Good afternoon, everyone. I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 11 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Pursuant to the motion adopted by the House on May 26, 2020, Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on June 1, 2020, the committee is resuming its study of the impacts of COVID-19 on fishing industry stakeholders.
Today's meeting is taking place by video conference. The proceedings are public and are made available via the House of Commons website. So that you are aware, the webcast will show the person speaking rather than the entire committee.
Regular members know these by now, but for the benefit of witnesses who are participating in a House of Commons virtual committee meeting for the first time, I will remind you all of a few rules to follow.
Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to another, you will need to switch the interpretation channel so that it aligns with the language you are speaking. You may want to allow for a short pause when switching languages.
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I would now like to welcome our witnesses for today.
From the BC Seafood Alliance, we have Christina Burridge, executive director. From the Maritime Fishermen's Union, we have Martin Mallet, executive director. From my home province, we have Keith Sullivan, president of Fish, Food and Allied Workers.
Ms. Burridge, we will go to you first, for six minutes or less, please.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
The BC Seafood Alliance is the largest commercial fishing organization on the west coast. Our full members are both harvester associations, representing the owners and operators of commercially licensed fishing vessels in most major fisheries in B.C., and processing companies that process about 70% of B.C.'s salmon, herring, groundfish and some specialty products.
We do appreciate the opportunity to give you a sense of the impact of COVID-19 on west coast fisheries.
Our experience started in the last week of January when sales of geoduck, Dungeness crab and other live products ended when the lunar new year markets in Asia shut down. Those three products have a wholesale value of more than $150 million annually. We've since seen that shutdown extend to virtually all food service sales worldwide. That matters because many, though not all, of our species were destined for the high-end global restaurant trade. Some species are adapting reasonably well to a market that is now predominantly domestic and retail, which means lower prices to the processor and the harvester because of high retail margins.
Some of our species such as geoducks, herring roe and sea cucumbers will never have a domestic presence, so we need to figure out the cargo and container problems that complicate getting them to Asian markets. Markets were beginning to recover until the new cases in Beijing linked to a seafood market. We're seeing those markets shut down again.
Those species, with a couple of others in the same predicament, amount to almost half of the west coast wholesale value.
With slow markets, we have reduced processing production and then reduced it again to space out the line for physical distancing in the plant. We've been working with our processing plants to make sure that each has a COVID-19 plan. Of course, for both vessels and plants, access to PPE is essential. Funding is certainly nice, but access is essential. I'm glad to say that this is finally improving.
Plants, of course, need fish to be able to operate at all, so we need to be able to go fishing, which means keeping our harvester crews and communities, often in remote parts of the coast and often indigenous, safe. We've been working with other B.C. harvesting organizations and Fish Safe, our B.C. health and safety association, to implement fleet-specific guidance covering every aspect of a commercial fishing trip.
There are 14-day isolation periods beforehand, on-board practices, import procedures, off-loading and end-of-voyage procedures. These protocols have been reviewed and approved by both the Province of B.C. and WorkSafeBC.
For almost all species, production has dropped by up to 50%. Prices to harvesters have dropped by about 25% to 50% at this point, slightly recovering in some cases. Across the board, whether for harvesting or processing, we are getting less money while our costs have significantly increased.
On the emergency support measures, we appreciate the announcement of the Canadian seafood stabilization fund, but we are disappointed that B.C. has been shortchanged on that fund. We also need to understand exactly what we'll be eligible for.
Reorganizing processing lines for physical distancing or retooling for the domestic market and online sales is expensive. Automation technology and capital expenditures such as automated equipment or vacuum packing for retail can start at $500,000.
The CERB has worked well in many fisheries but not for salmon harvesters, many of whom had a disastrous season in 2019 as a result of poor returns. It has complicated labour issues for processors, particularly on Vancouver Island. Of course, we're waiting to see what the harvester benefit and grant will look like. Again, we believe that salmon harvesters may lose out. Since 2019 was such a poor season, it will be difficult to meet the 35% decline in revenue.
We're also disappointed that the grant of up to $10,000 for harvesters is less useful than a tweak to the Canada emergency business account, which is a loan of $40,000, of which $10,000 is forgivable if repaid by December 2022. That is much more useful for small fishing businesses, exactly the kind of small and medium-sized businesses that the CEBA was designed to help. The tweak would simply have been to allow all earned income evidence from crews submitted to the CRA on a T4, no matter which box they filled out.
Fish harvesters, of course, have many costs in gearing up for a season, including DFO licence fees, and often do not get fully paid until the product has sold, which can be months later. Normally, they borrow money from processors or banks. Neither source is readily available this year, so for them, the Canada emergency business account would do exactly what it's supposed to do.
One other piece of COVID-19 assistance would be appreciated, and that's help with unexpected incremental costs of at-sea observer programs and science surveys. For instance, the at-sea observer program for Pacific spot prawns is essential to managing the fishery. If there's no—
I will speak in French for a few minutes.
The Maritime Fishermen's Union (MFU) represents over 1,300 independent inshore owner-operator fishermen in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Since its creation in 1977, the MFU's mission has been to represent, promote and defend the interests of inshore fishermen and their communities in the Maritimes. The MFU is also an active member of the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in January, fishermen's associations across Canada have been assessing its impact on the livelihood of their members, the economic sustainability of the industry as a whole and the coastal-rural communities that depend on it.
In Atlantic Canada and Quebec, one of the most important fisheries in Canada is underway, the lobster spring fishery. As predicted, the COVID-19 pandemic is making life difficult for many fishers and crew members.
Last April, the MFU, in collaboration with other fish harvesters associations, requested short-, medium- and long-term financial support measures to provide a basic income, assistance for operating expenses, and business cash flow. These emergency support ideas were put together rapidly and with the objective that they could also be rolled out rapidly by the federal government because they are based on existing programs.
Today, while some support programs are available to our fishers, many of them will need to access the benefits and subsidies for fishers announced on May 14. However, the wait for details and access to new programs is damaging the fishing industry by creating confusion and hampering the planning process as our fishers move ahead with a fishery. Fishermen are questioning their ability to fish and cover their expenses this year, all the while supporting their families and crew members.
Here are a few industry particularities that need to be taken into consideration and addressed.
First, the seasonality of the industry is extremely important to consider. Many fishermen have a very short nine-week fishing window to make enough revenues to cover their fishing expenses and have enough net benefits to cover their living expenses until next year's fishery. This year, the window has already been reduced to seven weeks for many, due to season delays. In addition, fishers are faced with expected low lobster shore prices and daily catch limits.
Fishers are not paid before they start fishing and selling product. Therefore, they cannot demonstrate any financial impacts of the crisis before they begin fishing. However, many operational costs need to be covered, including wages, in order to get ready for the season. So, although several programs are now available to help fishers who are currently at sea, some of them will expire this summer and will not be available to support the upcoming fishery in August and later in the fall. In addition, details of and access to new benefit and subsidy programs for fishers, which could help many of them, are still expected.
The second point deals with crew members. Following the announcement of the new industry assistance programs on May 14, even though the employment insurance issue seems to have been resolved for EI claimants who are fishermen, crew members who are receiving benefits under the regular program are being left out in the cold. Many of our crew members are in this situation.
Third, family enterprises are extremely common in this industry. For instance, the fishermen's crew will many times consist of the wife, brothers and sisters or sons and daughters. The no-family-relations criterion needs to be eliminated for all wage subsidy programs in order to help this industry.
The fourth point is fishermen earnings and payroll structures, which are sometimes complex and difficult to use as a benchmark for program access for many of the existing programs. Many of our fishers fall through the cracks of the system because there are many business structures and strategies in the fishing industry. For example, many fishermen are not incorporated, nor do they have a business account with their financial institutions. Once again, the benefit and subsidy programs that were supposed to help fishermen who find themselves in these cracks are still not forthcoming.
Finally, the fifth point deals with new entrants to commercial fishing. They have bought fishing enterprises at historically high prices within the last year. Like many, they are not incorporated and did not have a fishing revenue and payroll history before the start of the 2020 fishery. They are completely left out of most assistance programs. They are the most indebted fishermen, and they are among those most in need of assistance.
The regional relief and recovery fund (RRRF), which provides support for small businesses, can help some of these fishers. However, many of them do not meet the demanding criteria of this program. We are even told that, in some cases, budgets are almost exhausted.
In conclusion, the MFU will continue to collaborate with the federal government and applauds its continued efforts to ensure the health and safety of all citizens. We believe that the current situation in the fisheries requires a broad and proactive approach from our federal and provincial governments, that recognizes the usual fishery management considerations, but also the economic impacts of this pandemic on the fishing sector as a whole. Financial support measures for the fishing industry need to be provided now and tailored to the realities of this industry. The goal is to ensure the sustainability of the economic pillar of the fishery for coastal and rural communities in the Maritimes and for Canada as a whole.
Thank you for the opportunity to share our views with you.
Thank you and good afternoon, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
My name is Keith Sullivan. I'm here on behalf of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers-Unifor. FFAW represents nearly 15,000 working women and men throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Most of our members are employed in the fishing industry and are spread out in more than 500 communities all around the province. About 10,000 are fish harvesters and some 3,000 are employed in fish-processing plants.
COVID-19 has had a serious impact on our province's fishing industry. Some fisheries were delayed by more than a month, at what would have been the beginning of valuable snow crab and lobster seasons, due to safety concerns related to the pandemic.
Now that fisheries are up and running in Newfoundland and Labrador, market challenges are severely impacting incomes. To put it in context, last year the fishery was worth $1.5 billion to the provincial economy. The snow crab fishery was worth $350 million in 2019. Entire fisheries, such as northern shrimp, are in jeopardy due to impacts from COVID-19. Losses related to the pandemic could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. For small coastal communities, this is devastating.
Fisheries workers continue to be concerned about safety on the job, and how a shortened season will impact their income. Both harvesters and plant workers rely on employment insurance to supplement their incomes during the off-season.
With most harvesters expecting a significant decline in earnings this year, many were rightfully worried about qualifying for benefits once the season ended, and were relieved to hear the federal government's announcement on changes to fishing EI, so that harvesters can use the previous year's earnings to qualify in 2020, in addition to the new wage subsidy and grant for fishing enterprise owners.
Unfortunately, since the federal government's announcement last month, no further details on changes to fishing EI or details on the other harvester benefit programs have been released. This has created massive frustration and anxiety for harvesters. Each day our union receives dozens and dozens of calls from our members looking for information or clarification on these programs. While we understand that changes to EI and the rollout of these programs won't happen overnight, the challenges facing our industry are impacting harvesters today. They can't wait any longer to know how these programs will help them and their families.
Right now, most independent owner-operator harvesters in our province can't avail themselves of the CEBA. This must be fixed. We have young harvesters who have just invested huge amounts of money, sometimes millions of dollars, in gear and boats, for example, and now they can't access a program that will help them get through 2020 in order to participate in the financial recovery.
Fish-processing workers will face similar struggles. These workers rely on seasonal EI benefits and were left out of the federal announcement to support fish harvesters. Like harvesters, processing and other fisheries workers are on the front lines, providing fresh, high-quality seafood to domestic and international markets, feeding coastal communities and supporting fishing families.
Given the delays in the fishing season and market challenges that have limited the amount of seafood we will process and export this year, many processing workers will not have enough hours to qualify for adequate EI, or will have extremely low benefits to carry them through until next year.
These workers will need support from the federal government, either through changes to seasonal EI, similar to the recent changes to fishing EI that will ensure they will qualify based on last year's insurable hours, or by adjusting the program in consideration of the pandemic. An example would be to decrease the number of the best weeks in the calculation of benefits.
In terms of other federal policy that I believe will safeguard the inshore fishery, the new Fisheries Act offers some opportunity.
For Newfoundland and Labrador, it's not hyperbole to say that the fleet separation and owner-operator are two of the most important economic development policies for our coastal communities. These policies have kept the viable inshore fleet in place and have provided significant wealth to every corner of our province.
Many billions of dollars have originated and remained within coastal communities because of owner-operator and fleet separation policies. They have succeeded in widely distributing fishing incomes, and play an integral role in our tourism industry, sustaining a vibrant cultural and social fabric in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
However, corporate interests, both domestic and foreign, have influenced and interfered with the application and enforcement of fleet separation and owner-operator policies. As a result, corporations have gained control of fishing licences and are siphoning the wealth and benefits of inshore fisheries from our coastal communities.
In light of COVID-19, it is more important than ever to enforce these policies, particularly given the economic uncertainty facing fish harvesters.
Amendments to the Fisheries Act adopted by Parliament last year give these owner-operator policies the force of law. Enforcement will be more robust, with legal consequences. By changing this policy into law, the federal government acknowledged the principle that the inshore fishery should be guided by what is best for independent owner-operators and coastal communities, not corporate interests. This is a principle that we must protect now more than ever. Action to eradicate these under-the-table controlling agreements that undermine our coastal communities and economy must be taken now.
The inshore fishery is the primary economic driver in the majority of the coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. Jobs in the fishery provide good middle-class incomes in rural communities, which is why support for the industry in the short term is so critical.
Protecting and promoting a fishery that serves communities, addresses challenges in food security and provides good wages and safe workplaces—these must be the priorities for all levels of government and all stakeholders in our industry if you want to come out of this pandemic with vibrant, sustainable coastal communities and an economy where nobody gets left behind.
Good afternoon, everyone.
My thanks to the witnesses for being here today. Thank you for the excellent work you all do in your communities for fisheries and aquaculture. I know it's not an easy year for anyone, but by working together, hand in hand, we can overcome these challenges.
First, my questions are for Mr. Mallet.
Mr. Mallet, it's good to see you. We have been working together for a few years now. I congratulate the members of the MFU for doing a fine job.
In your remarks, you talked about something that is close to my heart. Let me remind everyone that the $470 million investment, the biggest investment in the fishery in the last 20 years, is not insignificant. As you said, though, some things still need to be addressed in terms of program criteria. We all want these programs to be made available to fishermen and fishing enterprises as quickly as possible. You talked about new entrants to the fishery. We have heard the say that she is doing everything she can to fix this situation for you, and that is why you are here with us. We would like you to give us some ideas.
What do you think would be the quick fix, if I can put it that way, so that these new entrants can take advantage of the programs without having to provide a ton of documentation?
With regard to the start of the fishing season, yesterday we heard witnesses and some colleagues say that postponing the fishing season was a bad idea. It seems to me that, in the context of the pandemic that was raging, decisions had to be made to ensure the protection and safety of employees, whether they be fishers, fishers' helpers, shore labourers or our plant workers. Without plant workers, and therefore without a functioning plant, it is very difficult to process our product. The MFU was one of several organizations that requested that the fishing season be postponed.
Do you still think that the decision to slightly postpone the fishing season was the best decision to make in order to allow the whole industry to prepare? As you can see, again, since we made that decision, there have been no cases of COVID-19 in the plants.
I'd first like to thank the witnesses who are here today.
I'd like to talk about employment insurance. My question is for Mr. Sullivan.
Mr. Sullivan, you mentioned that the fishing season hasn't started yet. You also mentioned the problems that fishers might face when they finish their fishing season. You raised the possibility that they may not have access to employment insurance because of current factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and you suggested that the number of best weeks be reduced or that the weeks from the previous year be taken into consideration.
I'd like to mention here that in eastern Quebec, we'd like the notorious “black hole” of employment eliminated. Employment insurance doesn't cover the period when employment insurance benefits have expired and workers haven't returned to work. They are then without an income.
In concrete terms, what would you like the federal government to do so that people don't find themselves without employment income? What measures could it implement to ensure that this doesn't happen?
When I spoke, I spoke about the EI considerations for two different groups. Last month we had an announcement about the option for those who are in fish harvesting to get fish harvesting EI based on last year's earnings, a more normal year. Obviously, this year is going to be a disastrous year for many, and we still don't know how it will play out, but certainly, incomes are going to be down considerably.
It was good to get that announcement for harvesters on EI, but we still don't know any details. That's what I was saying. We're getting so many calls about that, so clarifying exactly what EI would be for those in harvesting EI would be key.
The other group can sometimes be harvesters who go through the regular labour, we'll call it, employment insurance system, or those who are in fish-processing plants or different places. They have a shortened season, and there's really been nothing. There's been no income security announced for those people yet. They've been working extremely hard in an extremely stressful year, and there's still no consideration as of yet.
The suggestion I would have on that would be to do as they've done for fish harvesters. Obviously, once we know the details, I'll be able to speak to it more. Base it on last year, or look at a reduced number of best weeks for people. What we're seeing in a lot of cases, because of the lower volume of processing and the shortened season, is that people are working hard now, but the ability to have enough time to have a reasonably sized claim is just not there. People are working, and unless something changes, they won't have enough to pay the bills in the fall and through the winter.
In the opening comments, I briefly mentioned new entrants into the fishery. The valuation of your business is much different this year than it would have been last year, when you've invested so much.
The very first thing that would really help when you have these massive payments would be to able to access a program like the CEBA, the $40,000, to help pay bills interest free, and then obviously the additional $10,000 that may be forgivable if you meet the conditions, something like that for harvesters.
Right now, because of the unique structure of the fishing enterprise, as Mr. Mallet mentioned, not having a business account, you just can't get access to that, so you're left.... As for the people we're trying to draw into this fishery, their business could be destroyed. The people that we're counting on to carry on, to build our communities and to make sure that we have long-term value in the fishery have not been able to access that one. That's a big problem now that doesn't make sense. The people in the fishing business are not able to avail themselves of it on a technicality. Obviously these are businesses that would need something like that.
The other part is that we're in the middle of the fisheries seasonal industry for a reason. We harvest crab and lobster when it's the best possible quality for example, we can't move that until later. People now don't have any idea what these programs that were announced look like, so it's impossible to plan their businesses. Can they really take on another crew member now, when they don't know the details of the programs?
It's encouraging that we had an announcement, but the details are needed now.
Again, for the benefit of witnesses who are here for the first time in a House of Commons virtual committee meeting, I will remind you all of a few rules to follow.
Interpretation in this video conference will work very much like in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you will need to also switch the interpretation channel so that it aligns with the language you are speaking. You may want to allow for a short pause when switching languages.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
The use of headsets is strongly encouraged.
Finally, when speaking, please speak slowly and clearly.
Should any technical challenge arise, for example, in relation to interpretation or if a problem with your audio arises, please advise the chair immediately, and the technical team will work to resolve that. Please note that we may need to suspend during these times as we need to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.
Before we get started, for those of you using the computer, click on your screen in the top right-hand corner and ensure that you are on the gallery view. With this view, you should be able to see all the participants in a grid on your screen. That will ensure that all video participants can see one another.
I'll now list our witnesses for this portion of today's meeting. From Fred's Custom Tackle, we have Mr. Fred Helmer, founder and owner. From the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia, we have Mr. Owen Bird, executive director; and Mr. Martin Paish, director of business development. By telephone, from the Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd., we have Mr. Osborne Burke, general manager.
We'll start now with Mr. Helmer's opening statement for six minutes or less.
I'm here representing the Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance. I'm the owner of Fred's Custom Tackle, guiding and retail store for over 45 years. It's been a long haul. Over the last 50 years, I've seen some really serious declines in fishing opportunities and fish resources in the province of British Columbia. There have been devastating consequences to our public fishery, as well as with first nations and commercial requirements.
With COVID-19, we're now facing another level of concern for sure. Things have become much more complicated, and it's escalated to the point of, in some cases, a question of survival. The uncertainty of not knowing what's happening is creating a lot of stress and anxiety. The reality is that in our business, it's all about opportunity, and we are certainly seeing a lack of opportunity.
Specifically, I'd like to talk about the Fraser River. It's an example of how opportunity has really been lost. Historically, the Fraser River was one of the most productive rivers in the world for five species of salmon, sturgeon, steelhead and trout. It was a world-class fishery, a destination and a producer of millions of salmon to satisfy commercial and first nations needs. It's in serious trouble now. The Fraser River is extremely important to the province of B.C. The Fraser River public fishery, once estimated to add $150 million annually to the economy, is practically extinguished.
Thankfully, we do have a very successful, well-managed catch-and-release sturgeon fishery that generates approximately $30 million annually towards our economy. It also generates about $5 million towards scientific research and monitoring through our world-renowned tagging program. This is a result of people working together, meeting challenges and needs, in a balanced and equitable manner. The abundance of Fraser River runs of chinook, coho, sockeye, chum and pink salmon are all on a list of conservation concerns, threatened or endangered, and a number of steelhead runs are close to extinction.
Something different needs to happen if we expect these genetically diversified and treasured species of fish to return. Some specific runs, like interior coho, early Stuart sockeye, have been in conservation mode for over 20 years, and here we sit today, still trying to figure it out. Anglers are increasingly facing more closures and regulations, restricted opportunities due to conservation concerns. Closing public fisheries has had a huge impact and has created a lot of negativity and frustration. We certainly need to do something different if we want to see a change, and if we want to see us survive COVID-19.
The Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance recommends that the economic and social value of the public fishery is looked at a little bit more seriously. If you compare the amount of fish that's taken versus the dollars returned, it's an obvious equation that you'd want to support and boost, because it's huge to the economy. Because of COVID, if you can get some more dollars going, it would be ideal. We suggest that the social value is also a huge value, probably even greater than the economic value, and I agree with that one.
There are far bigger issues here in the province that need to be dealt with when it comes to our fisheries. One thing that would really help is increasing the hatchery production. There are many hatcheries that are not at capacity, and there's a demand for an immediate jacking-up of those facilities with mass marking releases. That is important, because it does create opportunities.
We are facing a crisis, it's time to—
Thank you. I'm going first, but we are sharing the time.
Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee once again.
I am sharing the time with Martin Paish so we can provide information about B.C.'s public fishing industry, the effects of COVID-19 on the industry and a detailed perspective on DFO's Sport Fishing Advisory Board, SFAB, proposals, that should play—but have yet to play—an important role in reducing impacts of the pandemic.
The Sport Fishing Institute of BC is a non-profit industry association that represents the interests of 250,000 licensed tidal water anglers in B.C. and the hundreds of businesses that support them. According to the most recent provincial sector report, the public fishery and related businesses produce $1.1 billion in annual sales and create more than 9,000 jobs, resulting in a $398-million contribution to the province's GDP. The public fishery is the single largest economic driver of all B.C. fisheries, yet anglers harvest only 15% of the annual halibut catch, and, while it varies year to year, 25% of the annual salmon harvest.
To this day in 2020, the department has paid little attention to the B.C. sport fishing industry or done little to address its concerns. The industry and many small businesses and coastal communities that are affected by and depend on reliable access and opportunity for the public fishery, hard-hit by broad and restrictive chinook measures implemented in 2019, and now again in 2020, are additionally suffering due to the impacts of COVID-19. There's a desperate need for certainty and stability for business survival and to allow the possibility of contributions to the local and provincial economies. The combined effect of 2019 and 2020 chinook restrictions, and now the pandemic, is a devastating one-two punch that could be mitigated by more timely and decisive action by the department.
The DFO response to repeated requests that reliable opportunity be a durable and entrenched aspect of annual fishery plans has been minimal. The public fishing and related businesses require an ability to plan for an upcoming season. Part of that planning includes communicating expectations to clients and pre-season purchasing and preparation. Anticipated access and opportunity are essential components of public fishery business and for its participants.
Clients plan a visit and go fishing based on many factors. Expectation and opportunity are foremost. Service providers, guides and lodge operations market and promote their services beginning each fall prior to a regular season, which would ordinarily run from March until October. Small community tourism agencies will similarly promote various attractions, including access to the public fishery. Without a sense of opportunity and expectation, the ability to offer a predictable or reliable experience is significantly compromised, if not impossible. The pandemic has only exacerbated the limitations to promote business and plan.
It should also be noted the sector, recognizing the challenges and unprecedented effects of the pandemic on regular management activities of the department, has been actively considering ways to address catch-monitoring gaps created as a result. Utilizing guides, avid anglers, volunteer anglers participating in sampling projects and catch data collection, and making the SRIF-funded FishingBC app available as an interim data collection tool have been offered. Yet to date, incorporating all additional data sources to address pandemic-caused gaps and to allow for increased understanding of catch and collection of data has not occurred.
The public fishery is dependent on a reliable and predictable opportunity, particularly now during the pandemic. While the department could have responsibly and defensibly implemented relevant aspects of the SFAB proposals in April, we continue to wait. As COVID restrictions relax, British Columbians and other Canadians can now begin to contemplate fishing-related travel and tourism activities that could provide important relief and support to many small communities and businesses. Lacking certainty will negatively affect those plans. Without access and opportunity that the SFAB proposals can deliver now and in the future, the damage to coastal communities, businesses and misperception continue to build and may be irreparable.
Now over to my colleague, Martin Paish, for specific details about the SFAB proposals and their development.
I'm quite confident I won't be able to get through what I want to do in that time, but I'll do the best I can.
A few common themes have arisen that help us understand COVID impacts on the public fishery. These are the importance of the fishery to British Columbians as a healthy outdoor activity, a means for Canadians to harvest seafood that is a common property resource, and that the public fishery represents the most significant fishery-related source of employment and economic activity in B.C., which is the cornerstone of the economy of many small coastal communities.
Chinook are the driver of the B.C. tidal waters public fishery, and the 2019 non-retention regime was devastating to us. To allow the fishery to survive, the SFAB has submitted a series of proposals to DFO that allow for additional retention of chinook.
By using 30 years of stock assessment data based on coded wire tags and DNA analysis, we were able to identify 11 separate areas on the southern B.C. coast that will allow for retention of chinook while having virtually no impact on the stocks of concern. We can be confident of this statement because the data tells us that they historically aren't caught there, because they simply don't go there. It's important to note that all of this was undertaken in close collaboration with DFO stock assessment and science staff.
While we're grateful to the provincial government for taking the bold and necessary step to declare angling an essential activity in British Columbia, DFO has done nothing to help with the COVID challenges faced by our sector other than schedule conference calls where we update DFO officials of COVID impacts—
Thank you to the chair and the fellow members of the committee.
I am general manager of Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd., located in northern Cape Breton. We're a fishermen's co-operative, 100% owned by the harvesters, and have been around since 1956. Our members harvest lobster, snow crab, groundfish on an annual basis. We, as others, have been significantly affected by COVID-19 issues, starting with our rush to acquire PPE equipment and the challenges with obtaining it, paying as high as six dollars Canadian for face masks from China, down to a dollar at the latter part of the month into April.
We look at some of the challenges we face or are currently facing. The new stabilization fund program was announced, similar to B.C.'s and others. With the program, I would say that for Nova Scotia, based on a proportional basis and $2.2 billion in exports, the amount of money available is certainly not going to do justice to us.
Secondly, under the stabilization fund, it's our understanding that in this federal program all the funds that we spent on disposable face masks are not eligible. Only reusable face shields, Lexan panels on equipment, and that type of equipment will be claimable. The $50,000 to $60,000 we spent in masks, going through two to three per day, is not eligible.
The CERB was extended, we understand today, for another eight weeks. We had an attrition rate of almost 40% with local workers—we believe a lot of it due to the CERB. Workers decided not to come to work, and we've even seen it in the past 24 hours since the announcement. That's provided a significant challenge to us.
We thank everybody in the government and all parties for putting these measures forward. The federal wage subsidy is extremely helpful. It's making a difference in a tough year. However, in meeting the 30%, you have a challenge in the fact that some companies want to ramp up, but they need the subsidy. If they ramp up too quickly, they're disqualified from the subsidy.
There was some reference by the to changing the percentage. I would recommend that it should be on some sort of a sliding scale. If you're at a 30% loss in revenue, maybe it's 75%. If it's 20% or something, you get a reduced percentage back. That would still be helpful, but we don't want to be a hindrance to companies ramping up and hiring more workers so we can get workers off the CERB and back into the workforce. That's a significant challenge.
Currently for our workers and the harvesters, the harvesters are averaging about a 40% reduction in revenues just based on the receiving price for their product. Just this past week with the issues in Beijing, and with the Chinese government looking at checking all shipments live or frozen into China, it's created challenges for us. For example, tomorrow 40,000 pounds of live lobsters to the U.S.A. are being cancelled. We had two shipments to China of frozen product cancelled because of the delays that are going to be faced. The Chinese government has to hold live product for 48 hours now to clear it from COVID-19, and there are similar additional checks on frozen products.
These are all challenges. It's clear that the biggest challenge we have right now, for everybody who sat in isolation or sat at home during COVID-19, is that we seriously need to improve Internet access all across Canada, in the rural communities. We're here on a phone and the Internet comes and goes like the wind. We have significant challenges with it. It's bad enough that I drive 20 kilometres and I have to stop at three locations. I can't use my cellphone because we don't have proper coverage. The Internet and Internet access is critical, more so than ever today than it was prior to this year.
We heard some comments earlier, as I listened in, on markets. Within Canada we're always trying to increase our markets and outside of Canada too, obviously in the U.S.A. and Asia.
We hope that things will open up to travel so we can get back to doing trade shows with our federal and provincial partners, where we get to meet our customers, which is critical. Whether we're selling in Canada, we're selling in Shanghai or we're selling in Hong Kong, it's critical to make those connections and those relationships. That's been severely limited due to the restrictions on travel. As I said, the Internet is more important than ever, but we just don't have proper access.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll stop there.
Welcome to all of our witnesses. It's nice to hear you again, Fred, Owen and Martin. Thank you, Osborne, for your contribution as well.
I want to talk about the SFAB's proposals to the minister. I've reviewed them and, honestly, they seem eminently sensible. They talk about mass marking of current hatchery chinook production, implementation of mark-selective fisheries in this and future years, enhanced catch monitoring regimes and improved assessments. It goes on and on and on.
You indicated you still haven't had a response from the minister. Can you tell me when you handed in that proposal?
Thank you to some old friends—or at least one old friend.
How are you, Mr. Bird?
I want to get back to the COVID-19 issue. That's really the focus of these hearings. We've heard from various sectors over time that, yes, COVID-19 has had an impact, but they can't avoid bringing in some of the foundational or systemic issues in their sectors. We heard this from elderly people. We're hearing it from you. Yes, COVID has certainly amplified what's been going on, but the foundational issues pre-existed the pandemic, and they've been brought up even more sensitively now.
Mr. Paish, you mentioned that the primary time period, the most valuable time period, for sports fishing is April. But you'd have to agree that in April, Americans weren't coming across the border and Canadians weren't travelling very much, of course because of the lockdown. In this case, you missed the prime time simply because of the pandemic. Would that be your take on it?
Mr. Bird, we've talked about restoration. You and I have talked about this repeatedly and about the importance of the government ramping up investments in restoration. Right now, the B.C. SRIF is only at $148 million over five years. They were oversubscribed on their first round. They had $340 million in applications, and they only doled out $70 million.
Can you talk about the importance of increasing that and about the restoration work of all of the people involved in recreation and the public fishery and how, if they're resourced, we literally have hundreds of thousands of man-hours, if you want to call it that, ready and at our disposal to get people into our communities to help restore that fishery? Also, as an opportunity for a COVID response for those who may not even get out this summer, because of the lack of people visiting our coastal waters, and from the United States in particular, can you talk about how this potentially will be important in the fall, especially, and in the winter?
Thank you for that, and thank you everyone for co-operating so much on that "speed round”, we'll call it.
I want to say a big thank you to our witnesses again, to Mr. Burke, Mr. Paish, Mr. Bird and Mr. Helmer, for your patience and for putting up with all the technical challenges to get this done today. Your attendance here is greatly appreciated, and your contribution is appreciated that much more.
Again, for those of you who have appeared before, we're glad to have you back and hope we'll have the opportunity to talk again real soon.
I'm going to suspend for a moment, just while we allow the witnesses to leave, and we'll do a little bit of committee business, which won't take long.
The Clerk: Mr. Chair, we do not need to suspend when the witnesses are not here in person. We can move on to the budget, if you want.
Now that we have that out of the way, I just want to talk about proposed dates for committee meetings. I know the committee decided to have two meetings in July and two in August. I took the time to send out some dates to several members.
Mr. Arnold, I think my office was in touch with your office.
The dates that were proposed for our two meetings in July were Tuesday, July 21, and Thursday, July 23. In August, the proposed dates were Tuesday, August 11, and Thursday, August 13. This coincides with our virtual Parliament schedule.
Are all members okay with those dates? Hearing no opposition to it, we'll say those are the dates.
The only thing we have to do now is to look at what's going to be studied by the committee on those particular dates. There was a suggestion a couple of weeks ago that we go back to Pacific salmon in July for two meetings.
Is it okay with everyone if we revisit Pacific salmon for the two meetings in July?