Welcome to meeting number six of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Monday, October 19, the committee is resuming its study of the implementation of Mi’kmaq treaty fishing rights to support a moderate livelihood.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of September 23. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So that you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entire committee.
To ensure an orderly meeting, 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.
For members participating in person, proceed as you usually would when the whole committee is meeting in person in a committee room. Keep in mind the directives from the Board of Internal Economy regarding masking and health protocols.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are on the video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. For those in the room, your microphone will be controlled as normal by the proceedings and verification officer.
As a reminder, all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair.
When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
With regard to the speaking 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. Today, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, we have Matthew Hardy, manager of the fisheries and ecosystem sciences division, gulf region; and Kent Smedbol, manager of the population ecology division, Maritimes region. From Oceans North Canada, we have Ms. Susanna Fuller, who is no stranger to this committee.
We will now proceed with opening remarks.
Dr. Smedbol from DFO, you have five minutes or less, please.
Members of the committee, thank you for inviting us here today.
This is an opportunity for us to speak about DFO science's role in providing advice in both the DFO Maritimes and gulf regions of Atlantic Canada, notably with respect to lobster fisheries.
My role in DFO science is that of division manager responsible for fisheries assessments in the Maritimes region. I am joined by my colleague Matthew Hardy, who has a similar role in the gulf region.
As you know, the mandate of DFO's science organization is to provide the information and advice for decision-making. In the context of fisheries, this means providing information on the biology of species, the status of their populations; providing advice on levels of sustainable harvest; and using ecological information to make inferences about the health of populations. In this way, DFO's science program supports the conservation and sustainable use of Canada's fisheries resources.
We undertake the monitoring of fisheries and Canada's oceans, we conduct research that addresses questions relevant to our mandate, and we use this information to generate advice through the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat. This work is often done in collaboration with partners, both domestic and international.
With respect to lobster specifically, the stocks are generally healthy throughout Atlantic Canada. Environmental conditions continue to be favourable for the productivity of lobster in our waters.
DFO science provides targeted assessment for different lobster fishing areas, and these areas vary in terms of assessment approach as well as population and ecosystem considerations.
As such today, my colleague and I are here to respond to any questions regarding lobster science in the gulf and Maritimes regions.
Again, thank you very much for allowing us to present.
Thank you, all, for inviting me to speak here today.
I work for Oceans North, an organization that engages on conservation initiatives in Canada's Arctic and Atlantic provinces, in partnership with indigenous communities, as well as non-indigenous fishing entities. We support the implementation of UNDRIP and upholding indigenous rights.
As many of you know, I was very engaged in the modernization of the Fisheries Act, and supported the inclusion of section 35 of the Constitution in the act. At the same time, we were one of the few environmental organizations that also supported the inclusion of owner-operator provisions in the act, because we fully understand their social and economic value in rural communities. We also worked hard to ensure that the Fisheries Act require the rebuilding of depleted fish populations.
My perspective on this issue comes primarily from my role as a biologist and conservation practitioner, but also being keenly aware of the economic value of the fishery to coastal communities, and the relative state of poverty in first nation communities. In my experience, crises emerge, because those with decision-making power fail to make the hard decisions, or tackle the real challenges in a timely, creative and thoughtful manner. As a case in point, we are far from rebuilding the northern cod stock, despite its collapse 30 years ago and concomitant impacts on coastal communities, because we made the wrong decisions at the wrong time, or we avoided making the right decisions at the right time.
The conflicts we see unfolding in our communities, on our wharves, and in the hearts and minds of so many people who are watching what is happening in Atlantic Canada is, in my opinion, the result of failure to address three key issues over the past three decades: ensuring the health of the Atlantic Canadian independent fishery; full implementation of the Marshall decision; and conservation of fish populations. These are not new problems.
I had a chance to go back and look at the Atlantic fisheries policy review, and there has not been full implementation of that review. That started in 1999, the same year as the Marshall decision, and was completed in 2004. I'll just remind you of the vision of the Atlantic fisheries policy review, which said:
The Atlantic fisheries will become a biologically sustainable resource supporting fisheries that: are robust, diverse and self-reliant; effectively involve all interests in appropriate fisheries management processes; are sustainable and economically viable, contributing to the economic base of coastal communities; and provide for the constitutional protection afforded Aboriginal and treaty rights and where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal resource users work collaboratively.
This is from 15 years ago. It also included commitments to preserving the independence of the inshore fleet.
As you are well aware, independent fishers are the big small business of Atlantic Canada, yet there's been a growing concentration of the resource that leaves many feeling as if their industry does not have a future. Amendments to the Fisheries Act in part addressed this; however, there remains the fear that in any given year, the uncertainty of the fisheries is further exacerbated by the declining labour force, ballooning licensing costs, and an uncertainty about the health of key fish populations.
Fear and uncertainty are significant, but not the only ingredients in the current conflict. The lack of comprehensive, responsible and accountable organization of parts of the inshore fishery also means that they seldom come together on a joint vision for their industry. In my experience, there's been a lack of education by the various fishing associations of their members on the importance and content of the Marshall decision, or how reconciliation can take place proactively. I am pleased to hear there are efforts ongoing right now by the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation to address this and to improve education.
On moderate livelihoods, the AFPR stated:
An important objective of this policy framework is to provide for Aboriginal participation and involvement in fisheries management decision-making processes so as to promote collaboration between all resource users.
I concur with others who have presented here on the failure of DFO to address the issue of moderate livelihood since the clarification of the Marshall decision. While attempts have been made, these have come at the expense of fisheries governance opportunities. As well, I expect the failure has been in part, because it is impossible to envision the end point. What needs to happen is transformational. It's much more difficult to address an issue in the midst of a conflict, however, conflicts emerge because an issue has not been addressed.
Reconciliation and upholding the Marshall decision and treaty rights was never going to be easy, but avoiding it has made it much more difficult. From listening to others who have presented to you, it is clear that the governance of first nation fisheries is one of the key concerns. The AFPR defines co-management as “the sharing of responsibility and accountability for results between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and resource users, and will eventually also encompass the sharing of authority for fisheries management.” This is what many first nations are asking. Interestingly, a legal commentator in 2001 stated that “The Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review has the potential—though whether it will or not is unclear at this point in time—to fill the regulatory gap that has existed since the 1990 Sparrow decision.”
Finally, my third point is on conservation. In the end, if there are not healthy fish populations, there will be no fishery. The fish do not care who catches them. Lobster has been the saviour of our rural economies, with increasingly valuable exports being realized largely on the backs of the lowest trophic level fisheries.
The lobster fishery requires an incredible amount of bait, of which herring and mackerel have been the species of choice. These are now at historically low levels largely as a result of setting quotas higher than the populations can bear.
As the moderate livelihood fisheries expand to other species and new areas, it's imperative that there be joint data collection protocols, science assessments and consideration of fishery-wide conservation matters to ensure that we are not jeopardizing the future of communities, human and ecological, first nations and non-first nations. Integrating the two-eyed seeing into how we manage fisheries will also be an important step.
Finally, this is just a reminder that Fisheries and Oceans Canada manages the fisheries for the public good, and I would argue that upholding first nations' rights, ensuring the future of coastal communities and rebuilding fish populations are all in the public good.
My final point relating to moderate livelihoods is that the fishery cannot be expected to bear the entire responsibility of bringing first nation communities out of poverty. Much, much more needs to be done to bring jobs and livelihoods to first nation communities across all economic sectors and to make reparations for our centuries of colonial history.
I'm going to start off with our scientific personnel from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I want to ask a question about management.
Notwithstanding that you mentioned that it was your mandate to look after the fishery—and, of course, I think that mandate has been broadened now to include Crown/indigenous relations—as someone who is responsible for the biologists, the biology or the scientific side of it, I'm not going to ask you specifically about whether or not you understand Marshall or Marshall II or all of those things. Instead, right now, Mr. Smedbol, what we're dealing with is access to the fishery, the charter right of the Mi'kmaq to it and the apparent access to management of the fishery, which is, I believe, different from access to the fishery itself.
I would like to ask you a question about the collaborative approach that DFO takes in dealing with its stakeholders and others, and whether or not you believe that collaboration is the best way to go, with DFO ultimately being responsible for the management of the fishery. Do you believe that collaborative co-management is going to work or if non-collaborative co-management will work in ensuring the long-term sustainability of lobster stocks?
I may ask my colleague, Matthew Hardy, to jump in at the end.
One important thing to note is that my colleague Matthew and I are both members of the science sector. We're not part of DFO management, so really it's not within our mandate or area of expertise to speak to management or decision-making within the department.
I would turn your question to our role within the science sector and our role in the provision of advice. When we do provide advice or when we undertake our monitoring programs, we do collaborate with a number of other entities, both internal and external to the department, NGOs and other agencies, including first nations.
We'd be happy to collaborate in any sort of monitoring programs in the future, and we are open to have those discussions around lobster or any other species. There are examples already, I think, of fulsome science monitoring and research collaboration throughout the Atlantic zone.
Really, with regard to co-management, that's an area that's beyond our expertise, and I will turn it over to Matt if he has anything that he'd like to add.
Seasonality goes back a long time and is based on a number of activities and decisions going back decades—certainly long before we were involved in fisheries management.
There are, I would say, two categories of considerations. The first one is sort of biological and ecological, and the second relates more to the economics of the fishery. We can speak to the first part.
As you know, lobster fishing seasons do vary by lobster fishing area across the Atlantic zone. There are important conservation considerations to keep in mind, and these include minimizing the interaction of the fishery with important life history stages. From June through to September—and I'll speak to my area within the Maritimes region and particularly in southwest Nova Scotia—lobsters undergo several important life events. During this time they may be sensitive to handling, so we would recommend that be considered in management actions.
In terms of these life stages, during the summer months almost all lobsters molt their shell, leaving them with soft, fragile shells for several weeks or months. When in a soft-shell state, lobsters are susceptible to increased mortality due to handling. Also, adult lobsters mate during the summer months. Mating occurs just after molting and involves a significant investment of time and energy in courtship behaviour. Lobster larvae are also released from bearing females during that period.
Those are some considerations I think we would use to inform management around seasons. However, as I said, it's not just the biological consideration. There are economics related to the seasons as well.
I think there's a frustration about the lack of communication and being able to discuss issues that affect everybody, including the resource. I understand that frustration. I cannot speak to any programs per se, or very specific, dedicated policy outcomes that have happened within the non-indigenous and indigenous fisheries. I can only say that people have worked hard to create relationships. At the heart of this is the relationship, and it has been hard work with Bear River First Nation, Acadia First Nation and the Bay of Fundy fisherman to come to an agreement after Burnt Church and after the Marshall decision. There has been hard work in Cape Breton between the fishing associations to come to an agreement. It's not easy. People are afraid for their livelihoods and their futures.
I think, though, that there are really interesting opportunities. We know in that Atlantic Canada there is about a 40% labour market decline expected in the next 10 years. There will be very interesting opportunities to do apprenticeship programs between non-indigenous fishers and indigenous fishers. We don't have the people to purchase the licences or work as crew in the next few years because of the demographics.
I think there are huge opportunities. In New Brunswick, there's a partnership between the Elsipogtog processing plant and some of the crab fisherman. There are examples of where this collaboration is just happening and has happened. I think many of those relationships are quite damaged right now.
I do think we need to come up with different ways of doing things, whether or not that's talking circles or.... People are hurt in their minds and in their hearts, and I don't say that lightly. Friendships have been broken, and we're supposed to do the opposite in the peace and friendship treaty implementation, and it's going to be a long road ahead. I do think we need to start at the wharf and make sure that there is anti-racism education and that people are understanding so that we can move forward together and have resource management and science that will support communities going forward. That may mean changes, but how do we do it in a way that is sensitive?
I don't know that non-indigenous fishers can necessarily be at the table for our nation-to-nation conversations, but again, on many of our fishery advisory committees, there are indigenous representatives and non-indigenous representatives sitting at those lower level tables where management decisions and science are discussed. It's not one table that's going to solve this. It's going to be many, many tables, and we're going to need to figure out bottom-up and top-down processes for that.
Absolutely. I think the data from the FSC fisheries and the moderate livelihood fisheries should be made public. I think that has just been made public. The data from the moderate livelihood fishery in St. Marys Bay have been made public.
I think we need detailed information on catch rates, but I would also say that needs to come, as well, from the non-indigenous fishers. The more information that we have together, the better we can understand the impact of increasing the fishery.
I would focus on the information at hand. I know a lot of the questions here are focused on the soft-shell lobster. I don't believe that we have a soft-shell lobster protocol in the commercial fishery right now. I don't know if we know how many soft shells come up during the seasons, so I think that's something that needs to be done.
I would focus on getting us back to having individual fishermen, non-indigenous and indigenous, working together on improving practices. Again, I think that we need to start at the wharf level to build trust again.
My question now is for DFO.
You said that the lobster stocks are healthy. To me, that would mean there is not a conservation issue. Of course, we know from aboriginal case law that the only way to infringe on aboriginal or treaty rights is through conservation or safety. However, a lot of people don't trust that data and say, well, they don't know.
Can you tell us how DFO measures whether a stock is healthy or not? Are there indicators, kind of like forest fires or COVID, that say this is green, orange or red? Is there any of that kind of information out there? I'm trying to get a sense of how DFO measures whether lobster stocks are safe.
Thank you for your question.
Again, I'll turn to my colleague if he has anything additional to say.
In Atlantic Canada, our lobster stock assessments are indicator based. As I said earlier, we compare recent information and catch rates or landings relative to historical trends.
For most lobster fishing areas, our primary indicators of stock abundance rely on fishery-dependent information, such as catch rates, catch-per-unit-effort, and, in some cases, landings. I mentioned LFA 34 and also LFA 38. We do have fishery-independent information—a couple of other LFAs as well. This includes trawl surveys, dive surveys and recruitment trap surveys for young lobster.
A key point to your question is that most of our lobster stocks have precautionary approach frameworks in place. Abundance indicators are compared directly to reference points on stock status, and, overall, most of our lobster stocks are considered to be in the healthy zone of the precautionary approach framework. We have annual monitoring where we compare trends in those indicators, be they fishery dependent or fishery independent, relative to those indicators.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Fuller, my first question is for you. First of all, you talked about those processing plants owned by first nations and how it was a great collaboration. That's in my own riding. There are two. I see first-hand that great collaboration throughout the years. I think we would not have seen that 20 years ago. We came a long way. It's going well now.
That said, my dad was a fisherman for 30 years. I see first-hand the highs and lows of this fishery. Back in 1980s, in the north here, there were a lot of lobster. Then, back in 1990, there were almost no lobster. My family was on social assistance because of that for many years. A restocking effort was put in place not only by commercial fisherman, but by first nation fishermen also. Everybody worked together, so now I think the proof of that is that we have more lobster in our area.
That said, you said also that cod and herring stocks were in decline too, and maybe herring more so because of the bait we used. In your opinion, do you think the conservation piece or aspect should be a number one priority here while at the same time respecting the rights of first nations on this moderate livelihood, but doing it in a commercial season, for example? I know that many questions were asked about it. In your own opinion, if we talk about the soft-shell market, like the DFO scientist was saying—and you also said that we should look for a soft-shell market—why look for a soft-shell market if the number one priority here is conservation? What is your opinion on this?
Do you feel that we should prioritize conservation, while respecting at the same time the moderate livelihood, so that all of those things can be done at the same time during the commercial season and we don't hurt the lobster stocks, not only for only commercial fisherman but also for first nation communities, and all Canadians and all people who depend on that business and industry?
I hear you. I think we need to do a lot more science in understanding the conservation value of what happens when we do fish soft-shell lobster.
I know that in St. Marys Bay there is scallop fishing during the period that the lobsters are moulting. That has gone on for years. I don't think that's necessarily a good idea. In the State of Maine, they have a year-round fishery and their stocks are not dissimilar to ours. I think we need a lot more questions.
I think fishing out of season is something that.... I'm not an indigenous person. I grew up around fishing communities. Fishing out of season is something we don't do, right? But I will say, how do we accommodate the livelihood fishery? Why do first nations want to fish out of season? We need to unpack that and really look at the reasons. It may be conservation. It may be because they cannot feel that they can do that safely, right?
We need to really look at those, and I think we need much more work on understanding conservation, including...and thank you for mentioning the forage fisheries, because if our lobster fisheries to increase, or spread out or change, we need to think about the bait and where that source is coming from. We are hitting a critical field. Herring and mackerel are in the critical zone. It is not good.
I think there are also some things that can be done by lobster fishing area and the bay area, but that's going to require real collaboration between non-indigenous and first nation fishermen, as well as DFO.
Good. Thank you for that.
For our DFO friends who are also the line, you were talking about the data you were collecting and about having some tests done by DFO and maybe also by some fishermen. How can you make sure that the resources are in good health? For example, if I take an area here in my zone, the lobster population is exploding, but if I just go 75 kilometres west of this zone, there's less lobster in that area.
On your data that you're collecting, how sure are you sure that they're exact? My understanding, with my father being a fisherman for 30 years, is that there's no dockside monitoring for lobster. There's no quota being put in place. There's nothing for that. How can you make sure that the resources are in good health if we don't have perfect and accurate data like they do in other fisheries, like in crab, for example, where we have quota and we also have good data? How can you make sure the lobster resources are in good health?
Okay, I don't think we have to suspend or change anything to proceed now to committee business. Of course, we're still in public and televised.
We've had a number of requests to try to do some committee business, so we will do that now in the time remaining. I know we have things we need to do. I think right off the top, we need to decide where we're going with the current study on a moderate livelihood fishery. How many more meetings do we do, or when do we want to come to a dead stop and submit recommendations or drafting instructions to our analysts? And, of course, what study do we do next?
I will say right from the start that I think we only can plan right now up as far as December 16. We don't know what will be happening beyond that, so we probably have to keep it to that. We won't get a lot done between now and then.
Mr. Johns, I see you waving your hand.
To put it out there for friends on the call tonight, I want to hear more about salmon also. On what we're doing in terms of studies right now, I think we can also hear more.
I also want to put it out there that I proposed a study about the North Atlantic right whale issue, which has been going on for the last four years in the gulf. Everybody voted in favour of that.
I think it will be very difficult to do something before Christmas, but I want to put it out there that maybe in the beginning of the new year, we can start that. The fishing season will start in April. There are a lot of things that we can hear from fishermen, businesses and communities. It has been difficult for the last four years. The government put good measures in place at the time they were needed to be put. Things have evolved since 2017. I think there's more we can do in terms of making sure that it's easier for fishermen to have a normal, less-stressful season, and at the same time, protecting the North Atlantic right whale. We can think about this.
To put it in perspective, I think the measure was good. There were zero mortalities this year from fishermen. I think we can improve those measures so that the fishing zones are open a little bit more for the season and that there's less stress on fishermen. If you have heard about what they've been going through in the last season, you know it's not easy. It's not easy for communities and fishermen around the world who are also working in this situation. I want to put it out there. I hope we can start this early next year.
In light of what Mr. Williamson just said, I'm prepared to be a little bit more flexible. I don't know how many more people need to come and tell us what we already know as committee members, but if there are some other tidbits that can be gleaned, I would be in favour of that.
I was going to propose, Mr. Chair, that if there are a few witnesses left that Mr. Williamson or others would like to hear from, we can leave that possibility open if they're available. I would suggest that at a meeting next week, after we've had a chance to meet ourselves, we come back and provide drafting instructions to the analysts. Then we proceed afterwards to resuming the study on salmon and see if we can get that off the books.
If we do need one or maybe two more meetings on this, it's easy to add the testimony while we're already working on a report. There's no reason that we can't be flexible enough if we need to take an hour to hear from some witnesses at some point in time.
I don't think we need to do a hard stop, but I think we should do a soft stop right now, proceed with the drafting instructions and get to work on the salmon study.
This is more procedural, Mr. Chair. I just wanted to check whether we can simply continue with this study for one or two more sessions, if additional witnesses are able to join us, and then go back into the west coast Pacific salmon study.
I think would be very helpful to how we function as committee members if we can get the list of witnesses who are going to be appearing before the committee a bit sooner, or further in advance, for preparation purposes. Sometimes we're getting them the same day. I know sometimes that may be because of confirmation or not hearing in time. If there is a way for us to get that in advance, so that we can prepare, be ready to go, and have time to make sure we're set to go for the committee meetings, that would be good. We could have prep time for our staff for questions and research, etc.
I just want to put that out there. I understand there are times when you just can't reach the witnesses. I get that part of the equation. If at all possible, to get notice of that sooner would help us immensely, for sure.
Normally I would be very supportive of a motion dealing with small craft harbours. I've been a member of this committee for several years now and have participated in at least three, if not four, studies on small craft harbours
I've been as far to the east on the coast as you can get, as far to the west on the coast you can get. I've been to the Arctic. I've been to all of our freshwater places in Manitoba and others. All one would have to do would be to go back and take the last four copies of the small craft harbour reports, read them, reword them and issue the fifth copy of the small craft harbour report, and it wouldn't look any different from the first four.
While I appreciate the politics of doing this, there are a number of really important issues, like recreational fishing, like this whale issue we have on the east coast, which I don't remember this committee ever doing a study on, that I think we should actually spend the committee's time and effort pursuing.
I understand that only a limited number of studies can be carried out. Mr. Calkins raised the political issue. However, like everyone else, I'm here to represent a constituency. My constituency has 1,500 kilometres of coastline. It isn't the only constituency with that many maritime coastal areas. It has many wharves. Right now, if the study didn't look at the Quebec situation, you should know that some people in our area...
Yes, when we talk about the Pacific region, the salmon issue comes up. I agree with this. However, some coastal communities or entire indigenous communities in our area are dealing with security challenges, because of the harbours. They're losing the fishery altogether. Entire villages and regions are closing down. You'll understand that, for me, the challenges in Quebec are as important as saving the salmon in British Columbia or the peaceful resolution of a conflict that should be resolved simply because the Mi'kmaq have a right to a food fishery. These are my reasons.
I'm wondering when this committee has done a study on Quebec in the past 30 years.
In my view, this is another reason to include Quebec in all the studies, when possible, unlike this time around. As was done for eastern or western Canada, I would include these topics for Quebec in subsequent studies, including a study regarding my third motion on seals, where I also talk about the Atlantic.
I had used the “raise hand” function, but thank you for noticing my wave.
For my friend and colleague, Madame Gill, I know you have several motions that you've given notice of. It sounds like the consensus of the committee is moving towards finishing the moderate livelihood study and moving to finish up the Pacific salmon study, and then there are a couple of options, including the motion that just passed.
Just for the clarity of the committee, could you give us some insight as to what would be your highest priority among the various motions? Would it be the recreational fishing motion that just passed? If you had to choose one of them as your highest priority for the next topic to study, would you be comfortable sharing that information with the committee?
I would suggest, Mr. Johns, that anybody can get in touch with the clerk and put forward a witness for what's left of the study on the moderate livelihood.
I will make a recommendation to both Madame Gill and Mr. Morrissey. Perhaps over the next few days, you can collaborate somewhat and bring back a motion that maybe incorporates what you're both trying to do to make sure that the wording is included. I wouldn't want to see our voting on two things that are overlapping. We can probably deal with it at the end of one of the meetings coming up in the next week.
Right now, we are completely out of time. There's not even time to do a vote.
Thank you to everybody again for your co-operation this evening. Hopefully the advice on the seal one will pan out to be something. I will say that here on the east coast, it is a major problem. I'd love to see something done about it or at least recommendations to try to solve the issue to some degree to the satisfaction of the people in the fishing industry.
Again, thank you everyone. Thank you Nancy, clerks and staff. It was a great meeting again today. See you next Wednesday.
I'll now adjourn the meeting and wish everybody a good evening.