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Results: 1 - 15 of 4853
View Ken McDonald Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Ken McDonald Profile
2022-06-21 11:03
I call the meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 30 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on February 1, 2022, the committee is resuming its study on science at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
This meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of November 25, 2021. For those participating by video conference, when you are ready to speak, click on the icon to activate your microphone and please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your microphone should be on mute. For interpretation, you have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French, and I'll remind everyone that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
I'd now like to welcome our witnesses for today.
From the Atlantic Groundfish Council we have Kris Vascotto, executive director. From Bait Masters, we have Mark Prevost, president. Wally MacPhee, who is vice-president, is joining as we speak. From the Gulf Nova Scotia Fishermen's Coalition, we have Leonard LeBlanc, professional adviser. From Ocean Choice International, we have Carey Bonnell, vice-president, sustainability and engagement.
Can we say before we start that, if we are interrupted by a vote, we will plan to do it virtually on the phone and then when we all get it done we can continue on so that we are not so long?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Okay. That's perfect.
We'll begin now with Kris Vascotto from the Atlantic Groundfish Council for opening remarks.
Please go ahead for five minutes or less.
Kris Vascotto
View Kris Vascotto Profile
Kris Vascotto
2022-06-21 11:05
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
On behalf of the Atlantic Groundfish Council and its members, I would like to thank the committee for the invitation to appear on this important study.
The council represents the greater than 100-foot groundfish enterprise allocation holders in Atlantic Canada. Members harvest over 45,000 tonnes of wild groundfish annually, supporting thousands of jobs at sea and on shore. Member enterprises are critical to the rural and coastal economy in Atlantic Canada.
The AGC coordinates Marine Stewardship Council sustainability certifications and fishery improvement projects for many fisheries. These programs provide premium market access by providing evidence that these fisheries are managed sustainably and supported by high-calibre science advice.
The primary goal of DFO science is to provide advice to inform transparent decision-making by the minister. Work conducted by DFO scientists is vetted and translated into stock management advice through the Canadian science advisory secretariat. The CSAS peer-review model is the envy of fisheries science processes internationally. When functioning properly, it delivers balanced, transparent and verifiable advice. While individual reviews may have challenges, this is not indicative of broad failures of the directorate. The AGC believes CSAS is well suited to its core purpose.
Our concerns with departmental science are directed at the inputs necessary for success and focus on fundamental fisheries science. Improvement requires attention to key areas, including stakeholder involvement, survey reliability, balanced investment, stock assessment capacity and objective peer-review processes.
Including industry and other stakeholders in the science review process is key to robust outcomes and broader acceptance of science advice. Industry brings a unique historical and current perspective often unavailable to departmental scientists, ENGOs and academic representatives, all of whom are experts in their own right. Industry participation creates an environment that leads to further co-operation and collaboration among these groups. Given that the data used in science assessments is often collected by industry, our inclusion is a necessity, and disallowing this participation will result in significant lost knowledge.
Delivery of information via complete scientific surveys is a necessary component to the provision of robust science advice. The capacity of the Canadian Coast Guard to reliably deliver the necessary platform to collect this information has been challenged by a combination of aging vessels, deployment scheduling and new vessel failures. Multi-year gaps in survey coverage are now becoming the norm. This has undermined DFO's ability to ensure that information collected on new vessels is comparable with those of the past, jeopardizing decadal time series.
Poor research vessel fleet management leads to less certainty on stock status, unknown stock trends and increasingly erratic advice. Fixing this problem must be a priority.
Core areas necessary for good fisheries management, including stock assessment science, have been overlooked or remain underfunded. Recent staffing efforts focused on populating new programs have resulted in a drain from existing ones. This means more vacancies in key stock assessment positions and gaps in analytical capacity.
Concurrently, DFO has increased the reliance on these same under-resourced work units. Legislated requirements and highly technical stock assessment frameworks mean stock assessment scientists are now being tasked to do more with fewer resources. Priorities are routinely dropped and shifted to accommodate new requests. Balanced investment is needed.
Becoming a proficient stock assessment scientist requires years of training, which is offered at a limited number of postgraduate institutions. Some skills can be learned over years of on-the-job experience and with mentorship from existing experts. Creating an environment where institutional knowledge can be passed to the next generation of stock assessment experts should be fostered by the department, alongside employee retention strategies to keep newly developed expertise in stock assessment positions.
CSAS reviews are often populated by personnel from within the local work unit, creating an environment of positive reinforcement and precluding fulsome review. External reviewers are increasingly difficult to identify, because of time demands, limited expertise and a lack of compensation. This creates an environment of cursory reviews as opposed to the scrutiny envisioned by the CSAS structure.
Input received by the department from reviewers during the assessment process can be challenging to record and action, because of significant delays in providing documents for participant review. Improved rigour of the CSAS process can be achieved by providing financial compensation to reviewers and improving the timelines for the review and posting of the materials arising from CSAS processes.
Stock science advice has a level of uncertainty, which is considered and incorporated when harvest management strategies and harvest control rules are developed through advisory and science processes. Once agreed, these harvest control rules provide future predictability on quota change and future harvest decisions.
With increasing frequency, ministerial decisions are departing significantly from this process, promoting arbitrary reductions in the absence of established scientific process or support. This must be addressed.
We ask that you consider the key recommendations presented in our submitted brief, as we feel that they are integral to improving the development, communication and utilization of scientific advice.
The importance of robust science has never been higher. We are in a period of profound change in the marine environment, driven by the large-scale forcing of climate change. Reliable scientific advice is key in ensuring that the oceans of tomorrow, while different from those of today, will remain a sustainable source of the low-carbon protein needed to feed a growing world.
We thank you for considering our input and welcome any questions or comments.
View Ken McDonald Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Ken McDonald Profile
2022-06-21 11:10
Thank you.
We'll now go to Mr. LeBlanc for five minutes or less, please.
Leonard LeBlanc
View Leonard LeBlanc Profile
Leonard LeBlanc
2022-06-21 11:11
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. With my family tree having Canadian Mi’kmaq and Métis, I would like to recognize today as being National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Mr. Chairman, it's a pleasure to appear before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, as I have done previously on different occasions. My name is, as you mentioned, Leonard LeBlanc. I was a harvester for 36 years, and president of our association for over 40 years. This past March, I stepped down as president of the Gulf Nova Scotia Fishermen's Coalition, but remain as an adviser.
During all these years, I've lived through different life cycles of science. Harvesters used to view science as a tool to control their participation in the fishery and their livelihood. There was little trust in science. If we go back in history, there was a time when fishermen were not permitted to attend meetings with DFO; only buyers were allowed. These things change, doors open and here we are now. I am here to state before you that history has evolved and changed for the best interests of all.
In my early years as president of our association, I took it upon myself to study the management of the fisheries, and quickly realized that science could be a valuable asset to advance positive changes in all fisheries and ensure sustainability.
I'll give you a brief description of my thought process. When I was fishing lobster in the eighties, we could barely make enough revenue to qualify for EI. After the cod moratorium, we quickly realized that we needed to have a greater say in the management of our fisheries. We spent over a year looking at changes that we could implement to increase our lobster landings and revenue.
A committee was brought together, which included Pictou Landing First Nation, the provincial government and DFO management and science. We built our own management plan, entirely based on science, which allowed the harvesters to be more involved in science and to build a better relationship with it. The result was increasing the minimum carapace size and reducing our fishing effort to increase egg production. We expanded the carapace size by a total of 15 millimetres over time, which was a significant increase. However, because harvesters were involved in the science process, they knew that this was what was needed. Harvesters are now having their EI clawed back, which is not a bad thing, and our fishery is far more sustainable than ever it was before.
DFO science has improved over time. Some of us have been selected as external experts in scientific peer reviews. The Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, of which I am the managing director, is working collaboratively with DFO on a five-year scientific exercise to study a scallop buffer zone marine refuge area. It's figure one. This area was used in the calculation of the marine protected area.
This project aims to increase the monitoring capacity within Canada's marine refuges to fill in critical knowledge gaps, so that effective conservation measures can be implemented to protect our marine environment. This is an example of a mutually agreed-to process by industry and DFO, which would not have happened in the past.
In addition to this massive project, the Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board collaborates with DFO on many other science ventures, including a salinity and water temperature study, lobster recruitment research, a lobster moult cycle project and much more. DFO must take into consideration the capacity that the fishing industry can add to its data collection. Science is now our strongest ally. Without it, this fishery and industry would only be a small fraction of what it is today.
In conclusion, DFO must have sufficient financial resources to conduct its work. Previous governments have devastated DFO's science budget. This cannot happen again, because the fish, the fishermen, the economy and the environment will lose. DFO's decision to close the herring and mackerel fisheries this spring without a science-based rebuilding program bewildered many in the industry. This fishing community must be further integrated into the process.
Thank you for the invitation.
View Ken McDonald Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Ken McDonald Profile
2022-06-21 11:15
Thank you for that.
We'll now go to Mr. Bonnell for five minutes or less, please.
Carey Bonnell
View Carey Bonnell Profile
Carey Bonnell
2022-06-21 11:15
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
Ocean Choice International shares the standing committee's keen interest in science at the DFO. Ocean Choice is a family-owned and operated Newfoundland and Labrador seafood company started over 20 years ago by brothers Martin and Blaine Sullivan from the southern shore, an area of the province with deep roots in the fishery.
Today, Ocean Choice is a global seafood company with extensive harvesting and processing assets throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada. Our success relies both on the inshore fishery, buying and processing raw material from approximately 1,900 independent harvesters, and on the offshore fishery through company-held quotas. Through this, we employ over 1,700 people from over 300 communities.
We are focused on employing best practices to reduce our environmental impact. We use modern processing and harvesting technology and innovative fishing gear to improve our sustainability and reduce our carbon footprint. For example, in 2020, we launched the only “green class” designated vessel in the Canadian groundfish fleet.
We are responsible for delivering wild, low-carbon, sustainable protein to the world, and it's certainly our responsibility to make sure it's available for current and future generations. Over 90% of our harvest is covered by the gold standard Marine Stewardship Council's sustainability certifications for certified fisheries and through fishery improvement projects. We invest in the collection of marine data for scientific research for DFO scientists. We fund an industry research chair in fish stock assessment at the marine institute of Memorial University, which has grown into a nucleus of training for next-generation stock assessment scientists for the department. This is really a great example of how collaborative research should be conducted.
This leads me to the focus of today: the state of fisheries science at the DFO. There is little doubt that the Government of Canada has significantly elevated investments in DFO science. However, we are concerned that these investments have primarily been to support ocean science—such as funding to support marine conservation targets, marine mammal research, etc.—as opposed to its capacity and expertise for commercial stock assessments.
While investment in ocean science is critical to monitor the health of our oceans, it is high-quality stock assessment science that ensures the sustainable and optimal utilization of Canada's fish stocks.
In our view, it is deeply disappointing that stock assessment science has not seen a comparable infusion of funding, even though demands for government-required rebuilding plans, as well as sustainability certification supports, have grown exponentially over this same time period.
Coupled with capacity challenges in science staff, alarming gaps are emerging in the DFO's multispecies fisheries vessel survey program, which provides the basis for stock assessment science. For example, in 2021, the entire multispecies spring and fall surveys were missed for NAFO divisions 3LMNO off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. This, coming off the back of a fully missed survey year in 2020 due to COVID-19, has resulted in two full years of missed data for a multitude of indices.
The 2022 spring survey for this area appears to also have been largely missed, resulting in, potentially, an unprecedented three-year gap in coverage, which is completely unacceptable.
The implications of this situation are massive for the Canadian seafood sector as these surveys are the basis for responsible fisheries management decision-making, resulting in reputational risk, undermining market access and sustainability certifications, and increased pressures to be even more conservative with management decisions, with an accompanying opportunity cost burden for industry.
Why the survey failures? Many reasons have been provided, ranging from COVID-19 to the aging Coast Guard fleet issues and missing calibrations with the new vessels in the fleet, but the results are the same: missing data.
We well know about vessel operational challenges. However, such challenges, while real, should be overcome by good planning on the part of the Canadian Coast Guard in managing these research vessels. It is also noteworthy that, throughout the pandemic, industry-led surveys continued to operate without interruption. These are surveys where oversight is provided by DFO science, but industry platforms are utilized for a variety of reasons, including operational and cost effectiveness.
A great example of a working industry-led survey is the Northern Shrimp Research Foundation survey, which, since 2004, has operated annually, on schedule and without delays or major disruptions at a cost well below what government can achieve.
As the committee continues to hear from stakeholders and as you develop your report on the performance of DFO science, I ask you to consider the following two recommendations.
First, government must immediately address the research vessel issues and actively plan to expand the use of industry vessels as a more reliable means of gathering much-needed data that drives good scientific advice and, ultimately, science-based decisions by the minister.
Second, I strongly urge the Government of Canada to make strategic reinvestments in fundamental fisheries science and, in particular, stock assessment modelling capacity. These are the underpinnings of fisheries management in Canada and are critical for the sustainability of our marine resources and the creation of more value from the blue economy.
Thank you for considering my input, and I welcome any comments or questions.
View Ken McDonald Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Ken McDonald Profile
2022-06-21 11:20
Thank you for that.
We'll now go to Mr. Prevost for five minutes or less, please.
Mark Prevost
View Mark Prevost Profile
Mark Prevost
2022-06-21 11:20
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for inviting me to speak today. It is our understanding that we've been invited here to provide testimony as representatives of the fishing industry, and in particular as the manufacturer of an alternative bait for the crustacean fishery.
Bait Masters is based in Nine Mile Creek, Prince Edward Island. Through extensive research, we recognized that there was a high demand for an environmentally friendly bait product that was more cost-effective and sustainable in the crustacean trap fishing industry. Our concept came from our own experience working in the lobster fishery and having direct knowledge of the shortages of available bait due to the pervasive issues of declining pelagic fish stocks, the fluctuating cost of traditional bait, the waste of fresh bait due to spoilage and the messy preparation of fresh bait.
Assessing the size and scope of the bait industry for crustacean fishing is challenging. Industry participants and regulators all acknowledge the difficulty in collecting accurate data, as stated in the mackerel integrated fisheries management plan. The actual landings of mackerel are likely significantly underestimated, as mackerel used for bait is not included in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans official statistics. Current and traditional practices in the supply, distribution and sale of bait products have not lent themselves to accurate recording. We have estimated the size of the industry by combining the DFO-published information and what science and experience tells us about the amount of bait used to catch different species of crustaceans.
In Atlantic Canada, including Quebec, the DFO statistics for 2020 indicate that there are 8,749 lobster licences and 4,036 crab licences. Averaging out the number of traps per licence at 275—it ranges from 250 to 300—each trap uses a minimum of one pound of bait per trap. Multiplying by the length of the fishing season, Bait Masters roughly and conservatively estimates that the demand for bait in Atlantic Canada, including Quebec, is approximately 694 million pounds.
On April 30, 2022, Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced the closing of the Atlantic mackerel and southern gulf spring spawning herring fisheries. The conservation and sustainability framework for Canadian fisheries and the integrated fisheries management plan indicated that mackerel stock has been at a critical level for the past 10 years, and the herring stock has been at a critical level for the past 20 years. Due to the current stock levels of mackerel, findings in audits by the Marine Stewardship Council have driven the need for actions that encourage and support improvement in mackerel fisheries management and mackerel stock assessment, and an imperative to identify sustainable alternatives to traditional baits.
Mr. Chair, this is hard for me. I'm probably the only guy who's going to be on a boat today, buying lobsters in fishing boats. I'm kind of struggling through this, but I'll finish it up here.
The closing of the mackerel and herring fisheries brings several issues into question. Sustainability of these two fisheries is critical for the long-term success of the crustacean fishery. The current data regarding stock levels are not accurate due to undeclared catches and the uncertainties in the scientific method of collecting the data, as indicated in both the mackerel and herring IFMP. Fishers needs bait, so they have looked for other sources, including importing mackerel from Norway and Spain and turning to other pelagic fish such as redfish. Is there a risk of impacting stock levels of other fish? Yes. What is the impact, economic and environmental, of importing fish for bait from other countries?
On bait regulations, Canada currently does not have any regulations regarding bait. There is no process for review, validation and certification that a species or product is safe for use in the ocean fisheries. There is no traceability of imported fish, so there is no understanding of the origin of fish.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources has a vigorous process to assess and validate bait used for fisheries. The review is conducted through a bait review committee comprised of scientists, and a qualitive risk assessment of each species and/or ingredient for a proposed bait is conducted. Additionally, a chain of custody for all species and ingredients is required once the bait is approved. This chain of custody is required to remain with the bait up to and including the end-user, which is the fisher. We suggest that such rigour be applied to bait in Canada.
On alternative bait, the crustacean fishery is a very traditional industry, maintaining practices that not only have endured the test of time, but have provided a livelihood and demonstrated success to those involved. Fishers are reluctant to change these practices, which in many cases have been passed down through generations. Bait is very much one of those traditions. It varies from fisher to fisher and geographic location.
To truly impact the stock levels of mackerel and herring, an alternative must be used to allow the rebuilding of the stock. The alternative must incorporate what the traditional fishers need without putting a strain on mackerel or herring or the introduction of a new species. To overcome generational traditions and practices, the traditional fishers will need an incentive to try a sustainable alternative bait. Their livelihoods depend on crustacean fishing seasons, and motivating them to change must be balanced with an offset to costs to minimize the risk to the fishers.
Thank you for letting me present today. We're not scientists, by any means, but we do have a deep understanding of the industry and the challenges we are facing. We know that we can be part of the solution.
We look forward to answering your questions and to the ongoing discussions.
View Ken McDonald Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Ken McDonald Profile
2022-06-21 11:27
Thank you for that.
I'll just state, Mr. Prevost, that we're not interested right now in hearing from scientists. We want to hear from people in the industry like yourselves, so thank you again for doing this today.
We'll now go to our rounds of questioning.
Before I go to Mr. Perkins for six minutes or less, I will remind members to please try to identify who you want to answer the question. You'll make better use of your time.
Mr. Perkins, we'll go to you for six minutes or less.
View Rick Perkins Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, witnesses, for appearing. We do appreciate it. We've had a balance of scientists—a lot of scientists—before the committee, but we also need to hear from those who are actually on the water and delivering this, because we believe there needs to be a balance. The minister needs both sides—at least both sides—in the decision-making process.
My first question is for Mr. Vascotto from the Atlantic Groundfish Council. I'm going to ask a question around a very specific issue.
On the Fundian Channel-Browns Bank area of interest—and for those who are watching, an area of interest is the last step before an area becomes a marine-protected area—according to DFO, that area encompasses important oceanographic processes and diverse sensitive habitats that provide shelter, feeding and nursery areas for a variety of commercial and non-commercial species. We know that's why. In particular, in lobster, for example, that's one of the two important breeding grounds for lobster in southwest Nova Scotia. It provides breeding for lobster from southwest Nova Scotia through New England—that and St. Mary's Bay.
Recently, only a few months ago, the minister announced that Facebook would be able to lay a fibre optic cable through that area, some of it on top because it's too hard to dig, and some of it buried right through that important breeding ground that is designated for a marine protected area. We know there have been a lot of science studies that show those cables have electromagnetic fields that could impact the migration patterns of lobsters, yet the minister allowed that to go through.
It seems like we're getting these contradictory messages from DFO. One says that we want to protect these areas, and the other says we're going to allow Facebook to drop a fibre optic cable right through a breeding ground for lobster.
I know that in response to this you made comments publicly, Mr. Vascotto, about the lack of consultation with the industry in doing that and on the terms around it. I'm wondering if you could take a few minutes to comment on that issue.
Kris Vascotto
View Kris Vascotto Profile
Kris Vascotto
2022-06-21 11:29
By all means, thank you very much for the question.
Really, this is one of those situations where the industry was directly contacted by a proponent who intended to put the cable down in the tail end of last year, which was 2021. This was never brought to our attention directly by the department. It was all done by a proponent on a last-minute basis.
We were actually one of the few groups that looked at this and said that we needed to engage in this. We directly engaged the proponent. We provided them with very clear evidence that, first, they were going through a potentially marine protected area, and that, second, they were coming directly through some very important fishing grounds of ours. We really had no idea what the implications of this were going to be. When we were initially contacted, we didn't know whether it was going to be sitting on top or going beneath and what the impacts would be to the values that were identified within that Fundian Channel area.
After this situation developed, we raised it with DFO in an advisory situation. We were promised to have some sort of consultation and discussion. That never actually transpired.
At the end of the day, we received a notice by telephone on a Friday afternoon from somebody in New Jersey that the cable was being installed in the coming weeks. When we reached back to the department on this, we were led to understand that this was because of some international regulations governing the way these communications cables are laid outside of 12 nautical miles.
What we found really quite interesting about this situation was what you brought focus to, which is what was going on in the Fundian Channel. They were able to avoid further scrutiny on this cable that was going through the Fundian Channel because the mitigation measure that was offered was to lay it across the top of the bottom, as opposed to doing any sort of destructive habitat work of sinking the cable underneath the sediments, where it would be protected from incursions due to gear effects, whether it be mobile gear, longline drift or anything like that.
At the end of the day, we were left on the outside, not really understanding how this activity was being permitted to happen or what the impacts were going to be to those conservation values that they had identified in establishing this area of interest that will inevitably become a marine protected area. We also really didn't understand what the impacts were going to be to our actual fishing activities.
This is very similar to somebody laying an extension cord across your driveway and telling you that you'll be responsible for it if you happen to run over it. That was especially troublesome for our members, who are actively fishing, processing groundfish and shipping them to customers around the world.
It was really a bit of a miss on our understanding in terms of what the impacts of the actual program were going to be, what our overall sectoral involvement was to potentially either help guide this cable to be outside of an area of interest—we're working with the department to try to establish an MPA for this—or move it away from our fishing ground, where members are actually out fishing today.
I hope I was able to address your inquiry, Mr. Perkins.
View Rick Perkins Profile
You did. Thank you very much.
I have a little bit of time left, so I'll ask one supplementary question.
View Ken McDonald Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Ken McDonald Profile
2022-06-21 11:33
I have your time paused, so you won't lose it.
I have to ask for unanimous consent to continue since the bells are ringing. I see the lights flashing. I thought that's what I asked for at the beginning at the meeting, but somebody is telling me in my ear that I still have to ask for it.
You have 26 seconds left, Mr. Perkins.
View Rick Perkins Profile
That includes the answer.
My quick supplementary question, because I have many more questions, is that I understand that the department had a letter of advice to the companies involved as to what they had to do to mitigate those measures. I haven't seen it. DFO has refused to release it, as I understand. Have you seen it?
Kris Vascotto
View Kris Vascotto Profile
Kris Vascotto
2022-06-21 11:34
No. I have not seen it. I'm aware of the contents, which included basically.... The challenge was that there might be damage to sensitive benthos by burying, so the solution was to lay it on top in those areas.
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