Good evening, everybody. I now call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 28 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on April 21, the committee is meeting on its study of frozen-at-sea spot prawns.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25. Therefore, members can attend in person in the room or nd remotely using the Zoom application. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. Just so that you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entire committee.
For those participating virtually, I would like to outline a few rules, to follow.
Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of either the floor, English or French. With the latest Zoom version, you may now speak in the language of your choice without the need to select the corresponding language channel. You will also notice that the platform's “raise hand” feature is now in a more easily accessible location on the main toolbar, should you wish to speak or alert the chair.
I would now like to welcome our witness for today.
We have, from the B.C. COVID-19 Active Fishermen’s Committee, Jim McIsaac, managing director; from the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association, Michael Atkins, executive director; from the Prawn Industry Caucus, Emily Orr, lead representative; and from the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union-Unifor, James Lawson, president.
We will now proceed with opening remarks.
Mr. McIsaac, you can begin, for five minutes or less, please.
Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you today.
I come to you from my home in Sidney, on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples on Vancouver Island.
I wear several fisheries hats, including the secretariat of the B.C. COVID-19 Active Fishermen's Committee.
My heritage is Scottish: on one side from a fishing community in the Orkney Islands, and on the other a farming community in southern Ireland. The fishhook dates back at least 22,000 years. It predates the plow by millennia. Fishing runs deep in our collective DNA.
I grew up fishing on the B.C. coast in recreational, commercial and food fisheries. I have fished from Portland Canal on the Alaska border, to Juan de Fuca Strait, out to Rennell Sound on the west coast of Haida Gwaii, and into Tribune Channel in Knight Inlet, and I have commercially fished prawn.
Fishing paid my way through university where I studied mathematics, physics and philosophy. Since leaving university, I have co-authored a number of fisheries research papers. The latest one, on access rights, went to print last week. I have also been involved in multiple advisory processes: shrimp, crab, groundfish, herring and salmon.
The COVID-19 Active Fishermen's Committee is made up of 26 members and reports out to 150. It has held over 50 meetings since the pandemic broke. It works in four areas, trying to ensure that fisheries and harvesters survive COVID. They are relief programs, market support, flexibility and fisheries management, and health and safety community protocols.
In late January, we were made aware that tubbing, the freezing of prawn tails at sea in tubs of water, had become an issue for DFO. Certainly, we thought this was a mistake.
This issue had not been raised by DFO in the last prawn advisory board meeting last November. In fact, it hadn't been raised as a major issue going back in all the records we checked. The practice of tubbing has been used to sell prawns locally for the last 50 years.
We invited DFO to the COVID meeting on February 10 to discuss the issue. Prawn fishermen told DFO of the importance of this market and about the need for clarity now, especially when we're ordering tubs and taking orders, for what may be characterized as an illegal product. DFO responded that they had heard us loud and clear, that they were working on a solution, but they couldn't commit to a definitive answer or a timeline.
DFO attended our committee meeting two weeks later, February 24—no change, no clarity, no means for compliance offered. Even worse, it wasn't clear if there was any regulatory room to collaborate to find a solution that would allow tubbing this year. They could not provide any definitive answer on where this was going.
A small group met with DFO on March 10. We discussed the legal opinion. DFO had their own legal opinion that did not agree, and it could not be shared. We met again on March 26 where we discussed written industry protocols, which DFO characterized as helpful interim guidance. DFO was clear, at least to the extent they could be, that there were two issues that were not compatible with tubbing: minimum prawn size as set out in the IFMP; and “readily determinable” as set out in the general fisheries regulation.
We pretty much begged them to lay out a means for compliance. They would not do this. In short, they do not believe that tubbing can meet the regulations as they are now written. They have been equally clear that C and P action this year would be to inform and educate, and enforcement would be at the discretion of the officer. Next year, there will be no discussion; it will be enforcement.
One estimate says 600,000 pounds of tails were sold in tubs in 2020. At $15 a pound, this is $8 million to harvesters. The average price when sold to processors was $4 a pound. That's more than a 50% loss in income.
Because of COVID, the public is really interested in local food. Connoisseurs have flocked to spot prawns. We expected the tub market to grow again this year.
What is clear is that DFO thinks it is necessary to eliminate tubbing in the future. There is no doubt that this will directly impact harvester viability.
DFO also wants to eliminate IUU fishing—so do fishermen. Does DFO consider stopping direct sales the easiest way to stop IUU fishing? I don't know. Instead of stopping tubbing, DFO should be supporting legal catch getting into local markets.
Putting a legitimate fishery on the line to stop an illegal fishery is a bizarre management strategy. It's amazing that any harvester can survive under this existential threat from the regulator.
Thank you for listening.
Good afternoon, fisheries standing committee members.
My name is Mike Atkins. I'm the executive director of the Pacific Prawn Fishermen's Association. The PPFA is a non-profit organization with an elected board that represents the 245 commercial prawn licence-holders, 25% of which are first nations.
I am here today to inform you of a drastic reinterpretation of the fishery general regulations by some DFO Pacific region staff, and we are urging you to recommend to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that the reinterpretation is flawed.
The issue is these tubs right here: one pound of tails in a plastic tub. The DFO Pacific region has recently deemed that the freezing of prawns in a one-pound tub is no longer compliant with subsection 36(2), which states:
No person who catches and retains a fish under the authority of a licence issued for the purpose of commercial fishing shall have...fish in possession if the fish is skinned, cut, packed or otherwise dealt with in such a manner that...
(d) where size limits are applicable, the size of the fish cannot be readily determined.
The PPFA, based on legal advice—which I have attached—is of the view that the size of prawns packaged in tubs can be readily determined. Upon immediate inspection of the tub, many of the prawns can be measured in their frozen state, and the remainder can be easily thawed in less than two minutes and 30 seconds, thus meeting the requirement of “readily determined”.
I tried to share a video and was told that it wasn't possible, but the video is titled, “Thawing frozen prawn tails with a deck hose”. It can be found on YouTube, and it shows us doing just that, thawing a full tub of prawns in less than two minutes and 30 seconds.
The practice of freezing prawn tails in tubs of seawater has been employed for 50 years, and it was endorsed by the DFO at the time of its introduction. The prawn fishery lands approximately $45 million worth of product each year and provides hundreds of well-paying jobs. The inability to freeze prawns in tubs would have serious economic consequences to the fishery. The harvest of undersized prawns is not a conservation issue, and this is supported by a peer-reviewed science paper by DFO staff. The minimum size is in place for economic reasons, which is why there is no size limit in the recreational prawn fishery, only in the commercial fishery. Again, I've attached supporting documents for your reference.
The PPFA is working co-operatively with the DFO Pacific region to resolve this issue. The PPFA has developed a set of industry protocols—once again attached—that will allow the practice of tubbing to continue for this year. However, we have been told that it is not a long-term solution. The practice of tubbing is key to market demand and the financial sustainability of the fishery, and there is no appetite from industry to discontinue the practice.
Thank you for your time, and we hope that you share our interpretation and the previous DFO interpretation that freezing prawns in tubs does meet the definition of “readily determined”.
My name is Emily. I am the lead representative of the Prawn Industry Caucus. I'm also the business agent for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union, a director for the commercial fishing caucus, and a member of the COVID-19 Active Fishermen's Committee.
I have fished prawns commercially for 12 years. I began with my father when I was 19, and worked my way up to running the boat myself, so I do have some experience prawn fishing and prawn tubbing. I have fished in other fisheries as well, but prawn remains dear to my heart.
I am very privileged to be here to represent active commercial prawn harvesters, and the work of the PIC is advocacy and representation for harvesters.
As we've heard already today and over the past few months, this reinterpretation by DFO of prawn tubbing—that it no longer meets its definition of what “readily determined” looks like—is incredibly troubling to this industry and the Canadian public.
The interference with the general community's access to a common property resource by buying seafood harvest directly from the vessels is an attack on the basic foundation of the community, which is access to food from the food producers. We are very much hoping to have some logic and reason brought to this issue, and we're very grateful to this committee for taking time to focus on this issue.
Given that there's been a lot of detail provided already about how we've arrived at this issue, and what the timeline has been since learning of the DFO's reinterpretation, I'll focus my comments more on what this reinterpretation would do to impact commercial harvesters.
The fishery is typically quite short and lasts only 40 days. Harvesters that can freeze prawn tails for sale to the domestic market have the ability to prolong their income, and achieve a greater price per pound than what is paid by the wholesale market. That increased profit is due to the additional time and effort that is required to package those prawns in smaller portions, as compared to a wholesale offload that is happening daily in the live market, or for bulk loads of frozen product that is going overseas.
That connection to community that is also achieved by local people being able to purchase prawns directly from their harvesters is really important to the fishing community, and it's important to the people who live close to the docks that they're able to access that food.
When we talk about the longevity of the income, in terms of spreading the opportunity across a year outside of that 40-day season, it's really important to consider that many harvesters, especially in the last couple of years, have been faced with very low prices for wholesale prawns. When they're able to sell individual tubs to the community members, they're achieving a much greater profit for their product.
This last year has definitely saved many harvesters, allowing them to go to either breaking even or to actually being able to make a profit. Some harvesters have come to me and told me that if they had not been able to sell their frozen prawn tubs over the winter to their community members, they would have gone backwards.
There's a terrific cost to going fishing. To make a profit, several thousand pounds need to be caught right off the bat in order for the expenses to be looked after before anybody will make money. Being able to sell prawns, frozen in tubs, is something that is incredibly critical to the viability of fish harvesters.
In this situation, we're very much hoping for a review of this reinterpretation and one that can provide an avenue for us to support C and P in its responsibility to uphold the regulations, and one that also accepts the freezing of prawn tails in tubs.
We have proposed that a condition of licence be added that defines what “readily determined” means, and then provides wording that would request, and require prawn harvesters to thaw tubs of prawns in a set amount of time—less than five minutes, for example—upon an inspection request by C and P.
We feel this is a very reasonable way forward to resolve this for everybody and for all parties to move on, and we're very much hoping the work of this committee will facilitate that.
Thank you very much.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak today.
My name is James Lawson. I'm president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union-Unifor, a representative of the Prawn Industry Caucus and a prawn fisherman.
DFO's mandate includes maintaining the sustainability of fisheries and working with fishers to enable continued prosperity from fish and seafood. Prawn tubbing is not a sustainability issue, and it is in direct opposition to enabling our prosperity and the prosperity of others who purchase our prawns.
As a prawn fisherman, I adhere to regulations, including trap limit, minimum mesh size, daily single hauls, time and area closures and the spawner index, to maintain the sustainability of the stock. When a trap comes aboard, if a small prawn hasn't already escaped through the appropriately sized mesh, it goes onto a grading table, where we handle each individual prawn to ensure that it's not bearing eggs and is of appropriate size. We also sort out the other species, if present.
Measuring devices are always close at hand. We put in great time and effort to make sure that we provide a quality product and maintain the sustainability of our stocks. We don't want to keep undersized product. We certainly don't want to have it aboard for a week or more, risking penalties.
If conservation and protection wanted to exercise their right to board my vessel and check for undersized prawns, they would have ample opportunity. It could be done using a sample off the grading table, taking a sample out of the live tank, taking an unfrozen tub off the freezer plates, or thawing a frozen sample in little to no time using a deck hose, kettle or hot water from a tap. It's insulting that conservation and protection could look past all of this to reinterpret the general fisheries rule for just one fishery, and then say these penalties are at the discretion of officers for the season. It will be a great risk to process in this manner without DFO officially stating it will be legal to tub prawns this year.
I encourage industry-made solutions, but this issue has many small and simple solutions. It feels like we are being coerced in the making of binding decisions ourselves. I do not think enforcing a tub ban would stand in a court of law. I think it would be a big waste of everybody's time and money. The solution could be as simple as a reasonably sized transparent container.
Is there nothing to be said for precedence? This has been done for decades without problems. There was no recent spike in undersized prawn infractions that would be cause for reinterpretation. You'll do nothing but hurt the markets of prawn fishermen. Frozen tubs sold in my hometown were my most valuable product last year, beating my most valuable export prawns by four dollars a pound. Many fishermen, including me, were planning to tub a lot more this year to provide more prawns to our home communities. People are willing to pay a good price for superior product when they know who caught it and where it came from, and know that it's not an inferior product imported and found on a grocery store shelf.
Prawns have always been valuable in local markets. They were further explored as a viable option last year in response to the COVID pandemic creating export market uncertainty. I don't know the official figures, but local tub sales were said to grow tenfold compared with previous years. This is a great success story of local seafood being available to local markets. It is economic prosperity. It is food security. It humanizes us and makes us proud to be able to provide for people we know, giving a visible attachment to our labour.
If prawn-tubbing is taken away, it means British Columbians may only be able to access prawns in season, if they live close to a boat who's delivering live to the dock, or from a restaurant who is buying live prawns, or obtaining some sort of poorer-quality frozen product. People like to eat prawns year-round. The best way to preserve them is frozen in tubs of sea-water. That is the superior product that restaurant owners will purchase for their meals outside of May and June.
Taking tubs away leaves us only with the export market for vessels who freeze at sea. There are many examples of how that can hurt the bottom line of fishing businesses when the primary market is not favourable, as it now due to the pandemic. It is strange that DFO is presently considering a date change based on availability of local markets while simultaneously taking away another.
This proposed ban is not about sustainability. It is not working with fishermen to enable the continued prosperity of us or those who rely on or enjoy the product. It is of detriment to food security. It singles out one fishery in a long-standing regulation. Let us be a success story with a strong local market. What is happening is not right. It serves only to devalue catching prawns and make them unavailable to us.
I'd like to end this before it even begins.
Thank you, Mr. Lawson. You were right on time.
I will say, Mr. Lawson, that the interpreters were having some trouble hearing you properly. Fortunately, I think they did have your written statement, so they were able to do the translation.
For the question round, the interpreters are suggesting that if you turn off your iPad or laptop video and just leave on your sound, they might be able to pick up the sound better and be able to translate appropriately.
That concludes our testimony. We'll now go to questions by members of the committee.
Mr. Bragdon, you have six minutes or less.
Thank you to each of the witnesses for your testimony, insight and expertise.
I can't help it, Mr. Lawson, but seeing you actually on the boat while you're doing testimony before committee, there's just something that seems so right about that. Anyway, good job, and thanks for taking time for doing what you do best to talk to us here at committee. We appreciate it.
I want to start with a question. It can go to each of the members before the committee.
I would be interested in your perspectives. The change in the interpretation seems to be felt, as we've heard testified, right across the industry and across the sector. Have any of you been consulted by the or DFO before this change came about? As part two of that, were you given any advance notice that they may be looking at reinterpreting the regulations?
I'll go across the panel with that. I can start with you, Mr. McIsaac, and then work across.
It may be helpful also to note that C and P does provide, in the post-season review meeting, a report to the prawn advisory board numbering how many violations they've found in the season.
For 2020, there was no reference to retention of undersized prawns. In 2019, there were eight categories of violations encountered. Prawn size is listed as one of them, but with no reference as to whether it was frozen-at-sea prawns or live prawns or prawns found at a fish processing facility.
That's to give some context to this and how we're presented with that information.
I'm not sure we've been given an explanation for why now. You're quite right; the practice of tubbing has gone on for 50 years.
I speak quite frequently with the retired DFO prawn manager, Mr. Jim Morrison. He relayed to me that when the minimum size regulation was brought in, C and P was well aware of the practice of tubbing and that it posed no issue whatsoever. In fact, DFO co-operatively introduced a telson length measurement that would support the ability of C and P to measure frozen prawn tails when they're missing the head portion of the body.
These conversations, which reach back more than a couple of decades, offer us a bit of a glimpse into the context of how this initially came to be. As for why DFO is now looking to take a new view on the tubbed prawns...we're all scratching our heads, so I appreciate the question.
I just wanted to quickly answer the previous question as well. It should be important to note that most communities are not capable of absorbing the full daily catch of the prawn vessels that come into port. I don't believe that the buyers have much at risk in terms of the volume that may be diverted to the tub market. In consideration of what is landed, it's a smaller amount for sure.
The value is where the fishermen can achieve a higher profit in those smaller boutique-style sales and the difference that makes to their personal income.
Harvesters are very upset at the idea that this may impose on their ability to sell prawns this year. Without much clarity from DFO, you can imagine the frustration level.
Some harvesters have community-supported fisheries where they pre-sell portions of their catch, and were wondering if they were going to have to pay back those customers in advance without the ability to provide the product they had agreed to.
Many harvesters purchased the supplies to tub the prawns and have specially developed labels referring to their vessel number and date of catch, that sort of thing.
I supported the work of many harvesters to expand their business model to sell frozen prawn tails last year as a reaction to the COVID disruption of markets. Websites were put up and marketers hired and people were becoming much more responsive to the community's demand, which we were working very hard with the province to increase, by being able to help stabilize some of these prawn harvesters' bottom lines as against the difficulties COVID brought on them.
With all the work and the effort gone into trying to support harvesters in being able to expand their domestic sales and sell to their local communities, harvesters were furious and so confused and very stressed to think that this entire part of their business model might be out the window.
The spawner index is a tool to ensure that a certain number of females are left in the water to reproduce and spawn for future generations. That is the primary tool, and as James said, there are other tools, such as mesh size, single haul limits, and all these things to help sort product underwater, and that's the key there.
This whole issue comes down to the definition of "readily determinable". Nobody at DFO has been able to provide us with a definition, and our lawyer—and we supplied the testimony there—has suggested that it does meet the definition. It's a very confusing statement, yes.
Prawns in B.C., dare I say, are becoming almost like what lobster is to the east coast. There's a tremendous growing and existing fan base for access to our local sustainable catch of prawns. Restaurants are proud to feature them. They're celebrated as sustainable both internally by DFO and externally, where they're certified by places such as Ocean Wise, Monterey Bay Aquarium. These make them a very attractive product for restaurants, especially for forward-thinking restauranteurs to be highlighting that type of seafood on their menus.
When we look at interfering with the availability of that product to restaurants and making it almost unavailable to tourism, we've basically looking to take apart decades' worth of work to showcase something that we should be very proud of in terms of sharing this common property resource and celebrating it with the people in B.C. and the people who come to visit here.
It is really important to note that spawner indexing takes place aboard the vessels quite frequently throughout the season. The number of samples obtained from vessels typically means that each vessel may be boarded several times during the season. Some report being boarded even once a week.
When a spawner index test is being conducted, that is also an opportunity to make any observations regarding undersized prawns, or any violations of that matter. That is a function of that spawner index, as well, that the observers on board are mindful of any potential violations that require reporting.
C and P officers are welcome to board vessels at any time. Opportunistically, they can meet vessels at docks. In some cases they watch vessels from the shoreline. Any opportunity and every opportunity is available. While boarding the vessels may not be as frequent by C and P officers, there is a terrific amount of interaction between observers and C and P officers throughout the season.
I noticed earlier that Mr. Atkins would have liked to answer the question. I would invite him to send us his response on the consultation, in short, on the implications of these instructions being late and the fact that we don't know what is going to happen in the short term to the spot prawn fishery.
Of course, it is said that there has not been much discussion and that many aspects remain unclear. I would like to know what regulations the witnesses would like to see adopted for the entire population. This needs to happen quickly, because 2022 is tomorrow.
My question is for all of the witnesses.
I think what we would ultimately like is a reinterpretation so that we can go back to business as usual and focus on things that are more justified to earn our attention and our efforts.... This, to everybody, seems actually quite irrational—that DFO would make prawn tubbing illegal.
Their first choice would be the rethinking of this issue back to the status quo that we were all working very well under. If that's not possible, we have suggested that a condition of licence be added that spells out the requirement of harvesters, who need to be able to render prawns available to be determined for size and species with a time limit, whether that's five minutes or four minutes, whatever it is. We've asked DFO to consider that. They have not responded to that proposal.
However, we would like to see something very quickly because, as you pointed out, there's the disruption to the markets and the instability it's creating. Prawn customers already are reaching out to many harvesters and asking, “Am I going to be able to buy prawns?” There's a tremendous loss now in terms of folks who are looking to buy prawns and who, in the uncertainty, may begin to look elsewhere and buy prawns from overseas instead. People do need answers quickly. A working group to carry this out over many months to us makes no sense. This should be a very simple solution, and one that happens swiftly.
As the group of witnesses has said, there was no consultation prior to this reinterpretation. Typically what we would see is a report or proposal to the prawn advisory board. The prawn advisory board met on December 3. There was no report of this impending reinterpretation.
The draft IFMP, the integrated fisheries management plan, would typically offer some insights as to changes as they might be planned for the coming season. There was no mention of it there either.
The consultation that we would expect on any type of reinterpretation such as this, typically, if it were to reflect what has happened in the past, would carry on over a couple of years of time before something was implemented. This was quite unstructured in terms of what we were used to expecting.
Yes. There was an acknowledgement of our letter and that this was being worked on.
The statement from the 's office about it being a conservation issue and that the practice of tubbing was quite new was relayed to the House, I believe, when spoke to it.
These were very troubling replies to us. It is misinformation, unfortunately. Non-retention of undersized prawns is not a conservation issue. Of course, as we've been hearing, prawn tubbing has been taking place for over 50 years.
We're very much hoping to correct some of the misinformation around this issue and find a resolution.
On the IUU component, which a couple of your members asked questions about, one of the other fisheries identified as having some kind of radical changes recently is the clam fishery. There's an estimate that about two to three times the actual commercial landing is being brought in through IUU fishing. The way to stop that is to drive the entire fishery through processing plants instead of direct to the consumer, or to restaurants, or what have you. That's a response from the department to get a handle on IUU.
I'm not certain if there's something like that happening, or if they're thinking that there's something like that happening, with the prawn fishery and IUU, and that this is a way to get a handle on that. Really, it thoroughly disrupts the prawn fishery.
Okay. I'll try to be quick.
On the same questioning as Mr. Hardie, let's say it's a conservation issue, because I've also found that the way the decision was taken a little bit like, maybe we can question it. But about other options—my father fished all his life—with lobster now on boats, they have some tubs. It's not the same kind of tub, but a big tub that they have a water recirculation pump for. They put the lobster in it so that it stays alive longer. It's the same for crab, for example. Instead of putting crabs in the holding tank with ice, they keep them alive in water now for up to two days.
Are there other options that you can take to have those prawns stay alive longer so that that they can be better quality when they arrive at the wharf, or is it only when they are frozen that you can have this...?
There are fines that could be placed on a harvester. The interference with their fishing time if they are asked to come into port for inspection and they are found to be in violation, really of any sort, can be devastatingly costly to the harvester.
What we are hearing from DFO is that while the posture of C and P this year will be one of inform and educate, C and P still has discretion available to process violation charges if they feel it is necessary to do so.
There's really no assurance for harvesters who want to tub prawns this year that they can do so and have no issue with that, so that's very confusing and stressful.
It certainly makes it very difficult. DFO is very clear that the onus is on the harvester to comply with the regulation, but they don't seem willing to give us their interpretation of the regulation, which is very challenging. You can imagine that.
I've got to be clear here that they're speaking out of both sides of their mouths on this. They put out a fisheries notice on April 9, and I'll read one line from it:
Freezing of whole or tailed product in solid blocks or tubs of ice will require that the harvester provide randomly selected samples to be thawed for inspection by Fishery Officers.
That's exactly what we had asked them for through February and March—something that clearly says that this is the situation.
On the same day, they emailed us and said that conservation and protection will apply discretion in the enforcement of the approach in the 2021 season, recognizing the efforts that the industry has put in.
These two pieces conflict for harvesters. They're sending mixed messages to harvesters on exactly what the situation is for the season, and that's a huge challenge.
You also mentioned that there appears to be, I believe you said, a high incidence of illegal activity in the clam market and that the department has been trying to get a handle on IUU: illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
I wanted to note that this committee approved a study on IUU months ago, but that study has been repeatedly delayed for multiple reasons: the prorogation of Parliament, and everything else on top of that.
Do you see IUU or illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing as a threat to the sustainability of fisheries and the livelihood of harvesters?
I'd like to sort of lead this through. You can't tub, which means that your product would all go to the processor and you would end up with less money. The processor will probably freeze-dry it. I've seen some of that product at the fishmongers in Steveston, and it doesn't look nearly as good as what we've seen Mr. Atkins hold up in that tub.
Nonetheless, the fish processors freeze-dry it, and then it probably goes to export—I thought we heard that earlier—which means, then, that we're bringing in prawns from someplace else. Now, how do they arrive? Do they arrive in tubs or are they all freeze-dried as well? Does anybody know?
I appreciate the motion coming forward. I'd like some time to think about it. It's kind of a strange motion in its timing for tomorrow. That's the only thing.
I really appreciate it, actually, Mr. Bragdon, by the way. I really hope this is dropped before we even meet again on this, to be really frank with you. I don't think we should meet again on this.
Out of respect for Mr. Hardie's wanting to have the department come forward and explain themselves, we need to hear from them. Hopefully, the and the department deal with it themselves, unless they have a really good argument, which I can't imagine they do. I hope this gets fixed before we have to even meet again on this. That would be my hope, instead of tying up another whole committee meeting and two hours on this thing.
I think don't the motion is best decided today. I hope we can think about a pathway forward before we meet again on Wednesday.
I think we're missing an opportunity here to go straight to the decision-maker, or supposedly the decision-maker, who is responsible for taking care of those involved in the fishery, and that would be the .
We, as parliamentarians, have heard from the people in the fishery, and there is no reasonable explanation as to why we shouldn't be talking to . The minister has more than ample time to get a briefing quickly from her department and come to explain to the committee either the rationale for the department's decision or how she's planning on rectifying the situation. Time is of the essence, and it behooves the minister to do what's right and obvious, from what appears to be our unanimous support for the fishers and industry stakeholders who are before us today.
I don't, for the life of me, see why we wouldn't use the limited authority we have as a committee to actually do something good on behalf of the people who sent us here and get to the bottom of it right away. I don't know why we wouldn't do that.
I've rarely seen something that appears to be so open and shut before this committee in the years I've been on this committee—
Sorry, Gord, but we'll get to you.
I think we have the opportunity here to summon the minister. I don't know why we would beat around the bush and wait to hear from departmental officials when we have the opportunity to intervene immediately and talk to the minister. It looks like the committee is unanimous in its support for the stakeholders who are here. Like I said earlier—just to reiterate, so I'm on the record at the right point in time of the debate—rarely do we have this kind of unanimity. Rarely have we seen something as obviously unjust. Even though it might seem like a minor issue, this is a very important technical issue for the harvesters; and we have an opportunity as a committee, I think, to actually influence change in a relatively short order. Goodness knows that the good ship Canada does not usually change direction in a timelier and quick fashion at all. I don't know why we would be hesitant or reluctant to do that.
I don't see this as being confrontational or combative with the minister at all. If the dozen or so of us at this table are all feeling the same way about this issue, then surely to goodness if we brought our colleague, who is the minister, to the table to have the conversation, I don't see how that could be combative at all. I see it as being constructive on behalf of the fishers. I don't know, for the life of me, why we would hesitate to use what little influence we have sometimes as a committee to influence that change as quickly as possible.
Thank you, Chair.
I want to utilize this opportunity to reiterate what I have often reiterated to this committee, that the minister is always happy to come and meet with her colleagues on the fisheries and oceans committee. That said, I don't think I've witnessed such a short deadline, at least not in the five and a half years I've been serving on these committees. The minister is already invited to present to this committee on the salmon study. By passing this motion, we would, of course, be deferring the next salmon study meeting.
The opposition has an opportunity to ask about this issue every single day during question period. I would just suggest that if this is the ultimate priority of the committee, perhaps we would give the minister a bit more time in order to make an appearance. However, that's just me.
I also think there is a reasonable argument for listening to the DFO officials and then having the minister come in, but the committee is independent and the committee can do whatever it sees fit.
Mr. Chair, there are two dynamics here: what the DFO has done and how they've done it.
If the minister comes swooping in and says, “No, let's clear the decks here; we're just going to let this go on as it is,” I would hate to see the DFO, in effect, let off the hook of having to come in here and explain themselves in this process. We want to ask, why did they do that, and most importantly, why did they do it the way they did?
I think there's a learning opportunity, shall we say, for the DFO to come in and spend a little time being slow-roasted here, which I'm sure our committee members are quite capable of doing. I would like to see that happen, as opposed to just rushing to a conclusion.
Let's give the DFO the fair process they obviously haven't given other people.
I would respectfully say in response to Mr. Hardie's comments that the issue at hand isn't the slow-roasting of departmental officials whose salary and paycheques do not depend on any specific timeline at all. We have individuals at the table here for whom a fishery season starts, who have laid out cash and have put their livelihoods on the line, and who need a decision on this in a timely manner.
If I look at the schedule, the fishing season is supposed to start before we would potentially even have DFO officials coming back to the table, so I don't know why we'd hesitate. Nothing would stop us, after having the minister in as soon as possible, from going back and exploring the hows and whys and the consultation process retroactively.
I think what's urgent right now is to fix a problem. Otherwise, why did we have this committee meeting in such a rushed manner? We had so many other committee studies that we'd adopted over the last year and a half of this Parliament. It was so urgent to get this done in a timely fashion, and now, all of a sudden, it's not urgent because, lo and behold, we want the minister to come before the committee.
As I said, I don't see this as being a confrontational thing. As members of this committee, we have an opportunity here to actually fix something that, it appears on every level, no mind at this table can fathom or figure out the possible motivation for. It's just something, an oversight or whatever the case might be, but there's nothing here the minister can't explain and nothing here the minister can't overturn.
We have an opportunity immediately to correct an injustice, or what appears to be an injustice. I don't know why we would hesitate in the name of figuring out how this all went awry. We can do that later. Right now, we have an injustice that needs to be fixed in a timely fashion so that people can get out on the water and earn a livelihood, which, goodness knows, is getting hard enough to do in this country.
I just need clarification. What are we discussing? Is it bringing the minister?
The motion, unless it was changed—I don't believe it was—is that the chair, the parliamentary secretary and Liberal Party committee members request an audience with the fishery minister tomorrow. We're going to have an audience tomorrow. I'm not sure if I'm ready for an audience tomorrow to ask her to permanently rescind the reinterpretation, and the Liberal members report back to the committee.
I would like the clerk to give an opinion on when a committee has directed other members of the committee to take an action on behalf of the committee. I find that a bit perplexing.
Mr. Chair, could you explain just where we're going on this or have the mover explain it?
That's what I'm asking for, Mr. Chair.
First, I would like to know what I'm voting on, because in my time I have never seen this type of motion. Obviously, everyone wants to get here. I, too, would like to hear the officials, and then the minister would have the final say, but the motion is directing you as the chair, the parliamentary secretary and the Liberal Party members to take a particular action. I'm perplexed, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, Mr. Morrissey, thank you very much for the question.
Actually, committees generally make their decisions when they meet. So these are decisions of the committee, not indications to individual members to act indirectly on behalf of the entire committee.
Generally, the committee as a whole could instead pass a motion to invite the minister or pass a motion or report to be presented to the House, which could be one page, stating its position and what it thinks.
It is quite rare that only certain members of the committee are asked to try to influence the minister.
Sure, thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate it.
Once again, look, all of us want clear action on this. All of us want to see action taken sooner rather than later. There have been very few times in the life of this committee that we've had something as clear and as necessary to act on in an expedited fashion as what we are seeing before us right now. We have heard from multiple witnesses. We've heard this raised in the House of Commons by several parties.
The season is fast approaching. This is not an unreasonable request. This is asking that a decision be made right away that will bring absolute certainty to the harvesters who are most affected by this change of interpretation that has gone against 50 years of precedent. That is not unreasonable. That is not something done in an ill spirit. It is just something that is a reasonable ask for, namely, that we get action taken on this. It is a motion to make that happen.
I hope that all members of the committee can understand that.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I don't know why my “raise hand” function is not working.
First, I'm ecstatic that the Conservatives now want immediate action, because they voted against making this study a priority, and I'm ecstatic that everybody's heard how timely this is. I support this motion. I really appreciate Mr. Bragdon's seeing the light on this, namely, that we need to move quickly in supporting these fish harvesters. I think it's a good idea.
This isn't that long. It isn't complicated. It isn't some big issue where they need weeks in advance to prepare the minister. This is simple. We need some simple answers from the , and for her to appear. Hopefully, she will just make the right decision tomorrow morning and say, “That's it, we're not going to do this anymore. We're going to stop the assault on these prawn fishers.” That's the hope. Let's hope that happens, but I support this motion wholeheartedly.
Again, Mr. Chair, the motion we're being asked to vote on is not to call the minister before the committee. The motion is to delegate you, Mr. Chair, the parliamentary secretary, and certain members of the committee to have an audience with the minister and to report back.
It's questionable if this can be done by the committee. There are a number of methods. The committee could choose to send an urgent letter to the minister asking for her clarification, and to confirm what Mr. Beech said to the committee, that this issue has been dealt with clearly for this coming fishing season. This is what people want and request. We'll then hear from the officials and get to a long-term decision.
It's my understanding from Mr. Beech, and nobody has contradicted that, that there's a bit of ambiguity. We could get that cleared up, that tubbing will be allowed for the coming fishing season.
It would be more prudent if the committee sent a dispatch to the minister, asking for a clarification and a confirmation of what Mr. Beech said to the committee. This could then be provided to the fishers on the west coast.
That would actually be helpful, Mr. Chair, and I would be very supportive of that. Voting on the motion—we could vote on the motion now—will not accomplish in getting the minister here, because that's not what it is asking.
Again, I would like the clerk to clarify this. I have sat on multiple committees. I have never seen a motion such as this where a member makes certain members of the committee undertake something with certain ministers and to report back.
I would be agreeable—I can't speak for all—if the committee chose to send a letter to the minister, an urgent request to the minister, confirming the position Mr. Beech outlined, which was stated in question period. There's no question on the legality of tubbing for this coming season. Doing this would be very helpful to everybody involved, including the fishers. That would be the most helpful aspect.
I'd be curious to hear where the committee came.... Then we would proceed with the committee, as it is scheduled, to hear how DFO officials arrived at the position they're taking. Then we would follow up to ensure that, whatever action is taken, it does not impede the long-held practice of that fishery. That would be more than official.
Again, the motion clearly does not appear to be in order. In my opinion—and I don't want to aggravate everybody—this was simply window dressing at the last minute to pretend somebody wanted to move quickly. If we want to confirm and follow through as a committee to get, clearly and unequivocally, the position of the minister and DFO with regard to tubbing, this committee could send that request for clarification to the minister by email or letter and get that clarification for the fishers on the west coast, which I assume would be very helpful to them.
Thank you, Chair.
I have a couple of things.
First, we did hear testimony and we're united in seeing the injustice that's happening to these fishers. Everybody on this committee has recognized the injustice. That we are united on.
This motion, you're right, is not binding. It's sending a message to the minister. I see that if we support the motion, we're asking the members of this committee on the government side to meet with the minister and get the minister to make a quick decision. Given that the whole west coast is united on this, we're asking the minister to just make a decision and to explain what she's doing by Wednesday.
I don't think this is a far-fetched motion. I think we should all support it and hope that the minister gets back to everybody quickly. Again, if she's not prepared on something like this, then we have a bigger problem. She made a decision that impacts the livelihoods of these fishers, the coastal communities in which they live, the restaurants, the whole coast and the integrated food web of even our tourism sector. I mean, if she has made a decision like this and she thinks she's going to leave it to a fisheries officer who might be having a bad day and is saying, well, they have discretion, then that's not good enough. It's not good enough for Ms. Orr and it's not good enough for Mr. Lawson.
I think she should be here, or at least send a message back to the committee on Wednesday, on why they are doing this, or have the department in front of us on Wednesday, reporting back. Why wait? This is why I called for an emergency study, with the support of and . We wanted this study as an emergency. I know there was push-back. There were even colleagues who said it was a knee-jerk reaction. This is not a knee-jerk reaction. This is absolutely a priority.
So I support this motion. I hope we'll all support this motion. Hopefully, by Wednesday we'll get something back so that these people can get back to fishing, where they belong, instead of in front of our TV screens. They belong on their boats on the water so that they can feed their families.
I'm sorry. That's a mortal mistake.
Mr. Johns, all I'll say is that, yes, it was imperative that the committee get this particular study started right away, but as you know, at the last meeting, when we discussed the schedule, something else was booked for Wednesday, I believe, and maybe the next two or three meetings. To have anyone come Wednesday.... People are probably already lined up to come for what was previously set last week as the schedule by this committee. To change that....
Before I go to Mr. Calkins, I think the clerk was signalling that she wanted to say something.
Mr. Chair, no, I wasn't waving goodbye.
Mr. Chair, I'm not sure that we can amend an inadmissible motion, but we could proceed with a motion that would read something like this: “That the committee ask the Minister to provide clarity on the season's regulations to industry as urgently as possible in order to provide certainty for this year's season.” I would be agreeable to that. We all agree. There's consensus on getting Clarity from the . It was just that the process that was being put forward by the Conservative member was, as we found out, inadmissible, and it simply wouldn't accomplish anything, Mr. Chair.
I, for one on this committee, want to accomplish clarity. I believe that we could do it in a motion such as I suggest if it receives the support of this committee, Mr. Chair.
Okay. I think we should amend it. Hopefully, Mr. Morrissey will be friendly to this. We can't just have this open-ended and vague motion with no-timeline for the to rescind this season the reinterpretation of the rule. We're asking her to just stop this permanently—to just drop the whole thing. That's what we need. That's what we're looking for. I think that's the goal of this. I hope Mr. Morrissey would be open to amending his motion that we're sending a message to the minister. We're calling on her to rescind her decision and the reinterpretation of this rule.
We heard.... Everybody heard.... We're united here in thinking that this is ridiculous. I don't know anyone on this screen who doesn't. I just hope that Mr. Morrissey would be open to an amendment to clean up this motion that he has so that....
How are we going to do it with the rules around translation? We want to make sure that we accommodate Ms. Gill. Out of respect to Ms. Gill, we have to honour that. I hope that Ms. Gill can share her perspective on that because we have to respect her and her right to have this in her language, in French, her first language. I just want to ensure that we have this in both official languages.
I'm hoping that we can pursue something a little more substantial in terms of a motion if we're making a motion. The previous motion was vague at best. I think that we need something a lot more clear and a lot more substantial from this committee.
I hope that I can suggest the following common-sense solution to the committee.
I've already stated that I'm going to speak to the today. There's a motion on the floor right now from Mr. Morrissey, which I guess somebody is probably rushing to translate into French so that it can be an actual motion, but we do meet on Wednesday. If the motion—I don't have the exact wording in front of me—says that we request an urgent response, and if we don't have a response by Wednesday, well, then, the committee can continue to take further action.
Why don't we pass Mr. Morrissey's motion? If committee members then feel on Wednesday that further action is needed because they don't feel that enough action was taken in these next 48 hours, we can deal with it then. I think if we just pass the motion. I know that the is taking this issue seriously, and I would expect there to be urgent results.
Now we're down into procedure, obviously, and we're down into this and that, but really, we can expedite this. If Mr. Beech is agreeable that he speak directly with the , we can have something back perhaps as early as Wednesday night that will give clarity to the prawn harvesters and to the sector that wants urgent action taken and clarity brought to the situation, and that brings to this the resolution that we wanted.
If Mr. Beech has already volunteered and is willing to do that.... I see that Mr. Johns is in favour of it. I think we would be good with that as well. I'll take Mr. Beech at his word. I trust that we'll have some form of clarity around this by Wednesday night, hopefully. I'm good with that. If he's good with that, I think we got to where we need to be.
Okay. Now, the committee is back to normal now: congenial and getting things done together as a group. It's great to have everybody back.
On that note, I'll say thank you again to the witnesses today. I have to say as an East Coaster that it was very informative to hear what's going on on the west coast and to hear that you're experiencing some problems that I experience on this side of the country as well. Again, thank you, one and all, for your testimony here this evening. It was very valuable.
Again, I want to thank Mr. Johns for pushing this as a study and pushing to get it done, because it seems that it did need a lot of attention brought to it. Hopefully, we can get something rectified very shortly—