I now call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 40 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 alike.
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, and please mute yourself when you are not speaking.
For interpretation for those on Zoom, you have the choice of at the bottom of your screen of “floor”, “English” or “French”. For those in the room, you can use the earpiece and select the desired channel.
Please address all comments through the chair.
Finally, this is a reminder that screenshots or taking 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 September 20, 2022, the committee is commencing its study of the closure of the mackerel fishery in Atlantic Canada and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
I would also like to advise all members that all of the sound checks have been done for all of the witnesses. They have been working fine.
I would now like to welcome our first panel of witnesses.
We have Sebastián Pardo, sustainable fisheries coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. We are also joined by Katie Schleit, senior fisheries advisor with Oceans North. We also have Dominique Robert, professor and Canada research chair in fisheries ecology, Institut des sciences de la mer, Université du Québec à Rimouski, who is appearing as an individual,
We'll now go to opening remarks for five minutes or less.
Mr. Pardo, we'll go to you first.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before you. This is a very important study, as we need to think about how to help the people who are the most impacted right now by fisheries closures. We also need to think about how to rebuild fisheries for the future.
I have a doctorate in fisheries science and I work with the Ecology Action Centre, which is one of Atlantic Canada's oldest and largest environmental organizations. It was founded in 1971. We advocate having sustainable and resilient fisheries that support thriving coastal communities. As part of this work, we are members of the Atlantic mackerel advisory committee and have been part of the mackerel rebuilding plan working group since its inception.
Today I would like to focus on three main reasons that closing the mackerel fishery was the right decision and why it should remain closed until there are robust signs of rebuilding.
First, the best available science shows that a moratorium was the only option left to rebuild the population. Mackerel have been in the critical zone for most of the past decade. Even though a rebuilding plan was finished in 2020, none of its objectives have been met as management decisions to reduce catches prior to the moratorium have failed to encourage population growth.
Furthermore, the abundance of reproductive-aged fish in 2021 was the lowest ever recorded, and the largest and oldest fish, which produce higher numbers of eggs, have almost disappeared from the population. All these indicators are evidence of the dire state of the mackerel stock and of how the fishery closure enacted this year is the best option to encourage rebuilding.
On top of this, the Fisheries Act states that for species in the critical zone, like mackerel, conservation considerations must prevail. This closure brings management of this fishery in line with the precautionary approach, which is a cornerstone of Canada’s sustainable fisheries framework.
Second, more mackerel being seen in some regions does not mean the population is recovering. This phenomenon could be explained by reasons other than increases in mackerel numbers.
One explanation could be a behaviour well documented among many fishes, the best example being cod, in which, when fish numbers decline, some species start to school more frequently, creating the appearance of higher numbers. Another explanation is that marine species in the north Atlantic are already expanding north due to warming waters, and, for example, mackerel historically observed on the Scotian Shelf could now be seen further north in eastern Newfoundland. Preliminary research done by Fisheries and Oceans, which was presented at the last advisory committee meeting, suggests that mackerel in eastern Newfoundland, one of the regions in which they're being perceived to be in higher numbers, do not belong to a separate breeding population, as some have proposed.
All of this being said, we would welcome more resources being directed for further studies to help elucidate these unknowns.
Last, and most important is that rebuilding the fishery is the only long-term option for fishers who depend on mackerel, and they must be supported while the population rebuilds. Thousands of people across Atlantic Canada and Quebec are already undergoing financial hardship because of the closure and indeed face severe uncertainty, as it is difficult to predict when the fishery will reopen.
Unfortunately, past management decisions that have reduced catches year after year without resulting in population growth have slowly brought this hardship upon fishing communities. Rebuilding the mackerel population to a healthy level can support a thriving fishery with much higher catches than those seen over the past decade. We could have more fishers and processors making a living, and also a bait source that is more readily available.
In contrast, reopening the fishery before rebuilding would allow for limited short-term catches but would risk further depleting the population, a scenario that would prolong hardship to fishing communities.
In the meantime, it is absolutely crucial to ensure that the people directly affected, particularly small-scale fishers and plant workers who are impacted the most, have support to manage financially through these closures. It is also crucial that their coastal communities not be further impacted by lack of opportunities and that they can be ready to fish when these stocks are healthy again.
I will repeat those three reasons that the mackerel fishery should remain closed in the short-term until there are robust signs of rebuilding: One, the best available science shows that a moratorium was the only option left to rebuild the population; two, more mackerel being seen in some regions does not necessarily mean the population is recovering; and three, rebuilding the fishery is the best long-term option for fishers who depend on mackerel, and they must be supported while the population rebuilds.
In simple terms, this issue boils down to a question of values. Do we value short-term economic relief at the risk of permanent stock collapse and long-term financial hardship, or do we value the long-term sustainability of this fishery and the future of fishing communities?
Thank you very much for your time. I'm happy to take any questions.
Thank you very much for inviting me to participate today. I'm joining from Mi’kma’ki, and I'm here representing Oceans North, a Canadian charity that supports marine conservation and sustainable fisheries in partnership with coastal and indigenous communities.
I started working on mackerel in 2014 when the TAC, the total allowable catch, was set at 10 times more than DFO's scientific advice and the stock was already critically depleted. Since that time, I have been engaged in mackerel science and management alongside DFO, industry and indigenous groups in an effort to see the stock recover.
Atlantic mackerel have been critically depleted for more than a decade now, and the spawning stock biomass, or the estimate of stock abundance, is at the lowest level ever recorded. Also, while mackerel can live up to 20 years, we rarely see fish more than five years old now. This is a common feature of overfishing. Over many years, the fish that are caught get smaller and smaller. Fewer fish are also surviving long enough to reproduce.
Fisheries rebuilding is now legally required under the Fisheries Act, and mackerel are among the priority species, a move that was supported by all parties. A rebuilding plan for mackerel was released in 2020, after several years of collaboration and sincere effort from industry to recommend measures and take action to rebuild the stock. Unfortunately, a year later, we failed to achieve the lowest objective: seeing positive growth in the stock.
Oceans North is of the strong view that the minister's decision to close the commercial and bait fisheries for Atlantic mackerel in 2022 was evidence-based, difficult, but ultimately necessary.
We understand that the 2022 closure had immediate financial consequences for the industry, but while the short-term financial pain is real, it could lead to long-term gains. The benefit of a rebuilt stock is often overlooked in the economic analysis of fisheries quota reductions. In 2020, Oceans North released a cost-benefit analysis conducted by Gardner Pinfold Consulting on the economic benefit of rebuilding mackerel. It revealed that minimizing fishing could lead to benefits estimated at over $54 million. That's a 12.9% return on the investment of rebuilding the stock to healthier levels. A rebuilt stock can benefit everyone and the ecosystem.
The reliance on the critically depleted mackerel stock as bait for many in the lobster industry has been a topic of discussion between industry and DFO, the NGOs and the Marine Stewardship Council since at least 2015. One study estimates that up to two pounds of bait could be used for every pound of lobster caught. The problem isn't mackerel per se; it's the sheer volume of raw fish used.
Luckily, several companies and research institutions have been working on alternative bait products over the last several years. One study has found that an alternative bait fished just as well as traditional bait but had the added benefit of lasting longer.
We applaud the researchers and companies trialing baits that use less fish and the harvesters who are experimenting with these products. This needs to continue through increased investment in trials.
We often hear that the science isn't taking fishermen's views into account. However, industry is present for, and contributes meaningfully to, DFO's peer-reviewed assessments. DFO also established an industry-science working group for mackerel in 2020 to address gaps in science needs and observations. There were also many indigenous colleagues around the rebuilding table who strongly believed in the science and supported rebuilding actions.
It's not just DFO that's reporting similar declines. The United States, with whom we share this population, has been seeing similar negative trends. In 2020, the U.S. enacted an emergency action to drastically reduce their quota after their rebuilding plan also failed. The two countries need to continue to work together to rebuild the stock. Here at home, surveys of recreational fishers have found they have also noticed declines in fish abundance and size over time, corresponding to the scientific assessments.
The closure of the mackerel fishery was based on strong scientific evidence, fisheries observations, and DFO law and policy. Previous efforts to rebuild the stock through management measures and quota declines have failed. Closing the fishery was necessary to rebuild the stock for the future of both the industry and the ecosystem.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I am a professor and Canada Research Chair in Fisheries Ecology at the Université du Québec à Rimouski. In 2008, I defended a doctoral thesis on the ecology of the larval stage of mackerel in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, with particular emphasis on the environmental factors that regulate the survival of larvae and that are therefore responsible for the replenishment of adult stocks.
I then worked regularly on this species and participated in Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s stock assessments. I therefore believe that I have the knowledge required to comment on the ecology of the species in the context of fisheries management.
Contrary to the assessment of a number of forage species stocks in Canada, mackerel stock assessment is based on a reliable survey of adult abundance, derived from egg abundance in the egg‑laying area in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Because mackerel may alter its migration based on temperature, it is important to periodically check whether a substantial proportion of egg‑laying is occurring outside of the survey area. Over the past few years, the survey has been extended on an ad‑hoc basis to a number of areas such as the west coast of Newfoundland and the Scotian shelf, but the amount of egg‑laying outside the Gulf has always been considered negligible in calculating abundance, which has always been considered reliable.
The critical state of the stock can be attributed to two key factors: one is very high mortality in adults and the other is a low survival rate for the larvae.
Regarding mortality in adults, we estimate that, despite the substantial reduction in commercial catches in the past 20 years, when the quota went from 75,000 tonnes to just 4,000 tonnes, mortality remained too high to promote stock growth. In addition to high fishing pressure, natural mortality due to predatory fish such as bluefin tuna increased in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. There is also an indication that the stock in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is suffering from other predators, such as grey seals, of which there are 16 times more now than there were in the 1960s. Predation has therefore increased a great deal since the early 2000s.
Finally, recent studies looking at the origin of mackerel caught during the winter fishery in the U.S. showed that a significant proportion of the fish caught in the U.S. are originally from the Gulf of St. Lawrence stock. This is therefore another source of mortality that is difficult to estimate at this time.
In addition to the high mortality in adults, the decline in mackerel abundance can be explained by a decline in recruitment since the 2010s. This decline in recruitment has been traced back to environmental conditions that have become unfavourable for larvae. During the first weeks of life, the survival of the larvae depends directly on their ability to successfully feed on their main prey: zooplankton.
With the rapid increase in temperature in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, there has been a change in the development period of the mackerel’s main prey, as they now develop earlier in the season, while the mackerel’s egg‑laying period has not changed. As a result, the emergence of larvae and prey production are no longer at the same time and place, leading to recruitment failure in the past few years. The stock recovery rate will depend largely on the return to colder conditions that would promote the survival of larvae and recruitment. However, short‑term climate projections unfortunately do not point to a return to these types of favourable conditions in the near future.
Now, here are some recommendations.
The first is to maintain fishing activity at as low a level as possible until signs of a recovery in the adult stock are observed.
The second is to establish a strategy to more accurately measure mortality resulting from fishing, including baitfishing in regions where it is not mandatory to report catches, and the winter fishery in the U.S.
The third is to establish a joint management plan with the U.S., given the presence of mackerel from the Gulf of St. Lawrence in their winter fishery.
The last is to use alternative baits from the highly abundant species in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, such as redfish, until the mackerel population recovers.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
We've just heard from three witnesses who basically have all arrived at the same conclusion—that the mackerel stocks are in significant distress on the east coast—but again, Mr. Small's comments were comments that I hear from fishers as well.
My first question would be for Mr. Pardo.
Could you explain briefly the conflict between what the fishers are seeing and reporting and the scientific information whereby all three of the witnesses pretty well arrived at the same conclusion, which is that the closure is the only option to rebuild the stock?
Mr. Pardo, could you give a short answer? I have a host of questions.
Yes. Thank you for the question.
There are many reasons for this discrepancy. One is the spatial area, so yes, more mackerel might be seen in certain parts of Newfoundland waters, but we're not taking into account what's happening in the rest of the region. Also, we've heard anecdotally that in western Newfoundland, in the Gros Morne area, people are not finding mackerel there. The mackerel distribution can be patchy, and the stock assessment is truly the only way we have to assess the population as a whole.
Another discrepancy is what's called “hyperstability”. Basically, it's what happened with cod: that as abundance of the fish drops, they start schooling more, so they start appearing in certain areas and you see them. They are more abundant in that specific area, but it's not an accurate representation of the whole stock.
Also, there's climate change. We know already that fish are moving further north, so we could be seeing more mackerel at the northern end and fewer mackerel at the southern end.
It is always good to have a management plan that takes climate change into account.
However, in the case of mackerel and similar species, the variation in conditions from year to year is very difficult to predict.
Currently, the climate is tending to warm up, but there will still be years that are colder than others. These colder years will probably favour a better temporal overlap between larvae and their prey. You have to be patient and, above all, you have to leave breeders in the environment. Then, when these conditions are met, there will be sufficient egg-laying to support a large cohort.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here today.
I want to acknowledge my appreciation for being here today, and how we have an opportunity for open dialogue to hear from those who have concerns about the commercial use of mackerel and its environmental impacts. We can also hear about the concerns of commercial fishers and the long-term sustainability of their industry. I think it's important that we're not pitting one against the other and are instead talking about what the facts are and how we move together to have more sustainable fisheries and oceans.
Ms. Schleit, I appreciated your comments on the economic benefits of rebuilding mackerel and how those rebuilding efforts benefit us all in many ways, including economically. You quoted some of those numbers and the return rate of that investment. These are important things for us to consider.
Could you share a bit more, Ms. Schleit, about the working groups you were talking about, which included industry and indigenous colleagues? What is the extent of those meetings that have been happening over the years?
I'll mention that I believe it was 2015 when DFO first established a rebuilding plan working group. I believe that group met at least four times a year. Then there are also the advisory committee meetings, which normally happen once a year. Then there are also biannual stock assessments.
All of these meetings have participation from DFO science, a lot of industry members, a few NGO members and some indigenous community members. I know DFO also held special meetings with indigenous communities ahead of advisory committee meetings to further hear and share views.
This was not a difficult time. These tables were large. As I said, we started in person several times a year and then moved to virtual, and there was a sincere effort from all around the table to work on solutions together on things like whether to change the net sizes or some of the seasons.
There were a lot of solutions brought to the table that were further investigated by scientists, etc. Unfortunately, where we always ended up, based on the science advice and thorough scientific analysis, was that a reduction in the TAC was what was going to rebuild the stock.
I'd like to make a few comments for the benefit of our new witnesses.
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, and please mute yourself when you're not speaking.
There is interpretation for those on Zoom. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of “floor”, “English” or “French”. For those in the room, you can use the earpiece and select the desired channel.
I remind everyone that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses. Representing the FFAW—Fish, Food and Allied Workers—Unifor is Mr. Keith Sullivan, president, on Zoom. Representing the Regroupement des pêcheurs pélagiques professionnels du sud de la Gaspésie is Ghislain Collin, president, and Lauréat Lelièvre, commercial fisherman. Representing Inverness South Fishermen's Association is Mr. Jordan MacDougall, commercial fisherman.
Thank you for taking the time to appear today. You will each have up to five minutes for an opening statement.
I will invite Mr. Sullivan to start us off for five minutes or less.
Go ahead, please.
Thank you. I hope you're hearing me well.
On behalf of our 13,000 members in Newfoundland and Labrador, thank you for the opportunity today. It's an important topic.
The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union represents inshore fish harvesters in our province. That's 3,000 enterprise owners and probably 7,000 crew members, and we also have those who work in fish processing.
Mackerel are a primary pelagic species harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is an important commercial species with historically very extensive landings. As it is a transboundary stock with the United States, FFAW has lobbied for over half a decade with other industry members on the issue of the changing migration patterns, poor overall coverage of the science survey and the changing fishing patterns to look into science more substantially.
On March 30, 2022, DFO announced a moratorium on the commercial mackerel fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador, despite the fact that harvesters see very positive signs of growth in this stock. Harvesters did not expect this closure, especially without a commitment to increasing stock assessment surveys. For years, harvesters have suggested that DFO science is significantly underestimating the biomass of mackerel and have proposed science projects that would demonstrate what they have observed at sea, but no recommendations to work collaboratively to address this incomplete science have really been pursued.
Mismanagement of the stock has been an ongoing issue for fish harvesters in this province for years. DFO science does not have sufficient data on substantial recreational fisheries, which remain open while commercial fisheries are closed, nor on the impacts of removals of the northern contingent, or Canadian mackerel, in U.S. waters.
While the American catch was reduced in the past year, they've had a commercial fishery this year and a recreational fishery for mackerel carried on, while people were thrown out of work who depend on the resource.
FFAW has repeatedly called on DFO science to revise its approach to mackerel science so the true understanding of the size and migration of stock can be understood. Unfortunately, harvesters' experience and knowledge have been dismissed for over a decade, and as a direct result our industry has faced significant financial loss.
The closure of the mackerel fishery this year was met with widespread disappointment, as harvesters had experienced increases in catch levels compared to previous years. Since 2016, stakeholders have stated that the science is underestimating the biomass and that valuable observations from harvesters continue to be ignored in decisions. These observations indicate that mackerel are spawning in areas that are further east than current surveys that we know are in the southern gulf right now.
Expanding knowledge of Atlantic mackerel spawning behaviour is critical. The current DFO approach to assessing the size of mackerel stocks involves the survey in the southern gulf, far from other areas where people are observing signs of growth in the mackerel resource.
Mackerel harvesters have seen quite an abundance despite the declines in stock assessments. Questions regarding additional mackerel spawning sites outside the southern gulf have been repeatedly raised. Not only have harvesters seen an abundance of mackerel during the timing of the mackerel fishery, but harvesters in the southern area of Newfoundland and Labrador have seen them on the St. Pierre Bank as well.
FFAW has proposed science that would include approved sampling and data from the province, including collection over an extended time from all regions. We've had adult mackerel collected from 3Ps in June and July in 2021 by long-time fish harvester Keith Bath. Mr. Bath reported that the adult mackerel were increasingly more common in the Bank area in July, whereas in previous years they were getting mackerel in their nets in May.
Finally, harvesters all around the province, whether it's the northeast coast or southwest coast or Fortune Bay, reported seeing these very small mackerel in turr stomachs while hunting birds, for example.
Taken together, these observations suggest that mackerel are distributed in Newfoundland and Labrador waters throughout their life cycle.
At the advisory meeting last year, FFAW representatives presented ample evidence of a strong Atlantic mackerel stock and called on DFO science to revise its approach to mackerel science so that a true understanding of the size and migration of the stock can be understood. The department advised of a commercial closure in 2022.
Our interest and commitment to mackerel research goes beyond sample collection. FFAW has applied for funding to do otolith microchemistry research with DFO science and academic researchers to determine maturity. We've also done our own studies this year with FFAW fishermen, who are paying to do their own work because the department wouldn't commission it.
Our recommendation is that DFO immediately invest in expanding their mackerel science and consult with harvesters in developing this work.
I'm a commercial fisherman in Inverness South Fishermen's Association. I fish off the western coast of Cape Breton. I fish lobster, tuna, mackerel and crab.
About 15 years ago, a large body of fish would come through here and the fishers could make a partial living from this resource. Now that body of fish is no longer here. What we're finding with the biomass here is that it's small. The fishermen can't seem to get a large fish anymore, even for tuna fishing during the summer and the fall, compared to 15 years ago.
We weren't surprised to see something happen with the mackerel, but we don't know if the big body of fish has moved north—if there is a bigger body—and if it's because of water temperature. Our water is getting warmer here.
We have a large body of small mackerel here, so the future looks good.
I would like to see more science, of course, with the mackerel. The problem we worry about when they have a total closure like this is the reopening and when that will happen, what will happen and how the resource will be divided up then.
Those are our main concerns here.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good afternoon.
The Regroupement des pêcheurs pélagiques professionnels du Sud de la Gaspésie represents 23 members who have been fishing for a long time and who were hit hard by the closure of the fishery in the spring, which occurred with less than 48 hours' notice. Five of them were affected even more because of their age.
The members I represent fish for mackerel by hand or with electric systems on lines that can carry a maximum of 200 hooks. It is therefore a very selective fishery, sustainable and respectful of the environment and the marine fauna.
The logbook and the call-in are imposed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans exclusively on Quebec fishermen and seiners. Despite our representations to the Atlantic Mackerel Advisory Committee, in Halifax, where we asked that the same quick and simple controls be imposed on other provinces to provide valuable data, our requests to preserve the resource have been unsuccessful. We have heard nothing.
Given that we have followed guidelines for years and have done everything in our power to preserve the resource, we are now asking for emergency financial compensation for the costs incurred prior to the suspension of the fishery and for the loss of income that resulted from our lost fishing season. In addition, we want to be part of the discussions and meetings concerning mackerel. We also ask that access be facilitated to other abundant and lucrative species in order to overcome this crisis without asking for help and public funds for the next years.
In addition, we call for sentinel and scientific fisheries for the next few years, as well as exploratory fisheries for other emerging species, to diversify the portfolio of licences, thereby contributing to the profitability of the companies while reducing the pressure on species in need of recovery.
Finally, we call for two separate quotas upon recovery of the species, one for the hook and line fishery and one for the Atlantic dredge fishery.
In conclusion, the Regroupement does not dispute the science. We believe in the work of the scientists and we want the recovery of the resource through selective and sustainable fisheries. The Regroupement des pêcheurs pélagiques professionnels du Sud de la Gaspésie deserves to be supported by the government.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good afternoon.
As I only have a little over two minutes to paint a picture of eight months of frustration, I'll get straight to the point.
March 30, 2022, is a day that will be etched in my memory for the rest of my life, and not for the right reasons. With less than 48 hours' notice, and under the pretext that urgent action was necessary to regenerate the stocks, the mackerel and spring herring fisheries were suspended in my home region of the Gaspé Peninsula. With a snap of the fingers, about twenty fellow fishers and I found ourselves without income and without any commercial activity. Such a decision hurts. Months of work and preparation, as well as several tens of thousands of dollars of investment in our boats, have become useless.
This is where the darker part of the story begins, because what really affected us was learning that no compensation package had been prepared for us. We were left to our own devices.
Let me be clear: I am not questioning the decision to suspend fishing to regenerate the stocks, let alone the expertise of the scientists. They are doing their job and I respect that. What I am questioning is the way the federal government went about announcing it to us, when the boats were already in the water.
We are a G7 country that is supposed to provide a decent social safety net and leave no one behind. Why do we have to stand here in Ottawa eight months after the suspension of the fishery to explain to you how that sudden decision brought us to our knees? Why was there nothing ready to support us during this suspension?
We are now in November and we still have no indication, no support program, nothing at all. What we are asking for, beyond financial compensation, is predictable fisheries. To leave a whole community in uncertainty for more than eight months is inhumane.
I'm counting on you, members of the committee, to take this message to your caucuses.
Thank you for listening.
Mr. Collin and Mr. Lelièvre, greetings from my office. I know you're in Ottawa right now, but we have the Baie des Chaleurs in common.
You are talking to a fisherman's son. My father was a fisherman all his life. He fished almost every species: lobster, herring, mackerel, crab. I am very familiar with the concerns and challenges you are going through right now.
My first question for both of you is this: are you two fishermen strictly dependent on the herring and mackerel fishery, or do you do other kinds of fishing?
I understand you very well.
I want to make something clear, on behalf of myself, not other colleagues in my own party. I have met with several groups, including trade unions. I have also met with fishers' groups in my area who have also been affected by this measure. Since the closure of the fishery, I have been asking for some form of compensation, first of all for the fishers who are strictly dependent on this fishery. As you said, they are the ones affected, they are the ones we need to help. I too find it a bit of a shame that after several months there is still no appropriate support for these fishers.
You spoke earlier about scientific fishing. What kind of experimental fishing is that? I assume it would be to help gather some more data on mackerel and herring and to provide an income for the fishers affected. Is that correct?
Mr. Collin and Mr. Lelièvre, I was very moved by your testimonies, which reminded me of my story of fishing capelin with weirs, subject to a spiral of universal decisions that affected fishers of all types. It took seven meetings for Fisheries and Oceans Canada to understand that the weir fishery is distinct from what is done elsewhere.
I realize that your type of fishery is very unique, because it's a bait fishery. So it's not a massive, aggressive fishery for the resource, but a very environmentally responsible fishery. That's what I understand.
We would like to hear what you have to say about this very special fishery. Also, how do you explain the fact that you are basically the one providing data to the government?
Basically, about twenty fishermen from the Baie des Chaleurs and Miscou Island and the dredgers have to carry out these tasks.
We testified in Halifax to show how simple and quick it is. Fishers can apply these controls on the spot if their licence stipulates this. This requirement should be extended to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland fishers so that they too report their catch before returning to the dock. This would provide the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with the data it lacks.
But the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has never had the courage to impose this measure on the other provinces. All the data it uses today to determine the number of catches and to compile its data and inputs comes mainly from the small hook-and-line fishers of the Baie des Chaleurs. The industrial fishers have to report their catches, so you know, for example, that a plant in New Brunswick received so many pounds of fish. However, no one knows what a fisher sells quietly at the dock or stores at home.
It's really difficult to say.
I couldn't have guessed that the fishery would close on 48 hours' notice. Before taking any steps, I spoke to the person in charge of pelagic fishers at the group of fishers and lobster fishers. He told me not to worry and that the mackerel fishery wouldn't close, since the allowable catch rates had been set for two years. He didn't guarantee that the herring fishery would remain open, but he told me that the mackerel fishery would definitely not be closed.
So I told the young person who wanted my crab licence that he could have it, and he started the process. In January or February, he asked me to sign the bill of sale. His goal was to register 80,000 pounds of mackerel for the season.
When the fishery was cancelled, I no longer had a boat or a crab licence. I had nothing left. And he ended up with 80,000 pounds less mackerel.
The members of the Regroupement des pêcheurs pélagiques professionnels du Sud de la Gaspésie have always worked with the department and always provided it with data.
In the best of all possible worlds, we would like to be given some consideration. We would also like to see some financial assistance for fishers to compensate for their losses.
We also want to be able to engage in scientific fishing, exploratory fishing and sentinel fishing, not only to give back income to fishers, but also to keep them in the system.
If the mackerel fishery starts up again in five years, some fishers may not be around anymore, which will deprive us of their expertise. Others may not have a crew. It's a different trade than lobster and crab fishing.
This way, we'll be able to keep the businesses. The fisher helpers will continue to work with the captains, rather than leaving the sinking ship.
In the St. Lawrence, there is also scientific fishing of other emerging species. The members of the group could fish for beautiful, emerging species of fish of very good quality, which would be lucrative and would reduce the pressure on mackerel stocks for a few years.
Thank you to the witnesses for being here.
Of course, I'd also like to thank the fishers for being here and taking the time share their experience with us.
It's very important, and I thank them.
My first question is for Mr. Sullivan.
In the newest fall edition of your FFAW magazine, there was an article written by Dr. Erin Carruthers. I apologize if I'm not pronouncing her last name accurately. You mentioned the importance of expanding mackerel science. I want to quote something that she said. I believe it's a she; I apologize if not. She said that:
...a long-term commitment to document the abundance, distribution, extent, timing, and age of mackerel in NL waters is needed. Until we bring more observations and data from NL into the mackerel stock assessment, I do not see how we can reconcile these widely different assessments of the health of the mackerel stocks.
Is this also your stance? Can you share a bit about how DFO can best support fish harvesters to participate in the necessary research?
Dr. Erin Carruthers is the scientist with the FFAW who works very closely with harvesters. I think the quote was very accurate. I don't know if I could have found a better way to say it myself, so I think that's very clear and well put.
I think that the science is incomplete, not necessarily wrong. I want to interject that out of respect for the scientists who do the work. I don't mean to be really critical of their work. We just need more.
It's like you're doing a woodland caribou survey within a five-mile radius around the Eaton Centre in Dundas Square. You do the work, and you don't find caribou. There's nothing wrong with the methods; it's just that we have to look somewhere else as well if we're going to get the population of the caribou. I think that's kind of the case. I'm oversimplifying, of course, but I'm trying to point out that we're not looking at where the fish really are.
I think we really owe it to the people who depend on this fishery to understand our resource and ecosystem better in order to expand where we're doing work, particularly when we see water temperatures change and climate change documented. There are all kinds of reasons, but none better than a vast abundance of mackerel that harvesters have seen and in many ways documented.
We'll present more to DFO when we can compile all the information. Talk to harvesters and look at the methods that they can use, including acoustic work, which can be done now and, I believe, is done in other jurisdictions in the world.
There are two real concerns and irritants.
It is a transboundary stock. They are catching the same stock of mackerel in the U.S. and in Canada. Canada has traditionally harvested and depended upon this stock much more, I'd say. More of the stock resides in the area, but now, because of Canadian management, harvesters in the U.S. are building up a history of catching more, I think, just from a long-term perspective. That's problematic, and if we really believe that the stock is in that much trouble, then obviously we have to work with the U.S. to stop their fishery, I would think. That's disappointing from a Canadian perspective.
We just closed the fishery, as I said. We threw people out of work, people who have depended on this mackerel in many areas in Newfoundland and Labrador. That was the case. Obviously the counterparts we heard from today don't have an opportunity to fish, but people can go out and recreationally harvest. I understand that's important, but still, putting recreational needs ahead of people who are depending on it for their livelihoods is not the right priority listing for giving the resource to people. That has to be revisited.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, harvesters collect scientific information, much like those in Quebec, with logs. Every mackerel that comes in is documented and fully weighed and contributes to the science. People who have the privilege to recreationally fish have no requirements to do that, which is also a problem.
Yes, it's absolutely a concern, and we've seen in the past when they went out to do that survey. As we all know, the date on the calendar doesn't tell mackerel when to spawn; it's the environmental conditions, and those can change.
I understand that it's difficult to manage, but there have been concerns expressed that they're not surveying when the mackerel are most likely to be spawning, and that's been highlighted. That's one issue, I think, one gap in science that we should look to expand upon, and we should do more to make sure that doesn't happen.
I think, as I pointed out before, that we really have to look at where more of these mackerel are spawning to get a complete picture, which I think would eventually explain the massive abundance of mackerel that we're seeing off Newfoundland and Labrador as well, so I think there are a combination of things to improve the science.
Well, I'm not sure. We've offered a lot of suggestions, and so far I don't think we've been listened to very much. I think it is probably important to work with harvesters in the regions to get more information on what the makeup of the mackerel stock has been.
DFO put out a call to get samples this year, and I think they were probably surprised by just how many samples they did get—they were very easy to catch, obviously—and they just ran out of freezer space to collect those samples.
I don't know if they're prepared to do that. They're going to have to do, at the very least, something that is more robust, more dependable and more organized and invest in it, rather than just depending on the goodwill of people to collect these samples. It needs an investment and it needs to work with fish harvesters in all regions to bulk up this science.
Thank you, Mr. Hardie. That closes out our second panel for today.
I want to say a big thank you, of course, to Monsieur Lelièvre, Monsieur Collin and Mr. MacDougall. As well, Mr. Sullivan, of course, has been here so often lately that he could probably have his own access card to get in the room. Thank you to all four of you for sharing your knowledge with the committee members today. I'm sure it will help in writing a report on this very important issue.
Just for the information of committee members, I'd like to remind them that there won't be any committee meetings next week. It is a constituency week, and if you show up, you're going to be lonely.
When we reconvene on Tuesday, November 15, we will finish up the closure of the mackerel fishing study.
Again, enjoy your constituency week, and we'll see you all back here on the 15th.
As well, try to be on time for the meetings when they start, because it cuts into our time. If we're late starting, we still have a drop-dead time for ending, so we don't get as many questions in as we would like if we don't start the committee meeting on time.
Again, enjoy your week. The meeting is adjourned.