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POFO - Standing Committee

Fisheries and Oceans



ST. JOHN’S, Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 9:19 a.m. [ET] to examine and report on Canada’s seal populations and their effect on Canada’s fisheries.

Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Good morning, senators. I would like to call this meeting to order. You have to operate your own mics when you want to speak. I was just reminded of mine, so I’m going to remind you of yours, so how’s that?

Friends, before we begin calling the meeting to order, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are fully aware that the sea gives us so much, we receive so much from the ocean, but there is a time when the sea takes, also. Yesterday, we lost three fishermen here through the tragedy in Fleur de Lys and Coachman’s Cove, where the fishermen were from. We have one fisherman who survived and hopefully —

I would just like to take a moment, if I could, on behalf of the committee and on behalf of everybody in the room here, if we just take a moment of silence to remember the lost fishermen and at the present time their families, communities, and the fishing industry itself because, as many of you have seen this week, it is one big family here. We will just take a moment, please.

Thank you, my friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody involved.

Good morning. My name is Fabian Manning. I am a senator from here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and I have the privilege and the honour to chair this committee. It is a deep pleasure to be in my home province, to be joined by my colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador, Senator Petten, and my other senators who will all have the opportunity to introduce themselves shortly.

Today, we are conducting a meeting of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Before we begin that, I want to ask my colleagues if they would introduce themselves, beginning on my immediate right. Remember, you have to press your button to be heard.

Senator Busson: Good morning. My name is Bev Busson. I am the Senator from British Columbia.

Senator Patterson: Good morning. I am Rebecca Patterson, a Senator from Ontario.

Senator Quinn: Good morning. Jim Quinn, I am from New Brunswick.

Senator Petten: Iris Petten, Newfoundland and Labrador, very proud.

Senator Francis: Senator Brian Francis from Prince Edward Island.

Senator Cordy: Jane Cordy from Nova Scotia.

Senator Duncan: Pat Duncan from the Yukon. We truly are coast to coast to coast in this committee.

Senator Ataullahjan: Good morning. Salma Ataullahjan from Ontario.

Senator McPhedran: Marilou McPhedran from Manitoba, and this is the first time I have been in Newfoundland.

The Chair: Thank you. On Senator McPhedran comments, after the last couple of days, I am fully convinced that Senator McPhedran and others will be back in Newfoundland.

Senator McPhedran: Absolutely.

The Chair: I would like to advise that Senate communications staff and members of the media are joining us here today, to take photos and videos of some of today’s meeting. We thank the media present for taking the time to join us here today, also.

Is it agreed that the committee allow video and photography coverage of the meeting today by Senate communications staff and members of the media with as little disruption to the meeting as possible?

The motion is carried.

We move pretty quickly here. On October 4, 2022, the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was authorized to examine and report on Canada’s seal populations and their effect on Canada’s fisheries. The committee has held nine meetings thus far on this topic, and we have heard from a variety of experts, including provincial and federal government officials, professors of marine mammals, fisheries management, and sealing association representatives.

The committee expects to publish a report on the topic by December 31st, but we may be extending that for a few months due to the amount of interest that has been generated now that we are back at it in the fall.

Today, we will be hearing from a number of witnesses over six panels, ranging between one hour to an hour and a half. We will break for lunch at 11:45 and aim to finish our meetings around 5:30.

Should any technological challenges arise, particularly in relation to interpretation, or should you have any questions about our proceedings here today, please signal this to the chair, to myself, or to the clerk.

Today, our first panel under this mandate, the committee will be hearing from Lorelei Roberts, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture branch at the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture in Newfoundland and Labrador. Thank you for joining us today, Ms. Roberts. We usually give five minutes or so for opening remarks, and then we allow our senators to have some questions. The floor is yours. Welcome.

Lorelei Roberts, Assistant Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Aquaculture Branch, Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture of Newfoundland and Labrador: Thank you kindly, Senator Manning. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today. I do send regrets on behalf of my minister, Minister Loveless. Unfortunately, he couldn’t attend today, but his heart is certainly with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, with the fishing tragedy that happened yesterday and also with the sealing industry because it is extremely important to our province.

Good morning, everybody. I am delighted you are here in our province, and I am delighted you had such a great time and that you are interested in coming back again. It is like home, and it is like extended family when you do come, so you can be sure that you will be treated the same time and time over, every time you come.

First, I would like to extend a thank you to the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for recognizing the importance of the seal fishery and the seal products sector and coming to Newfoundland and Labrador to hear first-hand from industry professionals and stakeholders. I look forward to sharing some of our province’s views with you today regarding the sustainable management of our seal populations and identifying opportunities to acquire greater market access for the seal products sector.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we take great pride in our historic connection to the seal fishery and have admiration for those who take part in the seal harvest to support their families and our coastal communities.

Through partnerships between governments, unions, and harvesters, the Canadian seal hunt today is recognized as a safe, professional, and humane fishery. This achievement is due in part to the commitment of the industry stakeholders to implement appropriate training and best practices. The industry is to be applauded for this achievement. However, there are barriers preventing access to global markets, and these remain in place, and they continue to impede the growth of the Canadian seal products industry.

While the issue of accessing markets can be complex and challenging, I believe that the recent actions by the Government of Canada to improve seal science along with supports for the seal products industry are certainly steps in the right direction.

The establishment of the Atlantic Seal Science Task Team in 2019 and the Seal Summit recently held this past November are key examples of these efforts. Both initiatives brought together and sought input from a broad range of industry stakeholders, allowing for the open exchange of views, knowledge, and expertise about seal science, market access, and industry development. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has also indicated that it remains committed to improving our knowledge about seals and identifying growth opportunities in the seal products sector.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Advisory Council, which includes a broad representation from the fishing industry, federal and provincial government representatives, and academia, recently released the Fisheries Action Plan. It includes a commitment to focus on the sealing industry. I look forward to outlining some of these objectives of the council along with other supports for the sealing sector by our government.

There is no doubt that there is collaboration between both levels of government and industry, and it is crucial to the future success of the sealing industry. I am hopeful that our collective efforts can help the industry reach its full potential and allow us to share the many benefits associated with our sealing resources with consumers around the world.

The seal harvest is necessary to protect our oceans as seal populations are affecting the sustainability of our other oceans species. Seals have to be managed as a renewable resource, similar to other fisheries. However, as is the case for all of our fisheries, I believe that any management decisions must be based on sound science and an ecosystem management approach. Fisheries management requires accurate data to help mitigate the impact of the massive seal population on fish stocks in the broader ocean ecosystem.

In 2019, the harp seal population was 7.6 million. This is the largest harp seal population in the world. It is also the largest Northwest Atlantic harp seal population in recorded history.

In 2021, the grey seal population in Eastern Canada was 366,400 animals, showing a very slight decline since 2017. This is the largest grey seal population in the world, and this population continues to expand its range through Eastern Canada. As a result, there have been many public calls for new approaches to managing seal populations. The high natural mortality rates of certain fish stocks, such as cod, are concerning to all fisheries stakeholders.

As previously noted, the formation of the Atlantic Seal Science Task Team in 2019 was a meaningful step in helping to address issues impacting the sealing sector. The team issued its report in May of 2022, and it contains several recommendations that our government feel should be embraced, in particular those recommendations that focus on seal science, opportunities to increase fishing industry involvement in seal science projects, and ways to better communicate science findings to the fishing industry.

The report also encourages the development of new opportunities and markets for seal products, which we fully support as the establishment of global markets is vital to the sustainable management of the seal population.

Going forward, a policy framework should be developed for seal harvest management that is based on an ecosystem approach, including a critical review of the precautionary approach for grey and harp seals. In addition, previous work completed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as part of the review and development of actions to reduce seal populations should be re-tabled for discussion.

As mentioned earlier, the Seal Summit in St. John’s last November was also a positive initiative. Our provincial fisheries officials were very pleased to participate in this event that brought together commercial seal harvesters, processors, Indigenous governments and organizations, academia, federal and provincial government representatives, and other stakeholders for discussions on exploring new opportunities to expand Canadian seal products into export markets, the importance of the seal harvest to Indigenous communities, and addressing gaps in data regarding seal populations.

During the Seal Summit, the federal government issued a request for proposals for industry to assist with seal science, and we look forward to hearing the results of this science and this work over the next two to three years.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has long recognized that the seal products industry holds great potential, particularly in the areas of human health, nutrition, and fashion. Industry tells us there is an interest for seal products, but trade impediments, policies, and regulations impede access to these consumers. As long as seal products remain restricted export items, market access will be a significant challenge.

We believe enhanced engagement with Global Affairs Canada is required to address trade impediments and regulatory restrictions to support commercialization. This can be done by working to open up new international seal markets, particularly in China, the European Union, and the United States.

We also recognize there is a need to better educate and inform those opposed to the seal hunt. Targeted messaging focused on science and ecosystem management, validation of the seal harvest, would support market access and industry trade certifications. Our government has invested $1.3 million toward the Canadian Fish and Seafood Opportunities Fund as part of the Atlantic Fisheries Fund agreement. This federal-provincial initiative has provided approximately $5 million to the Fur Institute of Canada to support the implementation of a strategic marketing plan. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has directly contributed $774,000 over the past three years to this initiative to develop markets for seal products. That is within the domestic environment.

The purpose behind the plan was to improve the awareness and acceptance of Canadian seal products in domestic and international markets, and we have seen some marginal success from this work, particularly in the domestic markets.

Partnerships and supports from organizations such as the Fur Institute of Canada are very important. We are fortunate to have a great relationship with the Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council, and I would like to recognize the great work that they have done to support and promote the seal fishery and the seal product sectors. I hope, if you get a chance, you get to drop down there today and actually see some of the products and things that they have available. This organization has been a leading advocate for the seal products industry, and they are an important partner for sealing advocates.

Earlier, I noted the Fisheries Action Plan was released in June by our province’s newly structured Fisheries Advisory Council, and it identifies actions in support of the seal fishery. Members of the council have committed publicly to work collaboratively to identify ways to manage seal populations better and grow the seal products sector.

The two specific seal fishery actions included in the action plan are:

Identify and collaborate on scientific research on the impact of seals in the marine ecosystem and the inclusion of seal impacts in management strategies for commercial fish species.

In addition:

Identify strategies to address market access issues for seals, including opportunities for Indigenous products.

Work has already begun on each action identified in the plan. In my minister’s role as co-chair of this council, along with Kevin Anderson, who is the Head of the School of Fisheries at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, he looks forward to continuing to work with the council members on these and other very important actions.

I would like to conclude my speaking remarks by thanking, once again, the committee for hosting the hearings here in St. John’s and for having the opportunity to travel outside of St. John’s to visit some of the rural communities that are very engaged in the seal hunt. I wish each of you an enjoyable visit, and I encourage you to find a few moments to experience our culture, rugged beauty, and fine cuisine, and take that back with you wherever you go, wherever your travels bring you next.

I am hopeful that the information presented during those hearings will provide you with a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities that are facing the sealing sector and result in actions that lead to greater market awareness and access and growth of the sealing sector. Continued support from the Government of Canada will be critical to helping the Canadian sealing industry reach its ultimate potential.

I look forward to working with the federal partners in my position, and my minister looks forward to working with his federal partners to achieve the positive outcomes that will benefit all involved. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Roberts, and certainly some fine points there. I want to advise my colleagues that we have a long day ahead of us, so I am going to give the opportunity to Senator Busson, our Deputy Chair, to begin our questions. I would ask that, if you have one question and a quick follow-up, try to keep this as precise as possible and same with Ms. Roberts with her answers because time is of the essence, and we have a long list here already. Senator Busson, the floor is yours.

Senator Busson: Thank you for the opportunity and the reminder, Mr. Chairman. We have already had two days in this amazing province and a chance to tour both some of the industry-focused places in beautiful Newfoundland and Labrador and also to talk to people who are subject experts on this. I have a question pertaining to your role in the provincial government vis-à-vis the federal government and their role. It is clear from the witnesses that we have spoken to et cetera that the federal government has many varied and complex departments that deal with this specific issue around seals, the seal harvest, the seal population vis-à-vis fisheries, and, of course, the export of seal products.

Your government has taken it very seriously, as well, the issues and the challenges, and you also spoke about changing the narrative. We heard yesterday from the president of Carino Processing Ltd., that they are also feeling that changing the narrative is one of the incredibly important things that need to happen.

Do you find a commonality with the federal government and collaboration around those kinds of issues, the long-term change in cultural recognition about not only the importance of the harvest but the importance of the recognition of the effect of the seal population on the fisheries, generally in Canada and possibly around the world?

Ms. Roberts: Thank you for your question. It is actually a convoluted question because it is a convoluted answer. So, in responding to the first part of your question, in my role as Assistant Deputy Minister, I am responsible for the Fisheries and Aquaculture branch of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. This includes any of our domestic and international fisheries as well as aquaculture within the province. So the seal fishery is considered under our domestic fisheries portfolio.

The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t regulate seal harvesting; the federal government does. The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador does regulate fish plant facilities that can process seal products, and we are heavily involved in that process and support that. We also work with our partners, such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, or CFIA, in terms of going through the regulatory processes to approve these plants from a food-safety perspective.

We do work very collaboratively with the federal government. I will have to say in Newfoundland and Labrador — and it could be an island thing, the fact, and I am sure Senator Francis experiences the same thing from P.E.I. — we do work very closely with the Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO officials, and those who we work with in the regional area are very understanding and very aware of the culture of the sealing industry.

In terms of that message percolating up to Ottawa, which they are removed from our province and they are removed from the impacts of the seal harvest and the seal industry and the struggles our seal harvesters and our seal processors are having, I think from that perspective there is a gap in knowledge. While there is a gap in knowledge, I do believe there is more focus being put on understanding it and looking at ways to address the issues. And I think that comes from stakeholders at the table during fishery science meetings, fishery advisory meetings, speaking about the impacts that seals are having on our other key stocks. I think that is how the message is percolating up.

Our fish harvesters participate in our advisory committee meetings. The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, also known as FFAW-Unifor, whom you will hear from later today, they participate in those meetings, as does the province. Those messages are spoken very loud and clear at those meetings, so, because of that, there seems to be a little bit of narrowing of the gap.

The one area where we have seen movement is the improvement in the collection of seal science. The commitment at the summit in November was a very vital commitment. Engaging seal harvesters and involving them in the collection of data to support seal science we think will go a long way because, in order to have a market for seals, you have to prove that they are being hunted sustainably, you have to prove that a seal harvest is something that you can do and manage in a substantial manner, that it is not going to eradicate seals, that we are not hunting baby seals but adult seals in a humane way.

Finding out those types of things, that’s all very important. Once you are able to prove that there is a substantial mechanism for harvesting seals and that science supports that, then you have data that can support that, and that is what will support your entry into a market system because you have evidence to provide, and that is very critical.

The other piece is the marketing. We have several countries that have banned seal products, and these are areas that used to purchase our seal products. You can have the highest quality you like for seals, but people can’t hunt if there is no value to the product. We have value as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and Indigenous cultures have value, but you have to be able to sell the product. And, yes, while we are concentrating some of our marketing efforts on the domestic population, we know that, in the Asian countries, that is where there is a market, the EU, and because of some of the restrictions around regulations and legislation in the United States, it is creating some barriers.

I hope that answered your question.

Senator Busson: Absolutely, thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Busson. Senator McPhedran.

Senator McPhedran: Thank you very much. I wanted to pick up on this theme of the gap between the provincial and federal governments, ask a more specific question, picking up again on what Senator Busson has said about changing the narrative being one of the key recurring themes in our conversations.

You mentioned, I believe, some reference to advertising as part of this changing the narrative. Could you tell us a bit about the cooperation specific to changing the narrative, using advertising and other means of communicating, and the degree of cooperation, if any, between provincial and federal authorities?

Ms. Roberts: There is quite a bit of cooperation between federal and provincial authorities, as I mentioned. The Canadian Fish and Seafood Opportunities Fund is the mechanism being utilized to do the marketing and the advertising. That is a joint federal and provincial fund. The federal government contributes the majority amount of funds, and the province contribute a portion of funds.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we have chosen to focus our funds on the sealing industry and increasing the awareness of the sealing industry through the markets, and we have made that choice with regard to the importance of the sealing industry in our province. But the federal government is certainly on board because, of course, the $1.3 million was spent on that initiative and over $5 million over the last little bit.

That marketing initiative includes a number of things. It includes advertising about seal products, from food, from nutripharm — you know, some seal oil capsules, that sort of thing, fashion items. I mean every year we have a huge — we call it in Newfoundland a “do,” where we have all of the folks learn about the sealing industry. The seals and sealing network are a huge part of that.

There is a great deal of cooperation between the federal and the provincial governments in terms of answering your question. Could it be better? Absolutely, and I think this is where it needs it needs to be better: It is one thing for us to invest in marketing and advertising, but it is another to open up and to speak favourably about the seal industry and promote the seal industry in our activities with other international governments, and I think in other international countries. I think that is where the Canadian government could support us.

Senator McPhedran: Mr. Chair, may I ask a quick follow-up, very brief?

The Chair: Yes.

Senator McPhedran: What indicators, what markers, what measurements are you using to actually assess any progress with the spending of these funds?

Ms. Roberts: In terms of the way that the funding pot works is, when you develop your proposal, the proposal is developed by industry partners. Interestingly enough, Carino Processing Ltd., and Dion Dakins, whom you met yesterday are a very key integral part of that. As part of the proposal, they do put indications and marketing, and we hire a marketing firm. The marketing firm tracks the number of clicks on the web. They will look at how far-reaching the markets are and also in terms of the purchase of the products.

When folks know that they have products moving in those areas — so, for example, Montréal was a target market, Toronto was a target market, B.C. was a target market because we were looking at the domestic market. We already know that, in Quebec, seal meat is consumed. It is something that people do purchase and they do eat in Quebec, but, in the rest of Canada we are finding that’s not the case. So it is advertising that the seal industry is here, advertising that it’s nutritious, that sort of thing.

In terms of the markers, I can’t speak specifically what they are exactly, but I know they come up between the marketing agency and the sponsors of the project in terms of industry.

Senator McPhedran: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator McPhedran. Senator Ataullahjan.

Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you. Thank you for your presentation. We have been hearing since yesterday about the Asian markets. I haven’t heard anything about the huge potential in Africa. Is that a market that one would be looking at? There is so much food insecurity over there, and I feel that, you know, I think the seal meat would be very well accepted over there. Is that, has anyone looked at that?

Ms. Roberts: From a Government of Newfoundland and Labrador perspective, we haven’t looked at the African markets. We have looked at the Asian markets.

We take our cues from industry, where they have their contacts and has identified that they are interested in the products. So the Asian market has really percolated in terms of the activities we have been engaged in, because we do know they are huge consumers of seal products, particularly seal oil and those types of things.

We haven’t heard a whole lot about the African market, nor have we done any investigation into it, but we wouldn’t dismiss it. We would certainly look at something if there were an interest in selling there.

Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Ataullahjan. Senator Francis.

Senator Francis: Thank you, Chair. Thank you for joining us this morning. Earlier in your opening remarks, you touched on Indigenous governments. Could you tell me a little more about the involvement and relationship inclusion in the industry with Indigenous governments, and do you see them as a key player in helping to change the narrative going forward?

Ms. Roberts: To answer your question, absolutely we do. The Indigenous governments and organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador have been prominent. You heard me speak about the Fisheries Advisory Council. On the Fisheries Advisory Council, we actually have representation from all of the Indigenous governments and organizations. They all sit at the table.

They are all very active participants, and are very interested in the sealing industry, and actually participate with us on the actions. When the actions were determined by the larger advisory council and all the fishery stakeholders, individual organizations volunteered to participate in a working group for each action, and those individuals participate and bring that knowledge to the table.

One of the ways to get into a market right now is the product must be attached to Indigenous peoples harvesting seals. Right now, in this province, I know that many processors have relationships with Indigenous governments and organizations, and they actually process the seals for them and produce the product, and it is done through the Indigenous organizations’ relationship with that processor.

I don’t know if you had the opportunity, but, for example, like the Qalipu First Nations, they do produce products, particularly seal oil for example, and they sell the product named, I believe, Waspu. That is an example of a collaboration with local processors that are processing and are collaborating with Indigenous governments. Our government is working with them and the federal government and with trade commissioners to get the products in broad markets. That is a concrete example of things that we are doing in terms of coordination.

We believe very strongly at our table that Indigenous governments have a huge role to play, and we think it is very important that people hear their voice and hear the importance of the seal to their culture and the fact that the vision that they have and the practice of their culture, traditionally, is sustainable use of seals.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Francis. Senator Cordy.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much, and thank you for being here. I feel like you should be travelling to Washington and the Asian markets to speak to people.

My question is sort of following up on others. The challenges that we have for the markets for seal products, a lot of it is due to misinformation. You know, you get Paul McCartney coming to Newfoundland; it is front-page news around the world. You get actors, actresses, all of these kinds of things, and the information is very hard to — you wouldn’t have enough money to pay to do it. How do you deal with the misinformation that is out there, which definitely affects the marketability of seal products?

Ms. Roberts: Something I think has been in the minds of everyone is how you deal with the negativity and how you deal with the generation of misinformation that has fuelled and funded lots of times by celebrity dollars, you know, at a rate that we certainly would never be able to afford to counteract.

However, in terms of getting the message across and changing the narrative, it is about the way that we communicate that message and whom we communicate it to.

There are people who work globally, for example our trade commissioners. As Senators, I am sure you folks meet with international folks all the time. We recognize that our Prime Minister and other folks in the federal government do, as well as in provincial governments. We do. I think those are strategic opportunities to get those messages across. You don’t have to have a big splashy ad campaign. It is about the messaging.

As I mentioned earlier, it is critically important that we have the science to back up our claims, that we are conducting a sustainable seal fishery and seal hunt. You can’t win a war with rhetoric; you can only win a war with facts, and, if you have the facts, they can’t be disputed. If you have the science that backs up your claims, you can’t dispute that.

With that evidence, you can speak to other governments; you can make arrangements, and it changes their focus because they have knowledge about the industry that they never had before, whereas right now the only voices speaking are voices funded by external dollars and anti-sealing campaigns.

We need to look at doing the same thing. We have the voice. We have the ability. We just need to use it.

Senator Cordy: They have a lot more dollars to spend than governments do, unfortunately.

Ms. Roberts: They do.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Cordy. Senator Quinn.

Senator Quinn: Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Ms. Roberts, for being here today. It is great to be back in Newfoundland. I want to underscore what you said in your opening remarks, the welcome of Newfoundlanders is always there, so it is great to be back here.

I want to try to link a couple of things that we’ve heard earlier in our work during the past year. We have had scientists from the department come and speak with us and answer questions. One of the scientists actually validates what you said — that there are about 7.6 million harp seals. A little bit of math will tell you that is approximately 8 million, and they eat 500 kilograms of food a year, so that is 4 billion tonnes of food. Put it a different way, it is almost 9 billion pounds. There definitely has to be evidence that says that the seals are having an impact.

During our voyage, our travels around some of the places we have been leading to this hearing, you could talk to people and hear the effects not only in the industry but in the communities, and how it’s affecting young people staying in communities or not. It relates back to, I believe, to the declining presence of the fishing industry in the province.

Where I’m going with all of that is you talked about the gap, that there is a gap between the regional and the headquarters levels of the department. I used to work in the department, and I agree with your assessment.

You are an Assistant Deputy Minister, and your folks are working with their colleagues in Ottawa. What do you think is the biggest single thing that could be done to help close that gap and allow the people who are closer to the front end and have probably more relevant knowledge about what is going on because they work with people who are in the industry, how do we close that gap and allow the region to have a bigger role in how this problem or this challenge is dealt with?

Ms. Roberts: It is interesting that you put it that way because, from my observation in working in my role, what I’ve observed in the last three years is an erosion of accountability and decision making at a regional level, and more of the decisions are being made at the Ottawa level.

From my perspective, I think we need to go back to that. We need to go back to the older model because the folks that worked and currently work in the DFO regions, they are very familiar. They work day-to-day with the stakeholders in that region. They understand how the fishery impacts them. They hear directly from the people who are engaged in the fishery as to what they are seeing on the water. They have the ability then to control their budgets, direct their funds into areas that would be substantial and improve, for example, science, improve the work that is being done in different species to collect the information.

We have seen this erode over the last three years. There was a time when I could call the regional director and that individual would be extremely knowledgeable about the industry, had come up through the system in the regional office and knew all the players and was, in my opinion, a critical facilitator in bringing all that information together. We were partnered on that and had a fabulous relationship.

I’ve seen that change. Not that the people who are in the positions in a region aren’t as good of people as the other folks were. It is just that they don’t have the opportunity to do the same type of work, and are not given the freedom to be able to do it or have the autonomy to be able to do it. That is the change.

When I talk about the gap, that is certainly something that could change. If the regions had their own budgets and could control some of their own work and their own priority areas, I think that would help a lot more, and have their voices heard more around the table in Ottawa.

What is happening now is you have individuals who have never been to Newfoundland and Labrador. They’ve probably never been to P.E.I. They’ve probably never been to any other areas where seals are impacting fisheries. They are purely looking at what is presented to them in briefing notes every day — and I can certainly attest to that. When you come in as an Assistant Deputy Minister, you get a briefing book about that big, and it is supposed to be your gospel. But I can tell you, after three years, there are pieces in that gospel that I dispute. It would be exactly the same for folks in Ottawa.

If they had the opportunity to hear first-hand from folks who are very knowledgeable about the industry in the regions they represent, and they were actually critical in making the decisions, I think that would change the way things are managed.

Senator Quinn: A brief follow-up?

The Chair: Brief.

Senator Quinn: Very brief. Thank you for that answer. I think you’ve really nailed it. I think that I would absolutely agree with everything you’ve just said. Just a little follow-on. I understand that in the mandate letter of your minister one of the directives is to work more closely with Ottawa. Is this specific issue an ongoing dialogue between your minister and the minister, and is it an ongoing dialogue between you and your colleague in Ottawa? How do we fix this — because I think that this is one of the critical things that need to be fixed if we are really going to make advancements in this area?

Ms. Roberts: I can tell you that it absolutely is. I am pretty sure that there is not a phone call that goes by and the notes that are prepared for the Minister, they always include the sealing industry, always. I think because of our voice and the voice of our stakeholders, that is the reason why the summit was held in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador. It is because they are hearing us.

Now, hearing us and taking action are two totally different things, but coming from a “Mary Poppins outlook,” I will say you have to celebrate the positive things and not focus so much on the negative. So we focus on the fact that there was a positive outcome.

The other piece is, because we have released that Fisheries Action Plan and DFO is a partner at the table with us, their folks sit at the table, they are hearing that; their minister is hearing that they are sitting at the table. They are getting a first-hand account of what is actually happening in Newfoundland and Labrador, and, through that process, they are held accountable to respond. So, absolutely.

Senator Quinn: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Quinn. Senator Patterson.

Senator Patterson: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. You’ve answered a lot of what I am interested in, but I am going to focus it a little bit more, and it is on looking at seal oil and the human consumption of seal oil.

I am going to add another little level to this, the medicinal use. I didn’t say “medicine”; I said “medicinal use” of seal oil products for human consumption.

We have been talking about what the gaps are between federal and provincial and your comments in terms of requiring data in order to support this. Other things that I have heard, very specifically looking at the seal oil for human consumption, is how do we work past the stigma? Because I am even going to go beyond misinformation and disinformation and call it true stigma and conscious and unconscious bias against the seal industry and all products thereof.

So going into science to try to get some rational thought around this is quite important. Going back to human consumption for the seal oil, science is important. It costs money to do science, especially on things that aren’t medicine; they are medicinal. Your fisheries plan — and I recognize that it is very strategic in nature — what are the thoughts at the provincial level in terms of getting that research out there to look at the benefits of seal oil, to help sort of counteract this negative part?

There are very few products we have out there that can be an economically sustainable, a marketable product, a food product, and a medicinal product. It is very rare. My first question: Where is your thinking in terms of how we get it beyond food products, recognizing that it will stay there, and what type of support can you see coming from a federal level, and any recommendations you would have to help us make that happen? Thank you. I am sorry. That was long.

Ms. Roberts: I will write it down so I don’t miss anything.

In terms of the first part of your question, with regard to how we bring it beyond the food product. Interestingly enough — and I feel very blessed in this role. I am very passionate about Newfoundland and Labrador. And I am very passionate about the fishing industry. I think you have to, you have to, feel like that when you are in this role; otherwise, you are not as effective as you could be.

In this role, I get to meet and speak to many, many people, and I just recently did a tour of the Marine Institute. One of the things the Marine Institute is doing is they are looking at pharmaceuticals. They are working with many companies, seal oil as well as other fishery by-products, and looking at how they can do the science.

They have so many students with brilliant minds that can do this research and really move the needle, so this is actually happening. They have a facility on Mount Scio Road in St. John’s, where they do some work, and are doing a complete renovation of what used to be their plant space to build the pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and actually get accreditation to do some of this. They were seeking our province’s support to do that through the Atlantic Fisheries Fund, or AFF. We are possibly giving consideration to this right now, in terms of the Atlantic Fisheries Fund and some of the pots that we have to lever, as levers, to move some of these things ahead. They are a little bit restrictive, but there are ways. If we can have other funding mechanisms to support pieces of it, then we may be able to support pieces of it through the AFF.

We are not averse to that, and we certainly are looking at ways we could do that. In terms of your first question, that is what has to happen, and that work will actually help support the data and the information around the product.

You just look at the collagen market. The collagen market is — and I will admit I am one of those individuals that is totally sucked into it, so, if that works on me, I am sure that, if we had data, that will work for others, as well. Right? Seals are a great source of that, as well as other things. And the other piece, too, is we can’t dismiss that Indigenous people have been using seal oil for years, and they have beautiful skin. When you look at that, they are a testament to utilizing the product and the health benefits for it.

There are so many opportunities we could use to lever, but, again, the critical piece is the data and having the information to support the claims.

The second piece is in terms of federal-level support. I think there are many things that could be done. The piece that we have right now is our resources in terms of the Marine Institute and the Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have gems right here in Newfoundland and Labrador that we can utilize for this type of research.

But part of being able to do the research is having the equipment and upgrades in the plant. It has to be in the school. It has to be of a Health Canada grade to do all these types of things, and you have to meet all required regulations and requirements. That costs quite a bit of money. There are ways that the federal government could support this in addition to how the province is trying to support it. Certainly, if there were a program that was developed to support not only the seal industry but broader industry. The seal industry would definitely benefit if there were funding available to support the development of these types of projects within the education system and academia. I think that is where we could focus, and the research could go on, and the data can be collected. So, absolutely.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Patterson. Senator Duncan.

Senator Duncan: Thank you very much for your presentation today and for the warm welcome from Newfoundland and Labrador. It is truly appreciated.

I am new to the committee. This is my first chance to attend the hearings. I was particularly struck by the use of the phrase “gap in knowledge” that you mentioned. Frequently, we see in governments that we experience silos and that departments aren’t necessarily talking to each other. I am curious. I would like to ask you to elaborate on Health Canada’s involvement and the need for Health Canada’s involvement with the focus on food security and products.

We have seen in particular health advocacy organizations, for example, will tout the benefit of Haskap berries to neurological development, and then everybody is planting Haskap berries. Is the same sort of initiative with seal products a possibility? Is it out there?

And the other question I have about a gap, the second gap, is: Where is Alaska in these discussions? I am sure I could probably find out whether or not they attended the Seal Summit, but I note that they have ice seal management plans in Alaska and there are agreements with Indigenous people in Alaska and seal management.

I understand the challenge with exporting fur to the Americans and the challenge working with — certainly, the federal government doesn’t necessarily want Newfoundland to overreach the federal government, but there is a recognition that Alaska has a contribution to make, so I am wondering where they are in our discussions.

Ms. Roberts: I can’t speak directly to Alaska and where they are and what they have done. I can tell you that, any type of research we would do, we would do a jurisdictional scan. The folks and the officials in the department that I work for would definitely be looking into the other areas, and Alaska would be one of them. I can’t tell you either because I didn’t hear the voice strongly at the table at this side whether there were Alaskan representatives there. There were a number of people there from various provinces, but I don’t recall, and I certainly didn’t hear anybody speak from Alaska.

In terms of your question with regard to the gaps in knowledge and the engagement with Health Canada, from our department’s perspective we don’t deal a lot with Health Canada. We deal mostly with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, or CFIA, and we do have a very close relationship with CFIA. Matter of fact, I can pick up the phone at any point in time if we run into a problem or an issue and speak directly to folks in New Brunswick and have the issue addressed right away. We do benefit from that great positive relationship.

In terms of Health Canada, I can honestly tell you I wouldn’t know who to call. But, again, there are people within our government that deal with Health Canada on a more regular and frequent basis than I do, and they would be located in our health portfolio, and we would engage them if we were looking for something particular because they have the relationship, whereas we would not. Because, where we regulate fish plant facilities, CFIA is who we have a relationship with, and, from an aquaculture standpoint, it would be CFIA.

The Chair: Very quickly.

Senator Duncan: If there was one recommendation that you would have this committee make to support the seal industry, what would it be?

Ms. Roberts: From my perspective, and I speak from where the stakeholders sit, and we have heard it very strongly, is that there needs to be more focus on expanding the global market and changing the narrative. That is what we have heard every single meeting, from every stakeholder. I have no doubt that you heard it directly from Dion Dakins, yesterday.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Duncan. Senator Petten.

Senator Petten: Thank you. A very quick question and something from the province level: On Monday, we went, we travelled to Bonavista, and we had a wonderful presentation and a discussion with the students at the Discovery Collegiate, from the junior high school to high school students, and they were so engaged. It was wonderful to hear their comments. I am just thinking, one of the things the province is responsible for is training. You mentioned the Marine Institute, and I was thinking about all of these people who are great ambassadors for this province. The more that they fully understand the marketing and the training, the more that they can get the right messaging to the right places.

You mentioned Kevin Anderson, but I haven’t heard of any other programs, not even from the Marine Institute, even before they get there, at the high school level or junior high school. I just wondered if you had any funding from there?

Ms. Roberts: I can certainly speak to it from our department’s perspective. A little interesting tidbit is the harvester training for folks that are involved in the seal harvest. The training is delivered by our provincial fisheries inspectors. They actually do it virtually, and they work with the harvesters and go over the program in terms of how to humanely hunt seals. That is a contribution that our province makes every season.

In addition to that, we have a division within my branch, the fisheries and aquaculture branch, and it is called the Sustainable Fisheries and Oceans Policy Division. One of the pieces of work that they do are the World Oceans Day and World Fisheries Day initiatives, and they have also developed stories about specific species. Cod is one of those. They actually go into classes from kindergarten up to Grade 12 and speak to students. They talk to students about the sealing industry, activities that happen in the ocean and within the fisheries and answer their questions. From the province’s side, we are engaged in that.

In terms of a training perspective, as I mentioned, a lot of the activity that is currently happening at the Marine Institute is that they are focusing a lot on developing products for pharmaceuticals and that sort of thing. So the Institute’s students are involved in that research, and there’s an investment. The university has made an investment in that area. A lot more investments could be made, absolutely, but currently the university has recognized that that is an area of investment.

So, from my standpoint, I am aware of those types of things. I think you would have to go pretty far in order to find kids that don’t know about the seal industry.

A very interesting story: One of my friend’s daughter, she is nine, spoke to me about seals. She said, “You know, Lorelei, they are talking about seals in school, but I wanted to come and ask you about it. They are saying that we kill baby seals.” I replied, “You know, that is actually not factual. We don’t kill baby seals. We kill adult seals, and there are a lot of seals, and it is the same as if we have meat from cows, meat from pigs. There is a purpose for an animal, and they provide us with food to live.” At nine years old, she took that, and she went right back to her class, and she spoke about that.

That is just a little story about kids are influenced by what they hear outside, but, once they are presented with factual information, they have no trouble correcting anybody who says anything different.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Petten. Thank you to our Honourable Senators, and thank you to Ms. Roberts for taking time this morning. It was a very engaging conversation.

I have a closing comment: When myself and Senator Petten had the opportunity to take our colleagues to Elliston the other day, as people touched on, and we had the opportunity to visit the interpretation centre and the monument, it was an eye‑opening experience for our colleagues, the interpretation centre, itself.

Someone made a comment about the book Death on the Ice that we are all familiar with here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Maybe I’m dating myself, but it was mandatory reading when I was in Grade 9, and I don’t think it is in the system today as a mandatory piece of work. It is very difficult to know where you are going when you don’t know where you came from. Maybe that is an opportunity to educate some people, especially our younger people, on that.

I know it is not your department, but I just felt it was an opportunity to put in a plug for Death on the Ice. It is a great book on the history of this very important industry in our province.

I want to thank everybody. We planned a 5-minute break, but I am going to cut that to 2 minutes. We are going to say goodbye to Ms. Roberts and welcome our next witness, so don’t go away.

I will call the meeting back to order. Our second panel this morning, we will be hearing from Greg Pretty, president of the FFAW-Unifor here in the province.

Mr. Pretty, thank you for joining us today. You are no stranger to the sealing industry or the fishing industry in our province from years of your involvement with the union movement, so we certainly thank you for taking your time to join us here this morning. We will give you some time for opening remarks, and then our senators, I’m sure, will have some questions for you.

Greg Pretty, President, FFAW-Unifor: Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you for the invitation. A very important process we are working through, so thanks for that.

On behalf of over 14,000 of our members in this province, thanks for the opportunity to address the honourable Senate committee at today’s meeting, to contribute to the ongoing study of Canada’s seal populations.

The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union, also known as FFAW-Unifor, represents every single inshore harvester in this province, encompassing about 3,000 owner operators, some of whom you met over the last couple of days, I am sure, and over 7,000 crew members. Our membership also includes thousands of workers in fishing, processing, marine transportation, metal fabrication, hospitality, and other sectors in this province.

As a union representing fish harvesters and processing workers, FFAW-Unifor is a primary advocate for the economic and social growth of our communities in this province. We have been here for 50 years, advocating for our members and rural communities, and I am proud to say we are going to continue that process. Thank you for the invite, once again, to allow us to pass on our thoughts on the sealing industry.

FFAW’s science department both leads and collaborates with researchers at DFO or in academia on projects that support sustainable fisheries and healthy fishing systems. Our science department began with the Cod Sentinel Program back in 1994, with the goal of bringing harvesters and their observations, importantly, and knowledge to the assessment and management of fish stocks and ecosystems. Inshore harvesters bring their observations, knowledge, and fishing expertise to our science programs.

Documenting harvesters’ observations and knowledge and, importantly, bringing that knowledge and understanding to assessment and management tables is a priority for this union. The gaps in research are not only a priority for fish harvesters, but it is also a missing component of assessment and management recovery plans for commercially important, extremely important, stocks like snow crab and cod. I will walk you through one of these examples in the 3Ps cod assessment and rebuilding plans.

3Ps cod is one of three major cod stocks in Newfoundland and Labrador. The stock is located on the south coast of the island, from Placentia Bay in the east to Burgeo in the west. The 3Ps cod is assessed as being in the critical zone, which means a rebuilding plan must be in place.

The assessment of 3Ps cod shows that fishing levels are not driving the trajectory of the stock. Model outputs show that natural mortality is estimated to be 10 times that of fishing mortality. It is absolutely stunning when you sit and look at the stats. The most recent stock assessment states that a very small population of grey seals — and we have heard from the province on that this morning — a small population of grey seals utilizes subdivision 3Ps, the fishing zone we are talking about, and it then cites a tagging review from 5 years ago. But that review and the satellite tagging data referenced in the review are at least 13 to 15 years old.

As part of a rebuilding plan of the stock, FFAW highlights the problem of using historic data to infer current status, which was documented coming out of the working group.

There are a couple of points I want to emphasize in this example: First, that an external researcher had to identify the expired data; second, that the record was connected; and, third, that updated satellite tagging data is needed. But that does not mean that we need to wait for updated tagging data to better understand sealing impacts on the southwest coast.

Recommendations on how to improve our understanding of seal impacts include a commitment to working with harvesters. Harvesters can systematically document their observations, and DFO can use these observations to model the spatial and seasonal extensive impacts. FFAW-Unifor has repeatedly highlighted harvesters’ frustration regarding the lack of commitment to understanding the impact of seal predation on important species like capelin and Atlantic cod.

In addition to log reports of massive seal-herding sightings, harvesters have also presented, often directly to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, photo and video evidence of seal predation. That is why our union commended DFO’s announcement in November 2022 of the department’s ecosystem and oceans contribution framework.

Further to DFO’s announcement yesterday on the funding awarded on the collaborative approach on seal and sea lion science in Canada, FFAW was a proud recipient and will launch the Seal Species Distribution Abundance and Seasonality Project next week — pretty excited about that — and the project will begin to address the research gaps we have heard about today already by systematically documenting seal observations by harvesters and lay the foundation for additional seal research in Newfoundland and Labrador, notably locating key aggregations and haul-out sites for surveying and targeting work. The project will be ongoing this fall, with the objective of presenting this data at a stock assessments and advisories planned for February and March of 2025.

Moving forward, from a fisheries perspective, there is a need for the federal government to consider seal predation in ground fishery building plans and to work more collaboratively with our industry to integrate at-sea observations into developing science to better inform fisheries management and resource removal.

Ultimately, our position is that of an ecosystem-management approach that serves to develop a federal framework to mitigate the impacts of seal predation and promotes biodiversity in our oceans.

Lastly, the FFAW continues to express our commitment to work with the federal government in any capacity, to be a responsible regulator, and assist in developing a federal framework to mitigate impacts on our oceans, industries and the industries that rely on them.

I thank you very much. That is my presentation. I am excited to hear your questions. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Pretty. First questions will come from our Deputy Chair, Senator Busson, followed by Senator Quinn.

Senator Busson: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much, Mr. Pretty, for being here.

We heard over the last number of days incredible challenges facing fishers and the fishing industry vis-à-vis both the marketing of seal products but, more specifically, the predation of seals on the population. You mentioned you sponsor and deal with your own research and science with regard to sealing and fisheries in general.

Could you talk a little bit about the amount of not necessarily overlap but collaboration and sharing of information around the work you do vis-à-vis the science that is being done at the federal level?

Do you find conflicting information or conflicting direction when it comes to that kind of research?

Just as an aside, one of the things that was brought to my attention is that in February 2022, Unifor launched a campaign called Take Action on Seal Overpopulation. Could you tell me anything about that, the progress of that initiative?

Mr. Pretty: I think I have three issues to deal with there. First of all, let me talk about our science department. I am so proud of that science department. I have been president of the union since January of this year. Of course, we have had some very major struggles, some of which you may have witnessed over the last couple of days.

But that struggle continues. We recognized, as a union, very early that there are and were deficiencies with DFO, that there was a disconnect. There is absolutely no question about that and to that end we started our own science department. We have Dr. Erin Carruthers. When I go to Ottawa these days, she is a highlight. People refer to her work, and we are so proud of that. Without our science department, we would be in much worse shape with respect to quotas. Particularly with the main species. For example, on crab, we do our own surveys on crab; we don’t wait for DFO to do this because they are out of the business of doing surveys.

We don’t have increases in cod in this province because DFO stopped doing surveys. They don’t have the vessels to do it anymore, so our science department is critical to the future of — and as, small as it is, it is critical because it has a voice, it has observation, as we talked about earlier today, but it has a voice at the table when they are talking to DFO Science, so that is important.

Are there conflicts? Yes. To get right to the heart of this issue here with respect to seals, we don’t have a champion, we don’t have a national champion on seals. You know, if the cattle industry, the beef industry in this country was under attack like the seals are today, there would be action taken about it. Believe me. You understand it. You’re from those areas. If the wheat industry were under attack for whatever reason People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also known as PETA, can come up with, you would take action against that. But we haven’t had that consideration in this national unity, this country.

There is a lot of conflict. Any time that somebody from this province can land in Ottawa and have their coat sprayed by PETA and nothing happens, there might be a small misdemeanour charge, but that signal goes to the high schools we talked about earlier and it goes right to the media, who also are a part of that process that promotes these PETA individuals to the detriment of our harvesting industry. So thank you for the question.

Thank you for the question. On the seal issue, with Unifor, it is important. I have been around. I am of a certain vintage. We had a pretty good seal industry here. We had the products that you saw. We had the beautiful coats. We had — you name it, we had it. We had seal oil. We did all that. It was all done, but it was all crushed. It was crushed by outside forces, and we never had a champion in Ottawa to stand for us. We had a lot of lip service, but, you know, the fish harvesters whom I represent, over 33,000 plus, would be into this fishery if we had a fishery, but we have been knocked out of business.

We can’t even have enough, we can’t gain enough, income to pay for fuel as to what has happened to this industry. But I will finish your question by saying we are encouraged by our current program. You know, it is not often that the DFO will say they are going to actually take observational issues from harvesters. If I could take you around the province this winter, this coming spring, you would probably see what you heard about; seals everywhere, 7 to 8 to 10 million, and no way to manage that resource properly.

We know we are going to struggle for a while, but this new committee, this new project, is certainly a step in the right direction. These are not my concluding remarks, but I would hope that we can count on your support moving forward because very few people understand this industry.

If we were going to go to Windsor, Ontario today, all of us, and go into a high school and talk about seals, I think we would be out in the parking lot pretty quickly. Right? But that is what has happened to the industry. I will stop there, and I thank you for your question.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Busson. Senator Quinn followed by Senator Patterson.

Senator Quinn: Thank you very much, Mr. Pretty. That was an awesome presentation.

Mr. Pretty: Thank you.

Senator Quinn: I enjoyed the answer. I just don’t know where to begin, but I will start with one of the questions I was going to ask our previous witness, but I am glad I didn’t ask because I think it is more relevant for you is that, first, congratulations on the project.

Second is I think that there is probably an enormous gap in the front-end expertise, the practitioners actually feeding into the system, if you will, in terms of their expertise. They know best what is happening. They are out there doing it. This project that you have talked about I think will be of vital importance.

The worry I have is that the work that’s done, the research that your science department will do, regardless of what the size of that department, is how seriously it will be taken and what impact will it have. Do you share those types of concerns?

Do you believe that the folks in the departments, for example, will hear and take it seriously?

Mr. Pretty: Well, let me try to answer that. Sealing is a political problem, so there is a political answer to it. I do have a concern that, as ministers and governments come and go, each one will try to imprint their own brand on what, or what not, a sealing industry should look like.

I have met with the new minister. She is from Gaspé, as you probably all know already. She has a background. She understands seals. That in itself, my friends, is a bright light going forward as long as she can stay there. I say that in honesty, but to have someone there who actually understands the industry is so important for the future of that industry, as opposed to somebody, for example, who has a conservation orientation and let’s say not in the best interests of harvesters. Yes, because we do have to, you know, butcher crab. We kill seals. We kill fish. In today’s world, that’s not very tasteful. Like I said when I started, it needs a champion, but I do have a concern. We can do all the best work we can, but, if it is not tabled properly and it’s not dealt with, then we will be where we were 40 years ago. And I can tell you that we had an industry. It is gone now. It is subject to the times in many respects, but it is an important issue, and it is an important revenue source for our members, and it is one that deserves a place in this Canadian mosaic.

Senator Quinn: Just a comment: Thank you very much for that answer, and thank you very much for your leadership in pushing this. It is really needed, so thank you.

Mr. Pretty: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Quinn. Senator Patterson followed by Senator Ataullahjan.

Senator Patterson: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Pretty, thank you very much. I am actually going to do a follow-on question to my colleague because we often, here in Canada now, have a centralized decision in policy formation and you are expected to follow along.

In order to close that gap on research, it is very impressive what you’re doing. We have also heard from other witnesses back in Ottawa that there are other similar groups doing the same thing. But, very often, it is easy to discount the people who do it when you are not collecting the data that they want, as well. Do you have any recommendations to close that gap between those who are the policy-makers and the federal regulations in terms of data collection, that you can have your fishers do that is easy and not too challenging for them so that it is consistent with what you think you need to collect but also what they are looking for? Do you have a recommendation for us on that?

Mr. Pretty: Yes, I do. I really do. I said when I became president of this union one of the severe issues facing us was the disconnect between DFO and our members. We had a better relationship 20 years ago. I think that the disconnect began in about 2013 for whatever reason people started to not engage — let’s put it that way — not engage properly with harvesters, whether it be on cod, crab, or other species. They became pretty well hands-off.

What is very enlightening about the new project is that we have — I can show you hundreds of observations, personal observations, that weren’t regarded prior to this current regime. I mean we could say it all day long, and people will say, “Well, it’s only fishermen saying it. It’s only harvesters saying it. Don’t pay any attention to them. That’s not science.”

Well, if you have hundreds of examples of observations, you have videotape, you have video of it, you have video of the gut, you have video of what happens in our communities, our harbours, now, that is significant. It can become science if the right individuals are considering it. I am satisfied that we will be able to get that information and push that up through and that, hopefully, with the new emphasis on observational activities we’ll make a change in how we do that.

The bottom line, though, is we can have all the science we want, but, unless people take a step to manage the 7 to 9 million, and unless there is a political will to manage that, then we will continue having anecdotes like I hear every week, that DFO is managing the stocks, not for the people of Newfoundland but doing for conservationists or the seals; they are managing it for the seals.

And, you know, that is a long shot, but that is the end result of some of these poorer management practices. As I said, we need to manage, and that is the key to moving forward. I hope that answered your question.

Senator Patterson: It does. Thank you very much.

Mr. Pretty: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Patterson. Senator Ataullahjan followed by Senator McPhedran.

Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you. You have kind of answered my question I was going to ask you, and I thank you for being so frank and so honest. I can sense your frustration, so I was going to ask you about your relationship with the DFO, but I think you have kind of answered already.

Mr. Pretty: I can expand if you want.

Senator Ataullahjan: It might be helpful. What puzzles me is the campaign against the seal hunt. You know, a lot of meat that is eaten.

Mr. Pretty: Yes.

Senator Ataullahjan: Yet we haven’t seen that level of campaigns against, say, eating beef, eating lamb. What is driving this campaign against the seal hunt?

I know the celebrities are coming, and I am sure most of them are meat eaters, so I don’t understand why they have targeted it. I kind of have an idea because, when I was a new senator, one day I came into the office and I was told we had received two and a half thousand e-mails against the seal hunt; that’s the most I have gotten on any subject. But I would still like to hear from you.

Mr. Pretty: I think the quick answer is that, once we started talking about baby seals and prettiness of the facial composure of a seal versus other animals —

Senator Ataullahjan: The lamb is cute, a baby.

Mr. Pretty: I love a rack of lamb I must say, but I have never seen anyone paint my coat over it. Seriously, the point is that is part of the process. Part of the process, even the kids, it is difficult to disconnect a seal from a baby seal. I mean, you know, seals are animals, and they have to be butchered. That is part of that process, so that is why you have groups. And we all know large groups of organizations that actually fundraise very successfully on the backs of these, of our members, and have done it for about 40 years now.

You know, we have harvesters who will get calls. Anybody spikes — this panel may in fact cause some calls to our harvesters, saying, “Don’t go out there. You shouldn’t be at that. Please stop doing that.” I think that’s the drive, and they have been very successful. Pamela Anderson has been here. She wasn’t very successful. I think we stopped her pretty well at the time.

But celebrities in particular, not knowing exactly, not having a grasp on the industry but just going on the fact that there are some of these — they are still playing videos from 50 years ago seals are being clubbed on the ice. And that’s a great fundraiser and something they gravitate toward without thinking about it, without using their heads. This industry has very much been a victim of that.

Once again, Senator, without a champion, without the right management protocols, I think this situation will be ongoing. It is time for our government to take a stand on this and to support our industry.

Senator Ataullahjan: Okay, I just have a one-line question, one line literally.

The Chair: One question?

Senator Ataullahjan: Yes.

The Chair: And a one-line answer.

Mr. Pretty: A one-line answer? Guaranteed.

Senator Ataullahjan: Are you satisfied with the role of the federal government?

Mr. Pretty: No, I am not. Not at all. When you say the federal government, I mean that is a wide swipe, but I am talking DFO because I deal with DFO. We deal with DFO a lot on all of our species. We have had some very critical issues to deal with in this province. For example, as I said earlier — short answer, Mr. Chair — no surveys on cod. They don’t have the vessels anymore. They got out of that business, and we are stuck with 12,000 tonnes. In a year where the crab market collapsed, we could have harvesters out there today fishing cod in great amounts. We have the fish, but we don’t have the political will to do anything about it.

So, yes, I have got a big problem with DFO. I am hoping that we will turn the corner on that. This minister seems to have a solid background in fisheries in Quebec, and I’ve had a chat with her, and we are going to set up some meetings. I will know what is going on after we have those sessions, but we have a lot of work to do with DFO in this province to right the ship.

Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you.

Mr. Pretty: Shortest I could get, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: That was really a one-liner for a couple of pages.

Senator Cordy: You didn’t take a breath, so it only counts as one line.

Mr. Pretty: True, true. Good way to look at it.

The Chair: Go ahead, Senator McPhedran. Your mic, please.

Senator McPhedran: Thank you, Senator Manning, and thank you, Mr. Pretty, for being with us today.

Mr. Pretty: Thank you.

Senator McPhedran: I would like to understand more about your membership. Am I correct in hearing that you said you have 33,000 members?

Mr. Pretty: Oh, no, 3,300 owner operators.

Senator McPhedran: Thirty-three hundred, okay.

Mr. Pretty: Those are — you might refer to them as “skippers,” but owners, yes.

Senator McPhedran: Thank you. Among your membership, do you have Indigenous owner operators?

Mr. Pretty: Yes. Yes, we do. Yes.

Senator McPhedran: I am very interested in some of our previous discussion about the impact on communities of the collapse, near collapse, the imperiled industry and the impact on your members. But I wanted to focus on Indigenous women and in particular reference the documentary, Angry Inuk, which is completely presented from the perspective of Inuit women and the impact on their communities, culture and livelihoods, as a result of the kind of negativity and the narrative that we have been discussing here today.

Can you tell us anything about the extent to which, within your membership, this particular impact on women within Indigenous communities is addressed in any way through your membership or through your own advocacy?

Mr. Pretty: First of all, I haven’t seen the video.

Senator McPhedran: It is a terrific documentary.

Mr. Pretty: But I will now. I will have a look at that for sure. But our Indigenous membership would be on Western Newfoundland, Conne River, and in the 3Ps area I spoke about earlier, and in Labrador, Nunatsiavut.

With respect to your direct question on the stigma that is attached to this fishery, I haven’t detailed it as Indigenous or colonial as such, but it impacts every family. We have about 7,000 crew members on those 3,300 operations, vessel operations. Let me just say we would have a vast interest and effort at sealing if in fact the market were there.

Of course it is not there, so we have very little effort at the present time. But we have members on the northern peninsula in particular, Indigenous, and I can tell you that, going to Ottawa with some of their clothing, it is absolutely ridiculous how they have been treated in this country. I think that can be reversed, but, as I said, we need a champion to do that, and currently we do not have one.

Senator McPhedran: Do you think that there is more potential for changing the narrative on this if there is more cooperation and coordination of the messaging of the impact on the different communities that are represented within your membership?

Mr. Pretty: Very good question. Just over the last week or so, the Nunatsiavut Government and ourselves are in dialogue on a Parks Canada issue in Northern Labrador, so we are looking forward to that. There is going to be ongoing dialogue on that issue along with Parks Canada. I see that as enlightening.

We have fishing in that area; they have a park, and I think we can coordinate some activities. It can be an opportunity for a better relationship moving forward, and I would certainly promote that.

Senator McPhedran: Thank you very much.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator McPhedran. We are going to Senator Duncan, followed by Senator Petten. I want to advise everybody that we’re running out of time.

Mr. Pretty: I got the message, Senator.

The Chair: After a couple of attempts.

Senator Duncan: Thank you very much, Senator Manning, for the reminder about time, and thank you so much, Mr. Pretty, for your presentation today and for your warm welcome to Newfoundland.

I would just like to touch on and elaborate on the Alaskan issue if I could. The Alaskans, as I understand it, are deeply concerned about the increasing seal population on their coast, and it is also widely believed that the seals rely on salmon as a food source.

Salmon fishing is a billion-dollar industry to the Alaskans. It is a critical, vital cultural and food services to Yukoners and to Yukon Indigenous people, in particular to Yukon Indigenous people. The Yukon River is an international waterway, and it is a major pathway for salmon.

Unions traditionally have an international link, international component. Is there any avenue for help for your message, in getting the message across, if we were to collaborate and work with the Alaskans?

Mr. Pretty: Quick answer is yes. We have at Unifor. I have friends in the Queen Charlotte Islands that have similar challenges. They provide labour for some of the Alaskan salmon industries, so there is a very solid link there through Unifor. We certainly could do exactly the same thing.

As you probably know, aquaculture is a big issue here in Newfoundland right now, at-sea penned aquaculture, and predation there through tuna but also seals is an issue.

I hadn’t thought of it, but I can connect with our friends, with our brothers and sisters in Northern B.C., and talk about that. As I said, there is actually a link there between the industries, so I will explore that. Thank you for the question.

Senator Duncan: Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Duncan. Senator Petten followed by Senator Cordy.

Senator Petten: Yesterday, we visited Carino, and I was absolutely amazed with the beautiful product and the amount of work that they have done to develop the industry in this province. But we also heard that they are having a look at how they can now supply their markets and have enough product that is available for them to process. Of course, part of that was the segue now to our sealing fisherman, who is going to speak with us afterwards, as a segue to him, is: How are you supporting the fishers to be able to increase the value, to get them to fish more, to be able to keep that market going?

We have been talking about seals now for decades in this province. And so it is about how can we now not lose it by saying we don’t have enough people fishing it to be able to support the industry or even what goodwill is already being developed there.

Mr. Pretty: Well, as I mentioned earlier, Senator, the issue is you can’t fish a species that you can’t make money from. You can’t fish a species where you can’t even pay for your fuel. No business is expected to do that in North America, and it certainly goes doubly for harvesters. There is a huge investment in some of the vessels you saw the other day. But you can’t fish it for the sake of carrying on a tradition, so there has to be an industry, there have to be markets, and it has to be worthwhile to do.

You will remember, in the current Canadian sealers’ association, they were a very vibrant organization prior to these protest groups which actually knocked them out of business for all intents and purposes.

So can we promote that? Yeah, we can promote it once again, as we have in the past. The sealers’ association was actually housed in our house. It was that important to us. But moving forward without the management of the stock of the species and without markets, then nothing will happen to this, and, at some point in the future, there will be another group coming to Newfoundland to explore the future of the seal industry.

I will just finish by saying I understand your point, and I think what we are doing with DFO now is a positive step forward in meeting some of those challenges.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Petten. Senator Cordy.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much. I will ask two questions at the same time to save time. Thank you very much, and thank you very much for being here because you definitely know what is happening on the ground, and that is very helpful to us.

Mr. Pretty: Thank you.

Senator Cordy: It’s very practical information, so thank you for that. As a committee, we have heard conflicting information about the seal populations. Most witnesses we have heard from are talking about the amount of seafood, crab and cod, that seals devour. But we also heard — I can remember particularly one witness saying that there is no difference in the cod stocks, that the seals are not predatory, they are not affecting it — which was contrary to other information we had heard. That would be the first thing I would like you to comment on.

Secondly, the anti-sealers, the PETA groups, they are very well funded. They have millions of dollars, and I am not sure that any government can compete with an anti-sealing campaign the way that they have because they have the money and very high-profile people who are the faces of it. How do we deal with that?

You spoke about needing champions. Are there other things, or would having champions be enough?

Mr. Pretty: Okay. On the misinformation, I’d recommend that you not read some of the stuff DFO puts out seals, what they eat and the damage they do. I mean, just for your own blood pressure, just stay off of that and listen to real people.

But, seriously, yes, there is a lot of it out there. I heard Senator Quinn earlier today, and he hit it right on the head. He understands. He knows what the stats are on this. Simple math, right, you can do it on a napkin: 8 million seals, how much they eat, multiplied by — there it is.

Now, I can tell you because I am a resident of this province that I have seen them catch trout in freshwater rivers. They are very opportunistic, and they will eat. They will satisfy themselves, and there is lots here to do it. So that conflict of information, I think a lot of that is self-serving because, if you don’t want to do anything, that is the reason not to do it, because they are not eating cod. If you bring that to the communities or people who are coming behind me today, it is absolutely ludicrous to say that. But, anyway, so that is one. But we’ll contribute to that in our observations in the year to come.

And how do you deal with these groups? Some sports heroes of my youth are anti-seal. They are no longer sports heroes for me. But you are right. It is a big draw. It is a big industry. Lying online, there is a lot of that going around by the way, as you know. But how do we fix that?

I can’t say I am a big fan, but I understand advertising. I understand it very well. If some of these drug companies can turn around their reputations based on advertising, we can do very similar things. Entire manufacturers who have had very nasty reputations, but it is all advertising. As somebody said today, you have to get into the schools on this issue. You need to do that. You need to educate.

Education is the key to moving forward. And, market development, whether it be the pelts, the oil, or in some cases even food, but you need to do that There is an incredible resource there, in our opinion, that can be a major factor in the economy of this province and other provinces and other people. Again, without the management of the resource and the education dealing with that problem, we won’t move forward. I thank you for your question.

The Chair: Thank you, Senators, and thank you to Mr. Pretty for taking the time to join us. You are very passionate about the fishing industry in our province, and it is great to have you here. Many people before me in Ottawa thought that the seals didn’t eat Kentucky Fried Chicken, and, being from Newfoundland, they don’t eat Mary Brown’s, either. They are eating something, so we need to work on that.

Senators, we are going to take a one-minute break, the fastest minute of your lives, and then we will be back with our next panel.

Senators, thank you for your cooperation. For our third panel, we have before us a commercial fisherman and seal harvester, Mr. Keith Bath.

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to meet Mr. Bath, he is a man with a great knowledge in the fishing industry. He has fallen into the North Atlantic. He salvaged a yacht off the Grand Banks a few years ago. That’s quite the mystery story to that. He was on the water during the fury of Hurricane Andrew. All of that can be found in The Diary of a Fishing Master, if anybody is interested in finding the life of a fisherman here in Newfoundland and Labrador, look no further than the man we have before us today.

Thank you very much for taking the time to join us, Mr. Bath. Certainly, we are delighted to have you here with the extensive knowledge that you have had in this industry, and we look forward to hearing from you. We will give you the opportunity to say a few opening remarks, and then the Senators will have some questions for you. Thank you very much.

Keith Bath, Commercial Fisher and Seal Harvester, as an individual: First of all, I would like to thank you for having me here because sealing is one of my things that I was always very interested in.

My name is Keith Bath. My forefathers came from England 1728, and some of them moved to Horse Islands because that is where there was good fishing grounds. So that is where I was born and raised until I was 22. That is when we moved to LaScie.

I never had much education. I wrote an exam in Grade 9. At 15 years old, I went back to school for two weeks. Looking through the school window, I saw my two brothers coming in with a load of fish, a nice calm day. My father, was fishing in the boat, himself. I said, “This is enough school for me. I am going fishing.” I got up and took my books and put them on the table. My teacher was Ivor Pinksen, from Wild Cove. He comes down with the strap for me, and I got a few and no doubt that I deserved some of them. He said, “You are not going out of school.” I said, “Yes, I am.” Anyway, I took my books and went home.

Now, then, my mother was upset with me. “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m quitting school.” “No, you’re not,” she said. “You’re getting the baby bonus, $6 a month. You’re going to lose that. Anyway, when your father comes in this evening, you will be going back to school tomorrow morning.” I said, “No, I’m not.” I took my books and throw them over the wharf in the saltwater.

Anyway, my father came in. His name was Tom. My mother’s name was Elizabeth. He used to call her Liz. “What you think he done today, Tom?” “I don’t know, could be anything.” “He quit school,” she replied. “All right, he’s going fishing with me tomorrow morning,” said father. I was 15 then. Anyway, I started fishing with him.

That year, it was a real good fall fishing, hook and line, and then we used the trawls, and done very, very well. Then the time comes for sealing, and, anyway, I started going out then, and the four of us, me and my father and my two brothers. My brother now who is 87, and one who is 89 still fishes me with me.

Anyway, it was a good year at the seals. And the Catalina Trader, then Bowring’s, here in St. John’s, they were big seal buyers, and they used to come down and take the seals. Then it was back to fishing again.

We were — first you start with the capelin and then you — capelin school they call it, gone at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. And we went up one morning, real foggy, and my uncle, father’s brother, was ashore. So the first thing we had to do was get a rope on him and tow him back, run the shore in the fog.

So then you had to come in. You had to at that time to dry your fish. You had to salt it and dry it. So this was the work for the women to do. They worked real hard at that. They’d get it on the flake sometimes, and then you know what would happen. Sometimes summer you’d get the rain, and you would have to take all the fish up again.

This is where we continued, and we went up when we moved into LaScie. We got into the bigger boats, long liners. This is where we, on the Horse Islands, that we did, what I said, we did some sealing in the smaller boat. The motor boat, we call it. But then we got into the long liners.

First, I fished seal with Earl Small, and then a few years after that we got into the long liners ourselves and fished for cod early in the spring, and then later you go at the turbot. We went up, used to go up, to the Labrador for a few years, up in Makkovik. Fishing was real good. And then in ‘87 we started to come up on the south coast, St. Pierre Bank, and I’m fishing there now for 37 years. Even to this year again, we were fishing there.

And the fishing was real good, like species of pollock, haddock, but very little cod there now. But, really, we couldn’t direct for it; we were only allowed to bycatch. Seals the last few years have been, you know, only Carino company buying them now, but it had been pretty good.

The ice conditions haven’t been so good because of the northeast wind just before the seals open. That puts all the ice on the land and puts it to ice so you can’t get through it. You want the ice off probably 60 to 70 miles so you would have loose ice, and then sealing would be good.

And this year we had a disaster. This was — not a disaster, I don’t guess it was, but one night the wind comes northwest, not a lot of wind, probably 25 to 30, and a rogue wave hit us, and we had the speed boat which we carry with us. When there is good days, we put it out to hunt seals from the speed boat and bring back to the long liner.

So, anyway, a wave took it and took the speed boat and went on. In the night, we lost the boat. We got a tow and got hold of the tanker, but we burst off the —. That is all we could do. So, when we started sometime around the 1st of May, we got a call from the coast guard. The boat was spotted 40 miles off Bay Bulls. On the last of July, I had a call from the coast guard a guy up in Arnold’s Cove. He and his wife were out to his cabin and picked up the boat. That boat had a 70-horsepower Yamaha on it. It was the first summer putting it on. So that is a bit of, what I would say, something that shouldn’t happen really, when she was 40 miles off Bay Bulls.

Talking to Merv Wiseman, Merv worked with the search and rescue for years. But, when you get out in that tide rip, it would go on to the eastern, and end up around England somewhere, probably. So that is who got the boat for me up there. You know, you can’t explain how that got there.

But this spring two years ago, I wrote a note. I was fishing up on the 5440 north off the Labrador coast, and I wrote a note and put it in a bottle, and, in May month, I had a call from a guy in Scotland. Him and his wife was walking on the beach and picked up this bottle, a little water bottle with a note in it. My number was there, so he gave me call. A long, long ways away that was, from up off of Labrador and to Scotland. So this what I have been involved in.

About the seals, I have seen more things in it. When we used to be sealing, you know, all kinds of species. I saw the turbot on the ice, sometimes up in the White Bay, with probably just their belly took out of them. You know, it didn’t look bad to see a seal with a codfish in his mouth. I can’t say that I have seen too much fish in their belly, but I have seen the belly flaps, not the full cod. I’ve seen one seal, that was a hood seal, with the cod in it, two full cod. One was 21 inches, and one was 22. And the same seal had four redfish into it.

The seals, I hear talk of 7.6 million. That’s the harp seals. Where is the hoods? In 1996, yes, and the hoods that year were thousands. That’s the year we killed the bluebacks and had to go to court for them, because we killed the bluebacks, which is young hoods, they call them. And that year we were on the 4915 north, and we killed an old hood with about a 10-pound salmon in it. The boys were going to — there was nothing wrong but a few scales gone up around the fin. The cook was going to put it on for supper to get me to eat it, but, when the time came, he never had what it took to do it. They didn’t have the stomach for it themselves.

So that plane went over us that day on the 4915. They flew up so far as the Round Hills, which is off Labrador, which is on the 5320, 49 to the 5320, so that’s 460s. That is about 240 miles to the north. And they come back that evening and told me the seals were there in the thousands. That was hood seals. That’s not counting the harp seals. But now, those years, you don’t see very many hoods. The most you see now is the harps.

They talk about seals getting drowned. Now, seals do get killed by the sea. There was a good many seals killed this year, but the seals all came on the land.

But I will tell you this before I conclude. We were out at one time, and there wasn’t much ice around. It was the 27th of February. Now, most of the seals pup from the first of March until the 7th of March. The first week of March is their time for the most seals to pup.

And here was this. I got up in the morning. Always the fashion to shuffle open the door, wheelhouse door, to see what kind of a morning it is, anxious to get at it. Here was this little yellow thing, you know. When the little seals are pups, they are yellow for a couple of days before the mother looks after them, protects them.

So I thought it was a bird or something first, and then I saw it move. I said, “That’s a little seal.” That mother was there. She came up on the water, belly up, at as far as you are there. That little seal got into the water, swam up. He got up on the mother’s belly. The old seal blew up so big as a, you know, blew her belly. The little seal got up and had a suck at it, and, when the mother figured it was enough, she’d draw it under. The little seal crawled up on the pan again. It is heart-touching, I’ll tell you. It is. And that was it. He stayed there then, and we left them and went on sealing.

They say that they drown. I don’t think they drown. What I saw there, I don’t think they drown. I think their mother can nurse them from the water. Beneath the ice, they disappear. But they do get killed by the sea. I have seen that happen going over the shoals and that.

So I will conclude with that and say that, well, I am 77 years old now, and I am still at it. You know, someone asked me, “Have you been at this all your life?” I said, “Not yet.” There was a guy down our way. Not very long ago, he went to the doctor, nervous I suppose. And, when he came home, his wife said, “What did the doctor say?” The husband replied that the doctor said, “Go home and live as long as you like.” She said, “You fool, one of those mornings, you might wake up dead.”

So, if I don’t wake up dead, I’m still going to continue fishing and sealing.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Bath. We can spend a few hours here listening to your stories, for sure. They’re certainly very intriguing.

Mr. Bath: If you are going to ask me questions, you’d better speak up because I have been 65 years fishing, and I have been up on the roof with the engine horn, and I’ve shot thousands and thousands of bullets.

The Chair: Yes. Like I say, we could sit and listen to you for hours, I am sure. My colleagues would be very interested —

Mr. Bath: I can go on.

The Chair: I know. But, in the essence of time, we have to move along. We have at least 10 other senators who would like to ask questions. I am going to ask the Senators to think about it and only one question. Then I’m going to have the opportunity to follow-up here.

Mr. Bath: I am not really educated, as I told you.

The Chair: Now, don’t — listen, you have an education that a lot of us will never have, never, so don’t in any way diminish your role here. We are very happy to have you here.

Senators, one question, and we ask that you keep them as precise as possible. I want to get through the list, but I will if I have to drop a couple of people who are on the end. I don’t want to do that. So, Senator Busson, you’re on.

Senator Busson: I will be fast, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Bath, it is truly humbling to be in the presence of the prince of tides here in our committee. The expertise and the experience that you have is absolutely humbling for me, to hear you talk and know what you have been through in your life with the fishery generally. And, of course, we are interested right now in sealing, and I would like to pick your brain a little around the changes that you’ve seen.

You said the fishery for sealing was a very good economic venture for you when you were a young person, and now it seems that fishers of seal have a whole different experience with regard to how they are regarded as a hunter or a fisher of seals, et cetera.

Could you comment a little bit about what you have seen as a change in the life of a fisherman, from your learned perspective?

Mr. Bath: Yes, I have seen big changes. One time, you could just go on sealing, do your own business, but now you are restricted so much. Like, no young people now can get into the sealing, only through a professional sealer like me or some others. Professional sealers, can go to fisheries and get a permit and get into it. That is the only way. They can’t go on their own.

Back years ago, we had a quota of 400,000 seals. There was a lot of boats at it then, and all those seals would be taken in three or four days. Matter of fact, I got caught at it. I never heard the broadcasts. It was on VHF. It was closed at such a time. Anyway, I forgot about it or didn’t hear it. I said I didn’t.

I had a lady with me one time from the Toronto Star, Kelly Toughill from Halifax. I still hear from her. She really enjoyed the trip. I had a steel boat then, and we hit up with a storm off Cape Freels. The forecasting was that it wouldn’t come on until the next day noon. We were 60 miles off Cape Freels. I thought we would get in before the storm came on, but we iced up badly, couldn’t see through any windows.

We had a little peephole, like you know, to get the frost off them. When we saw the lights going along by Twillingate that night, she comes to me crying. She said, “Keith, I can’t go any further.” Anyway, I took her in Twillingate and asked someone from LaScie to come over and pick her up and take her to LaScie.

But, yes, there are big changes. The helicopter now they have every day, if it is calm or sunny, the helicopter or plane is out over us, harassment. Supposed to be a half a mile; they’re not 200 yards sometimes. And here we are sometimes with a small boat there and taking in the seals, you know, and sometimes that helicopter makes a big roar, attract [Technical difficulty]. We got 20 nets in those bags, taking about 20 seals. And it is only for something to happen, the guy on the winch get a little scared with the roar and that can go back on the boys that are onboard the boat.

I have called them so many times and told them to stay away. Getting pictures, just to try to get something on you. And the other year we were out; had a new engine. Rick Smith was out. I think it was Rick Smith, was with Greenpeace. I am sure it was. He was in the helicopter, and they were over us, over us taking the speed boat. And she made the roar and, the boys, they brought her about and swung around and beat up the new engine, the new 40-horsepower engine. They beat it up.

I called him. I said, “Come down on the pan of ice. Land down, and let me get alongside of you.” I was wishing that they did it. Perhaps I would have ended up in jail.

These are the things that, you know, when we get seen there, they are searching for everything. They come aboard the boat, and they go in the hold, fish hold, and look around, see if we got any things that we shouldn’t have. So it is a big difference.

When we lived on the Horse Islands or first when we come to LaScie, there was no such thing. You just go on and do as you want to do. But I am not going out there — I make sure that I use a high-power rifle to shoot seals with. If there is one that makes a move, I shoot him again. One time I had two fishery officers walking on the ice counting the adult seals. I had two fisheries officers with me. I had 155 shots, killed 153 seals. There was only one. Now, if he had been alive, then you were supposed to give them the axe pick. There was one that he hit with the axe pick, that did have a little bit of life in it.

These are some of the changes that have taken place. You know, everything, they got to be at your job sometimes, you get a permit to do it and all this.

Senator Busson: Thank you very much.

Mr. Bath: It is big changes into it.

The Chair: Thanks, Senator Busson. Senator Francis followed by Senator Quinn.

Senator Francis: Thank you, Mr. Bath, for joining us.

The Chair: Your mic, Senator Francis, please.

Senator Francis: Thank you for joining us. We have heard the phrase, Youth are our future leaders, and we have to prepare them for the future. I always say: Youth are our leaders today. So what would be your advice to young people wanting to get into the seal industry?

Mr. Bath: My advice would be, we got two plants bought now. We need three or four more. And we got all kinds of problems in government. We had good markets in China, but now the Chinese that we deal with, they expect that you could get the seals immediately. This is two years ago, when this COVID come on, and we just couldn’t get —.

First, we had a plant in Tors Cove, and, for environment reason, they said there was no water running through it. They wouldn’t come out for a look, so, when the lady came out and looked, she saw there is a 10-inch pipe with water going through there all the time. They didn’t know why they had the big kick‑up about it. So the time ran out then that we never got the machinery in there that we needed.

We went to Fleur de Lys and bought a plant there, that George Wilkes used to have milling, told us that the licence was active. When we got it for a while, they said, no, it is not active. So we waited that year, right up until the young seals were over, and we tried to get the licence then. They said it was active, but then we were at that too late.

We did go out and get some, but in January and February you need them. That is when the most fat is on them, and that is when you get the oil. That is when there is a lot of oil. So I don’t know what to say about the young people, but it don’t look good.

Senator Francis: Not easy.

Mr. Bath: It does not look good now.

Senator Francis: Thank you.

The Chair: Senator Quinn is next, followed by Senator Patterson.

Senator Quinn: I thought he was looking for some efficiencies.

Mr. Bath, thank you very much for being here. One of the best decisions, I am going to bet that you have made in your life is leaving school at 15 because it is obvious that you are an expert. You have a PhD in your industry, so it is just a delight to have you here today.

My question is really building on some of the things that we’ve talked about earlier today, and that comes down to the role of DFO and the science. The things that you see on the ground — you are out there doing it — do you think that the science accurately reflects that which you are experiencing day in and day out when you are out doing the job?

Mr. Bath: Scientists?

Senator Quinn: Yes. What you see in the field, does the science accurately reflect what is happening in the field?

Mr. Bath: No. Gary Stenson used to be with the fisheries as seal coordinator, and we used to have meetings, and I used to tell him just as it was, but he couldn’t believe. I can tell you a few things about seals. I used to have Wayne Penney out with me. Wayne Penney was a good guy. I done the charter about 6 or 7 years, never once did we know what’s in them. I had ideas, but never once did they come out and say what was in the seals.

But seals, I’ll tell you what I’ve seen, even two little bull birds. I know you won’t know what a bull bird is. He is like about 5 or 6 inches long, black on the back, white on the belly. Probably some of you might know. They even had them into them. And the seals, when they moult, everything goes out of their stomach. It decays, really, in their stomach. And then they will go to the beach and they will eat rocks.

Now, I could have had a letter probably from Wayne saying this. They eat rocks, and the rocks will sort of take the bacteria out of their stomachs. And then watch out herring or whatever is around any of the bays, they load up on them. It won’t be long before this fat comes back on again.

So this is the question I put to Gary Stenson: If you go on a diet, loses, what do you do to put it back on? You eat, don’t you? Yes. And he wouldn’t answer my question. In two months, you kill them in the fall, and then the fat is back on them again, three inches of fat on them, the seal.

I told Wayne about this. One night we were having dinner. I said, “Wayne, I’ve seen bull birds in seals. I’ve seen rocks in them.” “Yes,” he said, “Keith, I have too, but,” he said, “you should be a scientist.”

Senator Quinn: Thank you.

The Chair: Senator Quinn, thank you. Senator Patterson followed by Senator Ataullahjan.

Senator Patterson: Thank you, Mr. Bath.

The Chair: Speak closer to your mic, please.

Senator Patterson: Thank you, Mr. Bath. I would like to ask you an even more precise question. If you could advise the scientists as to what things they should be looking for to understand what is happening with the seal population, what would they be?

For instance, you have talked about what you find in the stomachs of seals, which is important science information. So what would you recommend that the scientists collect in terms of information from the harvesters, from people like yourself, so we better understand what is going on in the seal industry?

Mr. Bath: They won’t listen to what you tell them. They don’t listen to what the sealers say. We had one seal with, I won’t be afraid to say, close to a five-gallon bucketful of crab, female crab, and shrimp. That was what they call a bearded seal. That is an endangered species now; you are not allowed to kill them.

He says, “They’re none of them.” I said, “All right, listen to me. Come out with me. I will take you out and show you, not to kill, see how many we can take pictures of one day. Let me leave LaScie and go up as far as St. Anthony. We’ll see thousands of those seals.” But they don’t listen. And that’s the ones they eat nothing but shellfish, and that is mostly shrimp and female crab. And they’re endangered, and you’re not allowed to kill them.

They’re talking about them seals, like I said about the hoods, that is not included with it. Then we got the ring seal, we got the grey seal, and we got the dotards, the jars and all of those.

I have been in Nova Scotia. I was up there with George Wilkes when they were at Fleur de Lys. I was up there on Pictou Island and Hay Island, shooting the seals on them. Now then, the grey seal up there, there is no more. You can’t get a permit anymore to go up there. Now, what was in them, they never collect anything from it.

But I was also out on Sagona Island and shot some seals to get to know what the meat and the oil was like, and we had to get it for our plants. And they never come back. We collect the stomachs on them, but they never come back and said what was in them.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator.

Mr. Bath: I will go a bit further and I’ll say the year I was out to Codroy, Codroy Valley, I went out there goose hunting. The guide one day said, “You want to see some seals?” I said, “Yeah.” There were about 300 big grey seals. You know, they are 1,000, 1,200 pounds. There was about 10 lobster there then that was killed by the grey seal. He just breaks them in two and takes out the — you see lobster, I guess, inside with the red, yes, caviar, the real caviar. That is what they do. They break them right in two and take that out of them.

But, scientists, they won’t listen to what we tell them. They just do their own thing, and, like I said, all the charters that I did for them, you won’t ever see one thing about it.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Patterson. Senator Ataullahjan followed by Senator Petten.

Senator Ataullahjan: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It is a pleasure to hear you speak, Mr. Bath. You remind me of my father, who used to hunt on the land, who couldn’t hear us by the end of his life because he had been shooting so many bullets.

Most of my questions have been asked, so I would like to ask you a personal question: Do you have any regrets?

Mr. Bath: Any regrets?

Senator Ataullahjan: Yes.

Mr. Bath: No.

Senator Ataullahjan: It is a good thing that you threw those books into the saltwater.

Mr. Bath: No, I just love — you know, I don’t like to — I got a little dog, and I wouldn’t hurt her for anything in this world. We had no family, but I had that little dog, and she is to me like a little girl, and I wouldn’t hurt her. That is, again, I got a lot of respect. I see so many things. When I saw, as I told you, what that seal had done with that little whitecoat, you know, it touched me. But I wouldn’t — no, I have no regrets. I am so proud that I come out of school and done what I done.

The Chair: Hear, hear. Thank you, Senator Ataullahjan. Senator Petten.

Senator Petten: Captain Bath, you are amazing because I know that you have always been the highlight, and it was always a big deal of who would catch the most seals, and there was no doubt that your name was at the top of the list.

Mr. Bath: Most everyone in Dildo.

Senator Petten: And I’ll just say I heard what you said this morning on the bullets. Obviously, you had to catch a couple at one time, as well, in order to be able to have more seals than bullets, so good for you.

One of the things that you mentioned was around the changes that we are seeing. And, of course, all we have heard lately, you know, when we turn on the news is that climate change. You mentioned about the seals being on the land. Are you seeing significant changes in what is happening in our environment with respect to things that are changing now from what it used to be?

Mr. Bath: Ice conditions, yes, very much; very much. Because, on our coast, I know there was one year when first we moved to LaScie, we never got back out to Horse Island — we used to go back out there in the summer — the 12th of July before we could get out there because of ice conditions. But now we have been in ice.

And the other year we were off Fogo Island, 4 or 5 years ago, and the ice disappeared overnight. A storm of wind comes up, and we were right in the open water with 400 seals. We put our seals over on a string nighttime for them to cool down and wash all the blood off, and we were caught in the open water for 40 to 50 miles. We went up 20 miles after we got the seal before we could find ice again. It all disappears. It will be up on the Labrador coast now probably 20, 30, 40, 50 miles wide, and overnight, like, it is gone. It does disappear. Although this year they are saying the ice is made in the Arctic. The ice map is showing that there is ice there already.

But there are big changes in it. But this year, even when we started in the crab in the middle of May, we still had to go through a lot of ice to get out to the crab grounds. But there is a big change. I can see that. And, the polar bears, we are seeing more polar bears now than ever we have seen on the ice, and even walruses. The last two or three years we have seen three or four walruses. But there is. The ice is disappearing faster, I must say.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Petten, and our last question will be from Senator Cordy.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much. I definitely want to read your book —

The Chair: Speak to your mic, Senator Cordy, please.

Senator Cordy: Oh, sorry. I definitely want to read your book because your stories are fascinating.

Mr. Bath: To do what, you say?

Senator Cordy: I said I would like to read your book.

Mr. Bath: If I would have known, I would have bought some to give you, but I got none left. It is a good book.

Senator Cordy: I bet it is.

Mr. Bath: And all true, all true.

Senator Cordy: That sounded like a little advertising.

Anyway, a follow-up to Senator Petten’s question. I am from Nova Scotia, and we are seeing off our coast, we are seeing fish, sharks, that were never that far north. Are you seeing the same thing here in Newfoundland?

Mr. Bath: Fish?

Senator Cordy: Are you seeing different kinds of fish that have never been here because the water is warming?

Mr. Bath: Oh, yes, turtles and sunfish, way more than ever. On St. Pierre Bank, there is a lot of then. And, tuna, down our way, that was something that you wouldn’t see down there, but now there is. And we see fish — I was down in Bermuda one time, out on a boat out on the coral, you know, and fish there of all kinds, and the same fish now is on St. Pierre Bank. Warm-water fish, they are called. The turtles, we have probably seen over the last 5 or 6 years probably 20 turtles, and, sunfish, I don’t know how many.

Senator Cordy: Who would have thought in Newfoundland. Right? Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Senator Cordy, and thank you to our senators, and thank you, Mr. Bath, for coming today.

Mr. Bath: I can go on.

The Chair: It was a wealth of experience. We could sit here for a long time. Thank you for taking your time. Mr. Bath lives a long way from here, many hours, and took the time to join us here today.

Folks, we are going to break for lunch now and reconvene at 12:45. Thank you very much.

(The committee adjourned).

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