I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 42 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.
We will begin in public to hear testimony from witnesses. Following that, we will go in camera to discuss drafting instructions for the letter.
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 and please mute your mike when you are not speaking.
Interpretation is available for those on Zoom. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French. For those in the room.... There are no witnesses in the room. I know that everybody who is in the room knows how to use the interpretation.
Please address all comments through the chair.
Finally, I will remind you that screenshots or taking photos of your screen is not permitted.
Mr. Bragg, you can't take a picture and show it to your grandson.
The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website.
In accordance with the committee's routine motion concerning connection tests for witnesses, I am informing the committee that all witnesses have completed the required connection tests in advance of the meeting.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on October 4, 2022, the committee is commencing its study on the impacts of the climate crisis.
I would like to welcome our first panel of witnesses.
Representing the Government of New Brunswick is the Honourable Margaret Johnson, minister, Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries. Representing the Government of Nova Scotia is the Honourable Steve Craig, minister, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Representing the Government of Prince Edward Island is the Honourable Jamie Fox, minister, Department of Fisheries and Communities. Of course, from my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, we are joined by the Honourable Derrick Bragg, now a proud grandfather, minister, Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture.
Welcome to all four of you. Thank you for taking the time to appear today. We have up to five minutes for each of you for your opening statements.
I invite Minister Johnson to go first, please, for five minutes or less.
There you go.
Mr. Chair, that's the first time I've ever done that, as you can well imagine.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. I'm thrilled to death to join my Atlantic counterparts and to speak to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
Climate change is already affecting New Brunswick. From our coastlines to our rivers, our agricultural land and our forests, climate change is impacting the health of our environment and the well-being of all New Brunswick.
When it comes to climate change action, the province has achieved a lot over the last five years, but we still have a lot to do. We need to build on our progress to date. New Brunswickers have told us that they want healthy and resilient communities, sustainable natural environments and clean growth in a low-carbon economy. Our province has had the resources and expertise needed to make this happen. New Brunswickers must continue working together to address the urgent challenges posed by climate change and successfully act upon the opportunities presented by decarbonization, while at the same time supporting the managed transition for our existing sectors.
Our New Brunswick climate change action plan, which was released last month, builds upon our progress and lays out the steps to ensure that our province has what it needs to thrive in a resilient low-carbon economy. We're going to continue to act on opportunities to achieve our greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030, which will put us on the path to being net zero by 2050. We will also continue to take action to address the impacts of climate change and build resiliency in our communities, businesses, infrastructure and natural resources.
During the past few years, New Brunswick has seen more and more severe weather events. Fiona and Dorian were both major storms that had a direct impact on fishery and aquaculture sectors. This includes major damage to wharves, fishing and aquaculture gear, and our fishing season. The fisheries sector remains an integral component of our provincial economies, which are the lifeblood of many rural and coastal communities. In 2021 the total export value for snow crab alone and lobster in Canada was approximately $1.4 billion and $3.2 billion respectively. You can see that it has a huge impact.
In this sector, fish harvesters and processors have opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and production costs through new technologies, energy efficiency measures, fuel switching and the adoption of beneficial management practices. These practices often achieve considerable co-benefits, such as improved biodiversity, ultimately supporting reduction in greenhouse gases and their emissions, and preparing for climate change. By implementing climate smart solutions that further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, New Brunswick fishery sectors will protect the land, water and air that the sectors depend on so largely for long-term sustainability.
It is imperative that we all speak with one voice when it comes to climate change issues. Collectively with our neighbouring provinces and the federal government, we can collaborate on actions and approaches that will mitigate impacts from future storm events. A working group has been struck between the four Atlantic provinces and their federal partners to discuss the impacts from hurricane Fiona, collaborate on approaches and problem-solving, and discuss a joint approach to future weather disasters. We appreciate the openness of everyone to share their thoughts and the wisdom that we can grow back stronger than ever before.
Within aquaculture, warming waters and infrastructure impacts in shellfish are concerns that we are closely monitoring and looking to mitigate or prepare for in the future. Our finfish aquaculture sector, through advancements in containment standards and fortifying structures, led to no concerns from hurricane Fiona. We're going to build on those successes as we continue to plan for the future.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to let me share the New Brunswick perspective on the climate crisis and the impact on the fisheries and ocean sector.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will be under time because Minister Johnson just took up half of what I was going to say.
My name is Steve Craig, and I thank you for the opportunity to be with you today.
I am the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Nova Scotia, and thank you for having us. It is a pleasure to join you today to discuss some of the impacts that the climate crisis is having on Nova Scotia and on our seafood sector.
In Nova Scotia, seafood is a multi-billion dollar industry, one that employs more than 12,000 people, many in rural communities. The seafood sector is, by its nature, a coastal business and that makes it even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which is exactly what we saw with hurricane Fiona.
It has taken months to truly understand the impact of this storm on our fisheries and aquaculture infrastructure, on operations and on our coastlines. Fishing vessels stored on land were blown over. There was severe flooding in seafood processing and lobster holding facilities in this province. While most operators had generators, no one was prepared for the two- to three-week power outages. Operators ran out of fuel and couldn't get more, which put inventory of cold storage at risk.
On the aquaculture side there was damage, too, especially on our shellfish farms in northern Nova Scotia. Gear and product in the water were damaged or lost entirely, and the gear operators pulled ashore before the storm in many cases ended up washed to sea because of the storm surge unprecedented in events before.
Many of our processing plants are inches away from the shoreline. Our wharves, two-thirds of which are government-owned small craft harbours, are also susceptible to storm surges. Small craft harbours are already filled beyond capacity and we need more. As we speak today, six of them are not operational at all, and another 14 are operating at less than half of what they are supposed to be.
We are, though, thankful DFO and ACOA came to the table quickly with offers of support and commitments to repair the small craft harbours that are so crucial to our seafood sector and coastal communities.
The seafood sector is an incredibly complex seafood supply chain and we rely heavily on interprovincial trade to get our high-quality seafood to customers around the world. The transportation corridor between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is a great example. We need commitment from the federal government to help protect the Chignecto Isthmus, which connects us to our New Brunswick neighbours and the rest of Canada and the world. It is our 401 here in Atlantic Canada.
With regard to the response plan, the other thing that became apparent in the aftermath of this storm is the need for flexibility and resources to respond to events like this, to be there with support for our fish harvesters, processors, aquaculture industries and coastal communities when they need us the most.
We know that climate change is also going to impact the wild species found in Nova Scotia's waters and the way our aquaculture industry cultivates product close to our shores. We're looking to our federal counterparts to make sure the resources are in place to collect the data needed to make informed, science-based decisions about resource management.
We're also looking to our federal partners when it comes to innovation in the seafood sector. We need to transition away from fossil fuels, and programs like the Atlantic fisheries fund and the clean technology adoption program are going to continue to be really important in moving this industry along.
I know we're here today to talk about climate change and hurricane preparedness, and our focus is to make sure that we are ready for that. Making our infrastructure strong, our industries prepared and governments that can respond quickly is one of our key goals. However, I don't want to lose sight of the human side of all of this. We are talking about people's livelihoods and we're also talking about their lives. Storms are unpredictable and that means sometimes fish harvesters or processors or sea farmers need to go out in that weather to pull their gear, to check on their vessels, and maybe even to turn on the generators. They are looking to us for help, they're looking to us for leadership and we can't do that alone. We need to work together, together with my colleagues on this panel today, together with industry and together with our partners in the federal government.
Those are my initial remarks.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I can tell you one thing; I'm very disappointed. They called me at 15 minutes after 12 this morning and told me my flight was cancelled.
Anyway, I'm going to get right into it. I'm throwing away the notes here.
Fiona devastated us in P.E.I. It's just as simple as that.
We have massive coastal erosion. We have huge tracts of land where the trees have just disappeared. With our increasing winds, as winter comes, some of these trees that weren't blown over continue to blow over. We've had to mobilize shore cleanup crews. I'm thinking right now of Hebrides, where actual buildings, houses and cottages were taken right across salt marshes into coastal areas. We have wharves that have been devastated.
The federal government announced $300 million over two years. My estimate to our harbours and wharves alone is $150 million, just to get the infrastructure back up to a usable condition for next year, and I don't think that's going to happen. I think we're going to have to work with DFO, with which we have a great relationship regionally, to have some harbours and some vessels relocated to neighbouring ports so that our fishing season will continue.
Fiona caused our shellfish harvest areas to be closed through CFIA regulations and how we work with them in terms of a safe product being delivered to the economy.
We lost holding of lobster. We lost holding of oysters and mussels. We have spat on the seed side that have been devastated. We're probably looking at least at a two- to three-year recovery on that. With that alone, our losses—probably uninsurable—are somewhere in the area of $75 million, give or take, plus or minus. That was a huge impact.
Right now we've contracted barges to come in. They're off our coast working to get gear out of the water, mussel gear, mussel socks and ropes. I will have to say that this is ghost gear, in retrospect, but we're having a hard time convincing some people that this is really ghost gear.
We're already talking about climate change, but I think we also have to talk about whale remediation. I can't take the chance of fishing gear floating off our coast and having a whale or some kind of mammal get tangled up in it.
The and I have been very.... and I have talked about this. She's very supportive of what I'm saying, but this type of action is going to happen more and more. We must make sure that we have the resources in place to adapt and to help our industries when this type of stuff comes.
I will talk about gaps. We have gaps in programs that have been rolled out. The federal government announced $300 million, which we appreciate, in recovery or help assistance across the Atlantic region; however, that is not going to cover what we're going to need across Atlantic Canada.
Right now I'm talking as the chair of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and also Quebec. Aquaculture and fisheries to our region is one of the most important industries there is. Aquaculture and fisheries is the primary resource besides potatoes, our crop in agriculture, to our province. We must make sure that we have the supports in place for that.
Presently, with some of the programs that are available, P.E.I. is left out, because it does not cover companies that have over $200 million or over 20 employees. That's a great concern to us.
We are surveying right now. We're finding right now that, as I said, we have around $75 million in uninsurable losses across our total province when it comes to aquaculture and fisheries. I must put this in comparison to a farm. In the aquaculture industry or the fishing industry, we plant that stuff or we grow the species to a market. It's no different than corn in a field, potatoes in New Brunswick or bees. You just can't take these products out of the water, put them on a shelf and hold them until a storm goes by, the exact same way as corn in a field. You can't cover corn up. You have to deal with what happens when a storm hits.
The federal government, in conjunction with the provincial governments, must look at aquaculture and fisheries the same way they look at agriculture. In agriculture, we have programs available that help with crop loss. In the fisheries, we don't.
I've had this conversation with . Joyce and I have agreed that we need to look at this. Our department right now is looking at the AgriRecovery program to see if we can adapt it to the aquaculture and the fishery, which will be circulated to the Atlantic ministers, including Quebec. Then we will be presenting that to the federal government.
Climate change is real. I think it was a year and a half or two years ago that we came up with the Atlantic Canada plan. It was $750 million over five years. That was specifically to help our infrastructure, whether it be harbours or wharves, to make sure it supports a blue economy. I totally support a blue economy. I've been saying that if we do not have the infrastructure available that supports a blue economy and that is also prepared to deal with climate change and surges, we're not going to have a blue economy.
The federal government was very generous in the last budget. They gave us $300 million over two years, but that was divided over three coasts.
I am again sounding the alarm and saying that Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland are subject to climate change, in most cases more than other areas. We saw that—
Thank you very much, Chair.
I may get a little off script as well, similar to Minister Fox. The past three Atlantic ministers have explained where they have been and we are in the same place. My notes are comparable to their notes, but I can make it pretty real.
We lost something we can't get back. We lost a life in the recent event that we had on the southwest coast of our province. We had another storm some years ago—Igor—and we lost another life. For material things, no doubt we can find a way to get them back. There are programs, there's insurance and there's help from the communities.
As you would know, Mr. Chair, I live right on the Atlantic Ocean. I'm on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. In the last 58 years, I can tell you I've seen the changes that are happening on the ocean. I've seen more severe storms and warmer temperatures. I can remember seasons when the ice floes would go well south of the island of Newfoundland and beyond that out to our rigs and on to the Grand Banks. Now, we don't see ice anymore. We don't see harbours and tickles freezing over anymore. These are all good indications of warmer water temperatures.
I've seen fishing stages that were built over a hundred years ago wash out into the ocean because of the extreme high tides, not only from this event, but from previous events.
This time we were devastated on the southeast coast. Right now, we've had to remove a hundred families from their own residences and take them out. They are in a dangerous.... Some homes, as everybody would have seen, were washed out into the ocean. The recovery and the cleanup from that is ongoing as we speak. We've had some great help. The armed forces were in for a while on the southwest coast. We've had companies come in cleaning. As Minister Fox would say about the ghost gear...because we lost fishing gear.
The infrastructure along our shorelines was built many decades ago. Some of the new infrastructure withstood it really well. What was built over the years did not withstand the forces of nature this time around.
We need to look at a new approach. We can't really build wharves any higher or any farther. We can't build them inland, obviously. We live on the ocean. We make our living from the ocean. Most Newfoundland coastal communities are dependent on the ocean and many lives have been given up to the ocean. But rarely has a life that's on the land been swept into the ocean from the storm. This time, that made it real. People were there. People were watching.
I could probably go on for an hour on this, Mr. Chair, as you know. It's very personal for you. This is your own province as well.
Climate change is real. We need to work with our municipal councils, our local service districts and with small craft harbours. We need to find a way to build better infrastructure if we have to exist near the ocean, which we have to do for many decades to come. We need to find a way that is more resilient and more ready.
For the municipalities, we have to look at a way of moving some houses back from the ocean. This was quite evident on the southwest coast. Everybody saw the pictures. I saw vehicles being washed away on videos. That's amazing when you're tens of feet away from the ocean and the sea has never reached there before.
I look forward to these proceedings. I am delighted to be part of this today. I have multiple notes in front of me, so I look forward to the session going forward.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak.
Admittedly, I don't have a lot of information on Dorian, being new to this ministry, though we have looked at what has happened in the past. Relatively speaking, one of the things that I've noticed in recovery is that although we moved quite quickly, I think.... DFO came out and surveyed basically the next day. The other ministers and I were texting back and forth immediately as the storm was hitting. We were talking with the parliamentary secretary, , as well about the response and how quickly we could get some of these things happening.
Maybe I can tie this into your question about Dorian, as it relates not only to Dorian, but Noel before that, and before that, hurricane Juan. We have a history of storms increasing in severity and approaching our coastlines, of which we have 13,000 kilometres. What struck me was that, in spite of the response that we had in this storm, there seemed to be no playbook, if you will, no off-the-shelf way that we could approach what was happening.
The work under way now seems to me to be in response, and I think the work has been quite responsive. As Minister Fox mentioned, the monies aren't as great as they need to be to cover off what has to happen.
We need the ability to have guidance around the prevention and the measures around the preparation and access to subject matter experts, and funding for the guidelines and distribution mechanisms. We just need an overall playbook in what happens next. We know that an event is coming, and the severity of those events is increasing. With the current one, Fiona, the barometric pressure was the lowest on record. With the storm surge, where people had put their gear on the shores where normally it would have been okay, it was washed away because the water came up so much. We need to take a very serious look at it and have a coordinated, planned approach before an event hits.
That might tie back into your question about Dorian. I can tell you that it's an observation of mine. I asked staff what happens next. There really wasn't an answer other than that people could look at their insurance; people can go through to the next level of funding. Then, of course, there's the ACOA and the $300 million, $100 million of which was designated for Atlantic Canada fisheries. It seemed to be happening sort of piecemeal, but it was happening quickly. So, the responsiveness, I think, was there.
Ministers, thanks for coming today.
Minister Bragg, congratulations on becoming a granddad. That's great news.
Our study is meant to explore a few things including the impacts of climate change on these types of storms and how we can prepare our coastal infrastructure for future ones that are going to come.
The devastation of Fiona was real, and you've all spoken eloquently on the impacts to people, infrastructure and communities. I'm not a meteorologist, but I do read articles and reports indicating that Fiona's size was the result of warmer water temperatures. In the past, hurricanes would come from the gulf, hit the Atlantic Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean would be cool enough to remove some of the impact and the energy from the devastating force.
Thank you again for sharing your observations and first-hand knowledge of the impact on Atlantic communities you represent. Also, I appreciate that you acknowledged in your testimony the fact that climate change is real and the climate crisis is here.
My question is for Minister Craig.
Minister Craig, what do you think we need to do to better prepare our coastal infrastructure in Nova Scotia, such as small craft harbours, for future storms that will inevitably come?
Thank you, Mr. Kelloway, for the question.
I think we need to do a number of things.
First of all, we need to take an inventory of our current infrastructure and, with our assets and investments, make them as good as possible to mitigate the damage of storm surges and wind.
Storms are becoming more frequent. They are becoming more severe. Two-thirds of our wharves are under the government and one-third are not. We need to look at all of these. We need to invest in the studies. We need to ensure we take the measures the engineering indicates. Maybe the engineering says it has to be three times what it is now. Well, let's build it five times, okay, because this is very unpredictable.
We also need to invest in what I call the state of good repair. We need to ensure we have something that is going to be well maintained.
We need to prepare our coastal infrastructure, use the science to make evidence-based decisions, determine where we are vulnerable, invest to adapt the impacts of the climate change, and then learn and apply what we are seeing.
One of the fishermen I talked with, as well as the fish plant owners, after Fiona said, “You know what, we're learning every time a storm hits us. We're taking some measures, but we don't know what's going to happen next and we do need government help.”
I would suggest to you, sir, that we do need some investment here. I know my colleagues and I are prepared to work hand in glove with the federal government to ensure this happens.
I would like to thank the witnesses who are with us today. They are making a generous gesture, as their time is valuable, I am sure. We are grateful to them.
In Quebec, we also have a concern in this regard. Hurricane Fiona hit the Magdalen Islands very hard. We are also sensitive to the realities that our witnesses are experiencing, since they are directly related to ours.
We are also concerned about the small craft harbours and the port of Cap-aux-Meules in the Magdalen Islands. They too have problems, and urgent action is needed.
Ms. Johnson, how much of the overall investment could be directed to the restoration and maintenance of small craft harbours in the total budget dedicated to climate change?
Do you have any idea how much of that budget you would need, back home?
Thank you for the question.
I'm hesitating on the actual percentage, because the impact that New Brunswick received as a result of Fiona was disproportionate when you compare it with what the other three Atlantic provinces did receive. However, the impact to small harbours was large. We are looking for help from DFO in doing some repairs. I don't have an actual percentage of that at my fingertips right now, but I can get it.
I can't tell you how proud I am of the fishermen we do have, who rose to the occasion and made sure they got their gear out of the harbour before the storm hit. But if you talk to them, they talk about the impact of wind and wind direction, and the fact that we were so fortunate to have the winds acting in our favour.
So we had less impact here. I don't have a percentage at my fingertips. I'm very sorry.
Welcome to the ministers who are here today, and thank you for taking the time to come to talk to us about this important topic.
First, I know it's been a few months since this occurred, but I want to express my deep empathy for everything that occurred on the east coast. I'm sure my colleagues are sick and tired of hearing me say it every time an east coaster is here, but my roots are from Newfoundland. My home is now on the west coast, and it's clear that the impacts of climate change are going to continue to impact us all.
I'm happy we're talking about the specifics of what occurred with hurricane Fiona and learning from that, because the reality is that as we're talking about hurricane Fiona, inevitably another storm is brewing.
My mind is going to the challenges that we're currently facing and how we move forward, so I'm grateful that we have you here today. The reality is that we need all levels of government working together to address these impacts.
I'm a bit of a visual person, so I'm looking at all of this from the lens of prevention, the response and then, of course, cleanup.
With my first line of questioning, I want to focus predominantly on the prevention side of it.
Minister Craig, you spoke a little bit in relation to my colleague MP Kelloway's question, but I wanted to put this to Minister Johnson first perhaps.
In your position—of course, I am on the federal side right now—what is your experience as far as what you perceive to be any gaps in support from the federal level is concerned—gaps in communication or gaps in a climate plan? What are the top three things we could be working on at the federal level to better work alongside you to begin addressing future climatic events such as hurricane Fiona?
We're very hopeful that the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is going to be supportive of the eastern fisheries. As Minister Craig indicated, our biggest request is for the science to help us look at things like the impact of climate change on our current coldwater species and the sustainability of those going forward.
With respect to assessing the damage to future stocks, a lot of the time we look at the damage that is happening right now and we don't think about the fact that we have young stock that's going to be impacted, and that we won't actually see the direct impact of that for a couple of years when those species grow.
We would like to do some more science to assess water temperature changes and the effects on species distribution, retention and the presence in future of pests. We want to look at water temperatures and flood mapping and modelling to assess future impacts on seafood processing and wharf infrastructures.
We really need the help of the department to look at the science-based policies and the science-based decisions we're going to require, because we recognize that things like Fiona and Dorian are a part of our future. They're not something we can run away from. We recognize that catastrophic events like these are going to be part of our future, and we need to be looking at how best to mitigate them.
I think Margaret covered most of it, but for sure science is very important when it comes to what's happening with climate change. We are adapting in our province, as I said previously. We've gone into more flood-risk mapping.
In terms of our municipal infrastructure, when we build any municipal infrastructure now, we take into account the one in 100-year storms that are more common than ever before. We develop berms around certain buildings for protection. We install bigger culverts. Our engineers are always thinking, “We have to go bigger; we have to go bigger.” As Minister Fox said, when you look at the infrastructure of wharves, they need to be three feet higher. Well, when we look at our culverts, they need to be at least 30% larger.
Then we do a lot of work in anticipation. Thankfully, we have good, good people who monitor the weather systems we have. I guess we do have some knowledge ahead of time that there's a storm heading our way, but we never know exactly what the effect of it will be. Fiona was the latest example of that. You would have heard interviews with people in Port aux Basques the day before Fiona, when they said, “We're used to wind. We've seen wind. We've seen wind 130, 140 kilometres before. It's no big deal.” No one knew what the ocean was going to throw at them this time. It has frightened people. They're afraid to go back to live where they once were. We are moving people out of these areas because of the risks for the future.
In all of our coastal communities we have to encourage municipalities to consider these larger storms with respect to any building along the coastline now. We need good, scientific knowledge to bring to the municipal world as well.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
In the wake of a storm and the aftermath of a storm, there's an old expression that seems most appropriate right now: Many are those who curse the wind, but what real leaders do is adjust the sails. We have a lot of cursing of the wind. We hate what's happened.
We don't like the storms, but I think there are two ways of doing this. Either we can adjust, we can adapt and we can mitigate, or we can just choose to continue to curse the wind, increase taxes and hope for something to get better.
I think the best approach is strategic investment. That's what I'm hearing from you witnesses here. It's strategic investment in key areas of infrastructure to get our coastal communities up to speed and bring the wharves and infrastructure where they need to be so that they're ready for future storms, which are inevitable and are going to be coming, no matter how much we want to curse the wind.
Minister Fox, I know that you've put in a lot of work around some infrastructure planning for the future and what it's going to require. Can you speak to that briefly here in my remaining time?
I thank all the ministers for being with us today. We are happy to see them.
Ms. Johnson and those who know me know that I come from a coastal community, a fishing community. My father was a fisherman his whole life. Having spent a lot of time on the docks, I know how important small craft harbours are to communities.
Before I begin, I'd like to put the numbers in perspective. Everybody likes numbers. In your discussions, it will be very important for you to consider what has been done.
From 2006 to 2015, under the former Conservative government, $499 million was invested in small craft harbours in Atlantic Canada over a nine-year period. On average, this represents $55 million per year.
From 2016 to 2022, under the Liberal government, $884 million was invested in small craft harbours in Atlantic Canada over a six-year period. On average, that's $147 million per year.
We are obviously not here to determine which government did the most and which did the least. What we want to see is even more money invested in small craft harbours in every region.
Ms. Johnson, since you are a New Brunswick native, I will definitely ask you some questions.
Have you assessed the damage that the ports in your area have suffered? I know that is usually the responsibility of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but you may have done an estimate on your end.
We know that southeastern New Brunswick was hit harder than northern New Brunswick, although there was damage there, as well.
What's your estimate on that?
What should we do to help coastal communities as quickly as possible?
That's a very good question, Mr. Cormier.
The morning after the storm, I was on the phone immediately with the fishers, whether it be aquaculture or oyster or whatever sector we were dealing with, to see what the damage and impact was to our fishermen.
I have not been up to the north yet to see what the damage was to small harbours. However, they've sent me lots of pictures. There are some who are in dire need up in the Baie du Vin area where we have some stuff that requires serious attention.
Minister Craig talked about the fact that we have some processing units in the southeast where the waters came right up to the doors. Bless their hearts, it didn't manage to get in, so they've done very well.
None of the monies have come forward yet. We're working with the federal government to assess how much money is going to be required to bring these things up to scratch and to get them in a position where they're going to be safe.
Earlier, you spoke briefly about science. In your opinion, more scientific studies should be done, especially in the area of fisheries. I agree with you on that.
I don't want to take the blame away from the federal government or Fisheries and Oceans Canada, but you are probably aware that the climate change funding that you mentioned earlier comes from carbon pricing or the price on pollution.
If memory serves, New Brunswick has received $170 million over the past three years. This money is given directly to the province to do with as it pleases.
According to the figures, a large portion of that money, 87%, was given to New Brunswickers in the form of tax cuts. This money could also be used to develop science programs in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada or the federal government.
Do you agree that a portion of the funds could be used to establish such programs?
As all the members and ministers here today have said, we need to work together to get more scientific studies done on fish stocks. In addition, we need to build infrastructure that is more resilient to climate change than the existing infrastructure.
I will make a few comments for the benefit of the 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. Please mute your mike when you are not speaking
For 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, of course you can use the earpiece and select the desired channel as we've always done. I will remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
I would now like to welcome our witnesses. Representing Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation, we have Ariel Smith, coastal and marine team lead. Representing the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, we are joined by Molly Aylward, executive director; Mitch Jollimore, fisherman; and Gerard Watts, Covehead Harbour Authority.
Thank you for taking the time to appear today. You each have five minutes for an opening statement.
Ms. Smith, when you're ready, you can lead off with five minutes or less, please.
I'd like to thank the committee for inviting me to present today. I'm grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts and concerns on behalf of Coastal Action as related to the impact of the climate crisis in Atlantic Canada.
I'm the coastal marine lead at Coastal Action. Coastal Action is a charitable organization in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, that believes in safeguarding a healthy environment for future generations through research, education, action and community engagement.
Abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear, known as ghost gear, is a persistent environmental problem. Making up 60% of macro marine debris, ghost gear impacts marine habitats, causes entanglements and breaks into microplastics. Climate change and severe storms have a direct impact on the creation of ghost gear in Atlantic Canada. Already affected by hurricanes each year, as we know, the region is vulnerable to severe weather events that threaten our coasts and livelihoods. With annual storms only increasing in severity, the opportunities for fishing gear to be lost at sea are amplifying.
Ghost gear can be generated in a myriad of ways, including unfavourable environmental conditions, gear conflicts, poor gear condition and inappropriate disposal at sea. Such conditions as high-intensity wave action, tides, currents and bottom type can cause losses by damaging or severing gear. Inappropriate disposal of fishing gear at sea takes place when unwanted gear is abandoned. This may be due to the burden of hauling gear to shore when there is a lack of accessible drop-offs and gear returns on land.
Coastal Action has done ghost gear work since 2020, and is supported by DFO's ghost gear fund. We've retrieved gear from Yarmouth to Lunenburg and in the Minas Basin. During our 2022 season, our team retrieved over 17 tonnes of debris from the ocean and close to five tonnes of gear from shorelines. Eight commercial fishers conducted 70 days of retrieval from mid-September to early November. Our field techs collected high-quality data on bycatch and gear types and weight. Fishers provide us with invaluable knowledge on retrieval areas and connect us with other captains in their communities.
Gear that cannot be returned to owners is repurposed, recycled or disposed of responsibly. In addition, we are piloting the recycling of four tonnes of end-of-life fishing rope into synthetic diesel fuel. Our team has developed communication content and published articles to describe findings to industry, government and the public. Prevention and stewardship are woven into this work. Each year more captains are joining the project as knowledge of the issue spreads. As a result, where once the fishing community felt hesitant, they are now actively part of the solution.
Climate-related events will further impact ghost gear abundance over time, which means that continued effort in Atlantic Canada is needed. For example, we are currently working in Cape Breton under DFO's hurricane Fiona relief to conduct ghost gear cleanups at shorelines hardest hit by the storm.
Recycling ghost gear is in its infancy, specifically for end-of-life rope. In 2020 we set up nine rope collection bins at wharves across Nova Scotia, and in a matter of weeks they were overflowing. This points to strong support for a rope collection system where fishers can drop off rope rather than haul it to the landfill or have it end up at sea. Coastal communities have expressed a keen interest in the project that would collect and recycle gear, but there's little support long-term.
To close the ghost gear loop in Canada, more support is needed for new recycling initiatives. Opportunities are present outside of Canada; however, supporting efforts within the country will build capacity, strengthen community efforts and reduce carbon emissions. Ghost gear will continue to put a strain on waste management if efforts are not made to develop a circular system.
Community groups and environmental non-profits like Coastal Action have been dedicated to the issue of ghost gear. Efforts are becoming more effective, but there is more work to be done. The climate crisis will continue to impact our coasts if action is not sustained. As stakeholders focus on retrieval and recycling efforts, we must also see the connection between ghost gear and the protection of shorelines through nature-based infrastructure. Such infrastructure, that works with our coastal environments rather than working against them, is vitally important. There are many opportunities to build resilience across sectors and implement solutions, but we must act fast to protect our vulnerable coasts.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. Thank you for the invitation to speak here today. I have appearing with me, Mr. Mitch Jollimore, who is a fisherman entrepreneur, as well as Mr. Gerard Watts, a representative from the Covehead Harbour Authority.
The P.E.I. Fishermen's Association was created in the 1950s to approach the federal government with one united voice. The PEIFA has evolved alongside the DFO to create the well-established working relationship that we still maintain today. The PEIFA represents approximately 1,275 core fishers.
Our goal here today is to focus on the impacts of Fiona on fish harvesters and on fisheries infrastructure as it relates specifically to Prince Edward Island.
The province of P.E.I. was heavily impacted by Fiona. The province had widespread power outages, with more than 85% of the province without power immediately following the storm. Some households and businesses were without power for almost three weeks.
We would like to commend the frontline responders and military for their hard work in the aftermath cleanup and restoration of power to the province.
Fisher harvesters in P.E.I. were significantly impacted by the storm. Several fisheries were still active, including the fall lobster fishery in LFA 25, tuna, halibut, rock crab and fall herring. The fall lobster fishery had untended gear in the water which was directly exposed to the full impact of the storm.
In the lead-up to the storm, captains worked to prevent and minimize damage to their fleet. Although every effort was made, the storm, as we know, was unprecedented.
In LFA 25, lobster harvesters experienced significant impact to onshore facilities, gear and revenue. For example, harvesters experienced lost and/or damaged gear. What was found showed significant signs of weathering. Extra time and expense were required to locate or repair missing gear. Catches were impacted, as lobsters do not trap well after such a storm and, in many cases, they were fishing with fewer traps.
For those who are dependent on employment insurance, a reduction in revenue and/or fishing time may impact qualifications. Overall, annual revenue for fish harvesters was impacted. This creates a hardship, especially for new entrants to the fishery. New entrants typically carry a higher debt load, making it more difficult to meet financial commitments.
It's unknown at this time what the impact is on the lobster habitat. However, the PEIFA, through the climate action fund, has commissioned two studies that look at the impacts of climate change on lobster and sediment transport. These are two issues that have been raised by fish harvesters and have been underscored by this unprecedented storm.
Specifically, one project is a climate change risk assessment to lobster. This study is being conducted in each of the P.E.I. LFAs. The work includes interviews and workshops with fishers, scientists and climate scientists to understand the pathway in which lobsters may be affected by climate change and how climate change may improve or degrade lobster survivability in P.E.I.
The results show that while climate change may in fact improve lobster survivability in the near term, certain aspects of climate change, such as extreme weather events or heat, are likely to negatively impact lobster in the future. The final report is not out yet, but is expected in the coming month.
The second one is a climate change study on impacts to sediment transport near small craft harbours in P.E.I. This was commissioned because of concerns over dredging requirements at small craft harbours. The study will include some sediment transport modelling at two small craft harbours, Skinners Pond and North Lake, and that will be used to estimate the impact of climate change on sediment transport. The results of the modelling will be used as a case study to understand potential impacts, and this is due out in 2023.
In the aftermath of the storm, there were requirements for lost fishing gear to be recovered and brought to shore through LFA 25. This challenge was met by members of the Prince County Fishermen’s Association and the PEIFA. Numerous boats retrieved lost equipment on the ocean surface or grappled for gear on the ocean floor over three days. A total of 35 volunteers worked hand in hand with DFO C and P, resulting in an orderly and impactful equipment recovery.
Although the lobster industry suffered the greatest impact, other fisheries were also impacted. There were delays in getting boats back on the water to resume fishing. Channels were inaccessible due to sediment buildup. There was a lack of ice to properly maintain catches, as well as a host of other issues with gear and onshore facilities.
In addition to the impact on the fisheries, there is a clear understanding that the rebuilding of wharf infrastructure is critically important and needs to be a primary focus. There are two wharves that are non-operational in P.E.I., Covehead and Stanley Bridge, a further nine wharves that are only partially operational and several others that have damage but are still operational.
This situation presents many significant challenges, including repairing existing infrastructure and properly improving vulnerable areas. We have aggressive timelines since the largest fishery on Prince Edward Island will commence in the spring of 2023, just six months away with the Canadian winter in between.
We commend the government for quickly announcing funds to assist the fishery. Three-hundred million dollars was announced, with a focus on repairing and enhancing the infrastructure at wharves. This is a good start. However, it is expected that the cost for repairs and upgrades will be substantially greater.
The damage experienced in P.E.I. from this category 2 storm was unprecedented. Should we get a category 4 or category 5 storm with the infrastructure we have, we would be wiped out. Moving forward, we need to prevent that by fixing what needs fixing and reinforcing what we have.
We look forward to working with all levels of government and to ensure our infrastructure is in good repair and ready for the future.
That's my point. Currently, our government announced $1 billion to be prepared to get the bills from the provinces from this latest hurricane. We've announced $300 million for small craft harbours, which, to be clear, as we've said, is the first instalment. We know the bill is going to go higher.
The reality is that in my area we can't pivot on a dime. One of the areas that affects rebuilding is that of the different jurisdictions. Environmental permits are under the provincial government and they can delay, delay, delay. I was frustrated by a number of projects in my riding that were delayed because of the lack of approvals. We really need to have all departments come together and be prepared to move a lot faster than they've done in the past. We're all guilty of that, but the money is there. Getting projects under way will be the slow part.
I want to change my questions, because we've had a really good assessment of what the damage is, but nobody so far, including the four ministers who appeared, has presented this committee with what the challenge confronting governments is on dealing with climate change. We have a lot of climate change deniers who anticipate that you can do away with climate change with no cost.
My question is for Ariel.
Is there a cost to climate change? Can you deal with climate change with no costs impacting individuals? Give a short answer.
I thank the witnesses again. We are very pleased to have you with us.
I obviously want to talk to you about Quebec and its problems. However, you represent other regions that are still facing the same problems. Indeed, there is a major climate shock. Hurricane Fiona has also hit the Magdalen Islands very hard. They are your neighbours and, probably in some respects, your collaborators because of the processors and some exchanges of expertise. I know that the Magdalen Islands have a good relationship with most of you.
Shoreline erosion, climate change, storms and hurricanes threaten even the Magdalen Islands with extinction. The maritime provinces will be next. So the situation is very serious. Right now, we are obviously discussing a quick fix.
My father, who is an experienced sailor, would say that this is a poultice on a wooden leg. We're urgently discussing quick fixes to get you back to fishing. I think that's very commendable. It is imperative for you to have funding that will enable you to get back to the sea and back to fishing.
On another note, I would like to get your impression of where the government is going right now in putting more money into oil, for example, in Bay du Nord or the Trans Mountain project.
Shouldn't we be taking that money to start a green shift that would make your fishing operations more climate proof and do more to fight climate change? Do you think the government is doing enough to fight climate change?
My question is for Ms. Smith and Mr. Watts.
Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to make sure it was being addressed.
Thank you very much to the witnesses for being here today.
My understanding of why we're here today, and of the motion put forward around the study, is that we're here to learn not just about the impacts of hurricane Fiona—the costs, the damages, the impacts on human life and all of that—but also from these impacts. The reality is that we are in a climate crisis. We're feeling the impacts of the climate crisis. That was the reason that in my questions for the ministers I was talking specifically about that. We continue to experience the impacts of the climate crisis and then try to put band-aid solutions in response to the climate crisis. That doesn't actually help us in any way, because we need to be making some big changes in order to reduce the rate of extreme weather patterns that we're seeing.
To my mind, with the impacts we're seeing right now, our taking this time to look at it is an opportunity for us to discover how we can do things differently. I appreciate the term nature-based infrastructure that was used by Ms. Smith. I've been referring to it as green infrastructure, but we're all talking about the same thing. I would like us to be able to build on that in order to understand not only how we mitigate the impacts of it but also how we create infrastructure that will reduce the impacts moving forward, and of course the damages that we've already created.
I could go on for six minutes on a tangent on this all alone, but I don't want to do that, because I want to hear from you all.
Ms. Smith, you started to touch on this in relation to a question from my colleague Madam Desbiens. Can you expand a little bit further on what you see as effective nature-based infrastructure that we could be putting in? Can you speak a little bit to the ghost gear, the impacts of the ghost gear, and how we can do things differently around that? I'm trying to understand your thoughts on that a little bit more.
Thank you for the question.
Yes. I think there are two things that have been working very separately right now. What Coastal Action is trying to do is connect these issues. On the issue of ghost gear, we see that right now it's very reactive. It's about retrieving gear from the ocean and cleaning it up from our shorelines. We're not thinking about a closed-loop system and solutions that could work in tandem as we're cleaning up this gear.
You mentioned nature-based infrastructure. That's one way in which we can help protect our coasts and help our wharves from losing gear. A lot of the gear is there, close to the coastline, and it can be lost in severe weather events. We want to see the protection of our coasts. Green infrastructure works with the existing coastline and the existing environment so that it kind of absorbs that rather than bounce it back and cause more issues. We're working with nature to help us through these issues.
The issue of ghost gear in Atlantic Canada still needs more support. It's in its infancy in terms of knowing what is out there and knowing the hot spots. Our hope is to have more funding from DFO—long-term funding, year after year, not just small yearly or short-term contracts—for long-term, sustainable solutions so that we can work with the fishing industry and work with captains to help prevent this, help work on the recycling end of things, and work on the solutions that are not just reactive.