Good morning, everyone.
Welcome to the continuation of our study about the vessel length policy issue. A motion was brought to us by Mr. Ken McDonald from the beautiful riding of Avalon, almost as beautiful as mine.
We're going to start out today with our first round. We have two rounds today.
We're going to hear from our officials from the Department of Transport. We have Jane Weldon, Director General, Marine Safety and Security. Ma'am, it's good to see you this morning.
We have Luc Tremblay, Executive Director, Domestic Vessel Regulatory Oversight and Boating Safety. That must be some size of a business card you have, sir, with that large title.
The Transportation Safety Board is also with us today. We have Jean Laporte, Chief Operating Officer, and Marc-André Poisson, Director, Marine Investigations. Gentlemen, it's good to see you.
We thank you all for coming here.
The way we normally do this is that each group gets up to 10 minutes to do its initial presentation, followed by questions from our members of Parliament.
We're going to start with the Department of Transportation.
Ms. Weldon, please proceed.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to address the House of Commons standing committee.
As Transport Canada's Director General of Marine Safety and Security, I am well aware of the importance of the issues before the committee.
Transport Canada plays a key role in ensuring the safety, security, environmental responsibility, and economic stability of Canada's transportation system. We are the second largest regulatory department in the Government of Canada, and the department is responsible for legislation and regulations that govern all modes of transportation.
By way of contrast, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' mandate focuses on managing Canada's fisheries and supporting economic growth in the Maritimes fishery sector, contributing to sustainable aquatic ecosystems, and ensuring safe and secure waters.
DFO is responsible for fisheries management regulations, policies, and plans pursuant to the Fisheries Act and associated regs. DFO, obviously through the Canadian Coast Guard, is also responsible for search and rescue of fishing and other vessels, and marine communications and traffic services pursuant to the Oceans Act. Transport Canada and DFO work very closely together on many files.
Transport Canada's marine safety and security program develops and administers a significant number of regulations and their associated operational policies, guidelines, and procedures. These are all designed to advance the safety and security of our marine transportation system while ensuring it remains environmentally responsible and economically sustainable.
We are responsible for creating and enforcing rules to define minimum standards of safety in the design, manufacturing, and operation of all components of the marine sector and ensuring the qualifications of seafarers. We also fulfill an oversight function by issuing licences, certificates, and permits; conducting inspections and audits; and where necessary, enforcing the various provisions under our regulations.
Marine safety and security is the lead for Canada at the International Maritime Organization and other international marine bodies that establish international rules for the maritime industry. International conventions negotiated at the International Maritime Organization and adopted by Canada are reflected in Canadian legislation and regulations governing marine transportation.
The legislative framework for the marine sector consists primarily of the Canada Shipping Act, 2001; the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act; the Pilotage Act; and the Marine Transportation Security Act. Underneath those, there are various regulations. Most important, I think, to this committee would be the fishing vessel safety regulations.
On July 13, 2017, phase one of the new Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations came into force. These regulations apply to fishing vessels that are not more than 24.4 metres in length and not more than 150 gross tonnes. These regulations set out new requirements for safety equipment, safe operating procedures, and vessel stability based on a vessel's hull length, type of operation, and type of voyage. For example, personal life-saving appliances are now required for all small fishing vessels according to their hull length.
Phase 1 of the regulations addresses a number of outstanding Transportation Safety Board recommendations regarding fishing vessel safety and is expected to reduce fishing vessel-related fatalities. The new fishing vessel safety regulations also aim to address the current renewal of the fishing fleet.
In recent years, many owners of fishing vessels have opted to replace their aging vessels with new construction in order to take advantage of changes to the policies on vessel replacement made by DFO, or for improved efficiency and capability. As a majority of the fleet has yet to be renewed, the changes to the rules put forth by DFO are drivers that further justify the amendments we will be making to fishing vessel safety regs.
Phase two will amend the Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations to update the provisions addressing the requirements for vessel construction of small fishing vessels.
Transport Canada continues to work closely with other government departments and leaders in the fishing industry to ensure the new regulations keep pace with the times and protect fishers, vessels, and the marine environment.
The goal of the Government of Canada is to implement regulations that promote both the safety of mariners and fishing vessels and the protection of the marine environment, while refraining from placing unnecessary barriers to ensuring an economically viable fishing industry. Transport Canada focuses on preventing accidents wherever possible, protecting people on board in the event of an incident, and making it possible to detect vessels in distress. As you can imagine, we take our mandate very seriously and will continue to update our regulatory regime in the best interests of Canadians.
Mr. Chair, honourable members, thank you for inviting the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to appear today.
My name is Jean Laporte. I am the Chief Operating Officer. Captain Marc-André Poisson, our Director of Marine Investigations, accompanies me.
We are pleased that the committee has undertaken a study to examine commercial fishing vessel length and licensing policies in Atlantic Canada. For the TSB, commercial fishing safety is one of the key safety issues that needs to be addressed to make Canada's transportation system even safer. Over the past five years, there have been 43 deaths because of fishing-related accidents. That's an average of 8.6 lives lost every year.
A few years ago, the TSB conducted a safety issues investigation into fishing vessel safety in order to understand the root causes underlying the loss of life on commercial fishing vessels. This investigation identified a number of systemic factors that require attention, such as vessel stability, life-saving appliances, fisheries resource management measures, training, fatigue, safe work practices, and the regulatory approach to safety.
In light of these findings, the TSB called for concerted and coordinated actions by federal and provincial authorities and leaders in the fishing community to address these interconnected factors. While we acknowledge that Transport Canada and the fishing community have taken a number of safety actions, more needs to be done. Fisheries resource management is one key area where little progress has been made.
Let us look at a few examples of the safety problems we've identified in our investigations.
First, as you know, Transport Canada regulates the safety of fishing vessels whereas the Department of Fisheries and Oceans regulates the fishing activities. In some instances, the TSB found that the vessels involved in an occurrence were not registered with Transport Canada, but were granted a fishing licence by DFO. Recent examples of this include fishing vessels Sea Serpent and Pop's Pride.
This points to a gap in the coordination of regulatory oversight that could potentially result in licensed fishermen fishing in an unsafe vessel. Under a coordinated approach, DFO could routinely verify TC registration of fishing vessels prior to granting a fishing licence, which could help resolve this issue. In British Columbia, DFO has implemented a regional policy to ensure that commercial fishing vessels registering with DFO have also registered with TC. However, this policy has not been adopted in Atlantic Canada.
Second, the work of the two departments overlaps in some areas and, if not well coordinated, can result in confusion and challenges for fishermen. For instance, the TSB observed that DFO and Transport Canada use different methods to determine a vessel's length. Vessel length can be measured by overall length, waterline length or “bow stem to rudder stock” length. Each method is different and yields different results for fishermen to understand and apply, as they seek to comply with the rules. Harmonization of rules and processes by TC and DFO could simplify things for fishermen.
Thirdly, when granting a fishing licence to a vessel, DFO requires that the vessel's length conform to the length restrictions set out by that licence. The length restrictions are in place as a means to limit the vessel's operating capacity, but DFO does not require an assessment of the vessel for its intended purpose.
The TSB has found that some fishermen modify their vessels by cutting off the tip of the bow, extending the length of the stern, or by widening the vessel in order to maximize their efficiency while remaining within these length restrictions. These modifications can compromise vessel stability and lead to accidents. For example, the TSB's investigation into the Pacific Siren revealed that the length of the vessel's buoyant hull met licence length restrictions. However, a stern extension was necessary to accommodate the 300 prawn traps allocated to the licence, and the owner modified his vessel accordingly.
Finally, fisheries resource management measures prescribe rules that govern how, when, and how much fish can be harvested. These rules often create economic pressures that can lead fishermen to take risks in order to maximize their catch and their income, for instance, weekly quotas instead of seasonal ones, unpredictable closing dates for a given season, and rules on how frequently nets must be attended.
The recent TSB investigation into the fishing vessel Pop's Pride is a situation where the crew decided to sail in adverse weather and sea conditions, likely due to several factors related to fishing resource management.
Another occurrence, in Placentia Bay in 2015, involved the loss of three lives. In that case, the master chose to use his secondary vessel, a smaller, seven-metre open boat, while his primary vessel was being repaired. He was not permitted to use a third vessel that he owned, because that vessel was licensed to his spouse and could only be used to fish her quota and 150 traps.
To our knowledge, DFO does not have a process in place to assess effectively the impacts of their policies on safety and help prevent tragic situations like these. Safety should not be an afterthought that comes after the preservation of fish stocks and the commercial viability of the industry when developing fisheries resource management measures. Safety must be an equally important consideration.
These examples clearly show the need for changes in policies. We believe that Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans need to work more closely together to improve commercial fishing safety. TC and DFO must ensure harmonization, consistency, and cohesion in their policies, rules, and processes pertaining to commercial fishing. Safety oversight activities must be properly coordinated. Information must be provided to fishermen in a user-friendly format.
Finally, the two departments must work together, in partnership with leaders in the fishing community, to develop and implement a national strategy for establishing and promoting a strong safety culture within the fishing industry.
We are prepared to answer your questions.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to come here today to tell my story. I might need an extra 20 seconds.
With the time constraints, I will try to keep it short and sweet because to explain some of the grave injustices brought down on the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery by DFO would take hours on end.
When I first saw the topics the committee has begun to study on the agenda for this meeting, I felt something that I hadn't felt in a long time: hope. These topics, if made into policy, would bring the Newfoundland fishery in line with the rest of Atlantic Canada and put us all on a level playing field in terms of general policy. So, I give a heartfelt thanks to Mr. McDonald and members of the committee for bringing these issues to the forefront.
My story begins in the fall of 2016 when I commissioned a new boat to be built in Nova Scotia, a 39-footer with a 7-foot extension. I had heard rumours that DFO in Newfoundland was become increasingly difficult with regard to approving extensions, so I made a visit to White Hills to find out exactly what was being approved. The licensing department was very co-operative and informed me that as long as it was removable, it would not be included in “length overall”—fair enough. I went ahead with the proposed extension, working closely with the boatyard to ensure that the extension was fully “unboltable”. Twenty-five thousand dollars later, voila, I had my extension.
Let's fast-forward to January 18, 2017, when I arrived back in Newfoundland and submitted my vessel registration application to DFO. My extension clearly met the criteria, and also aligned perfectly with the diagrams on the application, for the extension not to be included in “length overall”. I also had a letter from the boatyard stating it was fully removable.
After submitting my application, a few weeks passed by, and something didn't feel right because this should have been a quick process, a swipe of a pen, if you will. I reached out to the area chief, and I was told that the definition of “length overall” was under review. I then explained that the definition of “length overall” was very clear on my application and that because I met all the criteria, my application should be approved.
The next few weeks proved to be very frustrating because I was being told that senior management was looking at it. However, never would they produce a name so that I could contact them to inquire about what was really happening. In Newfoundland, senior management are portrayed as a group of individuals who hide in the shadows and make major changes to policy without consultation. Fish harvesters often refer to them as “ghosts”.
Finally, in the middle of March, I received a letter from the area chief granting me a one-year temporary vessel registration because the definition of “length overall” was going to be changed and I would have to remove the extension for the 2018 fishing season. I was at a loss for words because I had just spent $25,000 on an extension that I could only use for one year and then would have to throw in the landfill. However, the fishing season was getting very close, so I pushed forward with the intent to deal with it in the fall when the season was over.
September 2017 came. It's difficult to fully explain in such a short period of time all the different scenarios, for lack of a better word, that DFO has incorporated into our fishery. In the 3L less-than-40-foot fleet, you needed to have a 40-foot vessel registration to participate in the crab fishery inside 25 miles. However, there are nine boats fishing crab in this sector that have a 44 feet 11 inch registration. In trying to solve my problem, I found one of these registrations to buy. I met with DFO to arrange the paperwork, and I was promptly told, “Sorry, the rules were changed last spring.” How could this be? How could there have been monumental changes to policy without anyone knowing? I decided to file an ATIP, and this is where the story gets interesting.
My ATIP turned out to be very intensive, so the request took longer than a normal period of time to process. In the meantime, I filed an appeal to DFO with regard to my initial temporary registration around the middle of November.
On December 27, 2017, an envelope was couriered to my house with the material regarding my ATIP—all 477 pages of it. There was no apparent order to it, but after hours of reading and sorting, it told a disgusting story of how senior DFO management colluded with the FFAW behind the licence-holders' backs to change the definition of “length overall”, and then pretended to hold consultations, which garnered no support for the proposed change.
Here is the chain of events of how this fiasco unfolded.
On January 18, 2017, I submitted my vessel registration application.
On February 9, 2017, Kim Penney, of DFO in Newfoundland, began circulating my vessel registration application to other DFO regional offices throughout Atlantic Canada to get feedback in order to help herself and Duke Tobin formulate a new definition of “length overall”. What was most disturbing was reading the emails back and forth between Kim and Duke. They were basically using me as a guinea pig while admitting that my boat met the criteria of the current application at the time. Please see appendix A for the proof.
On February 16, 2017, Kim and Duke met with a representative of the FFAW, where three applications with stern extensions, including mine, were laid on the table. It was then decided amongst those people in Newfoundland that Newfoundland would be getting a new definition of “length overall”.
Three cheers for consultation.
What is most disturbing about this is that the three applicants were not FFAW supporters. Speaking for myself, I had helped to start a rival union six weeks prior to this meeting and DFO still thought it was appropriate to bring the FFAW into the room and decide the fate of my boat. It's sickening, to say the least. Please see appendix B.
In March of 2017 at the crab and groundfish technical briefings, DFO announced to the few harvesters in attendance—because only a slight few were invited—that they were considering changing the definition of “length overall”. There was absolutely no support whatsoever for this proposed change. There were comments like this: “you only have so much fish to catch, so what difference does it make what the size of your boat is?” Also, safety concerns were a common theme—see appendix C. Unfortunately, even though there was no support to make the changes to length overall to remove stern extensions from the equation, DFO pushed on regardless.
In March 2017 I received my one-year temporary exemption. On April 11, 2017, DFO had inquiries from the boat manufacturers that make the 28-foot open boats that are used as a secondary vessel. They had grave concerns about the proposed changes to length overall, because most of these types of boats have an extension bracket to which the motors are mounted and, technically, the new definition would make the boats longer than 28 feet. The policy chiefs had a meeting on that day and decided that these boats were going to be used in the new groundfish fishery, saying that “this doesn't increase capacity, but maximizes it”.
Now, this is a direct contradiction of the reason for changing the definition in the beginning, because it all started over concerns about capacity. Likely, this exemption was made to accommodate the over 40-foot fleet, because the current groundfish fishery isn't feasible for a larger boat to fish, so a lot of guys use their secondary vessels, which are limited to 28 feet. Please see appendix D.
On May 23, 2017, five months after my application was submitted, the new vessel registration form was released. Please see appendix E. On March 2, 2018, I won my appeal.
To say this process was a fiasco is an understatement. The main reason there is so much discontent in Newfoundland towards DFO is due to instances like this. Major changes are being made without input from harvesters, and the result is putting harvesters in smaller boats that are usually not as seaworthy as larger ones.
The discontent will continue. As part of my ATIP, a document was attached, which was called “Changes to Regional Licensing Policy Required Prior to Public Release”. This outlines monumental changes to our fishery that DFO never bothered to bring to consultation because they were deemed minor changes, and an FFAW executive signed off on it. Please see appendix E.
Vessel length is obsolete in the modern-day fishery. All too often, we read transportation safety reports stating that vessel size was a factor in a tragedy. DFO uses vessel length as a crutch in its harvest control plans, but the reality is that it doesn't work. Vessel length was the primary tool of harvest control in the 1980s, and look what that led to: the largest layoff in Canadian history and a resource that is still in the critical zone. Bravo, DFO, for continuing on the trail to madness.
At the very least, Newfoundland should have the same base length as every other Atlantic province: 44 feet 11 inches. The regional director preached that changing vessel length will give some a competitive advantage. I would like the regional director to explain this: when a 2J3KL groundfish licence is exactly the same no matter what fleet you are in, how does an 89 feet 11 inch not have a competitive advantage over a 39 feet 11 inch?
Instead of spending untold thousands of dollars transforming the White Hills into a modern-day Alcatraz, DFO needs to treat harvesters with the respect they deserve, and then they can spend money where it's most needed: in science. The culture of “fishermen are too stupid to understand what's best for them” has to be abolished. I can speak from experience. The next wave of harvesters are oftentimes university- or college-educated, and they are keen business people. They never got their enterprise for free like some did in the 1980s. They bought a business, and they deserve to know when DFO is about to flip their lives upside down.
In closing, I have been fishing for the last 20 years. I have a fishing master, first class certificate, meaning that I can captain any size of fishing vessel anywhere in the world. I also have a Bachelor of Maritime Studies from Memorial University. But what do I know? I'm just a fisherman.
This isn't usually my scene, public speaking and such, but I'll give it my best.
Good morning, and thanks for the opportunity to state the concerns of myself and others about what has been happening for years.
Policy-makers are failing to see the real problems that harvesters have tried to deal with. Hopefully, someone will grasp that the changes that are being made to safety, such as PFDs and safety drills, are a help and a good idea but will not change the tragic statistics much.
Policy-makers need to focus more on real problems, the major one being vessel length restrictions in Newfoundland, where we have a fishery that is not competitive. This is one of the main regulations that is playing a major role in tragedies in this province alone.
As my story goes, I come from a fishing family and have been around the fishing industry all my life. From a very young age, I was on my father's boat, and I started to try to make a living from the fishery about 20 years ago. My wife and I came to the decision in 2014 to take the plunge and purchase the family enterprise belonging to my father, as this was the main source of income for my family.
Since 2008, the crab licence has been fished on my father-in-law's boat through a buddy-up agreement from DFO. I was left with very few options from DFO, only being allowed to buddy up for the crab fishery. On May 20, my wife and I decided to take the plunge again, cash in our savings, risk it all, and purchase a vessel so that I could fish other species and try to help pay for the expenses of the enterprise.
The boat that I purchased, formerly named Sam's Bride, was built in 1996, at 39 feet 8 inches length. Some time between 1996 and 2016, the boat was lengthened on the stern, making the length 43 feet, 8 inches, which was too long for my registration.
Before I purchased the vessel, I contacted the DFO office by phone and talked to Dave Parsons on a couple of occasions. He informed me that the vessel length would need to be remeasured. Knowing that the vessel was too long for my registration before purchasing, I went to the DFO office in St. John's, where I spoke to Dave Parsons in person about the foolish regulation and getting to use the vessel as is, or if need be, my plans for cutting the vessel and leaving the deck as a stern extension as per the figures on the form that Dave gave me for vessel registration.
I purchased the vessel on May 24, 2016. On August 15, 2016, after the crab season, I got the boat lifted and started cutting it back to its original length. I left the deck as a stern extension, which is seen all over Canada on other vessels. On August 18, 2016, the modifications were complete, and a marine surveyor came and measured the boat and filled out the form provided by DFO.
On August 22, 2016, I hand-delivered the form to the DFO office in St. John's, to Dave Parsons. It was turned down on the spot because he said the stern extension was not temporary in nature. I appealed the decision the same day and was later given a date in February 2017, which was later postponed again until April 2017, the start of the fishing season. Then it disappeared in the mess of things.
In between the mix of August 2016 and January 2017, after frequent visits, phone calls, and emails to DFO about the situation, and getting no further ahead, I turned to the FFAW, my union, for help. This also turned out to be a total waste of time.
After getting the feeling of getting nowhere, I contacted my MP, Ken McDonald's office and was in contact with Ken Carter at the time. Christopher Snow now holds this position. I also contacted the office.
In January 2017, I decided to cut the stern extension off, make a removable one, and bolt it on, based on what I was informed to do by emails, phone calls, and meetings with multiple employees of DFO. I cut off the stern extension, had an aluminum one made, and bolted it on in January with play-by-play pictures, phone calls, and emails to DFO's David Small in Grand Falls, Windsor.
David Small had replaced Kevin Hurley in his job position. Kevin and I had been in contact about the issue since DFO in St. John's decided to transfer it to Grand Falls. When it was completed in January, I was informed by David Small to hold off on getting the vessel measured again.
In March 2017, they gave me a temporary registration that allowed me to fish the vessel until December 31, 2017. Almost two years since May of 2016, and after one year of being held back from fishing species, DFO finally contacted me on March 16, 2018 and informed me that the vessel had been registered.
DFO guided me down the road, telling me to follow a certain registration form, and now the “length overall” definition has been changed by a few DFO employees through emails, which changes the form completely.
I will also note that the “length overall” definition did not seem to be officially passed by any board for approval and was not finalized by February. The emails with the DFO clearly show that it was backdated.
This entire process caused great financial and mental stress on both me and my family. DFO imposed on me a policy that was not in place at the time the modifications were completed on my vessel. On one hand, DFO are promoting safety, and on the other hand, they are playing with people's lives.
At the end of the day, the only advantage of a bigger vessel in a fishery like ours, which has set quotas, trip limits, etc. and is not competitive, is safety for all crew members who are trying to survive and provide for their families. The size of the vessel has nothing to do with the amount of species a certain licence is allowed to catch.
In between May of 2016 until current day, there have been multiple phone calls, emails, and in-person visits that have taken place with DFO, FFAW, members of Parliament, and the fisheries minister's office about my situation. This meeting time slot does not allow me enough time to get to you two years of contact information, but if need be, I can inform you of more information.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak on this issue before you. Hopefully, we can all work together and make good use of this little bit of industry that is left and turn it back to a viable, sustainable, and safe one. We should not forget that this industry is what Newfoundland and Labrador were built on, and it plays a big part in the world.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
My name is Ryan Cleary, president of the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador, or FISH-NL, as we're known back home. I'm here with Merv Wiseman. He is one of the founders of FISH-NL. As mentioned, I'll be sharing some of my time with Mr. Wiseman.
I'll tell you a little bit about us. FISH-NL is a recognized union representing an estimated 3,000 inshore harvesters. We're not the official bargaining agent. FISH-NL is currently locked in a certification battle with FFAW-Unifor, the bargaining agent, to represent inshore harvesters. We've had an application for certification before the province's labour relations board for almost 15 months now. After almost 15 months, they're still trying to figure out how many actual fishermen and fisherwomen there are. But that's a story for another day.
Mr. Chair, having read the transcript of this committee's first meeting on vessel length policy, which made for some compelling reading, I saw that one of the more dominant themes was DFO consultation, or lack thereof. Mr. McDonald, the honourable member for Avalon, brought up consultation a number of times—I thank you for that, Mr. McDonald—and it's one of FISH-NL's and my central points today.
The first thing I want to make clear is that DFO in the Newfoundland and Labrador region has completely lost touch with inshore harvesters. I think the gentlemen here have made that clear. DFO does not have its finger on their pulse, and it has not had its finger on their pulse for decades. DFO acknowledged that point this past fall and winter, when it held a series of 20 face-to-face meetings with harvesters on every coast in Newfoundland and Labrador, the first such meetings in a generation. Fishermen in their sixties and seventies said they couldn't remember DFO ever holding such meetings. Instead, DFO has relied on the FFAW, the union, to speak for harvesters; only, most harvesters say the union is no longer their voice and hasn't been their voice for years. They say the union has lost its way. It's clear that DFO held the 20 meetings around Newfoundland and Labrador to reconnect with harvesters. FISH-NL recommends that such meetings be held on a continuous basis.
I also noted in the transcript from this committee's last meeting that one of the witnesses, Verna Docherty with DFO's maritime region, said that in the winter of 2017, her region undertook a licensing policy review whereby they sent an open invite to every single core licence-holder to attend open sessions on licensing policy. Such direct meetings between DFO and core licence-holders in Newfoundland and Labrador have never, ever taken place. FISH-NL recommends that in future they do take place.
Mr. Chair, inshore harvesters can no longer tell who is the manager—DFO or the FFAW. Who makes the rules? DFO must recreate and continuously strengthen a direct connection with inshore harvesters.
In terms of the policy on vessel length—more specifically, raising the length from 39 feet 11 inches to 44 feet 11 inches—the majority of the Newfoundland and Labrador harvesters I have connected with have no issue with such a policy change. In fact, they're for the policy change. They say that vessel length should be standardized across the east coast. They say that safety should be the primary consideration. Most are in favour of it.
At the same time, some harvesters in the over 45-foot fleet are against increasing existing vessel size, saying that bigger boats will create bigger appetites, and bigger will eventually want more. While the size of a boat doesn't factor into IQ fisheries, or “individual quota” fisheries, some harvesters say that allowing bigger boats will give them an advantage in competitive fisheries like mackerel—from what I can understand, there is only one competitive fishery, and that's mackerel—or fisheries that may be competitive in the future.
This all comes back to my point about consultation. FISH-NL recommends that when it comes to proposals for major policy change, DFO should consult directly, and as transparently and openly as possible, with inshore harvesters. FISH-NL would advise going so far as to create a ballot system so that harvesters themselves could vote on major policy changes.
When it comes to the variance in time frame for operator transfers, in Newfoundland and Labrador it's a year compared with one month in Nova Scotia and one day on the Conne River Indian reserve in southern Newfoundland. The transfers put Newfoundland and Labrador inshore harvesters at an economic disadvantage, and should be standardized across the regions.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll pass it on to Mr. Wiseman.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the standing committee.
My name is Merv Wiseman, and I have had a 35-year career with the Canadian Coast Guard. I'm retired now, of course. My first 16 years were served as a vessel traffic services officer in various locations in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Arctic. My final 19 years were served as a maritime search and rescue coordinator at the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's. During this period I co-authored a fishing vessel safety report for the Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue branch and subsequently assisted in the implementation of a safety program for fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador. I later served on an assignment with Transport Canada to implement a similar program for fish harvesters in other parts of Canada.
I have a background study in nautical science and am a certified ship's officer in domestic and foreign waters. I have had some fishing vessel experience, and I have skippered a 50-foot longliner in the groundfishery for one season in the early 1970s.
It is my pleasure to present a brief in collaboration with FISH-NL on the important issue of vessel length and licensing policy in Atlantic Canada. The focus of my brief is to bring attention to the impact of vessel length restrictions on fishing vessel safety, which continues to have disturbing consequences, perhaps unintended, for those affected by it.
Fish harvesting is known to be the most dangerous commercial activity in Canada and globally. Transport Canada safety board marine, which is the agency responsible for investigations and recommendations into vessel accidents and fatalities in Canada, has elevated fishing vessel safety to its watch list, making it one of the two significant vessel safety issues in Canada that need continued attention for safety improvements. Despite numerous recommendations to Transport Canada to exercise its statutory mandate to provide solutions, an unacceptable level of accidents and fatalities continue to prevail.
During my time as a search and rescue coordinator at the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's, I was designated lead on the fishing vessel safety file for the Newfoundland region. After responding to a disturbing number of SAR incidents related to commercial fishing activity in the Newfoundland and Labrador region in the 1990s, the Canadian Coast Guard Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre undertook a review to try to understand the various safety dynamics related to these incidents. I co-authored a report entitled, “Fishing Vessel Safety Review (less than 65 feet)”. Unfortunately, the findings of the study and its report are as applicable today as they were almost 20 years ago.
The study found that 70% of all SAR incidents in the Newfoundland region occurred in the fishing industry. Moreover, the highest incident rate occurred in the small vessel category of the less than 34 feet 11 inches. The report also cited an Irish study undertaken in 1996, which established “the smaller the vessel involved in accidents, the more likely the accident resulted in fatalities”. Considering that almost 90% of this small vessel fleet type in Canada operates in waters adjacent to the Newfoundland and Labrador region, this continues to represent a deeply concerning problem. While the report identified a wide array of causes for these incidents and fatalities, one of the most dominant features was related to vessel modifications and the effect on stability.
The attempt by fish harvesters to adjust to new realities in the fishery after the 1992 cod moratorium by moving to alternative species, which in many cases were farther offshore, was a driving force behind the modifications. Furthermore, the DFO fish management restrictions leading to the inability of harvesters to fish in a vessel length category more conducive to the new operating environment forced harvesters into modifications that simply did not fit the vessel beneath them.
These conditions and restrictions still prevail. With an emerging cod fishery on the radar, one has to be concerned about a similar spike in incidents related to yet another adjustment in the operating environment for fish harvesters and the vessels they operate. Another layer of complexity may be arising with the new Transport Canada regulations requiring mandatory stability testing for all small fishing vessels. Aside from significant costs for testing, additional boat construction remediation required to offset the stability effects of vessel modifications due to the current length restrictions could create insurmountable financial barriers for affected harvesters.
In a recent hearing session of the current standing committee, Ms. Jacqueline Perry, acting regional director general for the Atlantic region of DFO, gave rationalization for the DFO vessel length restriction policy. The prevailing rationale appears to be rooted in achieving conservation objectives by controlling fishing capacity through vessel length restrictions. As members of this standing committee have questioned, the fact that capacity is controlled almost exclusively by IQs and other disciplinary management measures makes the policy seem uselessly redundant.
Aside from the unintended consequence for fish harvesters, the policy is made to look even more vacuous by the fact there is no standard correlation between vessel length and carrying capacity. For example, it is not uncommon for a 34 feet 11 inch fishing vessel to be designed to carry much more than the next category of vessel length, 44 feet 11 inches, and so on through the categories of vessel length.
While it would not be accurate to pin all the fishing vessel safety issues on fish management policies, there is no denying the underlying safety problems associated with vessel length restrictions. There are significant negative effects on stability related to the vessel modifications.
Fish management policy, which forces harvesters to undertake dangerous modification contortions in order to fit its designated length category, is effectively rolling the dice against the lives of the harvesters who have to fish in some of the most dangerous waters in the world. In recent years, stakeholders in the fishing industry, including fish harvesters, have made important adjustments against the backdrop of fishing vessel safety incidents and fatalities. This includes training, prevention, safety awareness, carriage of safety equipment, and significant regulatory revisions designed to ensure compliance with safety-at-sea operatives.
In recognition of the influence of fish management measures on fishing vessel safety, DFO has made some changes in its policy protocols. Unfortunately, the vessel length and licensing policy, which were designed to meet the needs of a 1970s fishery, have not fundamentally adapted to the realities of the current operating environment. However, there is a sense of optimism from grassroots fish harvesters that long overdue changes are about to occur.
It is with great hope and encouragement that the work of the current standing committee on vessel length and licensing will be the instrument needed to move the change over the top.
I sincerely wish you well.
My brother and I fish together. He owns licences. I own licences to work. When I say we fish together, we're not allowed to fish together, because DFO won't let us, so we have two different boats.
I'd say we have spent about $1.5 million, so sometimes what's happening is people.... I started fishing in the 1980s when you'd just spend $30 to get your licence, and you went from there. Unfortunately, these are the guys oftentimes who are sitting with the FFAW, with DFO making policies or asking for things to stay the same, and that doesn't reflect the modern-day fishery when I had to spend that much money to get involved. In order for me to make that pay.... I didn't get a licence for $30. It doesn't make sense.
Unfortunately, DFO doesn't consult with everyone. I was at a crab meeting a couple of weeks ago. My immediate family and I own about 20% of the crab in our area, and I was nominated numerous times—and John Will can tell you—to go on the committee at different times, and the FFAW wouldn't accept my nomination, because I didn't believe in their values. They even tried to schedule a meeting for the election on the day of my father's funeral just so I wouldn't be there.
Fast-forward to now, I went as being part of FISH-NL. I was invited to observe the crab technical briefing. After that was over, they had a negotiation about what sort of cuts and stuff you're going to get for that season, and when I went in, there were 40 or 50 empty chairs in the room. It wasn't like we were at capacity. The FFAW representative asked that I be removed from the room, and DFO, fortunately for me, had their wires crossed and said I was allowed to stay, that I was invited. At that time, the FFAW guy got up and left the room and called someone, one of his higher-ups, who called someone higher up at DFO in White Hills, and by the time they got it all straightened out, the meeting was over, but DFO came up and told me I wasn't supposed to be there and that I couldn't come back anymore, like next year or whatever.
I said it was pretty disturbing. We are pretty involved in the area, and I like to think I know a lot about the fishery. I'm not trying to brag or anything, but I just think I do. It is unfortunate that they don't consult with everyone. They have a small little clique of people, and John Will can vouch that they're the ones who get the say. Consultation, I guess, is one of their really weak points.
I'll speak to that really quickly.
I run the biggest social media group in Newfoundland with regard to the fishery, so I tend to get a lot of information before everyone else gets it. As we speak now, they're having the cod technical briefings back home in Newfoundland.
I'm not sure how this all started. Why was DFO downloading the responsibilities of fishery management onto a union, or whatever? It's totally wrong. We have scientists and everything else there in place to develop that stuff.
The GIDC is a new group; they formed a union. I think there's someone from the provincial government sitting on it. In 2016, the GIDC processors and the WWF formulated this plan, a cod-harvesting plan, that went against the science that the provincial government had a charter to do.
In 2016 they predicted the stock was going to increase by 23%, I think it was, and it only increased by 7%. So, what did the GIDC do then? They increased the harvest capacity for 2017, with a predicted growth of 30%. I found out on Monday, and I guess everyone will find out on Friday, that the stock apparently now has declined overall by 14%.
It went directly against what the recommendations were from the scientists who conducted the initial study that found an increase in the biomass. It's not good enough. This is our livelihood, and we have a group of.... I don't know who they are. What gives them the right to decide...who's a former RDG... and all this stuff? They went against the science and they gambled and they lost.
Because it's easy to go to the FFAW and ask, “What do you want to do?” Then someone from there can sign off.
You'll see the changes in my last appendix. From what I could find out, they're the annual changes that they try to make. It shows who is asking for these changes. Most times it's the FFAW.
They made monumental changes to the structure of our groundfishery last year, and nobody knew about it—nobody. They say in their briefing notes in the beginning that if we don't deem it to be important, we don't consult.
But these are major changes, separating areas and separating fleets, and nobody knew about them. They should be reversed until people know what's going on and have an opportunity to chime in on it. They're trying to keep us down rather than trying to....
It's the same thing with these rules. I'm glad you're looking at.... When every other province in Atlantic Canada can do something, we should be able to do it too. I don't know why we're treated differently. We have all these short-term leases. All this stuff is great stuff.
I can speak for the guys from the gulf in Newfoundland. If a boat decides it doesn't want to fish in the fall of the year because it's smaller, a guy in Newfoundland can't do a lease on that boat but he can go across the gulf 15 miles and get a boat from Quebec. And here's a guy in Newfoundland sitting down twiddling his thumbs, and he's probably not making any money but a guy from Quebec can come over and do it. I have nothing against the guy in Quebec, but how is that a level playing field?
In the spring of the year, in Fermeuse, where John Will and I fish, we see a flotilla of boats coming down from Nova Scotia to go fishing crab in Newfoundland. That's fine and dandy, however they do this, but we can't do that same thing, because DFO in Newfoundland doesn't allow us to go up there. How come there are these different segregations? It seems as if every other province can do it. The baseline is forty-four eleven in every other province. Why are we behind on that? It's just not right. There should be general policy for everyone, like Transport Canada does.
How many fishermen and fish harvesters in Newfoundland and Labrador is a good question. As I pointed out in my presentation, the Labour Relations Board has been trying to find that out for 15 months, and there's no end in sight for that.
I also mentioned in my presentation that, beginning last November and wrapping up in February, for the first time in a generation—and I'm not exaggerating in any way—DFO started in Labrador, worked their way down the Great Northern Peninsula, the south coast, the southwest coast, the east coast, and northeast coast, holding direct consultations.
The regional managers of DFO held these 20 meetings. I attended 17 of the 20. To start, they asked the fish harvesters who were in the room what their concerns were. Like Mr. McDonald's testimony in the last session—it was refreshing to hear some of the things you had to say, Mr. McDonald—it was refreshing to have DFO officials walk into a room, no big speeches, no big presentations, and ask about our concerns. That's the start. DFO, as you said, and as I said earlier, should bypass any unions and go directly to the fishermen and ask what they need, what they want, if this is working, if this is not working.
Most things are not working. Most commercial fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador are at or near the critical point. As Jason mentioned about the northern cod, the technical briefing is tomorrow and we hear rumours it's showing a 14% decline. That is just shocking.
From my perspective, DFO is not doing its job in any way.
The basic rules are just.... With vessel length, for example, I built a new boat. She's 39 feet, but 28 feet wide. Ten or 15 years ago, a 45-foot boat by 20 feet was called a “super 45”. My boat now, square footage-wise, is bigger than that, but DFO is so stuck on this length thing. It's just so stupid.
Not everyone is going to go out and spend $700,000 on a boat. The thing is, there are so many 45-foot or 44 feet 11 inch boats available because every other province could do this all along, that they're able to get a decent boat for $100,000. They automatically fall in line with the CSI rules, and they're going to be more safe and everything else.
That's just the option. You hear fearmongering back home, with people saying, “Oh, I have to go buy a 45-foot boat now.” You don't have to buy anything. You can keep the boat you have. It's up to you. You still only have whatever you want to catch, but it gives you the option, especially with the new groundfishery coming back, where every licence is deemed the same. We fish the same areas, and we have the same amounts, but some guys are expected to go 200 miles in a 35-footer. It's not right.
When you talk about a competitive advantage, they bring that in when it suits them. I'd like to know how an 89 feet 11 inch doesn't have a competitive advantage over a 39 feet 11 inch when you have the exact same licence.