Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to meeting number 17 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on April 7, 2022, the committee is meeting to hear from the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard and officials on the issue of capelin fishing regulations impeding weir fishing in the Charlevoix region of Quebec.
This meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. For those participating via video conference, which I think is everybody, when you are ready to speak, click on the icon to activate your mike. Please speak slowly and clearly for the interpreters. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute. Interpretation is available for this meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French. Please inform me immediately if interpretation is lost. We'll ensure that it's restored before resuming. For members on Zoom, please use the “raise hand” function to speak or to alert the chair. All comments should be addressed through the chair.
I'd now like to welcome the Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, who will be with us for the first hour.
We'd also like to welcome our Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials, who have joined us virtually as well for the full two hours. We have with us, once again, Mr. Timothy Sargent, deputy minister; Mr. Adam Burns, acting assistant deputy minister of fisheries and harbour management; Mr. Sylvain Vézina, regional director general from the Quebec region; and from here in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Tony Blanchard, regional director general.
I understand that we have some substitutions here today. Jenna Sudds, MP for Kanata—Carleton, is subbing in. Jaime Battiste, MP for Sydney—Victoria, is also joining us.
One other, Francesco Sorbara, the member for Vaughan—Woodbridge, was to be joining us as well.
Good morning, Mr. Chair and colleagues, the regulars and the subs to the committee. It's a pleasure to join you from my home on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish nations and to attend with senior officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
For those who would prefer to hear my remarks in English, please listen to the interpretation.
Capelin is a small pelagic fish widely distributed throughout the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and it plays an important role in the marine ecosystem as a key forage species for numerous marine fish, mammals and seabirds.
In the estuary and Gulf of St. Lawrence, which represent the 4RST divisions of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, or NAFO, capelin is managed as a single stock. The spawning season of the stock begins in the upper estuary in late April and early May, and progresses eastwards and northwards in July and August.
Newfoundland and Labrador region is the department’s lead region managing the 4RST capelin stock. Its management is conducted through a multiregion advisory process involving the department’s Quebec and Gulf regions, as these three regions have fish harvesters with fishing access to the stock.
The 4RST capelin fishery dates back over 100 years and is currently managed on the basis of a single total allowable catch, or TAC.
Historically, Gulf capelin have been mostly landed by the Newfoundland seiner fleet in area 4R, the area of the Gulf of St. Lawrence near the western coast of Newfoundland.
Quebec capelin fisheries do not occur in that portion of the Gulf and, instead, only take place in areas 4ST, the eastern portion of the northern Gulf and in the southern Gulf. The province has a small-scale weir fishery in the estuary that has opened on May 1 in previous years, while the main fishery in Quebec occurs in June in area 4S, off the coast of Blanc‑Sablon on Quebec's lower north shore.
As mentioned, the capelin weir fishery in the estuary is small in scale, with only two active licence holders. This fishery targets capelin during beach spawning events. In April 2021, the licence holders involved in the capelin weir fishery in the estuary requested the advancement of the opening date of their fishery to April 1, from the usual May 1 opening. At that time, the 2021 stock assessment and advisory committee meeting had already taken place, which were respectively held on March 18, 2021 and on March 26, 2021.
The next 4RST capelin stock assessment is scheduled to begin on April 20, and the advisory committee will be held a few days later on April 25, 2022. The request by licence holders to advance the opening date of the capelin weir fishery in the estuary will be discussed at the April 25 advisory committee meeting. As part of the ongoing process, we will evaluate the advancement of the opening date of this fishery to April 1, starting in 2023.
Following the stock assessment on April 20 to 21 and the advisory committee meeting on April 25, I have asked officials to prepare options, in consultation with the industry, that could allow weir fishermen to open before May 1 if the assessment is positive. This consultation approach regarding modification to management measures is consistent across all fisheries in Canada.
I am happy to answer any questions related to this work.
Minister, thank you very much for joining us today in this unusual meeting during our constituency break. I appreciate your accommodation of Madame Desbiens' request.
Thank you very much also to my colleagues on the committee for putting aside time for this.
Minister, in your opening remarks you mentioned that you're looking at this for next year, and I appreciate that. Was there no consultation with the weir fishermen before the meeting of the advisory committee that was held in March of this year?
We always do consultation with the fish harvesters involved in the fishery. That's done after the departmental experts have looked at the data, analyzed it and brought it together. The options are then presented in those consultations.
I will ask my staff if they'd like to add any other details .
My understanding is that a number of different elements go into this. It includes several new elements this year, including data as to what groundfish are eating in the area. A variety of types of data have to then be harmonized. That is part of the process before the actual assessment of TAC can be confirmed.
It is clear that our data for capelin are fairly limited, so we are trying to make improvements in that regard.
Currently, our capelin data come from reported commercial landings, a fishery performance index derived from commercial landings of the 4R seiner fleet in Newfoundland and Labrador, capelin bycatch by shrimp trawlers, biological samples from commercial catches, and specific bottom-trawl surveys conducted by the department in the summer.
All of that information enhances our data and was used to develop an indicator that was validated through peer review. Our data quality is beginning to improve, and we will certainly see results at the next peer review committee meeting, which is scheduled for April 20.
I have a couple of questions. I want to get a better understanding of this fishery. I understand that this committee is meeting because of an impact on two weir fishers. Is it correct that there are only two fishers who are licensed to fish?
My next question, Minister and officials, would be, if it's part of a global quota, what is the effect on the capelin fishery in this region? Does it include...outside of the area designated for the weir fishery? Is it the same stock that's part of this global quota that impacts all the Gaspé region?
Could you just explain that a bit more? Are we just talking about the geographic area where these two weir fishers are, or is it a larger geographic area affecting other fishers?
Mr. Chair, I'd like to thank Mr. Morrissey for the question.
Only two fishers harvest weir. They are based in an area where there are no other capelin fishers. The closest fishers are in the 4T division, to be precise. The other fishers in Quebec are in the 4S division, in Blanc‑Sablon, so right along the Labrador border.
The reason for my question, Minister, is that there is a long history of having advisory committees that are consulted with before substantive changes are made within the fisheries. If a change is made here, my question goes to this potential impact in a larger area, because there's one stock here in a particular geographic area, including other parts of Quebec, including the Gaspé and Labrador. Would I be correct in that opinion, Minister?
Well, yes, that's because it's managed as one stock. Also, there is always a precedent set if a decision is taken, for example, to make a change without doing a full consultation with others.
I think one thing that's also relevant here is that the weir fishery has always opened on May 1, because ice conditions didn't allow for the spawning biomass to come on the beaches for the weir fishery before then. Last year was an unusual year, when the weather was warmer. The ice melted earlier, and the fishery could have been prosecuted earlier, but for 10 years, May 1 has been just fine. That's why we are consulting with the harvesters as to the possibility of making an opening on April 1 from here on, even though it's likely that the area will be iced in and they won't be able to utilize it.
Because climate change is changing the patterns, there could be another year of early opening and early ice melt and, in that way, if there is agreement on April 1 for the weir fishery itself, that will enable these two fishers to pursue what I consider a culturally significant and important fishery in the Charlevoix area.
Absolutely. Getting widespread input into the TAC and the opening date is very important. It doesn't work to freelance and do openings that are not set in the frame for the capelin stock for a particular year.
I want to start by thanking everyone for mobilizing in response to my request. This is an issue that requires urgent attention in my view. Obviously, I would have preferred that the circumstances be different, but this was a last attempt to save the two weir fishers in my region. Unfortunately, the fishery is in jeopardy just as the Government of Quebec is looking to give it an intangible heritage designation.
I want to recognize how many people have come together to make this meeting happen, from the interpreters and the clerk to the technical support team and my fellow members. Considerable effort has been expended to address an issue that has a minor impact on the stock, but a huge impact on the survival of two fishers. That is why today's meeting is so important.
My first question is for you, Minister.
What exactly do you know about capelin fishing? Have any of the officials with you today ever seen the capelin weir fishery first-hand?
I won't speak for my team, Madame Desbiens, but there are many fisheries that I have not been present at that I learn about, as the minister. Working with my department and the science, I make decisions accordingly.
In terms of the importance of this meeting, I agree.
I also had the opportunity to follow up on your request to convene a meeting. We discussed it, and I asked department officials to look into your request. For that reason, the opening date of the fishery may be moved up this season and in future seasons.
It's wonderful to hear you say that you are open to the possibility of giving our weir fishers special consideration.
I want to ask you about two things.
We are here this afternoon to help you and your team understand that the minimal impact of the capelin fishery may not be a good enough reason to stamp out the livelihood of these two fishers. That is why we want to see a moratorium or special permit issued in connection with the conduct of this specifically defined fishery, recognizing its minimal impact on the stock, so that fishers can begin harvesting immediately.
The capelin are rolling. I put on my rubber boots and saw it for myself. They roll in and die on the shore before being eaten by gulls. What people want is fresh fish right away.
What's more, every day counts for the fishers because they catch small quantities at a time. Every day, those small catches are distributed while the fish are fresh, and they are processed right away. People are very happy with the product, especially when it comes to buying local.
Here's my first question. Are you open to letting the fishery proceed immediately? Seniors are waiting for the capelin, and people are mobilizing. Everyone is waiting for the capelin.
Here's my second question. Can you invite the two fishers to participate in the consultation process so that they can explain the reality of the capelin fishery to the department's scientists and make their case?
Keep in mind, Minister, that the weir fishers are not looking for the season to open on April 1. They want it to open when the capelin start rolling.
To have the trust of the public and of fishers, it's very important that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have a framework governing how people fish, when people fish, how much people can fish and who is allowed to fish. You're asking me to break with that.
Taking in all of this information that we're talking about today, I'm wondering if you could clarify, Minister or staff, a little bit more about what the consultation process that you're referring to would look like with those impacted if this date were to be moved up a month this time next year.
If we move the fishery date up a month to April 1, which is what we are considering doing and what the meeting that will happen later in this month will consider, we would need to make sure that the science assessments that we need to do for that assessment meeting are done in time so that we can have the meeting in March.
In regard to the science that's used, I know that previously there have been benchmarks used in making those decisions. What would that look like for the science that would be used to support the decision to move up the date by a month? Can you expand a little bit more on that?
The work required to assess a fish stock is quite extensive. Data is processed in the fall and after that, several data analyses and validations are done. The science assessment process involves researchers who validate the information. Therefore, it's a lengthy process that's done in advance so we have all the right information we need to properly assess the resource.
What would this look like for the impacts on the entire area? I know that the two weir fishers who are in Madame Desbiens' riding are our main topic of discussion here, but they are within a larger area. What would be the impacts?
In your opinion, Minister, would this provide the outcome that is intended to benefit those who are feeling that they are not able to fish the capelin they are seeking?
My understanding is that, for most of the recent past, May 1 has been an adequate start to enable the weir fishery to take place. Because of the ice in the river, the fish don't come before that period. In fact, capelin are fished in other parts of their habitat far later in May or even in June. If we were to move this date forward to April 1, my understanding is that most years the two weir fishers would still not be able to start any earlier than they have been historically on May 1. It does mean that, if there should be an unusually warm year when the ice has melted sooner, they would be able to go out and do their weir fishery before May 1 and after April 1.
I'm trying to understand all of the moving pieces, because I can appreciate that with climate change we're going to see continued changes to the patterns we're seeing in fisheries, and perhaps the way things have been done historically will no longer work.
I appreciate that willingness to always be re-evaluating, but I'm wondering about the approach being taken with the 4S area we're speaking about. I know that in British Columbia we have very specific regions that we look at, and I'm wondering if a more region-specific approach would be more appropriate for us to understand how to best have the fishers set up appropriately as climate change continues to occur.
Thanks for that, and also for your comment that the department does try to be flexible and to recognize that when conditions change, there could be changes that would assist our fish harvesters. That's exactly why there's been so much focus on looking at this date.
In terms of a regional management, the weir fishery is quite specific in a specific area of the fish habitat, and I don't envision that it will impact or make changes to the rest of the capelin fishery. This would be for the two specific harvesters.
I need to wrap up my time here, but how does this impact the licences that these fishers or others in the area receive? Are there any changes to the licences that need to be considered through this process?
Not that I know of. This is really about the terms and conditions of the fishery itself.
I want to thank all of the committee members for taking time in your constituency week to pay attention to matters that are not your constituents', necessarily, and for your interest in this. The department has been very responsive to my request. Because this is a culturally significant fishery, albeit very minor in the grand scheme of capelin management, we're doing our best to address the requests of the fishers.
Thank you to the minister for being here today and, in fact, to all of her team.
Minister, I've heard you talking about a framework for capelin management. Last year's assessment advisory committee was exactly a full month earlier than this year's. Would you consider a framework to be a process that works within consistent dates year to year?
In fact, the work involved in this assessment, especially with respect to the weir fishery, is highly specialized. This year's assessment was impacted by the unexpected unavailability of the unique expertise required. The department is working to ensure that others are trained on this highly specialized science so that we won't have this situation again, but it did delay the delivery of the science assessments.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to ask the minister and her team at what point the data was collected. I'm thinking that it was last summer during the various fisheries and that in fact there were no acoustic or trawl surveys done, so basically you're operating on fisherpersons' logbooks and observers' reports.
It seems to me that you've had this data in your hands for quite a long time. I don't understand why this is so late and why it's causing this fishery to be held back, when you said earlier that it's very insignificant. In 2020 and 2021, the quotas were set in 4RST at 9,300 tonnes each year and, from what I've heard, it's steady as it goes in terms of the stock in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. What do you have to say about that, Minister?
In the last stock assessment, conducted in March 2021, data related to bottom trawl catches and demersal fish diet were presented for the first time. This year's stock assessment actually integrates new sets of data into its analysis. That is set to begin on April 20.
The officials here with me today can of course provide more detail on the history of the science in this fishery and the importance of this year's data from next week's assessment, because it does bring in some new streams of information to try to make the analysis as accurate and effective as possible.
Mr. Chair, I would like to ask the minister if she thinks that maybe the capelin might be over-foraged. We've heard the expression “forage fish” quite a bit, and we've seen herring in the Pacific and in Atlantic Canada and a mackerel fishery in Atlantic Canada being shut down this year. Are we on the brink of a decision like that for the Gulf of St. Lawrence? Is that what this is all about?
I think what this is all about is one MP working on behalf of their constituents to get an opening that is outside of the frame of this fishery. We're working to find a way to be more flexible in the opening for that particular heritage fishery. That's what this is about, and the total allowable catch for this fishery will be available soon, within two weeks. I expect to make it public at that time.
I would say, Mr. Chair, that it is very important that we recognize that the framework for fishing be respected, because there are literally thousands of people whose lives and livelihoods depend on the fishery. There are hundreds of different stocks at different levels of vulnerability in different fishing areas, and the way to ensure that the maximum economic benefit for individual harvesters and their communities is gained while the long-term conservation, viability and health of the stock are not impacted is to have a framework for each fishery.
It is very important that such a framework be respected by the fish harvesters and that there not be efforts to try to poke holes in it and say, “Here's a reason why it doesn't count for me, and I want to do my own thing.” If that's done in one place, Mr. Small, that will be done in your area as well, and you can see the logic of how that is not a good thing for the fishers, for the fish or for the management approach.
I'd like to add that my team was in contact with the fishers on Sunday, and they indicated that the capelin had not yet arrived in the area and had not yet begun to roll in. I have not heard anything since Sunday, though.
In nine out of 10 years, there has been no variation. May 1 has been an opening date that served to provide this fishery.
Last year, the spawning happened earlier, though the date in the frame was for May 1. Last year was an exception. That may become more common. It has not been common in the past, but should that change, we are looking to consult with other fishers around the flexibility for the weir fishers to have an earlier open date, even though they may not be able to use that extra month for the most part.
When the capelin fishery starts is a matter of tides, moon phases and several other factors. Last year, the capelin were ready to catch as early as April 3 or 4. This year, the capelin are ready to catch now since there has been no ice on the shoreline for a few days.
I also believe that we have a duty as members of Parliament, as elected officials, as ministers, as researchers or as scientists to demonstrate to those who listen to us and rely on us that we know how to use common sense, an important factor in our respective fields of expertise.
Last year, the fishers lost 50% of their income. Whether we are talking about April 26, which is toward the end of the month, or May 1 for this year, it amounts to the same thing and the fishers are going to lose over 30% of their income. This puts the very existence of this fishery in jeopardy.
Why haven't you consulted the weir fishers in your past considerations? On April 9, 2021, we asked the department to hold consultations and do some scientific research to avoid what we are experiencing right now.
I will ask my officials to answer the details of this question.
My understanding is that the conditions are not such that the fish are spawning on these beaches yet. Nothing is being lost this year. We are endeavouring to advance the opening date. We're having discussions with other harvesters as we need to in our commitment to consult in making changes to an integrated fishery management plan.
I don't understand the member's assertion that the fisheries have been lost. We are responding to a specific request of two individuals. Whether they are specifically in the consultation or not.... I will leave it to my department to let Madame Desbiens know how the consultation is organized.
The next advisory committee is going to be held on April 25, as I think members know. Certainly the two individuals will be very welcome to take part in those discussions.
Our understanding of the ice conditions is that there's still some ice. I'm looking at the daily ice chart for the Gulf of St. Lawrence and there's still a lot of light blue in the Charlevoix area.
As the minister said, over the last 10 years, the capelin came before May 1 in only one year. Even last year, fishers were able to go out and fish and make some income as they've been able to do every year over the last 10 years.
Through you to Minister Murray, in British Columbia there was an announcement regarding herring reductions and the UFAWU called on the government to invest $5 million to improve monitoring efforts for that fishery. The FFAW on the east coast also made a similar request in the wake of the mackerel announcement last month.
I'm wondering what investments this government has made in monitoring efforts to ensure that we have the best information available to make assessment decisions such as those we're speaking about today.
To the member, my goal is to grow the fish and seafood industry in Canada. It's an incredibly important one, with a lot of export dollars. To grow this, we need to have stocks that are in healthy condition. That's why monitoring is so important. That is a key part of what the ministry and our scientists do.
I would like to turn it over to the officials on the question of how much money is invested in monitoring herring.
Minister, I would be remiss not to ask, while we're here, about one issue that's very important to constituents in my riding.
We're talking about workers and the impacts on fishers right now. I wanted to put out there that right now on the west coast we're seeing the impacts of the open-net fish farms in our Pacific waters. A commitment was made by the Liberal government to have these fish farms out of the Pacific waters by 2025. Instead, we're seeing expansions of the fish farms. Sea lions have been trapped in one of the fish farms in Clayoquot Sound and they remain there as we speak. We know that there are detrimental impacts on our marine ecosystem.
We are here to focus specifically on the capelin fishery in Madame Desbiens' riding and the two weir fishers. I think it's probably appropriate if we stick with that focus as opposed to broadening it, especially to the extent that Ms. Barron is taking it.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the minister and officials for being here.
I will move right into questions today.
We've heard it mentioned that the science assessment done for this is quite complex. Minister, I believe you spoke of a framework and that the assessment this year was impacted by the unavailability of specific expertise. Is that the lack of trained personnel to manage this fishery? What were you referring to?
I would say that we need more trained personnel so that if the personnel who are trained are unavailable for some unexpected reason, we have backup, and that's exactly what we're doing. We're training some more of our regional personnel to be able to fill in.
My understanding is that the stock is managed as one unit. The assessments for the different parts of it would all be conducted, but the framework is determined and consulted on and made public as one fishery.
It's been reported that 30.4%, fewer than one-third, of Canada's wild fisheries are currently considered healthy. What is DFO's classification of the capelin fishery in question? Does DFO consider the population to be healthy, in the cautious zone or in the critical zone?
I would just say that at this time we don't have a precautionary approach, so we don't have it in the critical zone, the healthy zone, or the cautious zone. That's not to say that we don't make decisions based on science. We do. That's the science that, as the minister referred to, will be brought to the stock assessment on April 20 and then to the advisory committee on April 25.
If it's not framed in terms of the limit reference points—in other words, the critical zone, the cautious zone and the healthy zone—then that would say there is no rebuilding plan at this point, or under way. But as the member is aware, it is our commitment to bring rebuilding plans forward for any stocks and all stocks that are identified as being in the critical zone.
We know that capelin is a forage fish for other species harvested and in fisheries like cod. How did DFO's rebuilding plans for species like cod, which feed on capelin, factor into the management decisions for forage fish like capelin?
Well, that's an excellent question, and I'm looking forward to the answer. I think what the member is referring to here, in general, is the importance of forage fish as food for other important species like cod, but also for Atlantic salmon or tuna on the east coast. The forage fish are critical to the whole ecosystem of the health of the oceans and the other fish that we count on. That's why we pay attention to them.
I will turn it over to the officials to add to that.
Mr. Chair, the minister absolutely correctly reflected the role that forage fish play. We do have a policy frame, including a bycatch policy to ensure that we're not intercepting other fish in directed fisheries, as well as our forage fish policy. Both are meant to help further guide management decisions to protect forage fish stocks, which do play such a critical role in the ecosystem and, as the member noted, in the recovery of groundfish such as cod.
Minister, who is on the advisory committee that will meet on the 25th? Could somebody tell me who this advisory committee is? Give me a general makeup. How many fishers and how many from the bureaucracy will be there?
I don't have the exact list, but it would be harvesters from different feed sectors in different regions, the processing sector and DFO, as well as the provinces. Some of the provincial governments will be represented, as well as the DFO.
I think the advisory committee meeting is happening on the 25th, so I don't have any information as to whether the members of the advisory committee believe that this is a request that makes sense or that they would support.
Minister, could you opine on one part, because what I see here is a couple of individuals who do not like the management practice that has global support? Do you get many requests from a group of fishers that are contrary to where the general industry wants to go? If you managed the fishery that way, what would the fishery look like in Canada?
Okay. As a public figure, I often hear from various fishers with contrary points of view. If we went down that road in every different direction we're asked to go, we would have a very different-looking fishery, and I'm not sure that it would be all that viable. I can understand and use your comments that public trust must be maintained in the process, and we do that through these advisory groups. Sometimes as a politician I'm not happy with the decisions they make, but until this stage, I will err on accepting their decisions through this advisory process, which is made up of a broad base and uses the science of the department to give us the best decision. I'm pleased to see that it's a process that you will stay with.
Mr. Chair, I don't have any further questions, unless the minister wants to comment on my comments.
Thank you for that perspective, because there are indeed tens of thousands of people for whom the fishery is very important, for their livelihood and their communities. We cannot manage it one by one to satisfy individual interests. That's why having a framework for management of the fishery is so important for public trust and for conservation of the fishery, so that our fish and seafood can continue to be a critically important economic driver for individuals, their families, their communities and our country.
If that is the case, that hour has been exhausted.
Before you exit, I want to say thank you to you and your officials. I know they're staying for the second hour. I believe this is the 17th meeting that this committee has held, and you've been at three of them, so I want to thank you for that. It surely shows your interest in the committee and what we're doing as a committee.
Again, thank you to the minister and officials for their time.
I'd like to go back to where I left off. I assume, Mr. Chair, we'll allow Deputy Minister Sargent to be the gatekeeper as to who should answer the question so I don't have to direct it to whichever official.
Getting the science right was one of the things the minister said in response to, I think, Mr. Small's questions, and it is critical for this. I'm going to go back to the fact that we've had now, for at least a decade, an integrated fisheries management plan for capelin in the 4RST area and, I believe, for the other main area where capelin is fished, 2J3KL, off Newfoundland. However, the department seems to do science differently in that the other area, 2J3KL, in that it has a regular abundance survey done—
I'm just going to pick up where I left off before. The minister said that getting the science right, obviously, is something we all aspire to, and I'm going to come back to the fact that one of the most vital parts of the science for capelin in NAFO 4RST doesn't seem to be done. We've had a plan for more than 10 years. The integrated fisheries management plan talks about maybe getting a plan to do a plan on the science. I'm not getting an answer particularly on when or how long that's been going on.
Meanwhile, off of Newfoundland, in 2J3KL, DFO does an abundance survey regularly and, therefore, has a better understanding of the size of the stock. I'm going to come back again with my question about why no abundance survey is being done on capelin in this area in order to be able to provide a better management plan in terms of the TAC that's set every year, as well as some other marketing initiatives that would come. We haven't changed the TAC much over the last few years—it basically stays between 8,000 to 10,000 tonnes—and perhaps if we had a better sense of the size of the biomass, we would have a different TAC for fishers and more opportunities.
Could you explain to me why, after all these years—in 10 years of a fisheries management plan—we're still not doing an abundance survey every year in this region?
I mentioned earlier that in the past we didn't have an abundance indicator. However, I mentioned efforts we've made in recent years to integrate data on 4R seiner landings and shrimper bycatch of capelin. I also mentioned the Department of Fisheries and Oceans surveys. Once we have that information, we'll be in a position to get an abundance indicator. It will be tabled at the science committee's next meeting, which is scheduled for next week.
But you're not doing the sounding stuff. This is a mathematical formula based on landings and market, not on the actual science of the size of the biomass. I'm wondering when that will be done. That's my first part.
The second part is that, without it, there's an eco-certification that the product cannot get, because we don't have an idea of whether or not we're fishing this responsibly, other than algorithms based on landings and market needs, basically, rather than the actual biomass.
When we talk about science being “critical”, I don't understand why we haven't made the effort in this region to do that part of the science.
Okay, so there is no plan to do an eco-science....
The last question, I think, before my time runs out, is on predation as an issue with all fish species. The integrated fisheries management plan talks about the predators of capelin being cod, halibut and turbot, with of course cod and turbot not being very robust stocks and not posing much of a threat, I assume.
I'm curious as to why the predation and integration management plan doesn't mention seals as predators, since seals also consume capelin. Are you looking at seals as predators?
We don't have any evidence that capelin are a really important part of the seal diet. Of course, capelin are not very big. I think the predators that we focused on are the ones the member mentioned, and I would also note redfish as a potential predator for capelin and something that we need to take into account as we look at potentially reopening part of that fishery.
Mr. McDonald, it's nice to see you and my colleagues this week. I hope we're all having a productive constituency week. Before I begin, I want to wish everyone a wonderful Easter long weekend, Passover or Ramadan, whichever folks may be celebrating.
I think this is my first time on the fisheries and oceans committee in my six and a half years in Parliament, but ironically, before I begin my questioning, I want to add that a number of decades ago I grew up in a fishing town, in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, so I'm very familiar with the operations of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
I worked in a cannery. My mother and many of her sisters cleaned salmon, or “filleted” salmon, which is the word I should use, because it is filleted, not cleaned. Also, I worked at J.S. McMillan Fisheries for three summers, and that was great money. I know what herring is, and herring roe, groundfish and crab, and what seiners, trollers and gillnetters are, and who all those wonderful folks are, because they were all my friends in high school and my neighbours.
I saw the industry transform itself and reduce considerably as the catches unfortunately declined, but nonetheless it provided a stable income for many thousands of families where I grew up, so it's near and dear to my heart, Ken, and it's ironic that I'm here.
Going on to capelin, for the department officials, I want to talk about the consultation process in this area and others. How important is it to have this consultative process and an open line of communication with the people fishing these stocks?
It's very important. Those fishers are out on the water. They see things that we don't necessarily. It's very important to get their input.
It's very important to get that input in a coordinated way, and that's why we have our advisory committee process. We can actually get everybody in the room and people can hear other people, and we can actually have a conversation about what people have seen out on the water, what their views are, how they interpret the science and how they come at the science. We can actually have that integrated discussion so that everybody can hear what's being said.
Just to follow up on that, on the stock assessment that's done and the confidence level on that, and specifically with this species of fish—I'll be frank and say that I'd never heard of capelin until today—in terms of the confidence level you have with regard to the stock assessment of this species, how confident are we? I know how important this is. You can open up a fishing season at 12 o'clock midnight—open up for 12 hours—and if you're wrong, we know the issue is there, obviously, with the number of tonnes that are allocated, but how confident are we on this species per se?
Capelin are one of the more difficult species to forecast and, therefore, to manage. They have relatively short life spans. The populations often consist of a few key age groups, so you will have kind of a big population and then a couple of years with a small population. That means it's quite variable.
A lot of the fluctuations we see are more driven by environmental factors than they are by fishing activity itself. That is not to say that fishing activity doesn't play a role, but whereas fishing activity is easy to monitor, often the environmental conditions are not.
It is one that has a wider margin of error than some of the species we manage that live longer or are much more predictable.
Mr. Sargent, thank you for your answers. I have a final question.
I'm not sure how long you've been on this file, but in recent years, have you seen changes with regard to climate change and environmental factors that impact the size of the catch being taken back to port and so forth?
Across all of what we do, we certainly see the impacts of climate change on both coasts. We see species often moving north to some extent, although that's not true everywhere. We have seen significant changes in the gulf, for instance.
I'm just going to turn to Tony for capelin itself.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Two and a half minutes really isn't much time.
First, I'd like to point out two things. Everything I'm hearing is making me shake my head, because the capelin have been rolling in for two days. I'm sorry, we're talking about ice and all that, when the capelin have been rolling in for two days. For the past two days, our fishers have been losing money, which puts the very existence of their fishery in jeopardy next year. I wanted to set that straight.
Second, the fishers have written two letters to the minister and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This is very important. She says she hasn't heard from anyone, but we sent a big folder three times, in which scientists and experts from all over Quebec confirmed to us that the DNA of the St. Lawrence capelin is not in any way connected to the Newfoundland and Labrador capelin.
I'm fuming here.
I'd like to know if you can promise us that our fishers will be invited to the consultations next April.
I'd like you to confirm that you are absolutely certain that the capelin rolling in and dying on our shores shore right now are altering the critical mass of resources in the St. Lawrence at this very moment.
First, if I understand correctly, will the two individuals be invited to the advisory committee? Absolutely yes, they will. I think we have the contact details, but we would invite them as a matter of course.
As to what's actually going on, I'm here in Ottawa, so if someone is standing on the shore and looking at capelin, I'm not going to say that person is necessarily wrong. I see the ice conditions. I know that this is a regular ice year.
I'm on Isle‑aux‑Coudres and I can see the capelin.
You will understand, Mr. Chair, that I'm a little out of sorts, because it breaks my heart. We're going to witness the disappearance of two fishing techniques that are indigenous legacies—I would like to emphasize that—and that have nothing to do with the techniques used off Newfoundland and Labrador, which we've been talking about for the last hour and a half. You have to understand what weir fishing is. They catch the capelin that are coming ashore to die anyway. I don't know what else to say. I am really beside myself.
Are you able to explain why, when we've known about the problem for a year—
When we do our assessments, we are very conscious of the difference between the weir fishery and the other two fisheries that are out there, as we are of the 4ST fishery and the 4R fishery. It's one stock, so the science that we do is on that stock. It informs the fisheries management, but that fishery's management approach is sensitive to the different realities and the different kind of gear that is being used in these different regions. That is why the openings can be different.
If I understand correctly, you therefore understand that we're not threatening a viable resource, which will continue to feed the mass of predators swimming in the St. Lawrence.
I'd now like to draw your attention to a document that I sent to everyone. It's a plate of female capelin, vacuum packed, from Ontario. We don't know when this was caught, because we don't have the right to catch capelin yet, but we assume it was caught last year. This was packaged in Thailand before being sold and purchased at a counter in Charlevoix. So suppliers got it wherever they could, they ordered some and they saw it arrive from Thailand.
Have you seen this? It's making quite a splash on my Facebook page.
When she spoke in Boston, Madam Minister reiterated what was written in her mandate letter, that she wants to foster local sales and development and limit transportation.
I'd like to know what you intend to do here. I would actually hope that you will encourage the minister to think more about how this fishery is looming so that people won't eat capelin from Thailand sold in Charlevoix.
My question for Mr. Sargent is about something he said earlier. He mentioned that capelin aren't a significant food source for seals.
I think your own department is estimating that seals consume between one million and 1.5 million tonnes of capelin per year, and that's just harp seals alone. We know that the Gulf of St. Lawrence is also full of grey seals.
Do you have any idea of what percentage of the harp seal herd resides in the Gulf of St. Lawrence?
Would we say one-third of the harp seal herd exists in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for seven or eight months of the year? I think that might be accurate. In that case, you're talking about half a million tonnes of capelin being consumed by harp seals alone in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Just looking at the size of that capelin fishery there in zone 4RST, it's around 9,000 tonnes. That's not a lot of capelin compared with one million tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes consumed by harps alone, so I just want to make reference to that for the record.
How many other capelin fisheries along the Atlantic coast have a fixed opening date, or is it just this one?
Yes. In the rest of the gulf and on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, it is not fixed as such. It's variable and it depends on the availability and the condition of the capelin. There's a significant consultation with the industry to determine the opening dates in the various areas. It is not a fixed date. It is fixed in regulations, but it varies each year to reflect conditions.
Okay. That just seems a little bit odd. I guess that's the reason for the meeting here today. This policy is so out of line with the rest of the capelin policy in Atlantic Canada.
I guess it's going to be too late this year. Do you think there's going to be a big change? You must have some information at this point. It's been quite a long time since you collected all that data. You must have some idea by now as to what the outcome of the assessment is going to be. You must have preliminary information.
Do you think there is going to be a massive cut in that capelin quota? If it's going to stay status quo, you could quickly make a decision and let that capelin fishery open.
There are a few things on that. We collect samples over the summer, but then those samples have to be processed and that takes a couple of months. There's actually more to the process than one might think. Then there is analysis that has to be done as well. There is also other data on environmental factors, and we often don't get that data until later in the year. It does actually take a while for that science to get done.
Certainly, I don't think we, as a department, want to get out ahead of the science assessment or the advisory committee. We want to have all of the information before we come to a conclusion, so we very deliberately do not interfere. I as deputy do not interfere earlier in that process. We let it play out.
This is certainly a new topic for me, but interestingly enough I witnessed capelin on a trip with my family to Newfoundland a few years ago, so I do know what we're talking about.
I have a few questions. The minister mentioned in her remarks that the next 4RST stock assessment is scheduled to begin next week, I believe. Can you explain for me what new scientific information will be included in this stock assessment?
Right now, the data are coming from the landing of the seiners, the boats that harvest capelin in Newfoundland and Labrador. They also take into account the shrimpers' bycatch when they are harvesting shrimp.
They look at the biological samples from commercial catches taken for the department's multi-species survey too. All that information is used to produce what we call the abundance indicator, which gives us an idea of fish stocks.
Recognizing that stock assessments are obviously an important scientific element to fisheries management and ensuring that our fishing practices are sustainable, can you explain how stock assessment typically factors into establishing the total allowable catch?
The process that we use to develop advice to provide to the minister to inform her decision-making would start for sure with the science advice. That forms the foundation of the advice. As well, the advice is supplemented with perspectives from indigenous groups, the fishing industry, provinces and others with an interest in the fishery, which we obtain through our advisory committee process. We'd also provide the minister with socio-economic analysis to inform her of the various potential impacts of her decision.
Those three key pieces, as well as indigenous knowledge when that is made available to us, are the basis for the advice that the department would provide the minister, framed in the context of our various policies under the sustainable fisheries framework, such as the forage fisheries policy and the bycatch policy, as well as the precautionary approach policy.
I'm sure all of us today can agree that it's important that the voices of fish harvesters, the industry itself and coastal communities are part of this decision-making process and are listened to as we move forward.
Can you speak to the role of the capelin advisory committee and the importance of engaging with industry about any potential changes?
Sure. It's a very important piece of the process. We get to hear directly from the stakeholders and get their perspectives as well, particularly on the advice that the science is providing but also on any of the management measures that are being considered to be changed or in place and what the implications are for them. It gives us their perspectives when we're considering requests such as the one that we expect to have discussed at the upcoming advisory committee.
Terrific. Thank you very much for that. I know it was discussed earlier what the composition of that advisory committee looks like as well, and I think it's so important that it properly reflects the industry.
I think I'm out of time so I'll cede but thank you very much for that.
In terms of fisheries management, Mr. Chair, obviously we can adjust things like opening dates in an effort-based fishery. We can adjust TACs when there are quantitative limits. We can place restrictions around kinds of gear.
Those are all fisheries management tools that we have used in general, although not necessarily in this fishery or in all parts of this fishery.
Our assessments are designed to look at environmental factors. As we have discussed, predation is a factor, so to the best of our ability we try to understand what the predation factors are. They obviously feed into where we think the stock is going and how effective our management measures will be.
I want to change line a bit here. It looks like this entire management area is managed as one large zone. We have a couple of harvesters who are impacted and who would have a very small impact on the overall TAC or the fishery in general, yet their fishery is being restricted in their position.
I want to relate that to a different scenario on the west coast. Interior Fraser steelhead are on the brink of extinction. They come all the way up the Fraser system in my riding and up into North Okanagan—Shuswap. Other harvest fisheries are implicated or suggested to be maybe impacting those stocks, which are on the verge of collapse, yet those fisheries remain open.
Can you explain the difference in the two different management systems?
For the 4RST capelin, when we say that we treat it as one stock, that means the science is done on a stock-wide basis. We have one stock assessment meeting and we have one advisory committee that deals with this stock, but that doesn't mean a stock is managed in the same way for each of the sub-areas, if you like.
That's why, for instance, the weir fishery that we're all here today to discuss opens at a different time from the 4R and 4S fisheries, and of course they use different gear types. Even if we manage it as one stock, we have the flexibility to have different opening dates and a variety of approaches to the fish management.
The stock is really referring to the science part and the assessment of the stock, but the actual fisheries management tools can certainly differ, depending on local circumstances.
We certainly have a lot of information about ice conditions. We publish a daily chart on ice conditions, which I look at pretty much every day. I have it right in front of me. The Coast Guard has a whole group of people who do that. It's obviously very important for mariners.
Are there capelin that are actually coming up onto the beach to spawn? We don't necessarily have people standing there watching for them. We certainly have a presence in the Charlevoix region. We have CMP officers and others.
Sylvain, do you want to speak to our presence on the ground—
With regard to the property of weir fishing versus the other kinds, such as seiners, I presume, or whatever, in terms of timing and productivity, is it not possible—to go to the core, I think, of Madame Desbiens' reason for wanting this particular session—to have an earlier start for the weir fishers, or is it that if you do it for one, you have to do it for all of 4S and 4T?
We can certainly have an earlier opening for the weir fishers if, as we come out of the advisory committee, that's something that folks are comfortable with...and then the minister currently makes the decision. Yes, we can certainly open the weir fishery earlier.
No. For this fishery, once it's open, they can go out and catch as much as they want and take as long to do that as they would like. It is a fishery, though, that only happens for a very short period, so you'd better catch them around the spawning. Once they've spawned, they'll come offshore and then ultimately die, so you can't wait until July, if they've spawned in May, or even June.
With respect to all of my colleagues, I'm wondering why we're having this emergency session when in fact it's so late that the sort of start that Madame Desbiens was looking for is long gone and likely not.... Well, there won't really be much of a material earlier start, even if somebody today made the decision to go out and start fishing.
I guess the one sticking point, Mr. Sargent, is that you said that this is pretty much the only capelin fishery that has a set date, and that all of the other dates for the start of the fishery are determined by conditions. I wonder why that could not happen with this particular part of the fishery.
As I said earlier, yes, it is determined in the other areas for the fleets based on the condition of the capelin and the availability of the capelin. That's something that could be considered in this one as well. I think that may be some of the discussion that happens at the advisory committee meeting.
At this point, though, if the weir fishery is allowed to go forward and they're allowed to catch as much as they can, this would obviously be an advantage to that form of fishing over the other forms. Is that correct?
Mr. Hardie raised an important point when he said that it's too late for the Quebec capelin weir fishers anyway. I said that at the outset. I even said it when I asked for this emergency meeting, because every day counts.
The idea is to harvest a limited quantity of capelin each day and sell them fresh. The rest are processed as they go.
Each day represents income that will not come back later. That's why every day counts. Those two fishers are going through some tough financial times right now. Last year, they lost half their fishing income because of the capelin opening date constraint.
What I'm hearing is that Quebec's capelin weir fishers are the only ones held to an opening date, while all other fishers help themselves based on the arrival and availability of the resource. In addition, I'm being told that it's impossible to grant them special permission to fish starting tomorrow.
On what basis are you preventing this fishery? More importantly, how are you going to live with the idea that neither of these two fishers may be around anymore next year?
Mr. Chair, we can certainly look, and we are looking, at what people think about the idea of opening that fishery on April 1 next year and what that would imply. The advisory committee will discuss this, and if they have a favourable view, it will go to the minister and she can make a decision at that point.
Something I didn't mention is that although the west coast is now my home, my roots are in Newfoundland. Although I am what many in Newfoundland would refer to as a townie, my family every year excitedly got in our cars and drove to the beach to see the capelin as they washed up on the shores, so I can appreciate what we're talking about today.
I want to expand a bit around forage fish such as capelin, mackerel and herring. We know they are vitally important to the abundance and health of our marine environment and coastal communities, and also to the livelihoods of fishers who rely on them. We know they're an important food source for many species, including whales, sea birds and even fish that are caught commercially.
Unfortunately, we have seen that some forage fish populations have been overfished in years prior. We know that unless there is action to manage them sustainably, there will be irreversible harm to the future populations and, as well, the fishers' livelihoods will be lost in the process.
Can you speak a little about the important role of forage fish? Can you let us know what steps you will take to set quotas or pause fisheries to rebuild these important species to ensure a sustainable future for both our marine environments and the fishers' livelihoods?
As the member notes, forage fish are a key element of the food chain. They prey on small marine creatures and then are themselves preyed upon by larger creatures.
I want to be clear for the record that certainly harp seals do consume capelin, as capelin is an important part of their diet. However, we don't have evidence to suggest that this is the key determinant of capelin populations. I want to place on the record that we think harp seals eat capelin, along with a whole bunch of other things.
In terms of the measures we're taking on forage fish—and I'll turn to Adam at this point—we have a policy on forage fish because of their importance in the marine ecosystem.
Again, I'll have Adam speak to that, if that's okay, Mr. Chair.
Within the sustainable fisheries framework, there are a variety of policies that would apply to forage fish, including the precautionary approach framework and the rebuilding plan components of that for stocks in the critical zone.
More generally, it's always particularly important for us to carefully consider the science advice and the stock status of forage stocks, for the reasons the member noted in terms of their critical role in the ecosystem. That is at the core of the minister's considerations and some of the recent decisions she's made, which have been mentioned here today.
In the case of the capelin decisions that are forthcoming, those important considerations will also be front and centre, because, as you know, the recovery and health of the ecosystem are very fundamentally linked to the health of forage fish stocks within that ecosystem.
I appreciate the acknowledgement that harp seals eat capelin, among other things. They'll eat your kitchen sink, I think, if they're hungry, and they'll consume everything. They are eating everything in the ocean.
In this case, you've acknowledged that weir fishing has little impact on the overall TAC or the stock, and that you're open to flexibility in the future. We were hoping there would be a little now, but I understand the process you have to go through.
Basically, as we said earlier, the TAC seems to have been set mainly at around 8,000 or 9,000 tonnes recently. The fisheries management plan says that the catch level for the fishing of capelin in this area, fishing mortality, has no noticeable effects on the capelin population.
In the absence of acoustic sounding—that important part of the science of knowing the size of the biomass—I take it that we're just doing what we've always done in terms of the TAC rather than seeing what we can do going forward, since apparently fishing has no impact, and predation and other issues must be driving the levels. We haven't gone back to those days in the 1970s when it might have been 200,000 tonnes that were being caught.
Mr. Chair, as Sylvain said, we have some new things that are going to come to the stock assessment. We have a combined index of the stock state, and we have done some predictive empirical work. As I said earlier, it's a stock on which our information is not as good as we would like. As I said, it's relatively short-lived. It can be volatile, or at least the data that we see are volatile. We have some other indicators, like environmental conditions, that we think are important. We know less about this.
Of course, with the precautionary principle, that would be a reason for us to be cautious about additional fishing effort here. Just because we don't have a lot of information doesn't mean that we can go off and allow people to fish as much as they want. We have to be cautious here, in light of the data. We have some, but it's not as good as we have for some other fisheries. We admit that.
Mr. Chair, I appreciate that. I am a bit of a broken record, but without the acoustic sounding knowledge of the biomass, it's impossible for the fishers who fish this to get an eco-certified international stamp, which would help in the development of the export market. We don't seem to really have a good handle on where it is.
As long as we keep getting a reasonably sized capelin catch around these levels, that seems to be how we manage it, and it would seem to me that a serious plan would treat capelin in this area the same as we treat it in the other part of Newfoundland, which is by doing acoustic sounding. Is that a resource issue? Is it that the department doesn't have the financial ability to do that, or doesn't have the equipment to do it in the gulf?
We certainly have limited resources, and we have to prioritize how we do that. We look at the size of the different fisheries and their economic importance when we make those decisions. We just can't do everything that we would like to do for every species.
I'm just wondering if your new assessment tools are going to change to a lower reference point for capelin, as was done with 3Ps cod in 2019, which showed that the cod was in a critical zone. Are we expecting that with capelin, and is this why that fishery can't be opened right now?
Mr. Chair, the reason the fishery is not open right now is that we have a process to go through before we change the date. It's not because we have new information or information to determine a limit reference point. We still are not at a point where we have the information to have a full precautionary approach that would have a limit reference point.
It appears we've pretty well canvassed much of the information on this subject, but for clarification, there was a reference to the capelin coming up on the shore and spawning and dying, but that fishery is not controlled. If they come up on the shore, is that called a recreational fishery? Can anybody go and scoop them up on the beach?
Yes, I realize that, but there was a reference to the fact that they're coming onto the beach and then going to waste or dying, and people can't get them, but if you want to go and scoop them up and bring them home, as is the tradition in Newfoundland, you can do that, regardless of the date. Am I correct?
That concludes our session. I want to say thank you to the departmental officials for taking part in our meeting today. I especially want to thank Mr. Blanchard, a fellow Newfoundland and Labradorian, for appearing, and for everything he does as the RDG in Newfoundland for our fishers and our fishing communities. I want to say a huge thank you to him from the committee.
We'll allow the invited guests to sign off just for a second before we clue up.
I see it's just committee members now. I just wanted to make a very small statement. When it comes to members' questioning time, you can chew it all up in an opening statement, or chew up the best part of it making a statement, but it takes away from your actual time to get a question in. I try to be as free as I can be with people's time. Especially to Madame Desbiens and Ms. Barron, two and a half minutes, if it involves a large statement before you get to a question, doesn't give you much time to get an answer. It's easier in the five- or six-minute slots, but just keep that in mind, because I hate being the bad guy at the end and saying, sorry, your time is up, because you didn't actually get in time for a more detailed question. I just ask members to please keep that in mind going forward.
I want to say thank you to all the staff who made this possible today, our clerk, our analysts, our interpretation people, and of course to our members of the committee and our fill-in members for today. Thank you for making this meeting another enjoyable one. It's our 17th and everything seems to be going along quite well up to this point. Let's hope it stays that way.