Thank you for inviting me to speak to you again on another important topic related to Canada's fisheries and oceans. I know you have all had a full agenda over the past year, and your work is critical to ensuring that Canada has world-leading laws, policies, and practices to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our oceans.
I'm going to precede my comments on Bill to express the need for the urgency of modernizing our laws, for the purposes of environmental protection, and as part of our collective agenda toward reconciliation with our indigenous peoples, and finally, to ensure that our three oceans are part of the future for our coastal communities.
There are issues like climate change and plastic pollution that are pervasive in our ecosystems, but we can set the stage to address these through strong coherent legislation. I do know that my organization and myself personally are very committed to achieving triple bottom-line outcomes for our oceans and coasts. That includes economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, and social and cultural sustainability. One of our primary objectives, and through my work, is to ensure that coastal livelihoods into the future are increasing their capacity to benefit from and protect the marine environment.
With regard to Bill , I have a few points to make that I hope will inform your deliberations and discussions. First, the current Bill C-55 is a good first step toward increasing the efficiency with which marine protection happens in Canada. We know that the current state of affairs, where it takes six to eight years to establish a marine protected area, is not acceptable to anyone. It wastes valuable time and engagement for all stakeholders, and we need to be able to identify areas and protect them well together with coastal and marine resource users. An excellent example of that is St. Anns Bank, where there was quite broad stakeholder engagement but because of the long time that it sat, really, on the minister's desk, people and staffing changed with the Fishermen's Association, so while there had been quite a bit of engagement by the time it got around to actually announcing it, the same people were no longer employed or at the table and felt they hadn't been asked, so it's an important time to make this process more efficient.
We also support the changes to the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, but would like to acknowledge that in Atlantic Canada, where there is active oil and gas drilling, those changes don't apply here as we have the accord agreement, which is something else that also needs to be looked at.
Second, there's a real opportunity to get things right and introduce amendments to the bill. I know you've heard from others on the concept of minimum standards, and I will speak to this again. From my experience in working with fishermen, there is a fear that marine protected areas will be used to remove fishing from an area and allow other extractive or destructive industries, like oil and gas or open net-pen aquaculture, both of which pose threats to traditional fishing areas and species. It makes no sense not to prohibit open net-pen aquaculture, for example, in a protected area that includes an important river for wild Atlantic salmon. It makes no sense to allow seismic testing and oil and gas drilling in areas that are important for marine mammals, or that are closed to bottom fishing to protect deep-sea coral and sponges. Essentially, our Oceans Act MPAs are lacking in some key ground rules that, perhaps, could not have been foreseen when it was drafted 20 years ago.
Third, the current lack of standards in this Oceans Act, and more broadly the lack of standards across all of the tools used to protect the marine environment—National Marine Conservation Areas, Fisheries Act closures—means that there is confusion at the ground level, which is not necessary. Canadians expect that in our terrestrial protected areas industrial activities will not be permitted. In the marine environment—and I think you've received our brief already that we put together with several other NGOs from across Canada—we're strongly advocating that activities like bottom trawling, oil and gas exploration and development, open net-pen aquaculture, and seabed mining should simply not happen in our marine protected areas. This does not preclude other low-impact human uses, like fishing with low-impact gear, ecotourism, and marine transportation.
I urge you to consider these specific prohibitions within the Oceans Act now, so there's no longer uncertainty on what is or what is not allowed in a marine protected area. This would be another important part of the efficiency in establishing these areas, because right now every MPA has to look at what the particular threats are, what things should be prohibited, and what the regulations are. We could do this much more quickly. To this point and following, there is a need for broader marine spatial planning so that the focus is not on planning uses within protected areas, but that protection is actually an important use and management factor. What is done with this bill will set the stage for coherency across legal tools to protect fish and fish habitat in Canada. These minimum standards will allow for certainty for resource users, and will ensure that energy is put towards co-governance, co-management, monitoring, and enforcement, rather than constantly seeking clarity on what is and what is not allowed in a marine protected area.
Finally, I just barely got out of Labrador yesterday. It was quite an adventure. The airport in Goose Bay has been shut down for three days. I was there to learn about and discuss a new marine planning initiative led by the Nunatsiavut government to establish the first land claim-based marine plan in Canada, possibly the world.
It is extremely exciting, and will ultimately include protected areas, but will also help to establish values and certainty for further marine uses under indigenous law.
Right now, our Oceans Act does not explicitly recognize indigenous protected areas declared under indigenous law, and has insufficient provisions to allow for meaningful ocean co-governance. We have an opportunity with Bill to ensure that we fix these defects. I would encourage the government to amend the act or at the very least embark on a nation-to-nation consultation on both of these critical topics. Doing so will enable the use of both Canadian law and indigenous law to manage, use, and protect vital food sources for indigenous peoples and allow for sustainable livelihoods.
In closing, I want to re-emphasize the importance of getting this right. I made this point to Minister LeBlanc and a couple of weeks ago in Victoria.
For Canada to be a world leader on oceans, which I think is the direction we're heading in, doing things well is actually an incredibly important part of that leadership. There's momentum right now in Canada to achieve our internationally agreed target of 10% protection, but in actual fact to do more than that. Canada can lead on meaningful protection and engagement of Canadians in protecting and caring for our oceans, and the biodiversity they contain. Ensuring management of our oceans is a source of national pride.
It's less about the percentage than it is about doing it properly. Getting the process in protected areas right will contribute to our blue economy agenda, will provide certainty for the people who live and work by and on the sea, and will help to protect our vital marine species, habitats, and ecosystems.
It will ensure that coastal communities can use their resources to be proactive, rather than reactive, against industries they feel threaten renewable resources like fisheries.
I know many of you care about our wild salmon, the future of our cod fisheries, and about the people on our coasts. We cannot protect these or ensure their future existence unless we get our protected areas right and embed the concept of stewardship in the establishment, management, and monitoring of these areas.
We're moving quite quickly, and I think reasonably well, in terms of achieving our international targets. In many ways, we've done the easy stuff. The offshore areas are relatively easy. As we move towards the coast, there's going to have to be a bit of a different process and more of a bottom-up process of engagement. I think you all heard that during the MPA study, but there is a real opening and opportunity to do that.
Today, in New Brunswick, I have a colleague at the ministerial round table on right whales. That is what I really hope to be the beginnings of a collective stakeholder engagement on how we figure things out and make sure we have right whales into the future. Those kinds of processes, and collective thinking and action are going to be incredibly important as we move toward coastal marine protection.
Thank you for the opportunity. I am happy to take questions.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Thanks again for the return invitation.
Of course, my comments will be from the perspective of marine transportation and trade, both internationally and domestically in Canada, and how that interacts within both the world of marine protected areas and, potentially, this legislation.
My organization represents the interests of shipowners, agents, and service providers responsible for approximately 60% of Canadian international trade by ship. It can also include some coastal domestic trade within Canadian waters. This includes everything from people in ferries and cruise ships to much larger bulk ships and container ships exporting grain to places like Asia. Our members' vessels can include the largest of vessels, but also some smaller vessels like tugs and barges, and there is an incredible amount of diversity in that fleet.
Needless to say, marine transportation and its many spinoff benefits affect everybody's life in Canada. I've been involved with marine conservation initiatives on all three coasts and the Great Lakes for many years. Just like Susanna, I'm also supporting the national species at risk advisory committee and advising the Government of Canada.
As one would assume, our sector is very involved in and supportive of Canada's efforts to protect our pristine coasts in a variety of ways, including through the Oceans Act, but also through legislation and programming that is coordinated by Transport Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Parks Canada. The oceans protection plan is a positive step in coordinating this effort amongst the three key federal departments and with external stakeholders. We are pleased that Canada is on a progressive path to reaching the Aichi target of protecting 10% of coastal waters by 2020. This is no small accomplishment, and I applaud the efforts of the departmental teams in Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and in Environment and Climate Change Canada. It's taken a lot to get to the interim protection levels, and it will continue to be a lot of work to get to the 10%.
In fact, it's clear to see how Bill will support achieving these targets. Nonetheless, the proposed legislation must be considered in the context of coastal protection beyond 2020 and the 2020 targets, and how to best implement coastal protection and management. In doing so, some critical elements emerge.
When I last appeared before the committee in May, I highlighted a number of existing weaknesses in the process of establishing marine protected areas. I'm not going to repeat them, but some of these could actually be exacerbated by Bill in its current version. In this regard, I'm going to address three aspects of the bill: the proposed powers of the minister, the definition of an ongoing activity, and the proposed offences and punishment section.
Proposed subsection 35.1(2) provides the minister with the authority to establish an interim marine protected area and then define the classes of activities permitted and prohibited in the interim MPA. Clearly, there is a need to accelerate the development of meaningful management plans that have a positive influence on the areas they're designed to protect. While establishing an interim MPA might be viewed as a progressive approach to achieving this, we actually consider proposed subsection 35.3(1) as the truly transformational piece in this legislation, as it demands that the minister make a recommendation for a regulation to designate a permanent marine protected area within five years of designating an interim MPA.
The potential risk to the marine transportation sector is likely up front in this process, in the initial establishment of an interim MPA. Without the appropriate checks and balances, there's a real risk of the minister making a less-than-informed decision about the activities that should or should not be included in an interim MPA.
Ships, both large and small, operate in a diverse and frequently demanding environment. You all know that very well. Their capacity to operate safely is influenced by a number of external and on-board factors that include, but are not limited to, things like weather, hydrography, cargo loading, and human elements such as fatigue. The spatial constraints or limitations that might arise from legislative framework built around Bill could limit a vessel's ability to mitigate the impacts of these factors and to therefore be able to transit safely. Certain flexibility must be built into the legislation and related regulations that takes this need for nimbleness and practicality into account.
With respect to ongoing activities, the bill proposes that the minister will list activities that are permissible in a specific interim MPA and define such activities as those that were lawfully conducted or authorized in the previous year. Proposed subsection 35.1(1) continues to lack sufficient definition, in our opinion, to provide a reasonable level of predictability for commercial marine transportation in all of its forms. This level of legislative vagueness leaves considerable latitude for the minister to define ongoing activities. Does this include consideration for Canada's commitments to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea? Will classes of activities be applied with a broad brush, or will they be divided into further subcategories that are applicable to the intent of an interim MPA?
How will this be managed when this impact could have binational implications? All of this remains exceedingly vague at the moment.
My last observation pertains to proposed section 39.6, offences and punishment. This aspect of the proposal is not associated only with the establishment of interim MPAs, but also with the entire act.
A robust monitoring and enforcement regime is certainly a key aspect of a strong legislative framework. Notwithstanding, some of the provisions in the proposed legislation are inconsistent with those found in the Canada Shipping Act today and do not reflect a coherent, integrated approach among the relevant departments. On the face of it, the scale of punishments for some infractions appear extreme, which is especially the case for small vessel operations, and could result in undue harm to coastal businesses and many of the communities they serve.
Although we have a good idea of how MPAs will probably evolve in the next three years, I think this concern is very valid beyond that. In an effort to improve the proposed legislation, we hope that you will consider the following recommendations.
The first is to include a provision in the legislation that requires the minister to publish his or her intent to establish an MPA in advance within a reasonable period. By doing so, it would not only provide awareness and focus within federal and provincial governments, but would also provide visibility to external stakeholders and coastal communities most directly impacted by a new MPA.
The second is to include a provision in the bill that requires the minister to consult with other key ministers as well as relevant regulated industries prior to establishing an interim MPA. In doing so, this would avoid unintended consequences or incongruence between different pieces of legislation. Don't think for a second that this process should be lengthy because it should not be. That is certainly not the intent of my recommendation.
The third is the definition of an “ongoing activity”. Restricting it to a lawful activity that occurred in the past year does not necessarily reflect the realities of commercial marine transportation and it places unnecessary constraints on initiatives that may be progressing more quickly than the five-year restriction found in proposed subsection 35.3(1). Just because an activity has not happened in a proposed area previously does not necessarily mean that this activity would be harmful to the area or inconsistent with the protection objectives of an interim MPA.
The fourth is a formal association with Transport Canada in the legislation to implement a monitoring and enforcement regime. This could include additional harmonization in approach.
Overall, we are absolutely supportive of the intent of this legislation but we caution that some significant change is associated with it that demands both engagement and consultation with stakeholders and also engagement of other levels of government across the country. MPAs need to deliver results driven by tangible benefit. While the proposed legislation may demand a schedule for completion, it does not replace the need for positive stakeholder engagement and input.
Thanks very much, and I look forward to your questions.
Yes, I was involved from the very beginning, and one of the things I felt that DFO did quite a good job at was that all the meetings were held in Cape Breton. Being from Cape Breton, I fully understand how important that is. You have to get across the causeway.
There was quite a broad stakeholder engagement. I think the issue was that at the time the independent Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association did not exist in its form. It did not have paid staff, so at the time there were individual fishermen who were invited to participate on the stakeholder advisory committee. They did not always have the capacity to attend. I went to many meetings that had a lot of broad stakeholder engagement, but the individuals who are now employed by the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association were not there at the time.
I fully understand that they don't feel that they were consulted, because they weren't there, and they were not consulted. However, there was a five-year process of many meetings and negotiating on boundaries and management and understanding uses that did in fact happen on a very regular basis.
It was then sent to the minister's office, and it really did sit for 18 months to two years with nothing. At that time there was a big change in the capacity of the LFA 27 management board. In Nova Scotia, the FHOSA legislation ended up increasing the membership of some of the fishing associations.
That on the ground thing did change, and then all of a sudden, it was approved, and I totally understand. That's why I say the timelines need to be shorter, and the right people need to be there.
I will say a lot of my experience in terms of fishing has been to work closely with the fishing industry on closing down areas to all bottom fishing. I actually think some of the Fisheries Act closures that are happening, particularly on Atlantic Canada's east coast are, in some cases, more protective than our marine protected areas because there is no bottom fishing whatsoever. There are no traps, no longlines, no gillnets, no bottom trawls whatsoever, to protect areas for corals, and sponges and sea pens. That work is being done largely in collaboration with the fishing industry, and there are some areas in the eastern Arctic that are just making their way through approvals, which are truly groundbreaking in terms of progress in Canada. And that's being done with the industry, I will reiterate.
I do feel from a scientific perspective absolutely that we need large no-take areas. I also am a realist and I think that when we get to coastal communities we are either going to have incredible anger...and Bernadette will understand, she knows the south shore of Nova Scotia. We're going to cause a lot of anger in coastal communities that we don't need to do by saying it's got to be 75% no-take, because what do you do in Atlantic Canada when lobster fishing is the thing that keeps us going? It is it.
I would say on core protection zones, absolutely, when it's in marine protected areas, understanding the biodiversity we need to protect or the biodiversity processes we need to protect is very important. I also think that we can be a little adaptive.
Recently, there's an amendment on the table for the Gully marine protected area to slightly amend the zone that allows for halibut fishing because they found more deep sea corals and they want to slightly amend it. I think that's important. I think with climate change, we're going to have to have some flexibility.
I also think that as we have a network of marine protected areas, better understanding connectivity will be critical. We need to know why one area is linked to the next area in terms of connectivity of life history processes in spawning grounds.
I'm practical. I think it's very important that Canadians are involved in marine protected areas, that coastal communities and fishermen feel that these are a benefit to them ultimately and they can be fishermen. They've set aside areas for spawning. They've set aside areas that are just voluntary closed areas. This has happened in the past.
How do we make sure that we're not saying, it has to be 75% no-take or it doesn't count? We're just not going to get coastal marine protected areas in Atlantic Canada. That is the reality, or we're going to get them in areas where nothing is happening and hasn't happened for a very long time. I don't think that's acceptable, either, because I think there's a human component to this.
I hope I answered your question.
I think we have a lot of work to do with indigenous fisheries and first nations. It's a very difficult and interesting topic right now. I think the balance between livelihoods and FSE fisheries and rights to earn a living for our first nations is paramount right now, and I think that's where it should be. It's going to result in some conflicts, and it is resulting in conflicts on the water.
I do think what we can do is probably have some more capacity building, both in our settler fishing communities and indigenous fishing communities, about best practices, about monitoring—you can fish sea cucumbers through diving, we don't have to drag for them—about zoning, and about sustainability of the resource. There's not going to be any fishermen, first nations, indigenous or settlers, unless we have sustainability of the resource. We're just starting to get going on it and I think it's going to get harder before it gets better. All I can say is that we need to commit to a process in listening. It's not going to be easy.
I would say in terms of the two acts, the Fisheries Act and the Oceans Act, the Fisheries Act will always trump the Oceans Act on the specifics, but I think there are ways in the amendments to the Fisheries Act that we can start really looking at the protection of fish habitat properly, protecting of ecologically sensitive areas. On the work that's been done in the Gaspé in terms of closing many areas to bottom fishing, they just closed 11 areas and that's quite amazing. They've moved very quickly, and I think there hasn't been much backlash by the fishing community, but maybe I haven't been reading the French news enough.
We're in an interesting, difficult time on the road ahead in terms of indigenous rights and the right to livelihood and food; we're just embarking on that and it's going to be not easy but very important.