I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 39 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
This meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022.
Before we proceed, I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of witnesses and members.
Please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking. For those participating by video conference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike. Please mute yourself when you are not speaking.
In terms of interpretation, those on Zoom have the choice at the bottom of their screen of either “floor”, “English” or “French”. Those in the room can use the earpiece and select the desired channel.
Please address all comments through the chair.
Finally, I will remind you that taking screenshots or photos of your screen is not permitted. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on January 20, 2022, the committee is resuming its study of the North Atlantic right whale. We will hear from witnesses for the first hour and a half and then finish the meeting with 30 minutes of drafting instructions.
I would like to welcome our panel of witnesses. Representing the Acadian Peninsula Regional Service Commission is Jules Haché, member of the board of directors. Representing CORBO Engineering is Philippe Cormier, president. Appearing as an individual and in person is Mr. Gerard Chidley, captain of his own fishing enterprise.
Thank you for taking the time to appear today. You will each have up to five minutes for an opening statement.
I'll invite Mr. Chidley to begin, please.
Good afternoon, Minister, panel members and, certainly, the secretariat.
Thanks for the opportunity to appear as a witness on this very important issue for our industry. My name is Gerard Chidley. I'm an independent owner-operator from Newfoundland and Labrador. We own and operate a 20-metre fishing vessel on the east coast of the island. We are a multispecies licence-holder with a vessel crew of seven members. It's a family-run business and has been that way for 50 years, with 50 years of experience fishing on the ocean in many NAFO divisions and for many species. My certification includes a Fishing Master, First Class and a Master, Near Coastal certificate in the Merchant Marine.
In those years, I served in many capacities and chaired many different organizations and fleets. I have served as ICCAT commissioner, NAFO commissioner, chair of the FRCC, and industry chair of MUN and CFER. I've chaired our crab and shrimp committees and served on the inshore council for 10 years with the FFAW, of which I'm still a member. I've partnered with the Marine Institute, which is a division of MUN, in bycatch reduction trawl designs, as well as in energy efficiency studies on trawls and vessels to provide a more ecofriendly operation.
Early in 2021, I was made aware that there were discussions under way to look at reducing breaking strains on haul-up ropes to allow the rope to bust in the event of entanglement with right whales. I remember my first thought: right whale, wrong solution. I remember discussing this with some of my fellow harvesters and I thought that whoever came up with this had never spent any time on the North Atlantic fishing crab, cod, Greenland halibut or any other fish that required the use of haul-up lines.
In November of 2021, I wrote an email to some of our regional DFO people. I included some of our Newfoundland and Labrador federal members and some of our provincial people. I've shared that email with you for your reading enjoyment. The fact that this hasn't been viewed as a ridiculous idea is the reason I'm appearing before you today. I'm hoping to shed some light on the devastation this will cause our industry by answering, from my experience, any questions you may have.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, we work in a completely different environment on the east coast. We encounter every obstacle from ice to debris lost from cargo ships in storms.
Not many incidents encountered are reported. You may ask why that is. It's because we communicate with each other and provide positions of danger on a real-time basis. This is what we need to do to mitigate any possible right whale encounter before it becomes an incident.
Put a tracking device on the animal at first sight and broadcast the positions on a real-time basis. I have reviewed the sighting maps provided by DFO. We do not have a right whale problem on the east coast. Simply put, you may never have to deploy a tracking device. You will note that in my email, I spoke only to breaking strains, but the same applies to ropeless fishing gear. While most of us have individual quotas, we do not operate on individual pieces of ocean like patches of farmland.
I will highlight what I know to be major issues that threaten our resource if we go down this ill-conceived path.
Loss of fishing gear inflicts huge replacement costs on harvesters. There is ghost fishing at a time when money has been spent on clean oceans initiatives. There is a threat to conservation and sustainability of resources due to the immeasurable impact of lost gear and ghost fishing. There are higher fuel costs due to more trips being necessary to land product, as well as the impact on onshore employment when fishing trips are lost or reduced.
Certainly at a time when the environment is front and centre, there must be concern for the increase in the carbon footprint of fishing when more trips are necessary. In all of this, the unintended consequences of reducing the gear-breaking strains is that this gear can now be parted by small pieces of ice, and other small mammals will become entangled due to the smaller diameter of the rope.
Those are the notes I've provided for the meeting. I made some notes by hand so I could continue, because as I spoke a little faster, I still have a minute or so left.
As I mentioned, tracking the right whales provides many benefits, whether they come into our fishing zone or other zones. We use satellite tags to track bluefin tuna. Breathing animals would be easier, as they surface to breathe. The benefits are not limited to insight into the life cycle of the right whale; they incluse a real-time record of the migration routes and any deviations, accurate time of entry and departure electronically, the ability to broadcast real-time positions to ocean users and increasing co-operation from industry and other ocean users.
Last but certainly not least is the safety concern, which is of the utmost importance to us as vessel operators. Reducing breaking strains poses a huge risk factor if the rope parts while in the hauler. That's why we change our gear every four years. If the gear is frayed, there's always the risk that someone will get struck with it when the rope parts.
There were no meaningful consultations by DFO with industry on this issue, other than an invitation to participate in a Zoom call, where most of the allocated time was taken up by presentations and very little time given to engage industry. Being an optimist, I'm going to give DFO the benefit of the doubt on this one, and being an optimist, I will take the lack of consultations by DFO with industry on this issue to mean that a lack of sightings and presence in our fishing zones means a minimum likelihood for sightings or other incidents to occur, and therefore no action is necessary. The DFO whale group headed by Wayne Ledwell also agrees with this.
What is disconcerting is the lengths those organizations will go to in order to forward their cause with a seeming disregard for the impact on other ocean users and environments. What's equally disconcerting to me is that the governments of the day—that's not reflecting any colour—are willing to condone those antics, as they are extremely damaging to the value of our industry and in turn our rural economies.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for giving our communities on the Acadian peninsula the opportunity to take part in this meeting.
My name is Jules Haché, and I am the mayor of Lamèque, New Brunswick, and a member of the Acadian Peninsula Regional Service Commission. The commission provides municipal services across the region, and represents 14 municipalities and 32 unincorporated territories.
Today, I will talk primarily about the importance of the fisheries to our communities. I will leave it up to our professional associations to make specific technical recommendations regarding right whales.
The fishing and seafood processing industry is a very important economic sector for the entire province of New Brunswick, and especially for the Acadian peninsula, a rural coastal region with about 50,000 residents. The social fabric of our communities is greatly influenced by this activity, and has been for generations. The sector is also supported by a well-respected research network and increasingly modern processing facilities.
As a result, any measures taken that have a significant impact on fishing methods are also likely to have major economic and social consequences for our communities.
According to a recent study by economists Maurice Beaudin and Marcel Lebreton, the impact of New Brunswick's fishing industry goes far beyond this sector of activity. We have close to 6,500 fishers and fisher helpers who work on 2,300 boats. These boats are anchored in 70 commercial fishing ports, so many of them are dynamic centres for services, employment, investment, community life, recreation and tourism. There are also about 60 processing companies that employ roughly 7,000 people, not to mention the companies related to the industry. In 2021, New Brunswick exported more than $2.2 billion in seafood products to more than 70 countries around the world, making the province one of the country's largest exporters.
In northeastern New Brunswick alone, where the Acadian peninsula is located, fishing and processing account for close to 4,400 direct and indirect jobs. These jobs alone represent $207 million in salaries and benefits. According to a study conducted by economist Maurice Beaudin in 1998, fishing and fish processing are by far the greatest economic drivers of our region, accounting for nearly a quarter of jobs and employment income.
Our professional organizations in the fishery sector, which have already appeared before this committee, have always been willing to participate in various initiatives to mitigate the impact of fishing practices on ecosystems, including the right whale. In 2018, the introduction of the first measures to protect the right whale created a real climate of general uncertainty. This uncertainty was felt by all the stakeholders affected, and by all our communities given the direct and indirect impact of this activity on our regional economies. As we stated then to the fisheries and oceans minister, who is also responsible for the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Dominic Leblanc, at the time, we knew that the federal government had to take steps to protect the species. On the other hand, in this scientific equation, it is very important that socio-economic and human factors be given equal consideration.
Since then, the focus has been on imposing certain restrictions. We can agree that they have had some success in reducing the mortality of right whales resulting from fishing gear. These restrictions have nonetheless also had an impact on the fishing industry. Efforts should henceforth be focused on this industry, primarily by optimizing fishing practices under the current conditions in order to ensure the sector's viability and the security of the people working in it.
If we want to achieve that, cooperation between our professional associations and DFO representatives is paramount.
In addition, with all the initiatives it has undertaken in recent years to reduce the impact on marine ecosystems, the industry should reap the benefits of a positive communication strategy on the international stage. Sending out a constructive message about fishing industry efforts to coexist with the North Atlantic right whale would surely better maintain the integrity of our U.S. and international markets, and it would also showcase what's being done by the thousands of fishers in our regions.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, good afternoon.
My name is Philippe Cormier. I'm an engineer and naval architect, and president of CORBO Consulting Engineering, a New Brunswick firm founded in 2007 that employs approximately 40 engineering and architectural professionals.
As you know, in 2017, Gulf region snow crabbers were quite shocked to find dead North Atlantic right whales entangled in their fishing gear. Because I had worked regularly with fishers, the associations representing them came to me to find ways to reduce the impact of commercial fishing on that species.
From 2018 on, with help from the Atlantic fisheries fund, we carried out an initial three-year project and assessed 19 very broad solutions, which led us to quickly develop world-class expertise.
Without going into too much detail, we were among the first to test rope-free technologies for commercial fishing. We helped create the first low breaking strength ropes. We looked at existing fishing techniques and how fishing ropes behaved in the water—basically, all kinds of technologies and methods to help us mitigate past, current and future risk.
We worked with several snow crab and lobster fisher associations all over Atlantic Canada and Quebec, and brought to the forefront the ongoing efforts of Canadian fishers and the Canadian government to ensure that commercial fishing can coexist with North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Since 2018, a number of national media outlets have reported on this work, as have foreign media outlets The New York Times, the BBC, National Geographic, The Guardian, Smithsonian Magazine, SeafoodNews.com and many others.
After an initial round of testing that cast a wide net, since 2020 we've been focusing our efforts on the techniques that we believe hold the most promise for risk reduction.
In 2021, with help from the folks at the DFO and the Atlantic fisheries fund, we became the first in the world to have a commercial fishery in closed areas using rope-free systems. During the 2022 season, over 20 fishers took part in a trial, catching over 203 metric tonnes of snow crab using 1,000 traps without any vertical rope in the water that could put marine mammals at risk.
While these trials have yielded very positive results, we still have several technical and logistical challenges to overcome before this option can be implemented on a larger scale. It's important to note that this tool should allow fishers who wish to do so to continue fishing in closed areas in the presence of North Atlantic right whales. It would be impractical, unsustainable and, most importantly, unsafe if this option were used outside of closed areas or fishing grounds not suitable for this solution.
Another technology we're putting a lot of effort into is the use of low breaking strength or weak link ropes. The theory is that this technology would allow a fishing line to break at a tension of less than 1,700 pounds, or 770 kg, whereas the lines currently used are nearly 20 times stronger.
Although we've crafted tools that support the use of low breaking strength rope, our results show that a few more years of research, development and testing are needed before we can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that this solution will not create any more risk than the current situation does for the North Atlantic right whale, the environment and fishing crews.
Finally, in partnership with the Acadian Croppers Association and the ghost gear fund, we're in the midst of a recovery operation, seeking abandoned, lost or discarded traps on the ocean floor that no longer have a buoy on the surface allowing us to easily locate and recover them. We believe that hundreds of thousands of these traps currently lie on the ocean floor.
I'd like to conclude by saying that there's no silver bullet to solve the problem yet, but we have covered an incredible distance in just five years. I can assure you that we're way ahead of our neighbours to the south. The secret to our current and future success can be summed up in a few points.
FIrst, the speed with which fishers decided to tackle the problem head on and their commitment to finding effective and sustainable solutions. In addition, the bond of trust that's developed between fishers, engineers, scientists and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The funding provided by the Canadian government and the provinces that made it possible to carry out these experiments. Finally, the time the DFO put into getting it right science-wise instead of imposing a regulatory disaster, which could have been even more damaging to the ecosystems than the initial situation.
Thank you for your attention.
It's similar to the talk about the breaking strain. If you were fishing in your own.... With farmland, if you're on your own farmland, you know exactly where you put your crops, and in shoal water like the gulf, using that gear may have its advantages. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the guys operate in a lot of shoal water. Where we operate in deep water, if you were operating in the area by yourself and there was no one else in that zone, then you have the potential to use that style of gear.
However, if you go out now the way we are—we're competitive because we're IQ fishers, with individual quotas—it's competition for ground, and it's not all at the bottom. The substrate is not all conducive to crab fishing and it's not conducive to cod fishing. We're probably only fishing 15% of the ocean floor that we have licence to fish, because that's the only substrate that's good for crab, and we have issues to deal with.
If you're the first guy out there and you don't have your gear marked properly, the next guy who comes out will put his gear right on top of yours because he doesn't know where it is. It's like a guy dropping a case when he comes in through the door. If the next guy doesn't pick it up and the first fellow trips over it, and the next fellow trips over it, you end up with a whole pile of bodies. Good luck on getting the first fellow out from underneath it, and that's the problem.
As you say, we have been testing these technologies since 2018. We have tested systems from various companies. This year, as I said, 20 of our fishers used them in areas that were closed.
It went relatively well from the technology point of view, and we had a 96 per cent success rate and raised 677 traps, if I am not mistaken. However, if we take into account problems with tangled ropes or human error, the success rate falls to 87 per cent. As I said, there is a lot of work still to be done, but the technology, at least, the triggering mechanism itself, is relatively reliable.
I have just attended the Ropeless Consortium annual meeting that was held in New Bedford, at which this point came up frequently. We have to equip these systems with artificial intelligence to avoid human or other errors.
I think the difference is that the Gulf of St. Lawrence fishing area is a lot different from the one we're in. We're into the one-knot to three-knot currents the whole time. We try to use the rule of thumb of 5% greater than the bottom deck. That's the maximum slack we'll have on our fishing gear, with lead rope interwoven about every 25 fathoms apart. That kit takes the slack off the surface. It puts out less rope but still allows you to retrieve the gear.
I think slack rope on the water is a bigger issue than anything else, for whales of any type. However, I don't think this is a one-size-fits-all or one-shoe-fits-all approach. What will work, where there are incidents of sightings.... If a right whale is in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I think this system they're setting up has potential. However, in our area, there are no sightings or occurrences whatsoever in the deep water. We haven't seen them. I have had 50 years on the ocean and have never seen a right whale yet. That says a lot.
They should continue with their work in the gulf. If it's an extension they need for operating out there, by all means develop the gear and make sure it can work. If there is something that allows fishers increased activity in a now-enclosed area, by all means. They're going to jump to do everything possible to get in there.
Good luck with the development. I look forward to seeing how it will work in the gulf.
Yes, certainly. Thank you for the question.
The big issue when we're fishing offshore, in any fishery we're involved in, is that the rope strength has to be of sufficient breaking strain that we're not going to part the rope when it's in the hauler under normal working circumstances. The difference is that when the first pot is leaving the bottom, the weight is not so great, but when the last pot is leaving the bottom and the first one is at the rail, we have sometimes five or seven, depending on the depth of the water, that are coming through the water at the one time. Most of those pots, just under normal weight circumstances.... The pot itself that we use is 40 pounds. If there are 100 pounds of crab in it, with the drag coming up through the water, we don't have to cut it, but if we touch that with a knife, there's a zing. It's just like a guitar string. If that rope parts at a critical time, our crew member handling that could end up with severe lacerations to the hands, the face or anything else. That's the big issue.
That's why we have a tendency to knock off fishing when the sea reaches five metres, because we know gear will part when the seas are between five and six metres. We stop at five metres. We're talking about a sea state of 16 or 17 feet. Because we're at sea for multiple days and our vessels are larger, that's what....
I just have a comment. One of the things that Mr. Cormier said was about developing gear. In that development, you have to look at the cost, because in lots of cases around Newfoundland and Labrador, lots of guys only have a 10,000-pound crab quota. It's probably out of reach for that type of a fishery, whereas in the gulf, the guys like us probably have 100 or 200 tonnes of crab to catch on an individual basis. The economics are totally different when it means investing in that type of gear.
I'm sorry I got away from your question. The constraints that we find ourselves under in this environment are just in addition to the work we're doing.
No, it's all very helpful, especially because we're in the last stage of the study. It helps to formulate the recommendations and bring everything together. I'm happy with any additional information.
I'm curious if you can provide some perspective. I appreciate that after 50 years out on the water, which is great, you're here and sharing with us your wealth of experience. Over those 50 years, I believe you said—correct me if I'm wrong—that you've never seen a North Atlantic right whale in the waters.
We're also seeing, as a result of the climate crisis and, of course, human-made activity, some changes or a shifting in behaviours, and so there is a potential that we may see North Atlantic right whales. I definitely can't speculate as to whether or not you will, but I'm curious about what you feel would be the best way for Newfoundland and fishers in that area, where you're saying there aren't any North Atlantic right whales, to participate in this process to ensure we're prepared if we are going to see an increase of whales.
COVID got us away from a lot of the interaction of in-person calls. Normally, the DFO process would be to hold a round of consultations. They'd pick probably five different parts of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Then they would look at the evidence from our past to say that there's no sign of any of those, but what if they do show up?
You would get much better engagement if industry provided co-operative decisions on how things should work as opposed to a top-down approach that says that this is what you have to do, because that stuff doesn't work; you get too much opposition to it.
I'm glad that the gulf fishers are participating with Mr. Cormier in this activity, because it has to be done. It seems like it's more prevalent in the gulf, and it may change over time in our zone too, with global warming—we don't know.
We do have one little kind thing on the Grand Banks: We have that cold intermediate layer that covers the ground on the Grand Banks that's been good for our shellfish industry, so that's kind of keeping everything else at bay. That's why the swordfish are outside in the Gulf Stream up around that end and on the Grand Banks, and why the Americans are down on the Grand Banks too.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. If there's some time left, I'll be sharing it with Mr. Bragdon.
First, thank you to the witnesses.
There's another piece that I want to make sure we get into this study, and it's possibly a task for the clerks.
As of July 1, 2020, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation's submission on the enforcement matters process, governed by USMCA article 24.27 and article 24.28 of the environment chapter of the free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, has some requirements.
On January 4, 2022, Oceana filed a submission on enforcement matters, SEM 21-003, north Atlantic right whales, under chapter 24 of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement. In its submission, Oceana asserted that the United States is failing to effectively enforce its environmental laws in respect of collisions between north Atlantic right whales and ships, typically called vessel strikes. It also alleged that the U.S. is failing to effectively enforce its environmental laws with respect to entanglement of moving right whales.
On June 3, 2022, the secretariat determined that the submission warrants the preparation of a factual record under article 24.28 and so informed the council and the environment committee. According to the website of the CEC, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, the CEC council would normally vote on whether to authorize the secretariat to prepare a factual record within 60 working days of receiving the recommendation; however, as of October 28, there is no record of any vote by the council or record of authorization by the secretariat.
This looks like a potential significant impact to U.S. fisheries operations, and I'm wondering if the analysts could possibly do some research and provide it to the committee so that we could consider the possible implications here in Canada of this situation and might be able to include it in the report. Thank you.
Now I'd like to move on to Mr. Philippe Cormier, please, for a quick question.
How many companies are involved in contracts to test either ropeless gear or weak-break-strength gear?
Thank you for being with us, Mr. Haché. You are the representative of the Acadian Peninsula Regional Service Commission, which serves 14 municipalities and 32 local services districts. You are also the mayor of the town of Lamèque.
I think we can say that your region and the Shippagan region are the two major commercial fishing centres in the Acadian Peninsula. At the beginning of your presentation, you said how important fishing is in your region, which has many crab fishers.
Do you think the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is giving sufficient consideration to the impact that fishery closings and measures like the ones relating to whales have on coastal communities?
We know that if we don't protect the whales we will certainly lose access to some markets, and this may be hard on our communities. However, should we take a somewhat broader view when it comes to taking measures like those?
We still have some fears, but we know that the efforts by entrepreneurs and scientists have produced significant results. Mr. Cormier has just presented us with a very interesting study, which is very positive. I think we are going to have to increase investments in these areas to speed up progress and perfect the technologies.
However, even knowing the results, there will still be worry because of the foreign countries where we export our products, which are the fishing companies' customers. Bad publicity can hurt us very effectively and it is very difficult to get away from it after that. That is why I spoke only about positive messages in my statement. A demonstration of the efforts made and the results obtained would be a major asset.
In this entire phenomenon, as I said, the human dimension and the socioeconomic effects on the regions, as well as the indirect effects, have to be assessed on the same basis, because they are extremely important.
My question is for Mr. Chidley.
This committee has heard numerous testimonies. I'll condense them: It comes down to no one size fitting all in a solution. Canada must take steps to protect the whales; otherwise, there could be a significant impact in terms of our customers in foreign countries.
One of the solutions.... Biologists appearing before the committee indicated that current tracking devices used on other species could not be adapted for use on north Atlantic right whales because of the biology of the animal. These devices simply will not work on them. Everybody agreed that this technology would be [Inaudible—Editor].
Again, up to 2017, there was no problem in the gulf. Then they showed up quickly, and the results were disastrous. Do you not think it would be prudent for DFO to be proactive in recognizing that the whale may migrate into your area and that we should be prepared for when that happens?
Yes, by all means, you have to be proactive, but you also have to look at the development they're taking into consideration for the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Why not develop a tracking device suitable to deploy on the animal, whether it be a whale or whatever? They have much thinner skin than bluefin tuna. If you put it on a whale, you may find that one type doesn't work. Then you do more investigation and develop the equipment to be able to do that, if that's what it takes.
On the other side of it, we're saying that even if you don't put on a tracking device, the minute a whale is sighted and you broadcast that sighting, it helps a big lot. If it's sighted in one area, it doesn't go a mile without breathing, so the ships.... I sent a snapshot of the pictures of the ships on the ocean. There are always going to be ships identifying what a whale is. Even though we have a significant amount of fog on the Grand Banks, the whales aren't there then. The whales are not on the Grand Banks at that time of year.
In my mind, the development of technology to put a tracker on the whale is more helpful to our area than it probably would be in the gulf, where the ropeless gear may work better because of the shallower water. That's all I'm saying. I'm not saying there's no need to do anything, but we have to be.... You can't just bar off the highway because there's one reckless driver. You have to be able to adapt as you go. To me, that's developing the gear. We will succeed if we do that.
The differences among the various fishery sectors continue to concern me.
Mr. Haché has shown, and I think we have taken note of what he said, that the fisheries are essential and represent an essential component of the economy. Without them, whole economic and social sectors would collapse in many coastal communities, be they in Acadie or in Quebec, the Gaspé or the Îles-de-la-Madeleine.
Mr. Cormier, would it be a good idea to look at this by sector in order to find solutions to the whale transit, whether they are feeding or are just passing through? Should we take a sectoral approach in order to provide solutions?
I think a sectoral approach could be a good idea.
From working with people in different regions, whether in Prince Edward Island, in New Brunswick, in Quebec, in the Gaspé or in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, we have seen that each region is different and has its own environment.
To come back to the presence of the whales, we were talking earlier about tracking devices. We are in the process of creating a prototype that should be ready by 2023, in partnership with a firm in France. This device would allow us to track whales in real time and, using hydrophones strategically positioned on the sea bottom, to know what type of marine mammal it is. We would thus know exactly where the whales are and where they are going. We could also track boats, to avoid collisions, all with the aid of the artificial intelligence we are now developing. The technological aspect of this project is progressing well, with the help of the Atlantic Fisheries Fund.
To come back to your question, I would say that the idea of taking a different approach for each sector could be beneficial.
It seems like all the witnesses are getting a good assortment of questions, so I might just stick with Mr. Chidley, who is here beside me, and continue on with some of my questions to you, if that's okay.
First I want to acknowledge that I appreciate that you spoke quite a bit about the tracking devices and how there's a need to adapt and improve upon the technology. We did hear from some previous witnesses around some of the inefficiencies of the current tracking devices as they pertain to the North Atlantic right whale. That's helpful information. Thank you.
You mentioned the double impacts of the lost gear and the economic impacts. I believe you mentioned a bit about the economic impacts, the impacts on fishers of losing their gear, but then also the increase in ghost gear that results in the waters. Can you share a bit if there are any specific fishers who are talking to you about that? Can you elaborate on what stories you're hearing around that and if you're seeing increased ghost gear in the oceans as a result of this whalesafe gear?
The last part of your question I didn't fully understand, but we don't have any whalesafe gear yet, right? That's not part of our fishery. Really, we don't want it to be part of the fishery until it's proven, tested and true that we can put something there so that we can successfully retrieve our gear and do it in a safe manner.
Earlier I said that basically it's not just the economic hit on gear replacement; it's actually the sustainable issue, the use of the resource. Ghost fishing does an unquantified amount of damage on the bottom. Over the years we have adapted, such as by putting biodegradable twine in our pots, but over time this has an impact on the crab, especially when they're in the molting process.
We've done everything we possibly can in regard to management. There's been co-operative management with Fisheries and Oceans too, I must say, over the years that I've chaired the fleets, and basically any decisions that were done were done jointly. We look at what the resource is and how it's behaving and what you do with twine sizes for grading the crab on the bottom, not disturbing the females, and we have the biodegradable twine in the event that there's lost gear.
The problem now is that we're seeing a very huge cost in gear replacement, because we have to replace the gear every four years. It's made out of steel; the steel naturally rusts out and the pot gets lighter, so the pots go all over the ocean floor. Offshore, we use 100 pots in the string close to 20 fathoms apart. This is a two-mile string, and we only use two haul-up lines in two miles. We have 12 strings of gear for the both, so it's 1,200 pots we're licensed for. It's a significant investment that fishers have in the ocean at the time. If you're out there looking around to be able to say if you're going to be able to haul today, the day you can't haul your gear because you're trying to keep from busting it off is a day that's costing you money, and it's costing the industry money, a lot of money.
We'll see what happens too.
If I could start with a notation for the analysts, Ms. Brown at meeting 36 said that she would table with us U.S. right whale numbers. I'm following up to make sure we have that so that we can use it as part of our report.
Mr. Chidley, I appreciate and thank you for your comments. I'd like to follow up a bit.
We had a lobster fisherman from southwest Nova Scotia here last week, Shawn Muise. He was testing this summer. He's in a winter fishery but was testing weak gear in the summer. He had to stop their fishermen—as did the Brazil Rock Lobster Association and the Coldwater Lobster Association, who were also testing it—from doing it because of the potential danger for crew members. They particularly talked about the weight and the plastic parts of the mechanism that broke and could, under tension, harm crew.
Have you seen that happen, or have you just been told about it by others?
I'll say it in the shortest way possible: No. Consultations are not what they used to be. I know that we're all getting over the challenges COVID gave us because of the in-person problems, but I think in the future we have to get back to the more regional meetings. You don't have to be doing them in every community, but pick different parts in the provincial regime.
Years ago I chaired the fisheries resource conservation council, which was actually the advisory group to the minister. If we had a special task to do, we'd go out and do it. Then we'd provide a report. That's not there anymore, so that avenue is gone.
Right now the knowledge to be able to do the proper consultations is actually in the regional DFO offices. A lot of those guys, the people in the DFO offices.... Let's say it's the Newfoundland region. I'll speak to that one. They actually come from fishing-related backgrounds, or some of their people are in the fishery, or they've been around the marine institute and on the vessels and the research trawlers over time. They know what the ocean environment is like. They have personal relationships with a lot of the fishing industry. That has been lost over the last few years. I think we have to get back to that and get the local knowledge there.
To me, the success of our fishing industry is all about co-operative management, right from the DFO to the industry to those who depend on the industry. That was what was happening over time. Even with the science programs, we always had our meetings over the year. We looked at evaluating the science programs. We looked at what recruitment was like and what harvest levels should be. It wasn't only us; the banks were also interested in that, very much so. They depended on a lot of those reports to look at how their lending institutions were going to divvy out money to the fishing industry. I think we really have to get back to the grassroots business for managing the fishery and for advice.
It's interesting; from the fisheries side that pretty well everybody who appeared has told the committee what they do not want, but we've been light on solutions. My concern as an east coast parliamentarian is that our consumer, the consumer we depend on in Europe and the U.S., is very conscious of what we're doing in Canada as it relates to protecting the whale. The consumer speaks. It was the consumer who ended the valuable east coast seal hunt years ago when they negatively reacted to it and closed that border.
I'll start with Mr. Chidley.
What recommendations do you give to the committee to bring back...? On the one side, our consumer, and even the Canadian public, is demanding that we not have a repeat of 2017 or anything like it. We have a number of options. We recognize that one size will not fit all. You articulated well the issue of breakaway rope and why it would not work in your environment. That's clearly understood.
I'll come back to you, Mr. Chidley, but first I want to go to Mr. Cormier on this.
Mr. Cormier, we've heard that the biology of the narwhal does not allow for current tracker technology to be attached. Am I correct? You spoke about this.