I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number eight 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 proceeding to a briefing by the minister and the officials on the government's response to the Big Bar landslide.
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.
For the benefit of members, the minister and witnesses, I would like to mention 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 the screen of the floor, English, or French. As you are speaking, if you plan to alternate from one language to the other, 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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Before we get started, can everyone click on the top right-hand corner of their screens to ensure they are on gallery view. With this view you should be able to see all the participants in grid view. It will ensure that all video participants can see one another.
I would now, of course, like to welcome our witnesses.
With us today we have the Hon. Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. Welcome, Minister.
Accompanying her today we have Timothy Sargent, deputy minister; Jean-Guy Forgeron, senior assistant deputy minister, strategic policy; Jen O'Donoughue, assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer; Sylvie Lapointe, assistant deputy minister, fisheries and harbour management; Dominic Laporte, assistant deputy minister, human resources and corporate services; Mario Pelletier, commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard; Andy Smith, deputy commissioner, strategy and shipbuilding; and Rebecca Reid, regional director general, Pacific region.
I welcome each and every one of you. Thank you for attending. I know some of you have been here before. Of course, I'll give a big thank you to the minister for making herself available for two hours today.
Minister Jordan, you have the floor for your opening remarks, for six minutes or less, please.
Good afternoon, everyone. It's great to be here with you today and to speak to the members of this committee as the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
I would first like to congratulate you, Mr. McDonald, on your election as chair, and I thank the other members for serving on this very important committee. As you know, I've had the honour not only to serve on the committee but to serve as chair, and I will say that for those three and a half years, I enjoyed immensely working with you all.
I know how important it will be to listen to the advice of members of Parliament as we work together in the weeks, months and years ahead to manage the challenges and opportunities facing the fisheries and oceans sector.
I appreciate the invitation to discuss Canada’s commitment to our salmon fisheries and, in particular, the measures we have taken and will continue to take under very difficult circumstances caused by COVID-19 with respect to the landslide along the Fraser River at Big Bar in British Columbia.
I am accompanied today, as you mentioned, by Deputy Minister Tim Sargent; commissioner of the Coast Guard, Mario Pelletier; and many others. After my opening remarks, my officials and I will be happy to answer your questions.
As you know, the Government of Canada is committed to building strong partnerships to help manage our salmon fisheries. This commitment was clearly demonstrated by the unprecedented emergency response last summer to mitigate the impacts of the landslide at Big Bar, north of Lillooet, B.C.
We have been working hard and in close co-operation with the Province of British Columbia and impacted first nations. An incident command team, jointly led by the federal government, the Government of British Columbia and first nations governments worked together over the summer to respond to this crisis. The work continued over the fall, this past winter and spring and was supported by other departments and agencies, stakeholder groups, and geotechnical and hydrological experts.
I would like to stress that this group of dedicated professionals and volunteers has put long hours into dealing with this very complex logistical challenge.
In January, after a request for proposals, Peter Kiewit Sons ULC, was awarded a $17.6-million contract to work on rock remediation. This work involved building a road down the side of a mountain to gain access to the site to allow for removal of massive rocks. It involved water blasting of huge boulders so that they could remove obstructions and slow down the water flow.
My first trip to British Columbia as minister was to Big Bar in January so I could see first-hand the progress and work being done to address this critical slide. Initial blasting in February was followed by a second round of blasting that began in March. Road work continues in order to secure overland access and, throughout the process, an archeologist has been working directly with two local first nations, and they've been working hard to preserve the natural history of this site.
We all hoped the problem could be resolved quickly, but resolving the blockage has been a massive undertaking, and it is going to take considerable resources to address this adequately. Making sure we do everything possible to ensure the survival of these fish populations means we need to plan for every outcome and put mitigation measures in place. That's exactly what we are doing.
As minister, the protection, conservation and restoration of our wild Pacific salmon stocks in British Columbia is an extremely important priority for me. My actions are guided by Canada’s wild salmon policy implementation plan. This plan speaks to the importance of maintaining the biodiversity of these important stocks as well as their significance to indigenous people, commercial and recreational fish harvesters and British Columbians overall. Nearly half of B.C.’s chinook salmon stocks are in decline, with Fraser chinook on the verge of collapse. More than ever, we need to ensure that our wild stocks are protected.
The actions our government has taken to fully address the 75 recommendations of Justice Cohen’s 2012 report from the commission of inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River have been integrated into our ongoing habitat, science, aquaculture and fisheries management work. As members of this committee are well aware, we've made a good start, but we have much more work to do to protect our wild Pacific salmon.
We are committed to working with the Province of British Columbia to ensure that Pacific salmon strategies are coordinated, coherent and connected. We collaborated closely to create the $142-million B.C. salmon restoration and innovation fund, a federal-provincial cost-shared program funded jointly with the Government of British Columbia. This fund will support the fish and seafood sector in British Columbia to position itself for long-term sustainability.
We made an additional contribution of $5 million to the Pacific salmon endowment fund to support the Pacific Salmon Foundation, which is doing incredible work and is an important voice in the development of plans and programming to protect and restore wild Pacific salmon and its habitat.
We announced $15 million in additional annual funding to support stock assessment, coded wire tagging and catch monitoring of Pacific salmon. These investments contribute to our obligations under the Canada-U.S. Pacific Salmon Treaty and are targeted towards better managing west coast salmon fisheries.
Last, we are investing $107 million to support the implementation of the renewed Fisheries Act, including money for stock assessments for major fish stocks across Canada.
As I mentioned at the outset, indigenous and coastal communities have been and will continue to be on the front line of salmon conservation. We will continue to work with first nations and other key stakeholders to improve our understanding of trends in salmon stocks, protect and conserve salmon habitats and ensure the sustainability of Canada’s salmon populations.
Last August, my department released the “State of the Canadian Pacific Salmon” report, the first-ever overview of how salmon are responding to climate change, in which DFO scientists presented and discussed observations and research on Pacific salmon populations and their ecosystems.
Over the next year and beyond, my department and I will expand our focus on these and other actions to preserve and rebuild Pacific salmon stocks with a real effort on measures to ensure that salmon recover and thrive for future generations of Canadians.
With that, Mr. Chair, I am happy to take your questions.
I'd sure like to know that.
Minister, in your opening comments, you were asked by Mr. Arnold about your five priorities. I notice that fishing regulation changes and predator control weren't on your list. I hope that you'll take a look at that.
The Sport Fishing Institute and the sport fishing advisory board on the west coast are all talking about mark-selective fisheries in order to make sure that it's primarily hatchery fish that are retained. The sport fishing advisory board's report indicates that changes could be made to support the Fraser River stocks while still allowing more than adequate catches of those stocks that are not at risk.
Are you taking that report seriously? Are we going to move to mark-selective fisheries? If we're going to ramp up hatcheries in order to save some of the genetics of these populations above Big Bar—and you mentioned it in your opening comments—and we're going to be doing exactly what the Americans do, the Americans, I believe, mark virtually every fish that comes from a hatchery, while we do not mark every fish; I'm guessing that we mark about 10% of our fish, whether it's with coded wire tags or by clipping the adipose fin. If we're going to ramp up the hatcheries in order to preserve some of the genetic stocks, I hope we're looking at ramping up marking these fish. Can you clarify where that's at?
That's a hugely complicated exercise. We're doing a lot of studies right now to understand the impact of this on fish stocks.
This is a particularly difficult place for us, just given its very remote location. It is not an area where anyone is around during a good part of the year.
In terms of a seismic event, that kind of analysis, obviously from DFO's standpoint, is not expertise that we have. Our expertise is around fish, and biology more generally. That would be more for NRCan on the federal side, and particularly the Province of British Columbia and its ministry of forestry and lands.
We have been working very closely with the Province of British Columbia on all of this. As has been said, they are actually responsible for the rock. The water and the things that move in the water are things that we're responsible for, and they've been paying for a significant part of our efforts on Big Bar, including the blasting. That's a question we would very much want to work with them on—
Hang on. I get a chance to talk to department officials all the time. Minister, I want to talk to you.
Minister, you say all of these things, the whole suite and the whole gambit, yet it seems to me that every time the department talks at committee, they say the only management tool they have, basically, is fisheries closures.
We've lost the hatcheries upstream of the Big Bar slide. We know that the Quesnel and Eagle hatcheries have been abandoned. We have some community-based hatcheries up there too. We know there's active predation going on. The pinniped population on the west coast has gone up significantly. There are now academic reports suggesting that maybe some active management of pinnipeds to ensure the survival of the chinook coming out of the Fraser River is going to be necessary.
We're not talking about these things. We're talking about fisheries management regulations. We've shut down hatcheries and we're not actively managing predators. The only thing we're doing is taking away resources from the people who make their livings on the west coast, without taking a look at these other things.
Are we actually going to do something, other than just enact fisheries regulations, to preserve these valuable salmon stocks? It's time to do something different, because what we're doing clearly isn't working.
Thanks. It's a technical question, but it's a very good question, because salmon have one of the most complicated life histories of any fish that we manage. We have to worry about what happens to them in fresh water, we have to worry about what happens to them as they go into the coastal areas, then we have to worry about what happens to them in the ocean and then all the way back again, so you really do need to take that life-cycle approach.
It means we have to recognize what happens in the ocean, which is probably the area we understand the least, quite frankly. We know there's climate change going on and we know there's acidification. That's why we've been looking at sending science missions to understand, with our international partners, what happens there.
Then on the way back, as some have mentioned, there are some complex predation cycles as well, interactions with sea lions and other potential predators like the SRKW themselves, and then we need to understand, as they go up the river, the impact of deforestation, for instance, and land use practices that affect both the river and where they spawn. Things like water temperature in the spawning areas can also be extremely important.
You have to put together all of these factors when you're modelling the salmon in order to understand why we're seeing some of these general trends or where they are going to go.
That's actually a really good question.
One of the things I will say is that we make all of our decisions based on science. It's something that we're strongly committed to.
We also recognize that we need to work with a number of different groups. Honestly, consensus in fisheries is never easy to achieve, but I think it is possible because we all want the same thing. We all want the same outcome, and that is that we all want to see better populations for the B.C. salmon. We all want to see them continue to grow in abundance. We want to make sure that they're there for generations to come. We want to be able to make sure that the southern resident killer whales have a food supply. These are all things that we have to take into account.
The thing that we have to remember is that there is no one answer to making sure that those populations survive. There are a number of different things that need to be done, and hatcheries may play a role in that.
We also recognize that habitat restoration plays a role in that, that climate change plays a role in that, that clearing Big Bar plays a role in that. These are all things that we're working on right now to make sure that we're doing everything that we possibly can to maintain those stocks, because once they're gone, they're not coming back. We need to make sure that we do everything we can to keep them as resilient as they are right now.
I believe most are gone now.
I just wanted to say a big thank you on behalf of the clerk and the staff to the members for getting to the meeting and for submitting so promptly last week the suggested list of names for the witness list for tomorrow's meeting.
As well, if all members are okay with this, I would suggest tomorrow's meeting with the minister and the officials be considered under Mr. Arnold's motion to invite the minister, but also under Ms. Gill's motion to study the impacts of COVID. I think there might be a slim chance of getting the minister back for another session. We're going to have her and the officials again tomorrow to deal with COVID-19, so if that's okay with everybody....
Again, a reminder to please try to sign on early. We want people to be able to do a test on the sound and the mikes and the interpretation.
As well, if somebody doesn't have the right equipment, it's unfair to Madam Gill and others, and even to the interpreters. If they can't understand what's being said because somebody does not have up-to-date equipment or appropriate equipment, it is unfair for the meeting to even be in progress. We're going to try to get strict on that going forward. Everybody should be able to understand what's being said and partake in the meeting going forward, and I want to make sure that happens.