Madam Chair, it's a pleasure to be here again.
Thank you to the committee for the opportunity to present to you today.
During the last election, you heard loud and clear that Canadians had lost faith in the revised system under the previous government to approve projects with impacts on fish habitat. The West Coast Environmental Law Association commends the government for following through on its commitment to restore lost protections and modernize the Fisheries Act.
There are many provisions that we and many others across the country are pleased to see, and I'm happy to talk more about them if you want. Today, though, I'm here to talk about how you can improve the act even more while you have the chance to do so. As the minister mentioned this morning, there is still time to propose amendments.
Many conservation groups have worked collaboratively to analyze this bill and have proposed amendments on three key issues: rebuilding fish stocks, cumulative effects, and environmental flows and fish passage. We fully support and endorse these.
Today I'll address two broad areas where you can propose amendments that will make the act even better and address past criticisms of it. You can set national legally binding and enforceable standards in the law directly. I'll speak to two of these issues: flows and cumulative effects.
The other big issue I'll speak about is increasing government transparency and accountability. The government has made great strides in this area as well, especially with mandate letter commitments. Additional improvements can be made to increase transparency and accountability, and I'll speak of three ways.
First is legally binding standards.
As described in one of our briefs to you, the legislative history of this act, going back to when it was first introduced—and it is one of Canada's oldest acts—shows Parliament's clear intent to create national standards for the protection of fish and habitat. Courts at all levels have confirmed the wide scope of this federal power.
Standards on environmental flows are a priority area for legislative change. The minister this morning gave you the internationally accepted definition of “environmental flows”. This definition is included in laws around the world, and it really would be an improvement to Bill to actually talk about the flow regime and environmental flows—the environmental role of water for fish. Water law was traditionally about water for people. The concept of environmental flows shows that water has a really critical environmental role, especially for fish and other aquatic organisms.
DFO's own science advisory report from 2012 talks about the need for a national framework for flow, so that there can be a consistent approach to this issue across Canada. From all your work, you know very well about the decline in fish—northern cod, which was spoken about this morning, and both Atlantic and Pacific salmon—and the decline of fish habitat, which continues apace across this country. One example is that only 10% of the former habitat of the lower watershed in the Fraser River remains, and that's one of the biggest salmon-producing rivers in North America and probably the world.
indicated a willingness to consider amendments. We have provided language for amendments that define environmental flows, establish national standards on the acceptable limits of flow alteration, and establish monitoring requirements.
The second area that you've already heard about this morning is cumulative effects. This is a big one. The government is grappling with it, and I know the department is grappling with it. It's a difficult one.
The cumulative effects of small projects remain a major cause of habitat loss, and this was a priority issue in public consultations. The minister said there are two types of projects: large projects, which go through the authorization, and low-risk projects that avoid harm. This actually leaves a really big gap in terms of all the medium-sized projects—a massive number of small to medium-sized projects that cumulatively can impact fish habitat and cause it to be lost.
We support amendments that have been provided to the department and will be provided to this committee in briefs, which talk about ways to better address cumulative effects. One way to do this is by expanding the records that are in the proposed new public registry, to require not only the authorizations in there but also that all the projects be approved under the codes of practice and under designated project regulations. You can really press a button—online registry—and say, “Here's our project. Here's where it is.” People can track it. Scientists will track it, as will researchers and DFO.
This bill also needs to address one of the chief ways that DFO currently uses to exempt proponents from the need to obtain a habitat authorization, and that's the letter of advice. This isn't mentioned at all in the act. We suggest and recommend that the letter of advice be defined in the act, and that all letters of advice also be posted on the public registry. A letter of advice is given to a proponent because there is the potential to cause harm to fish habitat. Why not tell everybody about this advice?
I'll move rapidly along, because I know I have limited time here.
I also want to talk about, in the second half, transparency and increasing accountability. I've already mentioned the public registry. We and many others strongly support this. This has been a recommendation from many groups for many years.
There's a great registry for CEAA projects. We need such a registry for fish and fish habitat projects as well. Now we have one, and that's great, but the rationale for making some records mandatory and some optional is really unclear. Mandatory records include standards and permits, and optional records include guidelines, policies, and intergovernmental agreements.
It's really not clear why there's a distinction between mandatory records and optional records, the ones that are listed in proposed section 42.3. We recommend that all the ones listed as optional be mandatory.
There's a new requirement for more transparency and public access to information, which again is a great improvement. It's a five-year report from this committee, or your corresponding Senate committee, on the administration of the act. We suggest and recommend that if you're going to do such a five-year report, why not do the state of fish habitat and the state of fish stocks across Canada? Our neighbour to the south, with a bigger population and more impacts, does a national fish habitat report every five years, and Canada can and should do that as well.
Third and finally, the act can increase accountability through legal mechanisms allowing other levels of government and scientists to request action, and require a response from the minister. We're proposing this amendment to deal with one of the big criticisms of the former act, that there was too much discretion.
The minister and his or her staff could, really, make decisions without too many bounds on their discretion. The act has been changed. There are many factors that now must be considered when making decisions under the act, but we recommend that another way to increase accountability would be for other levels of government, scientists, and conservation groups to make requests. I'll give you one example of what I'm talking about.
There's a new provision in this act for the protection of long-term area-based fisheries restrictions, and these are what DFO calls marine refuges. They're intended to be a complement to marine protected areas. Long-term fisheries closures are a federal responsibility. They can only be imposed by the federal government. They really require an extra level of protection for provincially and indigenous declared marine protected areas.
For example, as far back as 2004, the Province of B.C. has requested from DFO that for the ecological reserves and marine protected areas declared under provincial law, the province wants federal fisheries closures. It wants full protection for those areas. Fourteen years later, that still hasn't happened. The province is still talking to the federal government about it.
Why not put in a legislative mechanism requiring the minister to act, creating the ability for a province, or an indigenous government to make this request of the minister, and requiring a response from the minister about the decision? Indigenous declared marine protected areas are another set of places where complementary federal fisheries closures could enhance protection.
There are some other suggestions for increasing accountability through this ability for people or other levels of government to request the minister to take action that are set out in our brief, which will be provided to you shortly. You're moving so quickly, and we haven't yet filed our brief, but we will.
In conclusion, many of the provisions in Bill will require regulations. We look forward to working with the department and the government to make these regulations effective. It's important to examine whether all the procedures contained in this law will help restore Canadians' faith in the fisheries regime. We're sure your committee wants to achieve this goal, and will work with everybody who appears before you on amendments to achieve that goal.
Madam Chair and honourable members, thank you for having me here and listening to my story.
My name is James Lawson, and I am a career fisherman. During my time I have harvested salmon and herring by seine, herring by gillnet, frozen at-sea prawns and urchins by scuba dive, and geoducks by surface-supplied dive. I grew up on boats, spending my summers out on the seiners ever since I was a baby and earning my first paycheque on half-share at 13 years old.
These years on the water got into my veins, and I will never be able to walk away from fishing despite the countless warnings I received from crew members and mentors. They all told me to go away to school and get an education to escape the fisheries. They considered it a dying industry setting sky-high lease prices on quota, insurmountable prices to buy licences, and an ever-decreasing opportunity to put gear in the water, squeezing the next generation of fishermen away in a monetary stranglehold.
I heeded their words in part, went to university, and obtained a bachelor of science, but now that I have had a taste of the fishing lifestyle, I can't get it out of my heart.
I decided to be a fisherman like my father and his father before him. It is my family's legacy. We have been fishing since time immemorial. I am a Heiltsuk band member through my father, and my mother is Tsimshian. I also have strong blood ties in the Nisga'a and Haisla nations. These are all coastal areas with small communities strung across the land that have leaned heavily on fishing, communities like Bella Bella, King Cove, Kitimat, and Port Simpson.
Look to the archeological excavations on Calvert Island, and you will see that my people have been fishing these waters for at least 15,000 years. These communities are scattered up and down the coast and are yearning for fishing to make its triumphant return to them, bringing socio-economic benefit.
Many of these would-be communities have already died, such as Namu and Butedale. Some places, such as Ocean Falls and Klemtu, have turned to alternative sources of income, such as farmed fish, much to the disdain of their struggling neighbours still trying to uphold wild fisheries.
There is a certain understanding that people need to support themselves somehow, but it further divides an already splintered fishing community. The Heiltsuk, with their main community of Bella Bella situated close to Klemtu and Ocean Falls, have issued a statement denouncing fish farms in their waters in support of the Swanson occupation in the Broughton Archipelago.
It's hard to sit idle as we watch this access loss go to foreign and domestic investors who have no intention of going out on the seas and fishing the product themselves. We have been cast into the role of serfs upon the sea, toiling to catch fish to get paid at a fraction of its landed value because we are under the heavy-handed entities who charge what they feel for doling out access. It is supposed to be a common resource for British Columbians, not a luxury held by a few.
This increasing privatization feels like it has certain parallels in history. In pre-contact times, the nations fished our traditional waters both to feed ourselves and to harvest commodities desired in trade from neighbouring nations. All the work was done in each respective nation's waters, in practice adhering to adjacency policies. Over time, this simple system eroded away and was radically changed by introductions such as a new fishing fleet of settlers, a transformation of fish to being an economic commodity first and a sustenance commodity second, and the introduction of licensure to be allowed to harvest.
Companies staked a claim on many of these licences, and everybody felt the wrath. Fishers were under their thumb and companies jealously guarded their access to the resource. Fishers oftentimes had to bend to the wills of the companies. Everyone felt the wrath of price-fixing, and first nation groups largely felt like they had been stripped of their inherent right to fish in their unceded territories.
Where first it was first nations losing access and companies holding power over all fishermen, it is much the same for commercial fishermen today. They are losing their access to people with large sums of money and are having to pay hefty lease prices to remain in work. The reconciliation amending the loss of first nations' access is still ongoing today, and I wonder how long it will be before today's commercial fleet is being reconciled for being driven out of the water by policy. When will the owner-operators be the ones to have control over their own destiny?
Currently, non-operating investors are holding so much quota on licence that they have the power to streamline processing to centralized locations and to be the ones who set a price on a product caught by others. The wealth is not benefiting many, as it is intended, but few. Small-town B.C. sees very little of the benefit when the owners who have the access aren't community members. They're being crushed by practices aimed at earning investors and buying companies maximum profit, which do little for the well-being of places like Bella Bella, but it is very hard to stand up and correct this practice when somebody else holds the key to your earning ability and when the cost to buy your own access is so prohibitive.
There are some bright spots. I have the advantage of the PICFI and the aboriginal fisheries strategy programs on my side, since I am first nation. Without these supports, I would never have set my degree aside and obtained my fishing master fourth class or commercial diver certifications. Without the hope these programs offered to somebody like me I would never have invested myself as much to join the area B harvest committee or attend community-building workshops like the BC Young Fisherman's Gathering.
There is some opportunity out there. For instance, I just participated in a test charter for herring in my nation's traditional waters for 23 days on my family's boat, but not all is as beneficial as it seems. The system is not perfect.
The Central Coast Commercial Fisheries Association, which serves four first nations on the central coast, has eight urchin licences but 10 certified divers. That's not enough to get us all on our feet and established in our own business. In some cases this is just the opposite: there isn't a big enough base of willing career fishermen to draw from to get all these licences fished by central coast first nations operations.
These programs are there to help us gain access through government funding, and even they are competing with the non-operating investors. I just watched two sea cucumber licences get purchased for $2.5 million, prices that these programs have trouble competing with and that are prohibitive to a young man like me trying to break in and have a chance at making it.
Stopping this non-operator investment practice has the potential to halt and reverse the price spike of access and make return on investment more reasonable.
This isn't just a chance to satisfy a select group of individuals. This is an opportunity for coastal rehabilitation. Give the benefit of B.C. fish back to the fishermen through steps toward owner-operator policies. Having this broad base of empowered fishers will funnel economic gain through small communities via increased adjacency practices. Talk to these coastal characters and mine their immense wealth of knowledge for their takes on conservation and management. Keep us included and involved. We have a great interest in keeping our lifestyle alive. You will struggle to find more passionate wardens of the sea than those who have invested their lives into it.
We are the fabric of this rugged and majestic coastline, icons of British Columbia, and we are going extinct. Think of the father out in the spring gale shaking herring for 48 hours in an open skiff; the salmon skipper mentoring the next generation on the ground and wondering if they will even be able to take over his operation; the woman skippering a pram boat with her daughters on board; or the diver spending hours under water harvesting in the surge and the depths to make his wage. Then ask yourself why they have to pay somebody else who doesn't have the skill set or the desire to be there.
Give us back our power and voice by taking steps toward owner-operator policy, and we'll do our part in taking care of small coastal communities in B.C. in speaking up for conservation and effective management.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and honourable committee members, for inviting us to appear as witnesses and share with you our unique stories and perspectives in regard to our experiences as commercial fishermen on the west coast.
I apologize in advance for my lack of organization and a well-prepared presentation. We three were given less than 72 hours' notice to organize ourselves in time to be here to appear in person. James and I had recently travelled to Prince Rupert and were given little choice but to appear here today wearing our gumboots. Because of this, the words I have prepared today are largely anecdotal and from my heart.
My name is Cailyn Siider. I'm a fifth-generation commercial fisherman from Sointula, British Columbia. I have actively fished for more than a half of my life, beginning with gillnetting for salmon and trawling for shrimp on my family's 38-foot boat, the Milly III. My family is currently actively engaged in the salmon, halibut, rockfish, herring, Dungeness crab, and shrimp fisheries. I've spent most of my adult life crewing on salmon seine boats, as well as prawning, and most recently salmon trolling off the north coast of B.C. I am fortunate to have grown up within and around many examples of multi-generational fishing families.
After I leave Ottawa this evening, I will return to the west coast to begin preparations to fish prawns on a multi-generational family boat from Campbell River. Following the prawn season, I will begin the northern salmon troll season on an independently owned boat from Pender Harbour. Unfortunately, these examples of independent, multi-generational family fishing operations have become the exception rather than the norm on the west coast.
I am currently in the process of completing my B.A. in peace and conflict studies, a program devoted to social justice, community-building, and grassroots social change. I chose this program because I believe that, coupled with my passion and intimate knowledge of the commercial fishing industry, I may have an opportunity to help turn the tide of the devastation that current fisheries policy on the west coast has inflicted upon my family, my friends, and the communities I belong to and cherish. Being invited here today helps to solidify this belief that there is hope for our communities and a future for young fishermen, like Chelsey, James, and me. We want to be the future of the commercial fishery on the west coast, but we need your help.
Now I'll explain a little more about who I am and where I come from.
As previously mentioned, I'm from Sointula, which is a tiny community on Malcolm Island, nestled between northern Vancouver Island and the mainland at the intersection of Queen Charlotte and Johnstone Strait. Malcolm Island sits just west of the Broughton Archipelago, and along the migration route for the majority of salmon that return every year to the Fraser River. This is in the heart of the traditional territory of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples, who have lived off the riches of the ocean since time immemorial.
My family are settlers to the B.C. coast. On both sides of my family my ancestors immigrated to Canada from Finland at the turn of the 20th century. They moved west, eventually finding themselves in the newly established utopian community of Sointula. These settlers from Finland were farmers and poets and philosophers who were not prepared for the coastal climate of the Pacific Northwest. A theme in fishing that most fishermen will be able to attest to is that you need to be resilient, adaptable, resourceful, and creative. Five generations back, my family learned this the hard way. Some took to the forest; most took to the sea. Since then, Sointula has been well established and known up and down the coast as a coastal fishing community.
I represent the fifth generation of my family to be an active fish harvester involved with the commercial fishery in B.C. My first summer fishing I was two and a half years old. My parents and I travelled to Haida Gwaii to gillnet chum salmon in Cumshewa Inlet. The trip west across the open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound made me seasick. On the trip back, after we were finished fishing, I sat on my father's lap as he navigated us through the open ocean swell. I squealed, “Wee, Daddy, do it again”, every time we could ride down from a swell and green water would crash over the bow. I got over my seasickness and have been fishing ever since.
I spent summers as a teenager gillnetting salmon with my dad, exploring the B.C. coast and spending time in the communities that rely on the health and sustainability of our fisheries. My sisters and I would take turns going out on openings. We learned work ethics, community values, independence, how to live off the ocean, camaraderie, and respect and appreciation for the coast and all the gifts it gives us. As I grew older, graduated from high school, and began exploring the world on my own, I continued to return every year to the coast to fish and spend time in my home community of Sointula and the fishing community that extends up and down the B.C. coast. I'm a member of the B.C. Young Fishermen's Network and the UFAWU.
I have sat on industry advisory boards and have been engaged in grassroots movements around salmon fishing most of my life. The first letter I ever wrote and decided to send was an opinionated piece, written in crayon, to fisheries minister Fred Mifflin, when I was six years old.
Growing up in Sointula, we had two operational fish plants: McMillan's, in the heart of the breakwater, and Lions Gate, uptown. Sointula had a large gillnet, trawl, and seine fleet. If you lived in town and didn't fish, you worked at a plant. If you didn't work at a plant, you worked at the pub or the co-op store, somewhere that was sustained by the money made by fishermen or shore workers.
There is an urban myth in Sointula that it once boasted the highest per capita income tax bills anywhere in Canada. I didn't fact check this, but during Sointula's boom years, I don't doubt it.
Today, Sointula has a handful of gillnetters, no trawlers, and one seine boat that hasn't fished in years. The fish plants that I used to visit with my dad and grandpa, where the old fishermen would sneak me candies while they jawed politics over cups of coffee, are long gone. The co-op store runs at a fraction of the capacity it once did. The pub is open during tourist season, if you're lucky. People my age and young families have migrated out of Sointula. Rumours resurface every few years about whether the elementary school will close. Thankfully, it remains open.
This is not a story unique to Sointula. This narrative is repeated up and down the coast, from Ucluelet to Prince Rupert to Alert Bay. Our communities are suffering and have been suffering for a long time. This damage is a direct result of the increasing privatization and corporate control of our commercial fisheries. Due to federal policy and opportunistic corporations, we have been pushed out of our homes, our communities, and our livelihoods. The Canadian Fishing Company or a foreign investor doesn't care about the preservation of coastal communities. Jimmy Pattison does not care about Sointula or Bella Bella or Port Hardy. The investment of these companies in the sustainability of our fish and fisheries is just that, an investment. As coastal communities, we have a vested interest in the sustainability and stewardship of our fish and fisheries because it means that our children and grandchildren will be able to eat wild salmon, to see the sun rise over the open Pacific Ocean, and they will be able to live the same adventurous, fulfilling, and beautiful life we have, if they so choose.
Our legacy is the health of our coast, the succession of family ways of life, and the vitality of our communities. The Canadian Fishing Company has its bottom line to look out for. We have our families, communities. and coasts to look out for.
To have owner-operator policy entrenched within the Fisheries Act would help to empower us on the west coast with the agency to rebuild the commercial fishing industry in such a way that benefits active, independent fishermen and their families and communities, not just the highest bidder. Adjacency would help us breathe life back into our communities and allow them to hopefully return to the Sointula that exists in my memory.
We need preservation, protection, and promotion of not simply commercial licence holders, which would mean anyone with enough money to buy a licence, such as a corporation, but we need preservation, protection, and promotion of active, independent commercial fisherman.
Jim Pattison's tax writeoff of a commercial fishing fleet does not need protection. Independent commercial fisherman like us speaking in front of you today do. Otherwise, we are doomed to live our lives as tax writeoffs for Jim Pattison and other disconnected corporate investors.
Until we change this, my livelihood, my life, is just part of an investment or tax writeoff for a corporation. I deserve more than that. Our coastal communities and active independent fishermen deserve more than that. We deserve to be treated the same as our brothers and sisters on the east coast. It's outrageous that there is a west coast fisheries management model and an east coast model. Where is that line where fisheries policy in Canada changes? Does fisheries policy suddenly change in Ottawa? Does it change when the corporate lobby on the west coast decides it does?
Whatever this change process ends up looking like, I firmly believe it needs to come from the ground up rather than the top down. This change needs to be centred around and led by coastal communities and active, independent fisherman. Anything less would run the risk of perpetuating this harmful cycle of corporate control of our common resource.
These are the first steps in a long process, but we are representative of the young fishermen in B.C. who are ready for it, who are energetic and motivated and want to go for it. Being intentional and paying attention to this process is just as important as any goal we work toward.
Chelsey, James, and I are young fishermen. Just the three of us, being so young, represent 40-plus years of experience actively fishing on the water. Imagine the hundreds or even thousands of years a room full of fisher men and women, such as at the Fisheries for Communities Gathering, represent. The traditional and community knowledge within that room, within our fleets and communities, is invaluable. Change needs to come from that experience, from those voices, from our voices.
That's a little snapshot of who I am and why Bill and these proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act are important to me. I appear here to provide anecdotal evidence that speaks to my experience as a young fisherman from a long lineage of women and men who have made their lives on and beside the sea. To adopt into the Fisheries Act, actively though carefully, practised policies such as owner-operator will be to help us carry on these lifestyles and traditions that we love so much.
I believe strongly in the power of storytelling. Storytelling has the power to bring people together and change the world. There is a great divide between this room where we are now and the communities we all come from and represent. It should not and does not have to be this way. All of us here now have a responsibility and role to play in closing this divide.
I hope that at the end of the day, we all have the same vision for the west coast: healthy oceans and thriving communities. Community engagement is critical. Listening to, respecting, and acting upon traditional community knowledge is fundamental in realizing this vision.
I urge you to continue listening to our voices, to our stories. If there is one certainty of all fishermen, aside from our independence and stubbornness, it's that we all have stories to tell.
The time to act is now, because as any old fisherman might tell you, the tide waits for no man and very few women.
Thank you for having us here today to share our stories with you.
Madam Chair, and honourable members, first of all, I would like to thank you very much for allowing us the time to speak. I really appreciate this opportunity.
My name is Chelsey Ellis, and I'm a third-generation fisherwoman from a small fishing village in Prince Edward Island. I spent my early years on the water fishing lobster and scallops with my family. I then graduated with a biology degree that was heavily concentrated in marine science. Upon graduating, I took a position in the U.S. working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a fisheries observer. I then moved on to a position with the P.E.I. provincial government as an oyster biologist, and I was working on the side as a seafood traceability coordinator in Atlantic Canada.
I have been living on the west coast in small fishing towns in B.C. for the past six years as a seafood traceability coordinator, a fisheries observer, a monitoring program coordinator, and also as a commercial fisher. I have worked in 11 different fisheries as a biologist and commercial fisher on two coasts in both Canada and the U.S. I'm currently working towards my 150 ton master ticket, and I'm a member of the BC Young Fishermen's Network.
I'm here today to offer my unique experience to the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, specifically the two pieces that I feel are missing. One, in decision-making, the preservation or promotion of the independence of active fish harvesters needs to be taken into account in all of Canada's fisheries. Two, the knowledge of commercial fish harvesters needs to be added as a consideration for decision-making. This is crucial to maximizing the social, economic, and cultural benefits of all of our fisheries.
Commercial fishing is the backbone of my community on Prince Edward Island. The provisions in place on the east coast protect and promote the independent owner-operator. This provides a meaningful and important livelihood that supports people in place, allowing young people the opportunity to stay in their communities and follow their families' traditions if they choose to do so.
I found this to be in stark contrast to the west coast, where provisions in place do not support and protect independent owner-operators. Companies, shareholders, and foreign entities have been enabled to buy and lease licences and quota. This has resulted in licences and quota being transferred out of the hands of fishermen and communities, creating extremely high capital costs, which have resulted in huge barriers to entry for the younger generation.
Through my experience as a biologist and a commercial fisher on both coasts, I've seen the impact that this discrepancy has created. Young people are not able to see themselves gaining access to or making decent wages in the fisheries on the west coast. The high cost to lease licences and quota has transferred most of the profits from fishing out of the hands of those who are doing the long hours and hard work to those who simply have the deep pockets to make the costly investment.
It doesn't have to be that way. This government can preserve and promote the independence of active fish harvesters across all fisheries in Canada. If steps were taken in the long-term direction of preserving or promoting the independence of active fish harvesters on the west coast, it would create great benefits to sustainable fisheries and healthy coastal communities in the exact same way that it would on the east coast.
Through my experience, I've seen that having an intergenerational link within the industry is a huge component to sustainable fisheries and healthy coastal communities.
We are at a crucial moment on the west coast. If things continue in the current direction, the intergenerational link is going to be severely or completely broken. Taking the control of resources outside of coastal communities and the fishers who fish them can have a negative impact on sustainability. Independent multi-generational fishers have the most to lose if a fishery isn't sustainably managed.
There are great amounts of pride, respect for the ocean, and knowledge transferred generationally in commercial fishing—transmission to family, and to all the people starting out in the industry who come to work for multi-generational fishers. I have seen this transmission through my own family and in action on both coasts. It's an extremely positive experience being on a boat with a multi-generational family fisher or someone who has directly learned from one.
Many multi-generational fishing families on the west coast have members who would like to continue working in the industry. Unfortunately, many of them are unable to make a decent living to support their families and ultimately have to make the choice to look for work elsewhere.
It's the same problem that is being seen in the Vancouver housing market. Many young people would love to own a home in Vancouver, but it's not a realistic option. Houses are no longer a place to live, but an investment to make profit from. This creates a speculative market and drives up the cost.
In the same way, owning fishing licences and quota under current policy on the west coast has become an investment that pays high returns. Just as stand-alone houses in Vancouver are unaffordable to the vast majority of the population, fishing licences are unaffordable to almost everyone trying to enter or expand within the fishery, and that is because of the speculative market.
The threat this creates to long-term sustainability is that the current system on the west coast creates the same differences that can be seen between home owners and renters. Fishermen who are only able to lease licences and quota, by circumstance, don't always have the same long-term vision and goals as independent owner-operators. It creates an attitude of making as much as you can as quickly as you can to offset the huge cost of leasing the licences and quota. If you don't feel you have a stake in the future, why would you be worried about the long term?
By preserving or promoting the independence of active fish harvesters on the west coast, you would be promoting sustainable fisheries and healthy coastal communities, which leads to my second point.
To fully understand what is happening in an ecosystem, the knowledge of commercial fishers needs to be added as a consideration for the decision-making. The men and women who have fished for their entire lives have intimate community knowledge of their local ecosystems. These fishers have worked on the water for 30 years, 40 years, and more, as have their parents before them. Utilizing their knowledge could ultimately help DFO make better management decisions.
Bill should afford opportunities for knowledge transmission and decision-making from commercial fish harvesters and involve them more in the process. Through my work at a biologist, fisheries monitoring coordinator, and commercial fisher, I've noticed that there is a negative attitude toward using the knowledge of fish harvesters in management decisions. A broken link exists in communication, where the knowledge of fishermen is not being accounted for and is being unfairly branded as untrustworthy. This is to the detriment of all involved and is creating great amounts of extra work and making it harder to enact positive change.
I see a future where fishers are inextricably involved in fisheries management, monitoring, and enhancement, using their on-the-ground knowledge and innovative thinking to work together with government to improve the fisheries for present and future generations.
I am so optimistic about the future of our fisheries in Canada. I hope people for generations to come will be able to have the same positive experience of commercial fishing that has enriched my life.
I've spoken with hundreds of fishers on both coasts, and the common thread is that commercial fishing is an important tradition and lifestyle. It is also a platform to challenge yourself and to explore and exceed your personal limitations. It's a meaningful living that completely connects people to place and creates a personal identity.
I have hopes that this experience and the benefit it has for our coastal communities will be understood and steps will be taken toward protecting it over the long term. We need you to all be partners in that.
In closing, I would suggest that Bill should include the following in its considerations for decision-making: one, the preservation or promotion of the independence of active fish harvesters in all fisheries; and two, the knowledge of fish harvesters. These two additions would be positive steps forward to maximize the social, economic, and cultural benefits to commercial fishers, coastal communities, and the future generations of all Canadians who are called to this work.
While working on the west coast for the past six years, I have collected photographs and interviewed those who work in the industry. I'm leaving you with a very small sample of their voices explaining why they love to fish and their hopes for the future. Their reasons for fishing and their hopes for the future echo up and down the west coast.
I want to thank you again for this great opportunity to speak. I really value your taking the time to listen.
Madam Chair, I'd like to start off by thanking our witnesses. I thought your testimony was very impressive. I loved all three of your stories. I thank you for your enthusiasm, your passion, your knowledge, and your experience. Having that come to this table and to this committee is really important when we're talking about Bill , which is probably the strongest piece of legislation to protect the fishery and ensure that it succeeds into the future.
Mr. Lawson, you painted a picture for us. You talked about foreign entities. You used the term “serfs upon the sea”, which is pretty strong. You talked about the common resource and concentrating wealth to a few. You talked about the settlers fleet, price-fixing, owner-operators, and then your main points about control over your own destiny and encouraging others in coastal communities and nations like yours to actually engage in the fishery.
All three of you have painted very strong pictures of the work you're doing and the work we need to do on this committee to ensure that you can keep doing what you do. The future, we hope, will look strong.
Getting into the specifics, earlier we had the minister at a separate committee meeting. He welcomed recommendations on bringing owner-operator policy to the west coast. He legitimately is open to that. He is also legitimately struggling to figure out how we do that. It's on the east coast. The policy is strong there. Fishers want it on the east coast, and they're protecting it. On the west coast, we have an ITQ system, so it's slightly different and very hard to change.
Ms. Ellis, you talked about two specific recommendations. On that note, I haven't seen your submission yet, but if any of the three of you have recommendations, I would encourage you to supply those recommendations in writing to the committee, because that would be extremely helpful. When we go to look at amending Bill , we specifically look at those written submissions, and they are really helpful, especially coming from folks like you who are on the front line.
As I was saying, Ms. Ellis, you've given two specific ones. The first was about the knowledge of fishers, and I agree with Mr. Hardie's point that the act is now going to include first nation traditional knowledge and the knowledge of fishers and others, which is great. Input is important, but I would say more important is actually listening to that input and then enacting it in law. You need to be diligent about following up with the government to ensure that they listen to input.
The same applies to this committee. We can hear all the testimony we like, but if we don't make recommendations to the government, it's not going to change anything. I just wanted to emphasize that you need to continue to be diligent about following up and doing what you're doing, which is already great.
Getting into owner-operator and how we support active fish harvesters, you painted a picture of transferring power to investors who are essentially slipper skippers. We hear them being called slipper skippers—armchair skippers, right? They're the ones who are investing in licences while you actually go out there and fish, but they take a big chunk of your paycheque, essentially. There's a role for investors, absolutely, but how do we make it so there's also a larger role for fish harvesters? That's what the minister is asking you to be specific about, given our system and our context on the west coast, which is very heavily ITQ, individual transferable quota.
In the remaining time I have, I'm wondering if any or all three of you would like to elaborate on that.