I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting 32 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on April 21, 2021, 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, 2021. Therefore, members can attend in person in the room or remotely by using the Zoom application.
The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. The webcast and will show only the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee.
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I would now like to welcome our witnesses for the first panel we have today. From the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, we have Rebecca Reid, regional director general, Pacific region; Neil Davis, acting regional director, fisheries management; and Nicole Gallant, acting regional director, conservation and protection.
We will now proceed with opening remarks.
Ms. Reid, we're going to turn to you for five minutes or less, please.
Bonjour and good afternoon, Mr. Chair and committee members.
As you have already heard, my name is Rebecca Reid. I'm the regional director general for the Pacific region, Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
My colleagues and I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the committee.
To start, we would like to thank you for turning your attention to this important issue.
Our aim today is to provide you with as much information as possible to support your deliberations. I am accompanied today by Neil Davis, acting regional director, fisheries management, Pacific region, and Nicole Gallant, acting regional director, conservation and protection, Pacific region.
As you know, a key part of DFO's mandate is to sustainably manage Canada's fisheries. Consistent with that mandate, DFO applies a precautionary approach to fisheries management that prioritizes the conservation of stocks. The use of size limits within the commercial prawn fishery is an important part of this approach, as it helps to ensure the prawns are being harvested sustainably and that they reach sexual maturity and reproduce before being harvested, which supports the regeneration of stocks over the long term.
Harvesting prawns at a larger size also increases the price per pound, improving the fishery's economic return. For this reason, the use of size limits has been supported by industry since they were first introduced to the commercial prawn fishery in the 1980s.
DFO has a long-standing constructive working relationship with industry representatives in the prawn fishery, and the implementation of size limits is just one example of work the department has done in collaboration with industry to strengthen management of the fishery.
Recently, DFO has been working with industry representatives to develop packaging and labelling standards that would limit access to markets for illegal products and develop packaging standards that would meet all existing federal and provincial regulations. In the course of those discussions earlier this year, the industry practice of freezing prawns in tubs of sea-water—a practice referred to as “tubbing”—was raised. Our officials noted that freezing prawns in this manner makes it difficult for fishery officers to readily determine whether a harvester's catch is compliant with the size limit, which is a regulatory requirement in section 36 of the Fishery (General) Regulations.
Industry expressed concerns about the prospect that tubbing may not meet regulatory requirements. In particular, they noted the increased importance of tubbing to many harvesters that carry freezers on board, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in weakened international markets. Tubbed prawns provide an alternative, since they are a popular product in the domestic market.
In response to these concerns, DFO met with industry between February and April to explore solutions. Through these discussions, the Pacific Prawn Fishermen's Association, which represents commercial prawn licence-holders, proposed a protocol to help harvesters ensure that their catch, including catch that is frozen in tubs, is readily available for inspection by our fishery officers. DFO confirmed its support for the protocol as an interim measure for this year while we work with industry on longer-term solutions.
While we have achieved a positive outcome for this year, I would like to clarify several points for the committee.
DFO did not ban the tubbing of prawns at sea. The key requirement is that any commercial harvester must package their catch in a way that allows for the size to be readily determined. This regulation has been in place since 1993, applies to all fisheries and is essential for DFO to verify harvesters' catches and properly manage fisheries.
As fishing and packaging practices evolve over time, such as the growing use of tubbing, regulatory issues can be brought into the light, requiring engagement with relevant stakeholders to determine the necessary management adjustments. This is a very typical practice and it is a process we have followed here.
We are committed to working with industry on a long-term solution to this issue. Over the coming year, DFO will engage with the prawn industry on the development of longer-term solutions, such as clearer packaging requirements or other measures that will help ensure the continued sustainable harvest of prawns.
Thank you for your attention.
I would now welcome your questions.
I was expecting more presentation, but I'm glad that we have more time for questions.
Thank you, Ms. Reid, for your presentation and for being here today to help clarify what has taken place.
In your opening remarks you mentioned that a key part of DFO's mandate is to sustainably manage Canada's fisheries. I fully support this statement and mandate, but it's unclear how DFO's reinterpretation that will outlaw tubbing will promote sustainable management of the spot prawn industry. What is clear is that the determination to outlaw tubbing has cast the future of some 600 B.C. prawn harvesters into great uncertainty.
Does DFO have a plan for assisting the harvesters who could be forced to surrender their livelihood because of the department's reinterpretation?
That really is my attempt to answer the question. There are a number of issues around it.
You have a frozen tub of prawns. You need to be able to assess the size. You can't do that if they're tucked into that frozen sea-water, so you need to be able to thaw the tub quickly enough so that it's effective. There are questions around how that works when you're on a boat. There are those types of issues.
A number of concerns were raised about how this was going to work, such as whether the product was “readily available” and what would happen to the product afterwards, because once it's warmed up or thawed, it's going to be ruined. There were questions of that nature.
I think the outcome—the protocol that was agreed to—finds a solution that addresses some of those concerns, and it was acceptable for both DFO and the industry reps.
I would like to thank all the witnesses appearing today for providing us with answers. We really appreciate it.
My question is about the history of the issue we are discussing today.
On the Atlantic side, users of the Cap-aux-Meules Harbour are experiencing difficulties that are jeopardizing fishing itself this year.
When did you at the department start discussing concerns you had about that type of fishing? I would like you to provide us with four dates: the date when you discussed this; the date when the decision was made; the date when you notified the fishers; and the date when fishing begins.
I'm addressing myself to Ms. Reid, Ms. Gallant or, of course, Mr. Davis.
Sure, I can certainly help with those questions.
On your last point, to be clear, again, we have not banned tubbing. If tubbing can occur in a way that allows for the size limit to be readily determined, then it can proceed. We are pursuing discussions with industry about what our options around that might be for the longer term.
With respect to the role of size limits in ensuring the sustainability of the fishery, or whether conservation is a concern, I think regardless of the fishery, we actually prefer to manage more proactively so that conservation of the stock does not become a concern. In the case of the prawn fishery, the role of the size limit helps in that regard, because it allows for the prawns to reproduce—or it at least supports them to grow large enough to reproduce—before they are harvested. It also allows them to grow to a larger size, which has more economic value per pound. Both of these are good things and both have enjoyed the support of industry since their introduction in the eighties.
First of all, to the committee, we are doing our best to respond to your questions. I am sensing a lot of frustration and concern.
The issue around tubbing is about products being readily available. That regulation is across the board, so it's not just related to prawns. It applies in this case, and it was raised as part of a separate conversation because tubbing is becoming more common. It was raised as an issue in connection with our need to make sure we can inspect the product and how best to do that. That led to the conversation about whether or not inspection is possible with tubs and ultimately to the development of the interim protocol.
From my perspective, the issue was raised; it was discussed appropriately with the association, and a solution, which we agreed to, was found. We need to continue to work together.
This is a very typical process when working with industry reps. Issues are raised, we work on them, and we do our best to resolve them.
Okay, so you mean that for only two size violations, you want to change fishing that was going on for many, many years in a matter of, I think, two months.
I'm not sure if you know this, but my father was a fisherman all his life. Changing the way you fish doesn't happen overnight. You need time to organize yourself. You need time to prepare your gear and everything. For example, here on the east coast we're fishing lobster. If there is a size violation, we fine those people and take some of them to court. We don't change the way we measure lobster the year afterward.
Why, if there were only two violations like that, do you want to change a process that's been going on for years? It seems there is no conservation issue whatsoever. Why are you changing the rules all of a sudden, giving the industry no time to prepare themselves? It would be like asking them to mow their lawn with a snow blower during the summer. It would take time to adapt, right?
If you like, you can send the information to the committee. That way, we could continue the discussion. I just wanted to have an idea of the number of inspections.
Ms. Reid said several times that no changes have been made. With all due respect, had no changes been made, we would not be here right now.
You talked about prawns taking a very long time to thaw. How much time is needed? Fishers told us that it takes about two minutes.
I was wondering how many inspections were carried out annually. That should help us figure out how much time is spent thawing and measuring prawns every year. That does not depend on the freezing.
Based on the current protocol, how have you managed to accelerate the measuring of prawns?
Wow, so we're doing this whole thing based on an estimate of 10% to 20%, potentially. It's an estimate. We don't even know. You're not even keeping track. There is no report, no information.
We talk about a protocol agreement in place with the industry right now. My understanding is that three tubs would be readily available for inspection, and that if the prawns are undersized, you would inspect more.
That sounds fair. Everybody would be fine, I think, moving forward, if those were the rules of engagement for decades to come, but that protocol isn't good enough or we actually wouldn't be here. I can assure you of that. The industry wants more definitive answers on this issue.
My concern is that the cited conservation on this issue, yet it isn't a conservation issue. I'm asking you this: Will you back down on putting pressure on the industry and stick with the protocol in place right now in years to come, or is the minister actually pressuring you to keep putting pressure on the industry, keep placing uncertainty and unfairness on these families and keep the coast at risk because of two violations?
My question is for the three DFO officials who are appearing before the committee.
You can sense the almost unanimous frustration of the members of this committee. You have repeatedly stated that you're not imposing any change, but you certainly caused a lot of anxiety among fishers with the move you initiated this past winter.
You've interchanged things, Ms. Reid. Several times you've come back to conservation and size. We had fishers before this committee who stated that they've been using this method for 50 years and that it's not a question of stocks.
You are repeatedly going back to “readily available for inspection”, but you didn't answer this: How much time does it take to thaw a tub of prawns?
Ms. Reid, from my listening to the evidence that we've been getting, the answer is not satisfactory. It seems to be waffling all around the edges.
We have an industry that is quite mature. We have an industry that appears relatively regulated. We have heard no evidence given by your officials that violations are a serious issue that's affecting conservation and the stock.
That appears to be an interpretation, which I fully understand, but let me correct something. Is there not a methodology that you could use that identifies a frozen tub of prawns to the vessel that caught it? We use it on the east coast extensively. It's called traceability. Then, if you can identify the tub of prawns to a vessel, it would make no difference how long it takes to thaw those prawns. From an enforcement perspective, once you document that you took them out of a particular vessel, you should be able to relate the prawns in that tub that you seized back to the vessel, so the time to thaw should not be an issue.
Would I be correct?
Really, Ms. Reid, it's an academic question, this standardization of tubs. Whether I have one pound or two pounds, it might take two minutes to thaw one and four minutes to thaw another. It's an academic question. It really doesn't involve the fishery.
What we have here, what we see and what I see, is the proverbial sledgehammer to kill a fly. DFO has swept in with enforcing regulations, which it has the authority to do, in a fishery that is seeking out the most lucrative market it can at this time, which is the ability to go directly to the consumer, which makes sense. We want the fisher to get the maximum amount of gain. We should be there working with them to get in, and no evidence has been given to this committee as to why DFO would have reacted so fast and forcefully in the past several months, which really, really upset this industry.
When I pose specific questions, that's why I say I get waffling around the periphery.
I call the second part of the meeting to order.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for joining us this evening and I would like to take a few minutes, for the benefit of our next witnesses, to go over a few instructions.
When you are ready to speak, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
Interpretation will work very much as in a regular committee meeting. You have a choice at the bottom of your screen of either “Floor“, “English” or “French”. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly.
I would now like to welcome our second panel of witnesses.
From Skipper Otto's Community Supported Fishery, we have Sonia Strobel, co-founder and chief executive officer.
From the Native Fishing Association, we have Andy Olson, executive director.
From the Prawn Industry Caucus, we have Ivan Askgaard, commercial fisherman.
We will now hear opening remarks, beginning with Ms. Strobel for five minutes or less, please.
Thank you so much for having me.
As you said, my name is Sonia Strobel. I'm the co-founder and CEO of Skipper Otto. We're Canada's first community-supported fishery and one of the first in the world. We're based on Coast Salish territory here in Vancouver, B.C.
I married into a fishing family 20 years ago. Honestly, I was horrified to witness the struggles of my father-in-law, Otto, and my husband Sean and other small-scale harvesters. They face risks and uncertainties that no one would tolerate in any other livelihood. At the end of the day, a lot of them just hope to break even. They're barely paying themselves minimum wage.
At the same time, Canadians can scarcely access domestic seafood. Canada exports 90% of its catch, and 80% of what Canadians can buy in restaurants and in retail shops is imported, often from shady sources that support environmental destruction and human rights abuses in unregulated international waters, yet demand for local producer-direct seafood continues to skyrocket.
We started Skipper Otto to help take some of the uncertainty out of fishing and to address Canadian food insecurity. Our membership model provides frozen seafood directly from fishing families to consumers across Canada. We do lots of other things to de-risk fishing, but since this is what's core to the issue today, that's where I'll focus my remarks.
Freezing seafood allows harvesters to hold on to their product and find their own fair markets rather than being forced to sell to live buyers and export markets that won't set a price until long after they've taken the product. Monopolization and collusion are commonplace in this industry. Right now, we're two weeks into the spot prawn season. Folks selling into the live markets have already delivered the bulk of this year's catch, but they still haven't been told a price, let alone been paid a penny.
Not only is allowing the freezing of seafood like spot prawns, at sea a social justice issue; it's also critical to improving other issues like food security, tackling climate change and addressing seafood fraud. Our model allows members to enjoy sustainable seafood year-round anywhere in the country. It's shipped using low-carbon methods, and each piece of seafood shows exactly who caught it, when, where and how.
This committee has heard testimony from many harvesters about the impact of selling frozen-at-sea spot prawn tails domestically compared to selling to live markets. Last year, that meant that harvesters who tailed, tubbed and froze their prawns at sea sold them for 300% more than they received from selling them to the live buyer.
Skipper Otto supports 34 fishing families, like Joel Collier here, throughout the B.C. coast, as well as in two remote communities in Nunavut. These families provide a year's worth of seafood directly to over 7,000 families across the country. You heard from many of them through our petitions on this topic.
Our members are passionate about supporting Canadian fishing families. They do that by buying fishermen-direct frozen seafood. This spot prawn issue hits them personally, and they're not going to let it drop.
In Canada, shrimp and prawns are by far the most consumed species of seafood. Globally, some five billion pounds of shrimp and prawns are produced each year. Where does most of that come from?
The global shrimp and prawn trade is the most notorious for environmental destruction and human rights abuses. Most of the frozen shrimp you can get in Canadian grocery stores is in some way connected to human trafficking, slavery and deforestation of mangroves in southeast Asia. How wonderful, then, that we have this incredibly clean, well-managed, ethically harvested product as an alternative for consumers in Canada to displace some of that dirty product.
However, this reinterpretation of the regulation about spot prawn tubbing undoes all of that. It takes from fishing families one of the most profitable fisheries they have in a industry that's desperately difficult to make money in. Once again it puts the control and profits back into the hands of big foreign-owned export companies. It takes a sustainable, clean and ethical product out of the hands of Canadians and makes more space for slave-caught shrimp on Canadian shelves. For what? The DFO has not provided a single plausible reason for this decision. Of course, we all support strong conservation measures, but it has not been demonstrated that this is in any way a conservation issue.
Of course, we all want to put an end to IUU fishing and harvesting, but placing the burden of that on all harvesters is unjust and irrational. If a small group of harvesters and processors are violating regulations, then C and P—conservation and protection—already has the tools in place to focus the enforcement of the regulations without upending the entire industry. Their job is to enforce regulations made by arms-length lawmakers, not to reinvent the laws to make enforcement easier.
Please help me to tell our 7,000 member families across the country that this is solved. They are all eagerly awaiting the update on this issue, not just for this year but for the future as well.
In conclusion, I submit the following recommendations: one, that you give certainty to harvesters that tailing, tubbing and freezing prawns at sea will remain legal; and two, that you ensure that our local prawn harvest is protected for Canadian harvesters and consumers, not for the benefit of foreign corporations and investors.
Good afternoon, committee members and Chair.
Thanks for having us to speak about this issue today. My name is Andrew Olson, and I am the executive director of the Native Fishing Association. We're an aboriginal financial institution based in West Vancouver that serves aboriginal indigenous fishers all over B.C. through loans, licences and other business assistance, as we can.
Previously, before I took my job at the Native Fishing Association, I worked for the Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni as a fisheries manager and fish biologist for 10 years. In that role, I served as a first nations representative on the prawn advisory board for many years and worked with the prawn advisory board and prawn advisory committee, which is what it was before it became the prawn advisory board. I participated in many of those discussions and much of that work, and I never heard of undersized prawns being an issue. This is an issue that to me points to some of the other concerns in the Pacific region, in that DFO is being manipulated and used by business, industry in particular.
When they talk about industry, they talk about the PPFA. They are not the industry. That is the commercial processor group of representatives, not the representatives of the independent commercial fishers, who are represented by the Prawn Industry Caucus. That's one thing we need to be clear about. When they're talking about industry, they're referring to the Pacific Prawn Fishermen's Association. Those are two different groups with different participants, and in many instances, that larger organization represents the processing companies that are taking live prawns and shipping them to Asia for a lucrative market.
This shift for fishers wasn't just into tailing and tubbing prawns. It's been a shift to live prawn sales at the dock, which has turned the market around for these guys. Their opportunity to fish.... Even with a strong foreign market to ship the seafood to, the fishers were not getting the benefit of that strong foreign market price. The fishers haven't been making a high living off of that market and then having to shift to a lesser market domestically. The domestic market has proven to be able to bear the prices that are potentially higher than what the international market is providing to the fishers, so it's not just a temporary shift. I think it's a long-term shift.
One of the things I heard in the earlier panel discussion was a lot about sustainability and size issues and those kinds of things. It's clear that the committee understands all of those things and is trying to understand what's at the root of this issue and how we can work to support fishers to make a living and to protect the resource—which I think we all think is important—so that they can keep fishing.
We know that the size of the prawns is more of a marketability issue than it is a conservation issue and that there is not a sustainability concern in harvesting undersized prawns, because they're all males. Knowing that, we start to look at what's behind all this stuff, and that's what concerns me the most. We've seen processes and even enforcement programs manipulated by large shareholder corporations again and again in the Pacific region, many of them foreign-owned. They use their levers and the people they have influence with to change policy and change the way that the fisheries are managed through enforcement action, causing things to essentially shift immediately.
They realized they were going to lose access to all these prawns because fishermen saw that they could sell the prawns domestically and make more money selling prawns to their neighbours and friends than selling prawns to a commercial fish plant that is going to pack them into a box and send them to China. All of a sudden, when fish companies started to see that they were going to lose access to a product that was making them millions of dollars when they sent it overseas, they had to do something.
That's my concern. It's that this change points to that kind of thing and that kind of corruption in the Pacific region. We need to get to the bottom of this and we need to make sure that the fishermen have an opportunity to make a living. That's critically important.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and hello all committee members. I really appreciate being asked to speak today.
My name is Ivan Askgaard. I am a commercial fisherman. I have fished for 40 years for prawns. I own a prawn licence and operate a fishing vessel, and I also have a registered storage facility where we are licensed to freeze our prawn tails.
I served on the prawn sectoral committee in the eighties and the nineties, where we collaborated with DFO to implement larger mesh size, increase the minimum size, and implement many other measures to make the fishery more sustainable. I recall that the telson length measurement was established back then so that prawn tails frozen in seawater could become a viable product. I would have to say at this point that consultation back then was far more effective than what we're seeing today.
For years I was investing in technology to catch more fish. A number of years ago we hit a ceiling for what we could catch. We reached the conclusion that the way to survive was by adding value to the catch by improving its quality, its convenience for the consumer and its consistency. We have invested in Internet marketing, packaging, cold storage and distribution systems. I have to say that not all fishermen have reached the stage of advancement that we have. We're independent and we're forward-thinking.
I also have to say that we feel privileged to be able to harvest the common property fishery resource of Canadians. Canadians rely on us to provide them with food and access to something that they in fact own but trust us to harvest, and because licensed commercial fishermen rely on the goodwill of Canadians for access to the resource, we've made a point of making some of our catch available to the public over the last 30 or 40 years. It's not only tremendously satisfying; it's good business. There has come to be so little seafood available direct from the fishermen, even in our little coastal town of Powell River, that our customers routinely thank us profusely for making our product available to them. It's a strong market.
For the 2020 and 2021 prawn fishing seasons, the markets have endured another cyclical crash in the markets for frozen whole prawns for export to Japan and China, where 80% to 90% of our production is destined. The poor prices on this occasion have been blamed on COVID. An earlier witness mentioned extensive collusion in the industry among buyers, and I can reaffirm that fact. Fishermen received as little as $3 a pound for their smallest-sized product last year. Their medium prawns sold into the frozen seafood market at $3 a pound. That's less than the cost of production, I can tell you. This year looks to be the same. Fishermen are trying to make any kind of move they can to avoid financial ruin.
The market crash has promoted innovation by fishermen to adapt. We want to be able to have certainty and we want to be able to adapt. We're not looking for any kind of a financial handout, but we do want some certainty. We're trying to create higher-value markets by producing frozen prawn tails and selling directly to the public. I can say that this is a long-time practice and one that we have gone to when we've had poor markets in the past. When I first started fishing back in the eighties, there were people back then selling frozen prawn tails. That's how long this practice has gone on. It's not a recent practice.
This reinterpretation of the policy is not a conservation issue. It's solving a problem that doesn't exist. It's so unjust that my outrage is the reason I'm appearing here today. There have been no recent charges for fishermen for retaining undersized prawns. We've heard one of the earlier witnesses say that it was about two a year. I think there was some confusion there. There were two charges in 2019 to my knowledge, and there have been none in 2020 or 2021 for undersized prawns, although there have been many other charges laid in the fishery. I've spoken with a fisheries officer who says that retention of undersized prawn tails in tubs by commercial fishermen is the least of their concerns.
I can tell you from practical experience that identifying a fisherman who has retained undersized prawns is a relatively simple matter, all this talk of thawing tubs aside. The tried and true enforcement technique is for the rubber boat to arrive seemingly out of nowhere and an impromptu investigation occurs of the product that is retained on deck. Timed at the end of a haul of a string of traps, DFO can easily go through a large amount of product—about one-sixth or more of that vessel's daily catch—to get a clear assessment of what is being retained by the vessel.
I want to thank our witnesses for being here today.
I have you all on my screen. Can you raise your hands if you heard the department officials in the hour just before you came on? Raise your hand if you were able to hear them. Okay.
My question first, then, is for all of you. We'll start in the order in which you presented before, so it will be Ms. Strobel, Mr. Olson and then Mr. Askgaard.
Do you believe anything that the department officials said was an accurate and fair reflection of the relationship you've had with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with regard to the whole issue surrounding prawn tubbing?
In past studies we've looked at the tie-in between the owner-operator of a boat and the ownership of a licence.
Mr. Askgaard, you seem to be in the privileged position of having a licence and a boat, and so you're the model, as it would appear, on the east coast.
On the west coast, looking to Ms. Strobel and Mr. Olson, do you think it's the absence of owner-operator provisions that has allowed the current situation to develop the way it has?
We'll have to check with the CFIA to see what kinds of inspections they do.
Let's say that the tubs, as they're currently constituted....
Ms. Strobel, I appreciate your holding that tub up. It seemed to be fairly thick. There could be a couple of layers of prawns in there that might make it difficult to see very clearly what size they are. I can see the bottom layer, but the top one is obscured by the label.
Is it possible to redesign the tubs in such a way that just by picking it up, they can see exactly what's in it? That would blow this whole readily acceptable argument out of the water, so to speak.
I thank the witnesses, Ms. Strobel, Mr. Askgaard and Mr. Olson.
I must say that, although I am not surprised, I am still concerned by everything that has been said so far. You heard the representatives of the Fisheries and Oceans Department tell us, in summary, that fishers' representatives and not industry representatives asked that meetings be held, which is very different. That is what we were told and what I have understood, but I will look into this a bit further.
They also told us that no changes have been made. It's as if we were being told that, as elected members, we are carrying out a study that is absolutely useless and that nothing has ever happened.
My primary concern is for you. If we cannot get accurate information from the department as elected members, I don't even want to think about how you feel. I sympathize fully with you in this case. We will see if lies have been told or not.
By the way, I commend Ms. Strobel's courage, as she talked about the petition.
Moreover, the entire issue of territory is also a concern for me. I will talk to you about Quebec, but the same thing is happening in Canada. Territory is often considered to consist of only soil, rocks and trees, but the sea is also part of it.
You also talked about food sovereignty and land occupancy.
You brought up many issues that are extremely important to my mind. You raised a tremendous number of issues and I feel that the time set aside for this study should be extended. We should actually continue to work on this study.
I also commend the courage of Mr. Olson and Mr. Askgaard, who said two words that can frighten people: collusion and corruption. Of course, that also worries me as an elected member. Finally, I am concerned by all the losses suffered by industry.
What is more, the vertical integration of fishing is a concern for me, as I have heard the same thing about the processing industry in this committee.
I will let you conclude, as I have talked a lot. Usually, I time myself, but I did not do it this time. So I will let you expand on the issue and on Ms. Strobel's recommendations on legality, among other things. I would like to hear your recommendations and thoughts on what the committee should do, as it represents Canadians, and not industry.
I want to thank the witnesses. I feel terrible about the injustice that you're enduring right now and the impact it's having on your families.
Ms. Strobel, you talked about the fact that there's not one plausible reason for the government to do what it's doing to you, for the DFO to be taking this action. We heard earlier, at the previous part of this committee, from the DFO officials that they had no science that could back up any conservation concerns. They didn't even have data on how many tubs.... They decided it was, potentially, a 10% to 20% increase in tubbing, and their backup was that they had two violations a year, on average, for the whole coast.
Can you put that into perspective, Ms. Strobel, with regard to the scale? How many prawns or how many trips would that be per vessel out there? Can you give us a glimpse of how these two violations a year affect the sector and of the impact they're having on conservation?
Sure. Thank you, Mr. Johns.
We're talking about thousands of trips. We're talking about thousands and thousands of trips over the course of the season, so two violations are so infinitesimally small that it's not even statistically really relevant, compared to....
Mr. Morrissey used the phrase “the proverbial sledgehammer to kill a fly”. It makes no sense at all, especially compared to all of the actual conservation issues that are out there.
There are species we need to be protecting. We're talking about Fraser River sockeye salmon and things like that. Why on earth would we put this much attention and energy, with all the things we'd like to be spending our time doing, into talking about two violations for undersized prawns? Undersized prawns already have been illustrated not to be a conservation issue. It makes no sense at all.
The consultation process, again, was with the Pacific Prawn Fishermen's Association, and the issue was only brought to the attention of the rest of us in the industry on March 3, when they realized it wasn't going to go away. When we asked them why we didn't know about this sooner, they said that in February, when it first came up, they thought it was so ludicrous that it couldn't possibly actually materialize and that it was based on nothing. It just didn't make any sense. They had obtained a legal opinion to say that this didn't make any sense. They truly thought it would disappear.
At that time, all DFO's responses to PPFA—because they wouldn't speak to any of the rest of us and only spoke with PPFA—were that they were standing by their assertion that tubbing prawns and freezing them at sea was illegal, effective immediately, and they stood by that until this most recent statement by the , which only conceded that they would put into place some measures to allow it to happen this year, with no commitment for future years. Of course, this is cold comfort for fishing families who have, as you know, leased or bought licences for so much money. It's not possible to build a business around one year's confidence.
There was really no consultation, or certainly not with those of us on the ground.
Thank you, Mr. Johns, and thank you, Mr. Olson.
I know we're getting short on time, but is everyone okay for a lightning round here, with one quick final question from each party represented? If you can keep it to 45 seconds to a maximum of a minute, it would be helpful.
Thank you, witnesses, for hanging in. We're going to do the lightning round now.
I'll start with you, Mr. Mazier, for one minute, and preferably less.
I have a question for all of you.
What we've heard in the last two hours, along with the lack of information from the department, is deeply disturbing.
Now, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Hardie, because I have huge respect for him, but I guess my question is to the witnesses.
Do you believe the minister should get a free pass, given the testimony we just heard, on not intervening immediately and backtracking tomorrow and calling off her officials, so that in future you can count on this government, and all governments, to have your back? Basically the question is this: What exactly needs to happen, outside of thawing the tubs if they need to inspect?
I have a point of order, too, Mr. Chair.
I know that it's not my job to tell people who they are or what they are or what they can do, but Mr. Hardie indicated that there were government members at the committee here today when he was laying the blame squarely at the feet of DFO. I just want to remind colleagues that there is actually nobody here from the executive branch at all appearing before the committee, and that not even the parliamentary secretary is a member of the executive.
I know what it's like to be a government caucus MP, but I think we should be careful, and these are just my feelings and sentiments. I didn't want to reprimand Mr. Hardie in front of witnesses, but I think we just need to be careful about who we are and how we identify ourselves and be accurate in how we portray ourselves in front of witnesses. We are simply members of Parliament, whether we're a member of the government caucus or not a member of the government caucus, and we shouldn't be portraying ourselves as executive members or members of government.
I think Mr. Johns was completely bang on when he said that the minister, somebody who could make the executive decision, would be more than appropriate to take action. I wish we had the executive powers of government sometimes as a committee, and then we would get some of these things done.
If somebody on the government side of the table were to prepare to move the appropriate motion, you would have my full support.