I call this meeting to order.
I'm going to try to cut some of the preliminary information and go straight to the fact that, for those participating by video conference, when you are ready to speak, click on the icon to activate your mike, and please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute. For interpretation, you have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French. I’ll remind everyone that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
I’d now like to welcome our witnesses for today. We have, from the B.C. Wildlife Federation, Jesse Zeman, executive director. From the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance, we have Charlotte Whitney, program director, fisheries management and science, and we also have Alejandro Frid, science coordinator. From the Fraser Salmon Management Council, we have Michael Staley, biologist. From the Pacific Salmon Foundation, we have Andrew Bateman, manager, salmon health; and Brian Riddell, science adviser. From the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, we have Greg Taylor, consultant and fisheries adviser.
Mr. Zeman, we will go to you first for opening statements for five minutes or less, please.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will get right into it.
Thanks for the opportunity to be a witness today.
My name is Jesse Zeman. I'm the executive director of the B.C. Wildlife Federation. With over 43,000 members, the B.C. Wildlife Federation is the largest and oldest conservation organization in British Columbia.
In the past, I've spoken to you regarding the peer-reviewed process through the Canadian science advisory secretariat, which is supposed to be a formal, transparent process for providing peer-reviewed science advice to DFO and the public. This process is integral to Canada's Species at Risk Act. As it relates to endangered interior Fraser steelhead, this process was completely undermined by DFO.
An ATIP of the process related to endangered interior Fraser steelhead, for which there were thousands of pages of documents, revealed the assistant deputy minister's office gave a directive to modify some key points related to allowable harm for interior Fraser steelhead. Additionally, the chair of the process indicated they were cut out of the process and expressed serious concerns about the scientific integrity of the process. Furthermore, in these documents the chair states that there were things that happened to the SAR, science advisory report, after they signed it off.
During that process it was also revealed that DFO management, not DFO science, had created its own run timing model, which is the period where interior Fraser steelhead move through the Fraser River. This model was rejected through the peer review process. I believe that DFO management is still using this rejected model to brief the minister.
Years later, the peer-reviewed document called the “Recovery Potential Assessment” has still not been released to the public. I'm not aware of this happening for any other species that has gone through this process associated with the Species at Risk Act.
This summarizes what we found in 2021. Today I'm here to tell you about the next chapter of this saga within the context of science.
On April 8, 2021, the B.C. Wildlife Federation, through ATIP [Technical difficulty—Editor] related to interior Fraser steelhead dating back to 2019 on a month-by-month basis. DFO's response was that it would take until at least February 17, 2022, to retrieve these records. Please keep in mind this is a species of fish that DFO does not even manage, so one should expect there are very few records.
A complaint was filed with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada on May 18, 2021. On March 16, 2022, nearly a year later, I received notification that the investigator with the OIC determined that the exclusion claimed by DFO was not reasonable given the circumstances. Furthermore, the investigator found that DFO has deemed refusal of access to the requested records. To be clear, the records are not redacted or edited. DFO is simply refusing to provide them. Furthermore, the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada advised the BCWF that if it wanted to pursue this issue, it would have to apply to the Federal Court for a review.
Now let me make this clear, the information that the B.C. Wildlife Federation is seeking is not a matter of national security. It is about an endangered fish that DFO has hidden science and edited science on in the past. DFO is refusing to disclose records paid for by Canadians. To suggest the BCWF would spend tens of thousands of dollars to take DFO to Federal Court to disclose these records means that transparency within this institution is non-existent. Within the context of science, it means that DFO is willing and happy to not only hide and edit science. It is now happy to refuse to disclose records.
When the media and elected officials wonder why trust in our public institutions is in decline, why people do not participate in public policy debate or why young people do not show up and vote, this is a prime example. This is why the BCWF is losing trust entirely in DFO. The BCWF is not concerned with DFO scientists' ability to conduct science. It is concerned with decision-makers and senior managers' willingness to edit, suppress and hide that science.
Within the broader context of science around interior Fraser steelhead, the BCWF will be funding research through post-secondary institutions with our partners and collaborators. This is not because we expect DFO to listen to independent science. We know it won't. It is because our members and the public need to see the science, and that is something that will not happen with DFO at the helm.
As elected representatives of Canadians, who value science, transparency, accountability and democracy, DFO's consistent undermining of science should be of great concern. DFO is structurally broken. Given the severity of this issue, we have one recommendation: We have to tear down DFO with a full restart and separate DFO management from DFO science, or we will lose what remains of our Pacific salmon and steelhead.
Thank you for your time.
My name is Dr. Charlotte Whitney, and as you said, I'm here as the fisheries management and science program director for the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance, or CCIRA. Previous to this role, I did work with the Pacific Salmon Foundation.
I am calling in today from the unceded and traditional territory of the Nuxalk Nation in Bella Coola, British Columbia. I am joined today by Dr. Alejandro Frid, CCIRA's science coordinator.
Our testimony today pertains to some of our experiences with DFO, an organization that uses and develops science to inform decision-making for managing fisheries and aquatic ecosystems.
DFO can do excellent science. Further, the Canadian science advisory secretariat, or CSAS, process can allow DFO to inform management with the best available science and to be precautionary to future uncertainties related to climate change.
However, there are often disconnects between science advice and management decisions, and between stated policies and what occurs in practice. Where these disconnects occur, they have led to management decisions that maintain a status quo rather than applying the best available science. We've seen these disconnects manifest in several cases, including the northern shelf bioregion MPA network and fisheries for salmon, herring, rockfish and Dungeness crab, undermining precautionary fisheries management.
In the interest of time, I will give just one recent example focusing on assessment and allowable catch for Bocaccio, a Pacific rockfish, and we will conclude with our observations of DFO's consideration of indigenous knowledge.
The Bocaccio case study speaks directly to two themes that we understand this committee is interested in. One is inclusiveness in the CSAS process, and two is the handling of uncertainties and the precautionary principle in management decisions.
Bocaccio was recommended for endangered listing in 2013 by COSEWIC, an independent advisory panel specific to the federal government. As of 2019, Bocaccio had declined by 97% relative to their historical abundance, well into DFO's critical zone. Accordingly, the total allowable catch for this bycatch species was set fairly low at 75 tonnes. However, an unusually large single recruitment event occurred in 2016, 44 times greater than the long-term average.
Given this and the fact that Bocaccio is a choke species, i.e., not targeted but limiting to fisheries with bycatch restrictions, further surveys were prioritized and an updated assessment was produced in 2022, this year. Largely reflecting that large recruitment event, the abundance of Bocaccio was projected to increase well into the healthy zone for the start of this fishing season. In response, DFO managers increased the total allowable catch 24 times over just two years from that 75 tonnes to over 1,800 tonnes.
For a species estimated to have dropped to 3% of its original abundance only two years prior, this is analogous to shifting an entire investment portfolio based on a few good days of the stock market when there are clear signs of a broader economic depression. This increase of the total allowable catch is inconsistent with the precautionary principle. We do not know whether large recruitment events can lead to long-term stock productivity, particularly under rapidly changing ocean conditions due to climate change, which is the biological equivalent of that broader economic depression.
This 24-fold increase in catch was based on a CSAS document categorized as a “science response”, which allows for a non-inclusive group of participants and peer reviewers, in this case just DFO staff and two commercial fishing representatives. The science response process exempts the requirement for participation from independent scientists and first nations, including those working on a species at risk.
Given Bocaccio's recent history of collapse and the implication for target fisheries, this was not illegal but certainly not in line with the principles of transparency or openness.
Finally, given that many targeted and bycatch stocks have outdated assessments or no assessment at all, this case study also raises questions as to how DFO prioritizes stock assessment.
Next I will comment on our experience of how DFO treats indigenous knowledge. Despite numerous DFO policies claiming to consider and incorporate indigenous knowledge and decision-making, for Pacific Canada we are unaware of cases in which DFO deemed indigenous knowledge worthy of triggering an early issue identification to be addressed by CSAS. This is despite first nations and specifically the central coast nations we work for having reported numerous declines in species that are critical to culture, food security and health.
For example, central coast first nations first expressed concerns to DFO about declining Dungeness crab catch rates in 2007, with great impact on food security and cultural practice. It took 10 years of engagement and nation-led western science before DFO managers showed an appropriate response to that concern.
Currently, central coast first nations have been experiencing a similar lack of response to their concerns about the precipitous decline in Pacific salmon, despite investing in nation-led western science. DFO has still failed to consider their consistent direction to limit commercial and recreational fisheries in the face of that decline.
To conclude, I offer the following recommendations for DFO to improve its application of science advice and to consistently apply its own policies and principles.
One, do not compromise inclusiveness in the CSAS process in order to rush either stock assessments or management decisions.
Two, thoroughly engage DFO’s excellent scientists in addressing climate uncertainties in stock assessments, as well as broader questions about ecosystem-based management, in order to advance beyond the current institutional inertia.
Three, abandon tokenisms about the application of indigenous knowledge. Indigenous knowledge often has longer baselines and superior understanding of local ecosystems than western science does and, therefore, should be treated as the valid knowledge system that it is. To do so, DFO should work with first nations to develop a culturally appropriate way to use indigenous knowledge in management, such as to trigger early warning signs about the health of marine species and ecosystems.
Finally, honour and respect existing fisheries and oceans management co-governance agreements and implement those processes wholeheartedly that are inclusive of indigenous knowledge, ecosystem needs and precautionary thresholds.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Michael Staley. I am coming to you from the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
I'm a fisheries biologist, trained in population dynamics, and have worked in the field, mainly on Pacific salmon, since the 1970s. In the late 1980s, I started to work in various technical capacities with first nation organizations, mainly on the Fraser River.
I currently work mainly for the Fraser Salmon Management Council and serve as the co-chair of the joint technical committee that reports to the Fraser Salmon Management Board. The Fraser Salmon Management Board was established in 2019 with the signing of the Fraser Salmon Collaborative Management Agreement between the FSMC member nations and the Minister of Fisheries. It's to deal with challenges in the management of Fraser salmon on a migratory route scale.
The Fraser Salmon Management Board has been challenged to fully implement the processes envisioned in the agreement, due in part to a lack of an implementation plan. To date, after our third year, there have been no collaborative decisions made as a result of this collaborative management agreement.
The joint technical committee also tries to meet regularly, although we are challenged with the lack of resources, to prepare briefs and to provide advice to the board in a collaborative way. To date, we've been focused on Chinook salmon fisheries management related to the Fraser stocks that are of conservation concern.
When I started to work with the Fraser first nations about four decades ago, I was one of a handful—I believe there were about three—of western-trained scientists working with B.C. first nations in the field of fisheries. Since then, with the support of federal funding and programs such as the AFS and AAROM, there have been many more well-trained and competent biologists working directly for first nation communities and their aggregate bodies. It is also heartening and appropriate that there are now many and a growing number of the first nations technical staff who are members of first nation communities.
Having lived through the restrained support for science in general and fisheries science in particular that was present in, I guess, the first decade of this century, I'm heartened that there has been increased support for fisheries science in the latter part of the second decade and in this decade. It seems to be returning. Recent federal programs such as the Pacific salmon strategy initiative appear to be used by DFO to help replenish its science capacity.
In recognition of the shared title to lands and resources in B.C. by the Crown and first nations, it is imperative that the science and technical capacity of first nations and their organizations continue to be built. It is only with commensurate support for first nation organizations that first nations can take their rightful role in co-managing the fish and fisheries resource in a collaborative way with DFO.
On behalf of Dr. Brian Riddell and myself, thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for inviting the Pacific Salmon Foundation to speak.
For 35 years, PSF has worked to sustain and rebuild Pacific salmon. Dr. Riddell and I combined have studied salmon for over 60 years. The importance of accurate and comprehensive science advice to decision-makers and the consequences of failure to provide such advice are not new topics.
In 1997, the late Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings and others detailed DFO’s related failings in the collapse of Canada’s Atlantic cod fishery. Thereafter, in 1999, the federal government developed the SAGE principles to support sound science and technology advice, and for years DFO has used science review processes—CSAS and its predecessor PSARC—to advise decision-makers. DFO’s current science advice aims are laudable on paper, but principles and guidelines are only as good as their implementation.
Dr. Riddell’s and my recent involvement concerns open-net salmon farming in B.C. In 2018, an expert panel convened by Canada’s chief science adviser delivered recommendations to DFO for improving the use, generation and communication of science in aquaculture decision-making. Recommendations included the establishment of an external advisory committee. Based on our experience, we would suggest taking this a step further. Science advice itself should be collated, assessed and delivered by an independent body of experts.
To illustrate pitfalls of the current approach, I’ll discuss the CSAS risk assessments that stem from the Cohen commission, gauging risk to Fraser River sockeye salmon due to pathogens from Discovery Islands salmon farms. We submit that these assessments revealed DFO's overreliance on the CSAS process, failing to uphold the principles of comprehensive, open, peer-reviewed and independent science advice and conflating good on paper with good in practice.
As participants in four of the nine Discovery Islands risk assessments, we can testify. The findings of minimal risk reflect neither the current state of knowledge nor true scientific consensus. Key risks were omitted. Sea lice, cumulative effects and the conservation status of the sockeye stocks were ignored.
The processes were neither unbiased nor independent. The risk assessments were implemented, closely managed and influenced by senior officials from DFO aquaculture, and employees, contractors and others linked to the salmon farming industry served on the steering committee and as senior reviewers, so that conflict of interest threatened the integrity of the process.
More generally, consensus is held up as a strength of CSAS, but meetings apply strong social pressure on dissenting voices, creating the perfect conditions for groupthink. There is no mechanism for errors to be addressed once the consensus box has been ticked. Further, some international participants abstain from consensus votes, reducing the influence of international perspectives.
In any case, consensus is not a requirement of the scientific process, and the practice of minimizing real disagreement does a disservice to decision-makers and flies in the face of the SAGE guidelines that state that decision-makers should consider the multiple viewpoints received, not just the distilled version of uncertainty used in practice.
Even ignoring problems with the CSAS process itself, we’ve seen CSAS findings misrepresented by some within DFO. In the case of the sockeye risk assessments, findings have been used to argue that B.C. salmon farming poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon. This is absolutely not what the CSAS studies found, being highly specific to the risks from Discovery Islands farms to Fraser River sockeye salmon alone.
Perhaps even worse is that CSAS advice, while supposedly subject to revision as new and relevant information becomes available, is commonly used as a rationale to ignore new findings.
While CSAS review works well at the best of times, it is not in the best of times that decision-makers need the best advice. A good system can be undermined by human foibles. Although CSAS addresses some of the issues raised by Dr. Hutchings and others 25 years ago, Canada can do better. Science evolves, issues evolve and science advice needs to evolve.
In conclusion, we need to fix the current CSAS process, which is run by DFO and entwined with the management preferences, influences and aspirations of the department. Based on our considerable professional experience, Dr. Riddell and I reiterate that Canada should implement a truly independent science advice body to directly advise decision-makers and recommend further research without being subject to vested interests inside or outside DFO.
In addition to many international examples, COSEWIC provides a useful, trusted example in the modern Canadian context. A similar body for fisheries advice could adopt the best features of CSAS while avoiding many of its failings. On the aquaculture front, such a body could go a long way towards restoring the trust that many Canadians have lost in the department.
The fisheries management and the 's office often fail to incorporate science or national policies informed by science in their decisions. This is nothing new. I spent much of my working life providing advice to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, first on behalf of industry, and subsequently, in the last dozen years, on behalf of first nations and ENGOs.
Decisions now, as in the past, are most often shaped by informal and formal DFO-harvester relations and external politics. Canada has never had—as Alaska has in its state constitution, or the U.S. with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act—an obligation to ensure decisions are consistent with a science-based management framework.
What has changed over the course of my 40-year career is that the risks to our fisheries from decisions inconsistent with good science are immeasurably greater. This increased risk is driven by the climate crisis, cumulative land and water use impacts and a decision-making process that continues to put fisheries before fish.
In the absence of legal and regulatory frameworks similar to what is in place in Alaska and the U.S., forward-thinking people within DFO, including Dr. Riddell here, who foresaw the coming environmental challenges, began introducing a suite of world-leading science-based fisheries policies, beginning in the 1990s. They are captured under Canada’s sustainable fisheries framework.
Unlike many government policies, the SSF is not aspirational. They are the bits and bites of science programmed into policy, and they often provide specific direction to managers. Unfortunately, these powerful science-based policies and the management guidance laid out within them are ignored in management decisions.
It might be argued that I am too strident in stating that they are “ignored”, but you'll find the scorecard I supplied separately showing that none of the seven key policies within the sustainable fisheries framework has been implemented when it comes to west coast salmon fisheries—none. DFO officials will argue with my interpretation, saying that managers acknowledge the policies in making management decisions, but acknowledging them is a far cry from either implementing them or being bound by them as managers are in other jurisdictions such Alaska or the U.S.
Recent examples of this failure are not hard to find. In 2019, the Canadian fishing industry, after a decade of DFO's promising to implement its national policies, was forced to drop out of its hard-earned certification of sustainability from the Marine Stewardship Council, losing important and key access to world markets. This year, the made an arbitrary decision to cut in half the harvest of herring on the west coast, even though the fishery was consistent with both science advice and policy.
Last year, the announced the closure of 60% of commercial fisheries. The decision was not founded on a scientific analysis of what fisheries should be closed. In fact, development of a methodology to decide which fisheries should be closed is only happening now, without direct input from science. It all appears to be much ado about nothing, as managers are not following through on the closures the minister committed to in any event.
Currently, I am working with a B.C. first nation organization that is concerned about the introduction of a new recreational fishery in its territories. None of the sustainable fisheries framework policies has been incorporated in the development of the fishery. The involved first nations are, unsurprisingly, frustrated and angry.
Looking back through the examples I just gave, I'm sure members might agree with some of the decisions made, based on the needs of their constituents or political viewpoints. Many of my colleagues agree with some of the decisions, and herein lies the problem. If science and science-based policy are not front and centre in the decision-making, decisions become about what’s best for the fishery in the short term or about dissatisfied pressures from one group or another, not about the long-term benefit for either the fish or the fishers.
There are likely many potential solutions, but I would suggest two practical ones.
The first is a requirement that DFO implement national policies. An independent body should report on the department’s progress and provide recommendations where progress is lacking.
The second is that an independent science body should develop science-based performance measures founded in science and policy for every fishery. Each fishery’s performance would then be reviewed, say, every four years. The independent body would evaluate whether the performance measures are being achieved and where they are not, and it would recommend guidance, along with a timeline for achieving them. It could also, if necessary, amend the performance measures.
Not only would the above recommendations encourage science to take a leading role in fisheries decisions, it would go a long way towards rebuilding trust in Canada's fisheries managers and management system.
SSHI as a program has terminated in terms of the joint funding, but the Pacific Salmon Foundation is continuing work in that field. That's being led by Dr. Bateman. The problem that you're referring to is not quite correctly expressed.
There were four phases. The first two phases were completed. The third phase, which we've received criticism on, was to do controlled experimentation that requires a facility with an extensive laboratory. We knew that this was a limitation at the very beginning, and we strove through two or three opportunities to try to build such a facility. In the end, we never reached an agreement with the local universities to construct that in order to conduct the controlled challenges.
The fourth phase that you were referring to was a workshop and final reporting, and that was conducted. The controlled experimentation was not, and it could still be undertaken, but it would require funding to ensure the establishment of an appropriate experimental centre. It would not be cheap. We had completed a full design of a centre working with Vancouver Island University.
At that time, it would have cost us approximately $350,000, but that assumes that they had the space, the water and the filtration, etc. The actual cost would have to be developed depending on where we built such a facility.
Thank you to all of the witnesses. I think we're going to get a lot of information here today.
My first question will go to Mr. Zeman, but I want Dr. Whitney to know that I'm going to ask her about science and other factors that need to be considered in ministers' decisions.
Mr. Staley, I'm also going to ask you about the essential elements of truly objective research, including the development of reporting.
First, though, Mr. Zeman, in our long history of all of the hearings that we've had, it seems that when the minister comes down with a decision—we're going to fish or we're not going to fish—the people who want to fish will come up with their own science when the decision is that we're not fishing. The reverse is also true.
How do we deal more effectively with the whole issue of duelling science when it comes to these decisions?
Absolutely, and thank you for the question. It's very important and integral to the work we do.
I think I spoke in my opening statement to the value of indigenous knowledge as a space with a much longer-term view and understanding of resources and ecosystems, driven by the people that have lived there for thousands of years.
One of the things that I think we often really appreciate and value in that knowledge system is, as I spoke to you about, an early trigger, an early issue identification. That's something that is really critical and I think relates well to the staged principles around the first specific principle. One thing we find in practice is that the nations we work with and for will raise those issues and identify an opportunity, a concern, and in our case a collective concern for central coast nations working together.
That then drives further western science, potentially, and research, as well as synthesizing and gathering further indigenous knowledge to drive management decisions, and then, if you think about a feedback loop, monitoring and evaluation, and then improving or adapting those management decisions accordingly.
Those two different knowledge systems—western science and the data that can be derived from that knowledge system—can really go hand in hand or—I think many people have used this term—there's a “two-eyed seeing” approach, where indigenous knowledge and western science can really work together to drive management decisions as well as research.
Certainly. This issue of Alaskan interception goes to the core of what we're talking about. Much of the information in our series of seven reports on the Alaskan interception of B.C. salmon did not come from DFO. It came from Alaska's Department of Fish and Game and the Pacific Salmon Commission. The DFO is not a holder of the best or most complete data or science. That certainly was telling.
What's more than telling is, as we've often said, these interceptions would not be happening in Alaska if these were Alaskan fish. It's only happening because they're B.C. fish. The difference is Alaska's jurisdiction and state constitution would not allow this to happen in Alaska. We don't have that sort of thing in Canada, as I was saying before, where we have either independent oversight or a legal framework where you must incorporate science in managing fisheries.
Also, one of the real core problems we had was that we could identify interceptions of Canadian fish in Alaskan fisheries. We know they're severe. All over the coast, we've drawn a map now showing those impacts throughout the B.C. coast. Can we tell you what the impacts on those individual stocks are? No. The reason is that none of those policies under the sustainable fisheries framework have been implemented. The key of these is the one Dr. Riddell wrote on the wild salmon policy. It's not being implemented anywhere, so we don't know the status of most of our Canadian populations. We don't know their benchmarks—that is, where they're at risk and where they're not. We don't know what the recovery plans should be when they are at risk. We just can't measure impacts. We know the catch now and we've identified the catch, but we don't know the status of our own stocks.
That's such a complete failure of Canada to do the basic job of understanding our core fish populations and the status of them. It's gobsmacking. It's something I addressed when I talked about the Marine Stewardship Council certification. That's why they pulled it. We aren't doing that core basic science. It really condemns DFO's management. What really frightens many of us is that this is in place at a time when climate change and the climate crisis is impacting fish.
Thanks for the question.
I did touch on this briefly in the presentation. Specifically, what comes out of that ATIP—and of course, these are not my words; this is what was revealed by DFO employees—is that, first of all, the chair, who is a DFO employee, said that he was concerned that the scientific integrity of the process had been impaired. There are documents revealing that the assistant deputy minister's office gave a directive to modify some key points related to allowable harm. Also, DFO management—not DFO science, and this is the critical piece again—created its own run timing model.
First of all—and you need to be a bit of a geek on this stuff—they could not get the model to converge. There's your first red flag. The second red flag was that the model looks like this, and essentially what the model says is that there are no steelhead in the Fraser River until September 1. I have pictures of steelhead that were killed hundreds of kilometres up the Fraser in August two years ago.
Again, if you don't like the science, you make up your own. I believe they're still using their science to brief the minister, even though that science was thrown out through the CSAS process.
Thank you to the witnesses for the fascinating testimony.
As a public health physician, especially having been managing the public health response to the pandemic in the last couple of years, I certainly recognize many of the similar themes about the distinction between the science and making sure the science is there, and the many factors that influence a policy decision.
The first question I have is for Mr. Staley.
You talked with some diplomacy about the muted science that occurred during the Harper era. I think it's important to be very clear about how destructive that was not just for fisheries science but also in general for promoting and practising evidence-based policy in the federal government.
Specifically, you also mentioned the Pacific salmon strategy. This is important for me as a Yukon representative. I wonder if you could discuss the role of science in the Pacific salmon strategy and how you hope to see science and traditional knowledge advance the work that we need to do to implement the strategy.
Thank you for the questions.
On the last one, I see it as.... The first nations in the communities that we serve are on the ground, and they are the holders of their information and their science, as has been pointed out by others here today. We see that this has to be dealt with respectfully, not only in passing, for lack of a better word, but also in feeding up to or collaborating with the information, the issues and interests of others.
I don't know the answer to the first question for sure.
I'm involved in an experiment right now on how that might work with the Fraser Salmon Management Board and the collaborative agreement. To date, it hasn't touched the ground nor gotten traction, in part because it's a new thing. As we all know, DFO is challenged with changing quickly. That's how I see the second part of your question.
On the first part of your question, yes, I experienced working with first nations through the first part of this century and basically the withdrawal from the field of science and data. For many of the stocks that we work with, there are big holes in the databases around spawning enumeration, the quality of that, even the quality of some of the fisheries enumeration.
As I said in my opening remarks, I'm heartened to see that we've recovered some of that, but unfortunately, when you're managing some of the longer-lived animals, you need a longer-time series, and we, unfortunately, have that missing piece.
I will continue with you, Ms. Whitney.
Yesterday, on our side, we met with a group of fishers from the Gaspé, specifically herring and mackerel fishers. I know there has been a lot of talk about Pacific salmon and the problems in the west, but I would like to draw your attention to the situation in Quebec.
We realize that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans seems to want to close down small pelagic fisheries. Fishers who fish with hook and line, for example, now find themselves penniless and have nothing in front of them. The decision is supposedly linked to the scarcity of fish. In addition, we were told that only they were required to report their catches in order to do indicative fishing. Fishers are wondering who will measure the resource from now on if they are prevented from fishing.
What do you think about the closure of the herring and mackerel fishery this year? Do you have an opinion on that? Can you relate it to the problems you're experiencing?
I'm not familiar with those specific regional fisheries, as I'm sure you can imagine, but we had similar challenges in B.C.
This year, the unilaterally declared herring fisheries closed, as Mr. Taylor mentioned, including our nation's spawn on kelp fisheries, which are specifically identified in the integrated fisheries management plan as sustainable. There is no scientific basis for that closure.
Again, I'll emphasize the unilateral nature of that decision. Specifically, some of the nations that we work for have long-standing co-governance agreements for those fisheries, and up until that ministerial decision, they'd had significant discussions with the department around planning and implementing that fishery this year.
I think one thing that speaks to is uncertainty and data gaps, especially in areas that have less western science but have significant local or traditional and indigenous knowledge that can speak to management decisions that actually make sense for the people who are living in that land or seascape.
An earlier question asked how indigenous knowledge can support and marry with western science. It's particularly helpful where there are data gaps or uncertainty and in areas that are less studied or are not at the right scale for the current integrated fishery management regime or DFO's region-based approach.
Salmon is another really good example. In the region where I work, no integrated stock status assessments are done for any of our stocks across five species of Pacific salmon, yet fisheries are enacted annually. The nations therefore carry the burden of evidence to show that a fishery should not proceed versus having the fishery show they should be implemented.
We're operating in a completely data-deficient space.
Thank you for the opportunity.
I'll give you a very concrete example that refers to the longer baselines of indigenous knowledge and how they can benefit the process.
A colleague and I did an analysis of fishery-independent data that shows very rapid declines in the size and age structure of yelloweye rockfish. Those time series did not start until 2003, which is long after commercial fisheries had already caused tremendous declines in that and many other groundfish species.
If we just look at the picture that we analyzed between 2003 and 2015, from DFO's own survey data, we see a decline of about half a centimetre per year in the average size of yelloweye rockfish and an average decline of about 10 months per year in the average age of yelloweye rockfish. This has tremendous implications for fecundity, because larger females are disproportionally more fecund than smaller females per unit of body size.
This was in 2003, at the start of the time series. Looking at indigenous knowledge through structured interviews, we reconstructed the body sizes of yelloweye going back to the 1950s or so and how, in the catches of indigenous fishers, those sizes changed over time. Between 1980—which is before any of these scientific surveys had begun—and 2000, we see a decline of nearly half the average size.
If we only look at the scientific data, we will have a shifting baseline of what would have been considered normal. It would be starting in 2003, which is about half the body size and disproportionally lower fecundity that was there before the commercial fisheries got under way.
That's one example.
Yes. There are two pieces to that.
When you refer to the Korman report, you're referring to the recovery potential assessment document, which was conducted by three authors. Korman was one of them. He's independent. Another one was with the provincial government, which has the responsibility of managing steelhead. The third was with DFO.
This recovery potential assessment report was conducted and was then peer-reviewed by, I believe, 42 different managers and researchers, and it was sent up. That report still has not seen the light of day. Years later, it has still not been disclosed to the public.
In British Columbia, we have a bit of tennis match that happens between the province, around managing freshwater resources, and DFO, around managing pinniped predation. I would say that there is a lot of science on both ends. Both are failing in their responsibilities to adequately fund science and to implement science-based decisions to move salmon forward.
Thank you for that question. It's a critical question and it's certainly been of real interest to me over the years, coming from a commercial fishing background. This is recognized around the world. The first thing every fishery needs is accurate reflection of its catch reporting and compliance with that and being able to provide that information to the management body.
What's even more critical in Canada is that Canada uses discards, or releasing fish, as one of its primary conservation tools, so we have to also understand not only the retained catch but the releases and what happens to those released fish after they are released, because a proportion of them—and it can be a large proportion—don't survive to recruit into the population. Having that accurate information is critical.
There is a national policy for implementing it for all fisheries. None of the salmon fisheries, no salmon fishery, whether it be first nations, recreational or commercial, has gone through it. There are some other notable fisheries that have, and they are world recognized, partly because of it. That includes the groundfish fishery and some others in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada.
In the absence of good monitoring and good basic information flowing into it, you cannot effectively manage a population without it, and to fail to do it is really a blot on DFO.
I think what you're referring to is that, when there are more fish, there's less conflict. That's not a great insightful statement when you think about it, but when you take it the other way it explains a lot of the animosity and the really tough decisions.
When there's very little and your requirement is conservation first, then you have to put the fish in the spawning grounds when they're below their spawning goals. After that, the law requires you to allocate fish to first nations for FSC. Beyond that, there's an allocation by the department for industrial use. Within industrial use, you have multiple people competing for the same fish.
When fish get very scarce, it's a much more difficult job. That is even part of the sensitivity that Greg referred to in the State of Alaska. Alaska is taking Canadian fish and we are not allowing any fisheries. We're required to because they're our fish and they must go spawning, but we also have other responsibilities for it.
Really, I think one of the things we've been really realizing is that climate change is changing the ocean and the oceans are changing fish in B.C. at a much higher rate than we may have expected. We're seeing it across the board. However, all salmon are not equal. Andrew made a comment about this. The idea that we can do risk assessment on sockeye and then declare that there's no risk to wild salmon is grossly misleading. Wild salmon is five species, plus steelhead and cutthroat. There are many different types of salmon that people don't give credit to.
We need a much more open and honest discussion about this topic, but there is no question in my mind that the future of salmon right now is intricately tied to climate change.
Yes. In short, yes, I think so.
In some cases, no. There are some issues where science can be very clear. There are x number of fish. We need these allocations and we catch y many for a given fishery. That's maybe, sometimes. However, as we've heard today, there are much more controversial topics. The one I mentioned, salmon farming, and the impact on wild salmon, is one of them.
Really, the issue we're discussing is DFO's manipulation of the science advice. Science is not the only decision-making factor at the table. The decision-makers, as others have mentioned, have to weigh competing or complementary demands, the economy being one of them. It's really that the science advice that's presented to the decision-makers, ultimately to the minister, needs to be unfettered by departmental manipulation by mid- and upper-level managers.
Then I'll have to do the short version, which won't do it service.
Number one, I think the first priority is that Canada has to get back to the ocean. That should not be any surprise to anybody who has followed what we've been doing out here for a while. We just took a gillnetter out to the ocean and we caught more steelhead salmon in the ocean than any Pacific salmon. No one is going to explain that to you. We definitely need to get back out there.
We need to put money into hatchery assessment and research. Jesse's comment about the number of steelhead salmon is staggering. Who could manage it down to that level? I used to call that the American plan. It now applies to Canada. If you talk to the provincial government, it will not even discuss a hatchery to restore these fish. That is irresponsible. The bottom line is that if you have tens of fish, you have a genetic bottleneck that you must get out of or you are damning those fish forever. There is no question that, with our genomic knowledge now, we can manage small population sizes.
The third thing is effective conservation and restoration. We talk about restoration. You just put $700 million into restoration. What are you going to do? We've been doing it for decades. Where are the fish? This speaks to the fact that it is a big circle—the circle of life—and we're losing them at sea. We have the technology to study what's going on at sea. We do not have the people working on the biology of salmon at sea. We do not have the ships to go to sea. We have lots of technology, but we don't have anybody focused on it.
If you want to put a group together and you have the PSSI funds, there are many people who would willingly work with you to determine how to restore fish and to determine what we don't know.
It's not a simple question.
That clews up our rounds of questioning for today's committee meeting.
I want to say a big thank you to our witnesses, especially for their generous allotment of time to us today, as we were delayed a little because of a vote. That's the season we're into right now. It can happen any day. Again, a big thank you to the witnesses. The knowledge you shared with us today is of great value. I'll give you a second now to sign off. We'll continue on for a couple of minutes.
Now that everybody's signed off, I just want to mention to everybody that we owe a big thank you to a lot of staff around here who make this work, especially the interpreters, our clerk and our analysts, more particularly. They spend their time taking notes. I watched Michael today. His fingers were going—I couldn't keep up with him—as people were speaking and giving testimony. They put together a report for us at the end of the day, and then we tell them to change this and change that because it's not exactly what we heard, or to put a different spin on it.
Today, of course, is Michael's last day with us. He's been with the committee since 2018. Some of us at the table have been here since then and before. Michael, you've always been the sound of reason in my ear, as a committee member and as a chair. The analysts sometimes steer us in the right direction when we're heading down the wrong one, especially when it comes to writing reports.
I understand, Michael, that you're taking up a position in Washington for a year. I think I speak on behalf of the entire committee when we say we wish you nothing but the best and look forward to you coming back full of even more knowledge than what you have. You have a great deal of it.
We did get a card. All the committee members have signed it.
Actually, I think Madame Desbiens may even sing you a few notes of a song.
Voices: Oh, oh!