Good morning, everyone.
This morning we embark upon a study put forward by Mr. McDonald, the MP for Avalon, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), a study of the Atlantic Canada commercial vessel length and licensing policies.
We want to say a special welcome to our numerous guests this morning, some joining us by video conference.
We have Jacqueline Perry, regional director general for Newfoundland and Labrador region. Thank you for joining us this morning.
We have Verna Docherty. Ms. Docherty is acting manager, licensing policy and operations, Maritimes region.
We have Marc LeCouffe, who is director, resource and aboriginal fisheries management. He is joining us from Moncton, New Brunswick.
We have Patrick Vincent, regional director general for Quebec, joining us from Ville de Québec. Bienvenue.
And we have Mark Waddell, acting director general, licensing and planning.
Ms. Perry, please, you have up to 10 minutes.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee for the opportunity to speak to you here this morning. I'm Jacqueline Perry, acting regional director general for Newfoundland and Labrador of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
I am pleased to be here with colleagues from other regions in the Atlantic and our national headquarters to provide you with information related to the department's rules for vessel registration length and to answer any questions you may have.
Vessel-length restrictions are applied in all fisheries in Canada. They were implemented in the 1970s primarily for conservation reasons, and they were applied in competitive fisheries to control the catching capacity of vessels and therefore the amount of fish harvested. That said, the policies have evolved over time and now contribute to the achievement of several fisheries management objectives including economic viability, equitable access to fisheries resources, and vessel safety.
More specifically, vessel-length restrictions provide for an equitable and orderly harvest of fishing resources, promote viable and profitable operations for the average participant, and promote consistency while recognizing that specific provisions may be necessary for certain fisheries and geographical locations. Vessel length is one of many complex and interrelated factors contributing to safety at sea in Canadian fisheries.
Vessel lengths are also used to define fleets for the purposes of fisheries management. Commonly, vessels over 100 feet are considered the "offshore fleet", vessels 65 to 100 feet represent the "midshore fleet", and vessels less than 65 feet are generally understood to represent the "inshore fleet". These fleet distinctions are linked to specific licensing policies and management measures.
Vessel-length restrictions have evolved over time and their application may vary based on regional factors, although the department strives for consistency where possible and appropriate. While effective control of fishing effort and vessel capacity remain key objectives of fisheries management and licensing policy in Canada, over the years and in consultation with industry, DFO has reviewed rules governing vessel length in certain fleets with the objective of providing industry with increased flexibility. DFO has provided this flexibility to fleets when proposals are supported by a clear majority of participants and do not compromise conservation or fisheries management objectives.
Proposals to change vessel registration rules are reviewed in open, transparent processes using existing consultation mechanisms and involving all affected stakeholders. Consultations have been held over the past couple of years and feedback tends to be mixed, with some stakeholders favouring vessel-length extensions, while others favour limiting criteria to meet conservation and fisheries management objectives.
Since 1997, DFO has provided greater flexibility to fishers operating under self-rationalization systems such as individual transferable quotas, ITQs. In 2003, a new approach for changing vessel replacement rules for Atlantic Canada was adopted following an extensive industry consultation process. The new approach responds to industry requests in the development of new rules as long as the proposed changes are consistent with principles that were established at the time and continue to be applied today.
In 2007, DFO approved changes to the vessel replacement rules in Newfoundland and Labrador region after extensive consultations with industry, and increased the length barrier for all of the inshore sectors. These changes were accompanied by the introduction of the enterprise-combining policy to ensure that much-needed fleet rationalization occurred while allowable vessel sizes were increased.
Quebec region also undertook changes to its vessel replacement policy following extensive consultations with its industry liaison committee in 2014. The gulf region likewise implemented changes to its vessel replacement policy in recent years following consultation with industry stakeholders.
In 2012, changes were made to the vessel replacement rules for the area 12 traditional snow crab fleet in eastern New Brunswick and gulf Nova Scotia, which is under an ITQ regime, to increase the vessel length to a maximum of 30.5 metres or 100 feet.
In 2014, following a policy-streamlining exercise in the gulf region, the rules for the remaining groundfish ITQ fleets were changed to remove a 50-foot vessel barrier and to allow vessels of up to 65 feet to be used by those fleets.
There were also changes made that saw the removal of the requirement to cap vessels to a limited cubic measurement and to allow the use of primary vessels in the competitive groundfish fishery.
In the Maritimes region, modified vessel-length rules are in place in lobster fishing areas 33 and 34 to cap the fishing effort on the resource. The maximum vessel length is restricted to 45 feet, with an allowable maximum stern extension of five feet. This policy has also been extended to the fixed-gear groundfish fleet operating in the same area. These modified actions resulted from extensive consultations.
The department frequently receives requests from individual harvesters for exemptions to these vessel-length policies. Requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and decisions are made weighing several factors including conservation, competition, the economic viability of the fleet, vessel design, and the fishery profile.
Despite requests from individual harvesters to either review vessel-length restrictions or to be exempted from them, there has been no significant interest in review by major fisheries organizations. There are concerns around the approval of exemptions for individual harvesters given that this may enable individuals to overfish certain species and, more importantly, to achieve competitive advantages over other participants in the same fleet.
Allowing individual harvesters to exceed the applicable vessel registration rules has consistently created controversy within the fleets. It is generally not supported by fishery associations, and DFO's approach to requests for individual exemptions is to deny them.
Issues related to vessel-length restrictions are complex and challenging. Decisions taken, whether on an Atlantic-wide, regional, fishery, or fleet basis, need to ensure that conservation and other fisheries management objectives are not compromised; that the required consistency between regions and other government departments such as Transport Canada is maintained; and that they remain consistent with fleet-based approaches to ensure equity and fairness for all involved individuals.
With me today are representatives from all the DFO regions in the Atlantic and from our national fisheries policy group. We are happy to take your questions.
Thank you to our guests, both here in person and by video conference.
Jacqueline, I was surprised to hear you talk about consultation. I recently attended three outreach meetings in my riding, consultations by DFO. In total, there were probably over 150 fishermen who attended those three meetings, and the overarching complaint from fishermen.... It was the first time they had seen anyone from DFO come out and talk to them. They had never heard tell of anyone doing any consultation, even to the point where regulations were changed over the winter behind closed doors with no consultation. A fisherman actually had to use ATIP to get the information, to know what actually took place and what was said at that particular meeting. Consultation has been lacking, big time.
On the vessel lengths, in listening to what you're saying, I gather that the overall length regulations can be Atlantic-wide or regional, correct?
We have an Atlantic-wide policy that speaks to the significant licensing policies that apply to the inshore sector, but, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, there are provisions possible for individual fleet sectors that come forward as a fleet in a particular fishery, potentially in a particular area, to make representations to DFO to modify or to depart from that Atlantic-wide policy.
Some of the examples that I gave in my opening remarks are illustrative of those types of exercises. In all cases, they are a result of consultation, either on a regional basis or on a fleet-wide basis.
I take your point, Mr. McDonald, on the need for the engagement of harvesters on all matters, not just on licensing policy. It's very important. I think it's a priority for all the regions.
Certainly, in Newfoundland and Labrador, we put in a significant amount of extra effort over the fall and winter, going to small communities, hearing from harvesters directly, and getting their perspectives, not only on fleet exemptions and length policies but on all fisheries management approaches.
—on the boat, so whether they take it in a small boat or big boat is not going to matter.
To me, what's being forgotten is the safety issue. You said certain vessels will go a certain distance, and somebody now with a 39'11" could go to the edge of the 200-mile limit and fish their quota, depending on what they're fishing. Wouldn't it be safer for that person to be out in a 44'11" or a 65-footer and let the fisherman decide where he wants to fish? It's a business decision, his or her decision to go to a bigger vessel and invest that kind of money.
Somebody with a very small quota, yes, they're not going to invest in a 44-foot or a 65-foot vessel. For somebody who has obtained a large quota, whether it was through buying quotas or inheriting it from a father or grandfather, whatever, if they want to go and catch that quota and do it safely.... I'll use this example. In Nova Scotia, the base size for a vessel is 44'11". In Newfoundland it's 39'11".
The last review that was done, as you mentioned, was in 2007. At that time, the 34'11"s were allowed to go up to 39'11", and 39'11" went up to 44'11", and anything above that went up by 20 feet to a 65-foot. There was a huge jump there, and there was no consideration there for competition or that vessel being able to catch more fish than a 44-footer. He was allowed to go a full 20 feet bigger.
It seems like in Newfoundland, for some reason, they're kept back from making the proper investment, and once they go to that 44-foot vessel, it falls then under Transport Canada's CSA rules and regulations. It has to be inspected every four years and carry more safety gear.
As you know, we've had instances over the past couple of years when fishermen were forced to use smaller boats, and several of them did not return to the wharf. It happened in St. John's last year to three fishermen from the Shea Heights area. They had to go out in a smaller, open boat when they had a 35-foot boat tied to the wharf, and because of the regulations, they weren't allowed to use it.
It doesn't make sense for a fisherman to be dictated that they have to go in an unsafe vessel when they have a safe vessel tied to the wharf. It should be your decision if you want to burn that extra fuel to go a short distance to catch your quota. It just doesn't make sense.
Can you rationalize why it would be the case that you put fishermen in harm's way because of the regulations?
Good morning. I would like to give you an idea of relations with Transport Canada.
The Quebec standing committee on fishing vessel safety meets every February. People from Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, and even Quebec’s labour standards, equity and occupational health and safety board hold a workshop for fishers on vessel safety.
They review unfortunate incidents that have occurred in previous years and discuss what can be done to improve vessel safety. This is a forum where Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, and Transport Canada work together to improve vessel safety. It is an excellent opportunity to bring everyone together and to have discussions. Policy changes, including vessel length rules, can be addressed here.
This is an example of a situation where there is good interdepartmental communication.
I would like to speak to the consultation process within Maritimes region. Similar to what Jackie has explained takes place in Newfoundland region, we do have annual advisory committee meetings with the nominated representatives of the fishing industry.
In addition to that, in the winter months of 2017, Maritimes region undertook a licensing policy review whereby we sent an open invite to every core licence-holder in the Maritimes region to attend open sessions to discuss the licensing policy.
The department in particular brought three issues. They related to the eligibility to qualify for full time that would allow someone to acquire an enterprise. We spoke to our substitute operator of provisions for vacation time, and we also spoke to flexible partnerships.
We opened the floor to any comments and suggestions that people wanted to bring to the table. Over 500 people attended the sessions. More than 400 feedback forms were mailed in. I don't recall a single one that spoke to vessel replacement rules.
People wanted to speak about owner-operator, the independence of the fleet, and transition mechanisms to allow them to move their licences to their family members when they were done. Vessel replacement policies were not brought up at this very open process by the fleets or even the individual licence-holders.
It was actually the lobster fishery in the Maritimes region. In lobster fishing areas 33 and 34 on the southwest coast of Nova Scotia, they have been limited since 1980 to vessels that are no more than 45 feet in length overall. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, people were pushing and at times surpassing that limit, and found that they were able to get away with it by the stern extensions, which weren't being registered in DFO's licensing system as part of the length overall of the vessel.
In 2002, following a couple of years of consultation with the advisory committees of those two groups, the department did mail out a ballot, a survey, to license-holders in those areas, asking if they wanted the 44'11'' limit to be respected, if there was any leeway for a stern extension, and what such a stern extension should look like. There was majority support to maintain the limit at 45 feet, but there was also majority support to allow a moderate extension of no more than five feet.
To get back to the beginning of your question about the motivations, I could make a supposition but it would be just that. I expect it would be to carry more gear so they can do it in one trip instead of two trips, and to be able to haul more fish.
Again, this is just for the information of the committee, because Mr. Donnelly, a colleague across the way, mentioned having to ATIP information. The fisherman who did that, who made a request under ATIP and got the information about the change in some regulations, will be appearing before the committee as a witness. You'll be able to ask him first-hand why he had to take that route to get the information.
I know it was mentioned that the consultation is done with representatives of the different fleets. The representative, I guess, for anyone in the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador is FFAW, which is the union, and right now there's quite a battle on between another body trying to be the union, and the union itself. A lot of things are done behind closed doors because that union doesn't want anybody else to know what's on the go. They decide what gets done and what doesn't. I'll give you an example and perhaps Ms. Perry can respond to it.
Last year, for example—and I've provided copies to my colleagues—when somebody went to register their boat, as part of the application, there was a form provided that allowed them to put a five-foot extension onto the stern of the boat that would not be included in the overall length measurement. So if you had a 39'11'', you could put this five-foot extension on. There was a diagram showing how it had to be done, how it had to be attached, the whole bit, and you could use that, and it wouldn't be included in the overall measurement.
But this year, when you go to pick up the same application, it's changed. The diagram has changed. Somewhere through the process, they began to tell fishermen they had the wrong diagram with the application. To me, it's like buying your ticket from Air Canada, and Air Canada comes back and says you got a bargain you weren't supposed to get.
I know a fisherman who had a 44'11'' boat. He had to cut five feet off the stern to go to 39'11''. Then he applied to put a five-foot extension onto the deck. This is how crazy this gets. It cost him tens of thousands of dollars. He did it last year, managed to get a little bit of fishing in by the time he got it all done. This year he gets a notice that he has to remove it, they're not allowing that anymore because they're including it in the overall length of the vessel.
He can't register his vessel today to get ready to go fishing in April unless he removes the five-foot extension that was put on as per the regulations given to him last year. That change was made after consultations between DFO and FFAW, behind closed doors, without taking any consideration of harvesters whatsoever. I know of three who did it, and they have to go to the expense now of either removing it, or cutting their vessels, or doing whatever, if they want to be able to fish. They're supposed to be getting ready to fish now for April, but they've got appeals in. There was one appeal heard this week. He's been told it could take four weeks to hear whether he has won his appeal or not. Another fisherman is still waiting to find out when his appeal is. The fishing season will be here and done.
If that's consultation, then I'd like someone to define what's not consultation, because it is not happening. With regard to that, you mentioned in Nova Scotia that the 44'11''s could put on the extra five feet. So that's not included in the overall boat length?
Thank you, and thank you to our witnesses.
It's not always that Mr. McDonald and I agree, but listening to this ridiculousness makes me shake my head. I don't blame you for being frustrated on behalf of your fishermen.
I have many questions here.
You say, Ms. Perry, that the rules have evolved over 40 years. Why haven't they evolved in a manner that obviously makes a little more sense and is more beneficial? I'm trying to get my head around this vessel-length restriction.
Mr. McDonald is 110% correct. If you're going to give me a licence, I can only fish that licence. I don't fish commercially, but I do fish. If the limit is five salmon, I catch five salmon, or less on most days. However, I can catch up to that. It's the same thing when I go deer hunting. I can shoot one deer. I can bring a pickup truck to take that deer home, or I can bring my ATV. It doesn't matter the size of my vehicle. This, to me, makes zero sense. Unless somebody can comment as to the reason—and none of you have so far—I shake my head.
There's talk here about the bureaucracy in DFO and Transport Canada. I've heard that so many times in my 13 and a half years in this place that I'm convinced that, for both of them, it's nothing more than protecting their empire. They don't want to work together for the benefit of the little guy, and that's what this is about, benefiting the little guy.
My first question is this. He talked about Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and the rules are not universal. Are these vessel-length rules applicable on the west coast, in the Arctic?
Some hon. members: [Inaudible--Editor]
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses for being here today.
I represent LFAs 33 and 34 in Nova Scotia. It's interesting, I think, that you've mentioned that they've capped length—maximum vessel restriction—to 45 feet, but as you're probably aware, they're making the boats wider now. Good on them, you know: it's solving their problem of making sure the gear gets out in one trip as opposed to two. They're not dealing with length. They're dealing with width. Among the challenges we face with this now is that where we used to be able to berth three vessels at a wharf, we can now berth only two. As you know, if someone has a berth, they have a berth; it's not a matter of the width or the length. They have the berth. That's causing some backup and some problems in our small craft harbours.
Can anybody comment on that, on the width as opposed to the length? We have vessels now that look like boxes. They're square so that they can do their job. If they don't want to increase the length but they can still get their gear out in a different way, is this possibly another solution? If we're stuck on length, why isn't width an issue as well?
You referred to the very important issue of resource conservation. Initially, limiting fishing capacity to a certain level was a big part of the reason for vessel length restrictions and also for the cube volume of vessels. With the introduction of individual quotas, and later transferable individual quotas, restrictions had less of an impact on conservation issues.
That said, we should note that individual quotas can be very effective and can result in the elimination or changes to vessel length restrictions. This works well when the resource is available and landed prices are good. These factors can be less impactful due to the market, exchange rates, or resource conservation. That is currently what is happening with shrimp. A larger vessel is more costly. This puts a great deal of pressure on both the fisher and the department. Thus, we have to find solutions to make the vessel profitable. As I already mentioned, a larger vessel is necessarily more costly. In this context, there can be a perverse effect on conservation. Increasing vessel length can put pressure on conservation.
We have not talked about the owner-operator issue. What happens if the fisher wants to transfer his licence and enterprise to a new entrant?
If the vessel is larger as a result of a merger of the enterprise, the transport cost will necessarily be much greater. In these conditions, new fishers face a barrier to entry in that it is much more expensive to purchase a fishing enterprise. This creates financing problems. An owner who must access financing may enter into controlling agreements.
The socio-economic aspect is also taken into consideration in consultations with fishers' associations and unions. This is an extremely important aspect when considering vessel length.
Thank you, Chair, and I do agree with the observations made by Mr. Vincent. I believe a lot of the issues we're dealing with today go back to the fact that the primary tool that DFO used for managing the fishery over the years was controlling the size of the vessel, especially with inshore fishers. That has changed dramatically in the last number of years and it's almost as if DFO's policy has not kept up with the evolution of the industry and the fleet.
While I would agree with you that DFO must maintain control of vessel length where it involves those species that are not individually controlled, when you look....I'll focus on the lobster industry. The lobster industry is probably one of the most controlled fisheries. It's controlled within specific seasons, it's controlled by how many lobster traps the fishermen can use.
In fisheries like that, the overriding decision should be one on safety and efficiency of the fisher to make a catch. This is where DFO loses credibility in the eyes of the community, when they sometimes pay more attention to the vessel being two inches longer than it says it's supposed to be. They focus on that instead of the conservation of the resource, on which in most areas now the department is doing a very good job.
We hear Mr. McDonald point out the frustration level on two things and I'm going to ask you to comment on that. One is there appears often to be just an inordinate amount of time in dealing with the paperwork to change something and the ability.... Some of these policies seem to make no sense, other than to frustrate the fisher. When you're looking at vessel length...and we went through this in the gulf region years ago. I believe it changed in 2003 when there was a review of the inshore fishing fleet, because again, you couldn't fish in a boat of 45 feet, but you could fish in one 44 feet 11.5 inches, and you think, why?
That's the frustration level that you get from the inshore fishers who are simply looking at it for safety, for the efficiency of fishing. And the fishing gear has gotten larger, but still it's controlled within that resource.
Could you comment on what you've been doing at DFO to look at the ability of timely response to fishers when they come in because six weeks.... Often a situation will present itself to the fisher where they need an immediate answer, and it just seems to take forever to get an answer to a simple position.
I simply want to leave the one comment that of course DFO should be managing the resource, and a lot of them you're doing very well, but at the end of the day, I think you have to also look at the safety of the fisher and the efficiency of the fisher in pursuing their catch.
Yes. I've seen that on many occasions. I can relate to it as early as in the 1990s when groundfish fishers had an individual quota in Quebec. They all had renewed fleets. Then the cod crashed, and the same with the redfish. There was extreme pressure at that time and they had individual quotas so they had the opportunity to trade their quota before the actual crash of the groundfish fishery. But we had many instances where not only was there pressure on the respective governments—provincial and federal—to help financially this fleet, but also they had many requests to get access to snow crab, and then shrimp, to keep their livelihood and to keep having an industry in the regions.
We saw the same thing with the shrimp fishery in 2008, and just before that. The quotas were very good but there was a steep crash in the prices. Necessarily when you have that, they need help from government or they'll seek other resources, or they'll be very risk adverse to having the quota go down and follow the decision rules regarding quotas because then it's their own viability that's at stake. The more expensive the boat, the more pressure it puts on the individual fisher to get the solutions when you see those variations in the resource or the prices. So, yes, you can see that.
Right now we're seeing that in the gulf fishery. In the shrimp fishery, the quota has to come down because it's a resource issue. Of course, the first defence from the fishers is to say, “Are you sure you have the right advice? We should probably stay at the same quota and see how it goes before it goes down.” There's that in and around the fishers, and it could have an adverse impact on resources when the assets are too expensive.
This is a question that we've been debating ourselves, nationally, from the perspective of engagement of stakeholders through our many advisory processes.
The FFAW is certified under provincial legislation to represent inshore harvesters, for the purposes of price negotiation. The department has acknowledged that role and, over many years, has consulted with the FFAW, in addition to other stakeholders, on all issues related to the inshore fishery, but not exclusively so. For example, although they are the certified bargaining agent for all inshore harvesters, where there are specific issues that involve—For example, the mobile gear inshore fleet have a particular type of fishery on which they need to engage with us. We engage with them directly. Sometimes harvesters in a particular geographic area, such as Labrador, have a particular issue and we engage with them specifically.
We don't universally deal with the FFAW on all matters. They are a significant stakeholder and we continue to engage with them, of course, but we also have an open dialogue with harvesters directly, depending on the issue and the fishery.