
Welcome back to our study of marine protected areas. Today our meeting will be two hours. The first hour will be with our guests. I'll get to them in just a few moments.
During the second hour we're going to discuss several topics that we have to address, including the mission that we're going to be doing to western Canada, plus we're going to discuss the planning stage of the east coast trip for the fall, and a few other things you may want to bring up. Bear that in mind, because we have a substantial amount of time for committee business, so anything you want to bring up at that time, we'll talk about it then. That's an hour from now.
In the meantime we do have two very special guests this morning as we continue our study on marine protected areas.
First of all, before I get to that, I always like to introduce our special guests.
Jean-Claude Poissant is here with us.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Perhaps I should explain the relationship. I'm chair of the Sport Fishing Advisory Board, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' primary recreational fishing advisory body on the west coast, and in fact, is the oldest advisory body of DFO. It has been in existence for over 50 years and is a bottom-up organization with local committees in 23 communities, who send representatives to two regional boards, who in turn send representatives to the main board. I'm the elected chair of the main board. It's composed both of individual members and what one might call “institutional members”.
The Sport Fishing Institute is an institutional member, as is the B.C. Wildlife Federation, the Steelhead Society, and a variety of others. I also sit on the board of the SFI, and the SFI sits on my board. It's a fairly close relationship of organizations in British Columbia.
As background to my comments this morning, I do want to say that no part of government of which I'm aware—and I'm a political scientist by training—deserves as much credit as the Pacific region of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, for its diligence in consulting with those affected by its decisions, whether they be representatives of aboriginal, recreational, or commercial harvesters, or those championing conservation interests. Committees representing the sometimes divergent interests are consulted on the region's integrated harvest planning processes for salmon, groundfish, pelagic species, and invertebrates.
I have personal experience on the advisory boards for salmon, halibut, tuna, prawn, and groundfish, as well as the processes established to provide advice on the development of protected areas. It's in that capacity that I appear before you today.
I appear because I'm anxious to ensure that as the government proceeds with its promise to protect 5% of coastal marine areas this year, and moves on to protect 10% by 2020, it does so in a manner that continues to provide those affected by its decisions the opportunity to participate in the selection and designation process in a meaningful way, and does not encourage or facilitate end runs around transparent, knowledge-based consultation.
I offer two examples of what I mean. In my role as one of the three SFAB representatives on the Groundfish Integrated Advisory Board, I had the opportunity to provide input for the creation of the glass sponge reefs marine-protected area in Hecate Strait. A GIAB working group composed of commercial, recreational, and environmental interests worked long and hard to provide the department with a set of consensus recommendations. We were not initially successful in reaching agreement on the best way to protect these unique structures, while allowing fisheries to continue in ways that did not have an adverse impact. Two alternative proposals ultimately went forward to DFO's scientists and managers for consideration and analysis.
The department then responded with a compromise that seemed to be satisfactory to all interests, since no one at that consultative table opposed it, thereby satisfying the department's definition of consensus. The terms of that proposal were circulated in Canada Gazette, part I. At that point, however, one of the interests that had been part of the consensus chose to mount a web-based letter-writing campaign, which prompted the department to craft a substantially different set of rules for publication in Canada Gazette, part II.
Similarly, as a participant in the groundfish process, I was part of the process initiated by Environment Canada with respect to the protection of bird wildlife in the area of the Scott Islands, off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, by means of a national wildlife marine area. In this case, we were urged to put forward consolidated advice. We worked hard and achieved a consensus to support establishment of the conservation area on the assurance that it would not have an adverse impact on current aboriginal, recreational, and commercial fisheries. We were told by Environment Canada that current fishing activities would still be consistent with the purpose of the area. I note that the Scott Islands page on Environment and Climate Change Canada's website says that “Current scientific evidence suggests that no-take areas that prohibit all commercial and recreational fishing are not necessary to meet the conservation objective for the proposed Scott Islands...[national wildlife area].”
Unfortunately, despite the fact that it is clear that fishing activities have not impacted the birds' foraging species, such as euphausiids and sand lance, an effort is now under way to upset the original evidence-based conclusion and consensus. A web-based letter writing campaign has been aimed at imposing no-take zones on recreational, commercial and, presumably, aboriginal harvesters.
Against the background of these examples, I urge the committee to help both departments—Environment, and Fisheries and Oceans—to ensure that measures are in place to avoid having the consensus-based recommendations developed by formal departmental advisory bodies undermined by public relations campaigns. My sector wants transparent and evidence-based decision-making, although I hasten to point out that if government decides to begin basing its decisions on the volume of mail it receives, my recreational fishing constituency, which is composed of 300,000 tidal water licence holders in British Columbia, is more than capable of engaging in that kind of activity. We don't want to do that. We think it's the wrong approach, but if needs must, the devil drives.
That's the fundamental point I wanted to make with you today.
I do want to touch briefly on one other aspect of the process, which I think you need to be thinking about. That is that the planning process for these marine protected areas in British Columbia, and for other aspects of fisheries management, have incorporated a new paradigm on the west coast, and I suspect elsewhere in Canada. That is, the process begins with what are called by first nations, “tier 2” processes. That involves first nations talking to other governments, federal and provincial, and attempting to reach an accommodation, agreement and so forth. But in that process, the difficulty is that non-aboriginal Canadians don't become part of that discussion until after the tier 2 process has ended. What that means is that government, it seems to me, is put in an invidious position. If it wants to change the decisions it has made with first nations, it's then seen as betraying the good faith negotiations of the tier 2 process. On the other hand, from the point of view of those of us who were not in the room for tier 2, we are obviously not happy if we're then told, “Well I'm sorry, we reached this agreement.”
There is another way to do this, and I again speak as a member of a process in British Columbia aimed at bringing about pretty substantial change to the way we manage Chinook salmon. It's one of the most serious conservation management problems we face. In that case, that process began with a tier 2 process between first nations and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. At the suggestion of a wise first nations leader in Fraser Valley, Ken Malloway, who was co-chair of the process with DFO, the recreational sector, the commercial sector, and the environmental sector were invited to be part of the tier 2 process.
We've now been involved in that for about two years. It's going forward in a very satisfactory way, where people feel that they understand what's happening and are not being excluded from the process. I simply flag it here today as what I think is a preferred way to go forward, and one that takes into consideration all of these new marine protected areas on the west coast. I suggest that if we don't follow that kind of process, we're simply inviting unnecessary confrontation when decisions get made at one level and are then challenged or required to be modified at another level.
I thank you for your consideration today, and I am happy to answer any questions once my colleague has spoken.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, too, for the opportunity to comment on MPA development on the Pacific coast.
Gerry has framed our organizations and the relationship between the SFAB and the SFI, but I'll expand on that. I appear in my role as executive director of the Sport Fishing Institute of B.C. The institute has been in existence since 1980. We're a non-profit society. Members are made up of a wide range of committed stakeholders, including fishing lodges, resorts, certified tidal angling guides, hotels, small communities, and businesses. We represent the interest of those businesses, individuals, and the angling public they serve.
I provide comment today based on my role, but also on my personal experience as a lifelong coastal B.C. resident and angler.
It should come as no surprise to members of the committee that British Columbians value their coastal environment. Witness the public reaction to a small bunker fuel spill in Burrard Inlet in 2015 and a larger diesel spill near Bella Bella in 2016 if you want a sense of how people feel. But it would be a mistake to assume that marine protection and responsible access to the bounty of the coast are mutually exclusive.
British Columbians are fiercely protective of our orca populations, but woe betide the government that tries to ban whale-watching.
The same is true for the MPA process. We want our coast protected from serious threats, but we also want to continue to enjoy responsible access to resources and fisheries that support the economies of the local communities.
While I know some might suggest that sport fishing is incompatible with conservation, that reveals a lack of understanding of the work that our sector and DFO have engaged in for more than a decade. We've taken steps to ensure that local values are protected through rockfish conservation areas and refuge. The target species of the recreational sector are primarily salmon and halibut. Our impacts are low when they should or must be, and always less than commercial and many first nations fisheries.
We also need to be aware that there is more than one process at work on the coast. The provincial MaPP process has been very successful in engaging first nations in marine planning, but that process has not included equal access to other groups. More importantly, it was not informed by data generated by groups who were, at best, peripheral to the process and not suited to provide information from all stakeholders. MaPP makes recommendations on issues that are well outside provincial jurisdiction, potentially impacting fisheries that are clearly regulated by the federal government.
I ask that the committee carefully consider what happens if the MPA process removes areas of the coast from resource production. In the simplest terms, we welcome the MPA process, but must acknowledge why it is being considered in the first place. Canada could protect all of the values it outlines as its goal under the MPA process, simply by enforcing its existing environmental protection and fisheries laws, but that lacks the public cachet of a marine protected area. We understand the political realities of this.
In developing this additional form of conservation that is new—at least to the west coast—we simply ask that you not exclude activities like sport fishing, which are so intrinsic to the coast in the first place. Protect the areas so that people can go and enjoy them responsibly. Once they have enjoyed them, spending a day fishing with family or enjoying the environment, they will know that a given area is worth protecting in the first place.
If too much of the coast or ill-chosen areas of it are turned into a quasi museum, then they will exist only in photographs or as areas of escape for the very wealthy few, and won't allow the benefits and values of the coast to be understood.
As I said, I credit the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, on the Pacific coast where I have more experience, with attempting diligently to give its various stakeholders an interest, for them to be able to put forward their views.
The difficulty that it has confronted is twofold. First, we live in a new world where different means of communication are now available. Secondly, though, government obviously has an obligation to listen to the public as opposed to listening to the consultative processes that it creates in order to give particular interests input. To me, it's the issue of how you balance that.
Particularly in the case of the Hecate Strait glass sponge reef, the issue was how wide and how high, and how the protection area should be designed. Everyone in the groundfish integrated advisory process wanted that protection to take place.
The argument by the commercial fishing sector—and I'm happy to support them in this circumstance—was that they came forward with a lot of evidence to show that there were ways in which commercial harvesting could continue to take place adjacent to the sponge reefs without damaging the reefs, the issue being the bottom being stirred up, allowing the bottom sediment to drift onto the reef and damage these quite precious structures. As I said, the problem was that the accepted consensus in the Canada Gazette , part I, then disappeared because the government felt it necessary to take into account this additional information.
I understand that government has to take into account all of the information it receives. I'm hoping for some kind of a balance. If you take away from us.... I'm a volunteer and I get paid nothing for my activity, but I devote a lot of time to these processes, as do others, and it's a bit hurtful when all the work you've put into it disappears because somebody else appears to be better at generating Internet-based letters than you were.
Let me have a first cut at it.
I would like the committee to consider carefully the definitions that are going to be used to define protected areas, and I'll cite one example.
Through a very detailed process, we established a large number of rockfish conservation areas on the west coast. These are areas in which all recreational fishing has been banned, and all commercial fishing, with some exceptions of things that don't touch the bottom and affect these areas where rockfish congregate. If you added those areas to the total, I think you would be well over the stated percentage for the west coast already.
The difficulty is that you can't add them because they don't meet the strict definition that has been applied to what a protected area is. The reason is that first nations still have access to those areas. You can't stop first nations from fishing in those areas, because they are defined as areas of abundance. If they were areas of no abundance, then conservation measures could be applied.
I'm not suggesting that any interference with first nations' rights take place here. What is needed is a negotiation that ensures that those areas can be defined as protected areas and therefore become part of the total, as opposed to trying to find other areas to add in order to meet a percentage requirement.
I think this is where it's a question of defining what you're protecting. I do know Dr. Ban and I respect her, as a qualified academic, to comment on these kinds of things, but the issue is to define what it is you're protecting.
In the case of glass sponge reefs, you're trying to protect their unique structure and to ensure that future activity around them doesn't detract from that protection. In that case, for example, while I've been espousing the cause of the commercial sector, we were actually saved because it was harmless, in the sense that it was agreed that, given that recreational fishing in that area—there's not a lot, but there's some—never takes place more than 100 feet below the surface, there was no need to ban that fishery from that area.
On the other hand, another kind of curious anomaly, the Bowie Seamount off Haida Gwaii, is already protected. However, in that protection it was agreed that the black cod trap fishery could continue. I assume that the people who made that decision had good reason for it, but fishing for tuna over the Bowie Seamount is banned. Tuna fishing takes place in the top two feet of the water column, so the tuna fishery—and I sat on the tuna advisory board; we can fish tuna out there recreationally—was banned commercially.
Those are the kinds of decisions that would need to be sorted out as you define what protected areas are and what they're intended to do and how they're implemented.