I call this meeting to order. Welcome to meeting number four of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and a motion adopted by the committee on Monday, October 19, 2020, the committee is resuming its study of the implementation of the Mi'kmaq treaty fishing rights to support a moderate livelihood.
I would like to start the meeting by providing you with some information following the motion that was adopted in the House on Wednesday, September 23, 2020.
The committee, of course, is now sitting in a hybrid format, meaning that members can participate either in person or by video conference. Witnesses must appear by video conference. All members, regardless of their method of participation, will be counted for the purpose of quorum.
The committee's power to sit, however, is limited by the priority use of House resources, which is determined by the whips. All questions must be decided by a recorded vote unless the committee disposes of them with unanimous consent or on division. Finally, the committee may deliberate in camera, provided that it takes into account the potential risks to confidentiality inherent in such deliberations with remote participants.
The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. Just so you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
For those participating virtually, 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 floor, English or French. Before speaking, click on the microphone icon to activate your own mike. When you are done speaking, please put your mike on mute to minimize any interference that might occur. I remind everyone that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair.
Should members need to request the floor outside of their designated time for questions, they should activate their mike and state that they have a point of order. If a member wishes to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the “raise hand” function. This will signal to the chair their interest in speaking and create a speakers list. In order to do so, members should click on “participants” at the bottom of their screen. When the list pops up, they will see, next to their name, that they can click “raise hand”.
When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, the use of headsets with a boom microphone is mandatory for everyone participating remotely. Should any technical challenges arise, please advise the chair. Please note that we may need to suspend for a few minutes as we need to ensure that all members are able to participate fully.
For those participating in person, proceed as you usually would when the whole committee is meeting in person in the committee room. Keep in mind the directives from the Board of Internal Economy regarding masking and health protocols. Should you wish to get my attention, signal me with a hand gesture or, at an appropriate time, call out my name. Should you wish to raise a point of order, wait for an appropriate time and indicate to me clearly that you wish to raise a point of order.
With regard to the speakers list, the committee clerk and I will do the best we can to maintain a consolidated order of speaking for all members, whether they are participating virtually or in person.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses in the first panel. We have Chief Paul J. Prosper of the Paqtnkek Mi'kmaw Nation, regional chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the Assembly of First Nations. We also have with us Chief Darcy Gray of the Listuguj Mi'gmaq Government.
We will now proceed with opening remarks from Chief Prosper first. I will remind the speakers that they have five minutes for opening remarks, and I have to be firm on the time frame because we're late starting and we want to make sure we get our questioning in, as well as hearing your important testimony.
Chief Prosper, when you're ready, you have five minutes or less. Go ahead, please.
. Thank you, Mr. Chair. Honourable committee members, I am honoured to be here. I am here on behalf of the Assembly of First Nations, representing the region of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
I would like to begin by stating that it is beyond the scope and mandate of this committee to provide any definition of legal concepts such as what is a moderate livelihood or a livelihood fishery. To do so would be to undermine the nation-to-nation negotiations currently undertaken between the Mi'kmaq and the federal government. Rather, I believe the primary purpose of this hearing is to educate you, the leadership of this country, on some issues and perspectives that the Mi'kmaq are currently facing. To do so in five minutes or less will be a challenging task.
To begin, by way of background, we as Mi'kmaq have a long history within our traditional territory. We have our own creation story. We have legends that speak to a time when the ice started to walk on the land. Before the arrival of Europeans, we existed as independent nations governed by our own customs, values and traditions. As such, we have aboriginal and treaty rights that have been recognized and affirmed by the highest law, the Constitution, and the highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada, in this country.
A national chief once said that for a first nation to gain recognition of rights, three aspects need to be employed: direct action, dedication, and consultation and negotiation. For each of these, different people step forward and take on a specific role and responsibility.
Through many decades, the Mi'kmaq have gone through this cycle of direct action and litigation. It is within the last two decades that the Mi'kmaq of Nova Scotia have undertaken negotiations in a unified manner with the federal and provincial governments. As Mi'kmaq, we have our warriors, those on the front lines who take matters into their own hands in the face of injustice, people like Gabriel Sylliboy, James Matthew Simon, David Denny, John Paul and Tom Sylliboy, as well as Donald Marshall, Jr. and many others.
In order to create a law as aboriginal people, we have to break a law that is unjust in the first instance. Litigation often places the obligation of aboriginal and treaty law against provincial and federal law at the highest level, the Constitution of Canada.
I'll say a bit about the political landscape. We have salmon rights in Quebec in 1981, Denny, Paul and Sylliboy charges; in 1987, the royal commission report on the wrongful conviction of Donald Marshall, Jr.; in 1989, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in Denny, Paul, and Sylliboy, following with Sparrow; AFS agreements; Donald Marshall being charged in 1993; the Supreme Court of Canada's decision and the reaction in Burnt Church; we have, in 1999 and 2000, the Marshall agreements; also the made-in-Nova Scotia process in 2002, followed by rights reconciliation agreements in 2017.
Important to this is the rule of law, which provides, within the Constitution, in section 52, that:
(1) The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect.
All laws must trace their roots back to the Constitution.
To negotiate aboriginal and treaty rights, a government typically conducts its negotiations through a mandate from Canada. It was a rude awakening for me to realize that just because you have an aboriginal and treaty right it does not mean that the government will honour or uphold that right. In other words, there is no mechanism to force governments to honour the laws of this land.
You may ask how I know this.
I know this because Paqntkek and Bear River first nations here in Nova Scotia have been waiting 30 years for a mandate from Sparrow, an aboriginal right to fish, and 21 years for a mandate from Marshall for a livelihood fishery. What is endemic within the federal government in Sparrow through Marshall and still today is negotiation without recognition.
You might be thinking, “How can this happen?” Well, it's quite simple. You have a government official who says, “We don't have a mandate to talk about your rights, but here is an agreement. There is simply no other option.” How does government achieve this? They go band by band.
Still worse are the supposed rights by conciliation agreements of 2017. These agreements provide money to first nations to purchase access in the fishery under DFO rules. In return, first nations have to agree to suspend the practice of their rights for 10 years.
Negotiation without recognition, or access without self-government, is the status quo and default position of the federal government.
Good evening, everyone. Thank you for this opportunity.
Listuguj is a Mi'kmaq community in Gespe'gewa'gi, the seventh district of Mi’gma’gi. We are in essence the gateway to Mi’gma’gi. Using more familiar terms, we are located in Quebec on the Baie des Chaleurs, immediately across the Restigouche River from Campbellton, New Brunswick.
Listuguj is party to the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760 and 1761. We have a right to fish and to sell fish to earn a moderate livelihood. The Supreme Court of Canada said in Marshall that Canada has the authority to regulate our fishery but can only impose restrictions on our fishery if they can be justified for a substantive public purpose, are minimally intrusive and follow meaningful consultation. If a restriction cannot be justified, then it is invalid. The general rule is that we have the right to fish and to sell fish any time of the year.
Every fall for the past 20 years, Listuguj has conducted a fall fishery for lobster. The DFO issues Listuguj a licence that restricts this fishery to food, social and ceremonial purposes. The licence prohibits us from selling the lobster we catch in the fall. The prohibition on the sale of lobster we catch in the fall serves no conservation purpose. The DFO permits us to fish, and we fish within the prescribed effort limits. Whether we eat the lobster or sell the lobster, the effect on the lobster stock is the same. The prohibition on the sale of lobster we catch in the fall has nothing to do with regional or economic fairness. These are lobsters that we will be taking from the water one way or another, whether to eat or to sell. If we sell them, that in no way diminishes any other stakeholders' access to the resource.
We asked for years for the minister to issue us a licence that would reflect our treaty right and allow us to sell lobster in the fall. The Fisheries Act and the aboriginal communal fishing licences regulations as they are currently written give the minister the power to do that. We have been negotiating and consulting with the DFO about this issue for years. Every fall we are refused. Every fall the minister insists on prohibiting us from exercising our treaty right.
We understand the need for a well-regulated fishery. We understand that with rights comes responsibility. After several years of community consultation, we adopted our own law and fishing management plan to govern our lobster fishery. Our law and plan allow our people to sell their lobster but ensure that fishing efforts remain sustainable. For the last two falls, we have conducted our own self-regulated fishery. Lobster stocks in our fishing area remain healthy. We have not seen violence like that being witnessed in Nova Scotia. We see our lobster fishery as a self-determination success story. We tried to get here working with DFO. In the end, though, we got here in spite of the DFO.
The DFO still stands in our way. Because the licence we receive for our fall fishery prohibits the sale of lobster, it is an offence under the Fisheries Act for anyone to buy our fall lobster. We have a treaty right to sell, but the DFO makes it illegal for anyone to buy. This is a significant challenge for us, and it is entirely of the DFO's making.
This is not an issue of needing to define a “moderate livelihood”. It hurts me to say it, but Listuguj is a long way from achieving a moderate livelihood through our fishery. We have 33% unemployment. This fall our lobster fishery lasted two weeks and employed 38 people—fishers, monitors, cooks and more. We cooked 10,000 pounds of lobster and distributed them directly to community members, feeding approximately 1,500 community members, including 300 elders. I'm very proud of that, but it's hardly a moderate livelihood.
This is really an issue about how we fish, not about how much we fish. The DFO insists on forcing Mi'kmaq treaty fisheries into the mould that was developed for non-indigenous commercial fisheries. We do not fit that mould. That mould was not made for us. The restrictions that mould imposes are not justifiable. We are more than capable of designing an approach to fisheries governance that does reflect our rights, values and ambitions, but the DFO has not been willing to work with us. By failing to offer any reasonable accommodation of our treaty, the DFO provides no other alternative for us than to self-regulate. In a way, I'm thankful for it. It has made it obvious to our fishers and community members that we are capable of assuming this responsibility. Self-determination and self-government are the future of our fishery.
The only reason the DFO gives us for not issuing us licences that reflect our treaty right is that it would make the fishery difficult for them to manage. I think the exact opposite is true. If we had licences that respected our treaty rights, laws and fishing plans, then we could work collaboratively with the DFO on the water to make sure our fisheries are safe and sustainable.
As it is, the DFO forces the Mi'kmaq to fish in a legal grey area. It makes us angry. It makes non-indigenous fishers angry. That is when management problems really start.
Thank you to both Chief Prosper and Chief Gray for being here and for taking the time to share their testimony with us. We appreciate your time before the committee today. Thank you.
Obviously, all Canadians are concerned about what has been happening in Nova Scotia of late. I want to state very clearly that any acts of violence are always condemned in situations like this. There's no place for that. The indigenous people certainly have a right to fish, and that is very well established as well.
I appreciate your coming before the committee. We do have some questions.
Obviously, in regard to the situation, we feel we've arrived at this place, in Nova Scotia in particular, in large part because there has not been a proactive approach on the part of the government to address the underlying issues that need to be addressed at this time. We see now that they have put in place a special representative. It's my understanding that they have been appointed to try to mediate or help facilitate the discussion in regard to the situation in Nova Scotia.
On Friday, Chief Mike Sack of the Sipekne'katik First Nation raised concerns over the appointment of the special representative to mediate the conversation between indigenous and commercial fish harvesters in southwestern Nova Scotia. He called the appointment “alarming” and is quoted as saying he is worried about the appointee not having “the capacity to be a neutral third party” to conduct these discussions.
Do you echo these concerns? That question can be for both of you. We'll start with Chief Prosper and then go to Chief Gray.
Further to what you mentioned on the approaches that don't work, at a basic level, it's negotiation without recognition. That has been the legacy. It's endemic within any government to this point, over the 21 years.
In terms of moving forward and what could be an appropriate solution, it's important to consider that many in our communities can't relate to any position on our rights without any consultation as to what we know or believe. Government speaks much about consultation; however, their positions and actions reflect a reality where we have to fit within their rules. By not getting a proper mandate and not consulting in good faith within the consultation process, government is making Mi'kmaq leadership look incompetent and not responsive to the needs of our communities.
What that begs is this notion of true reconciliation. True reconciliation means a reconciliation of laws: Mi'kmaq treaty law with Canadian law under the Fisheries Act. There is a need for both of these laws to work together to address the conflict that is taking place in our territory. There's no immediate action in this area. The progress we have made over the years has been in jeopardy of being lost and a cycle of direct action and litigation can return. There is a takeaway here, and that is the legacy of Donald Marshall, Jr.
Donald Marshall, Jr. died nine years after his landmark decision. This decision provided a ray of hope for many of our people, yet Donald Marshall did not even get a chance to see his decision fully realized within our Mi'kmaq communities. Even though I believe there is just cause to suggest an appropriate path forward, I can't help but plead with you and others not to act on your own and come up with something that you think is good for us. It will never work. What exists in our communities is the product of the federal government's failed good intentions. If the legacy of Donald Marshall means anything, it means that we have a right to live on this land. We have a right to live in accordance with the original instructions given to us by Kisu'lkw, the creator, which has been recognized and affirmed by the highest law and court in this country.
Chief Gray, thanks for being with us at this committee today.
As you are our neighbour just across the bay, we're thinking about you during this difficult time. I know your community is facing some restrictions that are coming to New Brunswick with regard to COVID-19, but we're thinking about you and we hope this will be over soon.
Chief Gray, just for this committee's understanding and for Canadians also, everyone in this industry seems to think we are in this situation because there has been a lack of clarity by DFO or government over this year. Let's just imagine there were some successful negotiations, if I can say that, and everyone agreed on the definition of “moderate livelihood”.
Would you accept that, if the earnings of that “moderate livelihood” were restricted to the commercial fishing season in different lobster zones in Atlantic Canada? I think you know what I'm saying. I just want you to comment on that.
I'm sure you know the Restigouche River, if you're from just across the way. We've been managing the Restigouche River for the last 30 years, going back to 1995. We passed our own salmon law back then, and since then we've been regulating our own salmon fishery. The fishery there is very well managed.
Conservation is of the utmost importance. The season is determined according to our law. We don't necessarily look at the commercial season or the food fishery season, and we don't look at the lobster the same way either. Instead, we look at the stocks and how healthy they are. That's kind of the way we've been approaching things with our management plan here.
The fish we catch in the fall are part of a fishery that is normally licensed and recognized under the allowable effort, under DFO regulation. This is not outside of a fishing season, so to speak. The difference here is that we are looking to, at the very least, recoup some cost and generate a bit of a moderate livelihood. Now, we're nowhere close, but we did create some opportunity for our people through that.
As I said, rather than looking at seasons, we're looking at the needs of our people. Sometimes you need to eat the food and sometimes you need to sell it to make a livelihood.
Basically, there are two factors. These factors are compliance with legislation and reconciliation, and flexibility.
Chief Prosper, at the start, you spoke about a moderate livelihood. Chief Gray, you also seemed to be saying that this concept could be defined, even though the concept is very complex and many values must be taken into account. Is that right?
If you don't have an answer or a definition, could you provide some guidelines or ideas regarding this concept that we should definitely consider? For example, I'm thinking of the spirituality aspect.
It's an honour to be joining you from the unceded lands of the Hupacasath and shíshálh people. I want to thank both Chief Prosper and Chief Gray for their testimony. It's very important.
We know right now that the is in talks with the Sipekne'katik people and that she won't negotiate in public. She has stated that on a number of occasions. We agree with that.
We're sitting at this committee studying an ongoing issue that's important to those parties who are in nation-to-nation discussions.
This is a question for Chief Prosper.
You've stated some concerns about the committee studying this issue, about these discussions that are taking place right now. Here we are at committee having this conversation. You have concerns about undermining those discussions. What are the consequences of having this discussion at committee while DFO and the nation are talking in private?
We're talking about a subject matter that involves constitutionally recognized rights that have been affirmed and recognized from the basis of treaty. These are nation-to-nation documents, and they appropriately need to be discussed at that level, on a nation-to-nation basis.
My worries about committee discussions are that findings from a committee of this sort, especially if it gets into legal definitions, can certainly undermine the nature of those discussions that are more appropriately within the two representatives of government: the ministers and the leaders of first nations people.
As I mentioned before, I think an appropriate subject matter for purposes of this committee is to provide an educational component, and I think that's further to what Chief Gray mentioned as well.
First off, I think it has to be meaningful work with the communities or the nations, however they're engaging with them, and providing the support for true governance that ensures the safety and sustainability of the fisheries. In the end, they have to be willing to make a decision.
In our experience, we negotiated for two years on a co-developed management plan for our treaty fishery. For two years we worked on that. The night before we were about to put it in place, we were told, “I'm sorry, we can't do that.” That, to me, is unacceptable. That, to me, is part of the problem. If we're going to dance for two years and spend a lot of money, time and effort trying to come up with a solution and be told no in the end, that's frustrating.
Now, of course, we could go to another round of questioning, but the time allotted for the committee function today has expired. I will ask for the consensus of the committee, by either a show of hands or thumbs up, to extend the meeting. I would like to go through another round of questioning, if possible, and then go into the second panel. We do have other witnesses waiting.
I see some thumbs up.
Nancy, do you want to do a poll of the vote to extend—
Chief Prosper, since the Marshall decision, the federal government has spent upwards of about $600 million to buy up existing quota to transfer to first nation communities with the goal of increasing their participation in fisheries and providing increased economic opportunity for their communities.
It was my understanding that the programs that provided access for first nations into the commercial fishery through quota, training and equipment were done with the intention of helping first nations communities realize the rights reaffirmed in the Marshall decision, and that through these programs, economic activity in the industry on reserve grew from about $3 million in 1999 to $152 million in 2016, according to whoever you would believe on these statistics, including DFO.
How do you view the quota and the access created through programs like the Atlantic integrated commercial fisheries initiative in relation to moderate livelihood fisheries?
Last week we heard from a witness, a Ms. Denny, about the term “moderate livelihood”. I'll quote what she said, not to be pejorative in any way, but just because I'm trying to wrap my head around this.
She said that it was more a concept to be able to “support oneself spiritually, culturally, economically, socially”. I foresee that as being a very difficult standard to use as a baseline in fisheries management.
Chief Gray, your nation has recently launched a moderate livelihood fishery based on your own management plan. I guess I'm asking, does your management plan reflect what Ms. Denny said? If so, how are you able to incorporate that into a quantifiable management plan that balances the realization of your rights and the sustainability of the resource, specifically lobsters?
I'll start with the last part of that question. On our website, listuguj.ca, we do have a copy of our Listuguj lobster law. It does provide a bit of detail around that question and how we've gone about trying to develop a regulatory plan for our fishery.
The other side of it is that even though this is a two-week fishery that we do under our management plan and under the law under this moderate livelihood, going out on those boats with those fishermen and knowing that they are fishing under Mi'kmaq law is truly empowering. It's an amazing feeling to see them out there, with the families who support that, the people monitoring and making sure things are done in a good way, the cooks who are taking the lobster and preparing it for the families, and the fishers who are able to provide a little more for their families.
It really does address a lot of what Ms. Denny raised last week in her testimony. If you haven't been out on one of those boats and you haven't seen how the fishermen go about it and the joy they get when they bring it to elders, it's hard to understand. Once you've been out there, it's obvious and evident.
Maybe I can proceed with that.
Certainly Mi'kmaq people do not exist in isolated communities. We share common tradition, common culture, common language, and embedded within the language there are traditions like netukulimk that provide a mechanism by which to guide management decisions, operations, and things like that. It runs throughout the Mi'kmaq nation, so it provides a certain level of reference and consistency for us to come together and make management decisions that are in the best interests of all our respective communities.
It also itemizes a certain protocol that exists between our respective communities. For example, when Donald Marshall came down here to Walneg to fish for eels, it was Chief Terry Paul of Membertou, the community Donald Marshall is from, who phoned up my brother, Kerry Prosper, who was the chief within Paqtnkek. It allows for a certain level of diplomacy to exist as well between our respective nations, so I would add that.
Certainly, and this goes back to Mr. Calkins' question a little while ago.
In our management plan, we have an effort that is authorized and recognized normally by DFO in our fall fishery. It's important for us that we stay within that effort, because that's what the science says. That's what we view as important to the conservation of the resource. To help us in that, first off, our council is there to review the management plan every year. We have our conservation officers, if you will, the fish and wildlife monitors that are out there on the water making sure that, first off, our fishers are safe, and second, that they are doing good things out there. We have dockside monitors counting the lobster as they come off the boat and ensuring that there is a sharing and a giving back in the community immediately. Then we have our cooks making sure that it's a good quality of lobster that's being distributed.
We have a number of people that get involved in this process. It's truly a tremendous effort for us. We did have one incident initially when we first launched this effort. It was an internal situation. One of the fishers went out a day early, so a meeting was had with all of the fishers, who asked, “How do we solve this?” We said, “You need to give all of your catch to the community.” The fisher said, “Okay, to keep the peace, to make things right that I wronged all of you, I will give my entire catch to the community.”
That ends our rounds of questioning for the first panel. I want to thank Chief Prosper and Chief Gray for taking part here this evening by video conference. Your testimony has been very informative and enlightening to some degree.
We'll suspend for a moment to allow our witnesses to leave and the new witnesses to be added to the meeting. Before I do that, I want to recognize Ms. from Saanich-Gulf Islands. She has joined the committee as we take part in this study. Welcome.
We're going to get started. Can everyone click on their screen in the top right-hand corner and ensure that they are on gallery view? With this view, you should be able to see all the participants in the grid.
I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of our new witnesses.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. When you are ready to speak, you can click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. I remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair. Interpretation in this video conference will work very much as it does in your regular committee meetings. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of either “Floor”, “English” or “French”. When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses in this second panel. We have Michael Barron from the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association, and Mr. Ian MacPherson and Mr. Bobby Jenkins from the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association.
We will now proceed to opening remarks.
Mr. Barron, you can start off with five minutes or less when you're ready, sir.
I would like to thank the standing committee for the invitation to speak this evening.
As mentioned, my name is Michael Barron. I am the president of the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association and I am an independent owner-operator and commercial fisherman. I represent approximately 200 harvesters here in Cape Breton.
I would like to start by saying everyone has the right to fish safely and that my association does not condone violence. Harvester organizations throughout Atlantic Canada have supported, and continue to support, the Marshall decision. Associations like mine have spent considerable time and effort to try to provide education and explanation to individual members, whose awareness and support varies greatly around the decision made in 1999. I will be honest and say on my own behalf that I am still trying to understand the Marshall decision. That is an issue with a living document. And what I mean by “a living document” is that without a clear definition of “moderate livelihood” for the last 21 years, it has been open to much interpretation. This has caused hardship and uncertainty for all parties on both sides. Sadly, this process of educating and advising members is made ever more complicated by the lack of information and involvement in discussions about “moderate livelihood”.
The industry as a whole generates approximately $2 billion for the province of Nova Scotia. It employs approximately 50,000 people throughout the province. As an example of its economic contributions, 249 harvesters are located in the riding where MP Battiste resides. These harvesters generate approximately $31 million in gross revenue. This is a significant contribution that must be recognized. Currently, the harvesters have had no discussions with their MP and feel discriminated against. On October 5, the stakeholders of LFA 27 wrote a letter and sent it by registered mail to MPs and MLAs, and have received a response, but have not received a response from MP Battiste as yet. All parties must be afforded an opportunity to discuss the respective concerns.
The basis of the lobster fishery management is effort control: a limited number of participants, a limited amount of gear, a defined season, maximum trap size and, most importantly, protection of egg-bearing females and the moulting lobster. The lobster fishery was the first to introduce a limited entry in an effort to stabilize employment within the industry and address the historical trend of increased participation during the high production cycle, followed by disinvestment and withdrawal from the industry by those not solely dependent on it. Even with such limits, licence buyback programs in the 1970s, and as recently as the early 2000s, were necessary to try to match participant numbers with the available resources.
Apart from official rules and initiatives to manage participation, local pressures contribute to the relatively orderly distribution of effort across all LFAs. Commercial harvesters quite logically fear that unknown amounts of additional or changed effort, especially if these are concentrated in a few areas, could seriously reduce catches in targeted areas, while leaving others untouched.
The big question is that if the government addresses rights and provides more access, where will that leave our small coastal communities? If more access is created, it will affect the economics of our coastal communities, as the money that is generated from the fishery stays within the community. In some instances, where indigenous access is not adjacent to the coast, it will move money completely away from the coast, impacting our economies.
Handling lobster at this time of year, post-moult and egg drop, makes them more vulnerable and easy to catch because they are trying to regain strength as their shells are still soft. After the eggs are dropped, and if caught this time of year, they are being caught as next year's lobster. That would leave commercial fleets' catch rate lower, which brings less economic value back to our communities.
According to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all Canadians are considered essential to preserving Canada as a free, democratic country. That said, how does this apply to me, as a Canadian commercial fisherman? The reason I ask is that we need a common table to discuss the operational issues that are long overdue.
For whatever reason, DFO has been remiss in not bringing both parties together to address this. Since October 2019, a coalition of fishing groups has been formally calling on DFO to put in place dialogue between aboriginal and non-aboriginal fishers. To this date, nothing has been put in place. This dialogue needs to happen to help the sustainable development of the fishery by maintaining the economic needs of the fisherman and sustainability of the species in concert with indigenous rights.
This leads to a question of equality across LFAs, the fishery in general and society at large. All attention of late has been focused on the lobster fishery, which is peculiar to some extent.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. MacPherson and I will be splitting the presentation.
Good evening, everyone. The Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association would like to thank the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for the opportunity to present during this challenging time for the harvesting sector in eastern Canada.
My name is Bobby Jenkins, and I am the president of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association.
PEIFA represents 1,254 core harvesters on Prince Edward Island. The primary revenue species for our members is lobster. Lobster will be the focus of today's presentation.
In the events of the past few weeks, there have been many discussion on what the primary issues are. We are here today to focus on the sustainability of lobster stocks and why consistent enforcement of conservation measures is important.
We currently find ourselves in a situation where, as commercial harvesters, we are not represented in important discussions that impact the resource we all depend on for our livelihood. Perhaps today will be the start of an expanded dialogue regarding management issues concerning the resource.
We understand the significant contributing factors to the current situation in Atlantic Canada and Quebec and the lack of a clear definition regarding the term “moderate livelihood”. It also appears that all sides of the fishery are concerned about the escalation of conflict.
I would like to acknowledge that the non-traditional fishers have coexisted on Prince Edward Island for many years and that co-operative efforts, such as opposing the Northern Pulp pipe in the strait, benefit all harvesters on P.E.I.
Our intent today is to speak to our connection to the fishery and also to discuss our concerns. We will also share the mandate that we must follow as directed by our membership. We envision the moderate livelihood fishery that takes place to be within a regulated commercial fishing season.
It is my hope that our discussion today can be respectful and constructive. We are in a very challenging time, where leaders must lead with workable and beneficial solutions for our fishers.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Okay. That's too bad. Anyhow, to be respectful of the time, I'll summarize that document. There were three or four key points that we wanted to make.
In the 1970s some detailed data collection started. We have now over 50 years of data on the stocks and how the resource is performing. In 2005 we had two areas that were in significant decline. Those areas came up with their management plans under the Atlantic lobster sustainability measures. It involved giving up traps permanently and borrowing large sums of money to drop traps. LFA 25 and LFA 26A dropped an astounding 29,050 traps during that period. This is significant.
The question for the committee is this: Why is history relevant to the situations of today?
We have 10 points we'd like to cover. First, the lobster fishery stocks are healthy in most areas because of significant trap reduction and licence reduction in many areas that have been carried out in the last decade.
Two, regulated seasons have been established to preserve these stocks. These season dates are supported by many years of scientific data.
Three, fishing a carapace size above the minimum legal size has been a positive contributing factor to conservation measures across the lobster fishing areas.
Four, international certifications and markets depend on a united and cohesive approach to the fishery in all areas, one that can be documented by third party organizations.
Five, traditional and non-traditional fishers have worked in the past and will continue to work together on P.E.I. on these types of resource issues. In a co-operative effort, one island band sold two licences in one area to purchase a licence in another to be closer to their territory and plant. These changes were unanimously supported by the PEIFA. Recently a new set of talks commenced between the PEIFA and our first nations fishery.
Six, the overall management of the resource must be overseen by an overarching organization such as DFO.
Seven, the positive balance that currently exists in the Atlantic Canada and Quebec lobster fishery is because of specific effort-based management measures. This balance will quickly decline if too much fishing effort is put on the resource.
Eight, consistent enforcement of current conservation laws for all harvesters and purchasers is critical so that any illegal fishing can be stopped.
Nine, the concept of no new access being created in the fishery has proved to be a good one. The “one in, one out” principle of licence purchases keeps access to the fishery consistent, documentable and manageable.
Ten, national polling suggests that it is of very high importance among Canadians for respecting and enforcing fishing regulations and having direct negotiations between government, indigenous leaders and fishing organizations.
This concludes our presentation. Captain Jenkins and I would be happy to address any questions the committee may have.
This question can go to either one. I want to keep it in context because we had two wonderful presentations, briefs from Chief Prosper and Chief Gray, that referenced numerous times that first nations people, particularly Mi'kmaq, enjoy being out on the water exercising their right and participating in the fishery.
What's been expressed to me from time to time, including the need for first nations people to have access to the modern fishery because of the high unemployment rate in some of the first nations communities, is the practice of non-first nations people fishing these rights, and not the first nations people in every situation. Please comment because I want to hear from both of you.
I want to thank the witnesses who agreed to be here today.
My question concerns the negotiations. You heard Chief Prosper and Chief Gray say earlier that there must be a real nation-to-nation negotiation between indigenous nations and the Government of Canada.
Fishers are asking to have their voices heard. How could the government take into account the interests of non-indigenous fishers? I gather that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans isn't representing them at this time.
How could fishers be more involved in the conversation? The question is for Mr. MacPherson, Mr. Barron and Mr. Jenkins.
Thank you for the very important question.
I just recently signed impact statements for the courts on P.E.I. for violators who were charged with fishery offences on P.E.I. Our board of directors some time ago passed a motion at a board of directors meeting that we would sign a victim impact statement, that whoever was the president of the association on Prince Edward Island at the time would sign a victim impact statement regardless of the event. We have been doing that for the past 10 years. We will continue to do that.
I personally have volunteered to read victim impact statements in court, if need be. I haven't been asked to do that as of yet, but I have agreed to do that if they want me to. What we practice for conservation on P.E.I., in terms of our board of directors and our advisory committees, is that it doesn't matter who gets caught and it doesn't matter what the offence is; everybody is treated the same. A victim impact statement will go out on behalf of the PEIFA.
In regard to our aboriginal chiefs on P.E.I., the PEIFA took the initiative on October 2 to meet with our chiefs, Chief Darlene Bernard from Lennox Island and Chief Junior Gould from Abegweit. We had a pretty productive meeting on October 2 regarding the situation in Atlantic Canada. We are looking forward to more dialogue with chiefs there.
I really appreciate your talking about how fisheries can be managed jointly. We believe that it should be nation-to-nation dialogue in how fisheries should move forward. Where I live in the Nuu-chah-nulth territories, the commercial fishers and the recreational fishers understand that it is the minister representing commercial at the negotiating table, negotiating nation-to-nation dialogue on quota and on establishing fishing rights.
However, they also have a management table in our region called “West Coast Aquatic Management”. It's a really great model. Everybody is sitting at the table talking about their management plans, including the nations with their management plans. Everyone's excited about it. They say it was working tremendously, but the department basically stepped away from the table. They've been almost invisible. They stopped resourcing the table over the last decade.
Can you cite any examples in your region where there were things that were working and the department stepped back and stopped supporting those discussions?
Go ahead, Mr. Barron. Maybe I'll start with you again.
We'll shift gears a little here.
Talking about resources, I'm a farmer as well, but on the Prairies. You're always looking after your resources, trying to protect them so you have next year's crop.
Do you have any reports on how the stocks are doing right now? Is the fishing that's going on right now sustainable? If it were to drop and all of a sudden you noticed we were in a crisis, how long would it take to bring those stocks back? What would have to be done?
Thank you, and I would like to thank the witnesses for their testimony.
Mr. Barron, could you forward me the correspondence? The last correspondence I received was from the president of the Cape Breton Fish Harvesters Association. I've received no such correspondence in the past few weeks.
I want to talk to you a little about hearing from the fishing associations. I've been hearing quite a bit that the biggest concerns of the fishing associations are making sure of the long-term sustainability of the lobster industry and all the different industries, as well as a need for transparency.
Would you say that those are the top two concerns of the fishing associations? If there's a third, would you be able to elaborate on what I've missed?
That concludes our testimony from our witnesses this evening. I want to thank Mr. Barron, Mr. MacPherson and Mr. Jenkins for appearing in our second hour of this evening's committee meeting.
Before we adjourn the meeting, I want to remind members that the deadline for final witnesses on this study is 5 p.m. eastern time tomorrow. Please send them to the clerk via email before that deadline.
I want to thank Nancy and the table staff for staying late this evening for us to hear this testimony. As well, thank you to our own staff, the staff of the various MPs. I'm sure some of them are working late too because of the extension. We have to try to get in as much testimony as we can so that we can produce a very noteworthy and worthwhile report at the end of the study.
Thank you, everybody. We'll see you on, I guess, Thursday.
The meeting is adjourned.