Skip to Content
 

Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Fisheries

Issue 5 - Evidence


OTTAWA, Thursday, April 2, 1998

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries met this day at 9:05 a.m. to consider the questions of privatization and quota licensing in Canada's fisheries.

Senator Raymond J. Perrault (Acting Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Acting Chairman: Honourable senators, we have two distinguished witnesses at our hearings today.

Please proceed, Mr. Woodman.

Mr. Fred Woodman, Chairman, Fisheries Resource Conservation Council: It is a pleasure for my colleague and me to be here today. I would like to thank Senator Comeau for the invitation.

I shall begin by telling you a bit about the organization that we represent, the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council. I will remind you that our mandate does not include allocations and therefore we will not be speaking about quota licensing. In the conservation game, it is a very sensitive area.

My colleague will be discussing the groundfish conservation framework. I understand you all have copies of that, and I hope you have had distributed to you our latest advice on cod stocks for Atlantic Canada and the groundfish stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

I will take you into a bit of the background of the FRCC, how it was formed and why. There were two organizations, the Canadian Atlantic Fisheries Scientific Advisory Council and the Atlantic Groundfish Advisory Council, commonly known as AGAC. That system did not work very well. Conservation with respect to AGAC was never a consideration. It was always a question of who got what and what was my share. Conservation was never a factor. It got us into a lot of trouble.

In 1993, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, following the collapse of northern cod, thought there should be a better system put in place to deal with quota allocations. We are an advisory council to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. We are a partnership of academics, industry, harvesters, processors and governments.

I am sure some of you remember back in 1992 when we ran into problems with the northern cod, the climate was highly charged and political. If you remember the TV shots, emotions were running very high. The greatest and supposedly the best managed stock in the world, northern cod, had collapsed. Among the fishermen, scientists and governments in general there developed a serious lack of confidence and trust. Also at that time, catch levels were determined behind closed doors. The advice to the minister was often secret from those who participated in the process.

Therefore, the FRCC was created to try to address some of the problems that led to the frustration on the part of the fishing industry. We were to develop a more comprehensive approach to fisheries conservation through understanding of fisheries ecosystems and a better integration of scientific information with traditional knowledge of fishermen. If you followed the fishery at that time you will remember that the fishing community was saying that the stocks were in trouble, but we were not listening. We were also to make sure that the process was open and transparent.

The mandate of the council is to make recommendations to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans on total allowable catches, commonly referred to as TACs, and other conservation measures. We are to review stock assessment information and conservation proposals through public consultations Atlantic-wide, including Quebec and the Eastern Arctic. We are to advise the minister on science research and assessment priorities.

The membership of the council is diverse. We all have varied backgrounds from industry, and scientific and academic communities. We were appointed by the minister based on merit, knowledge and experience of the industry. We have ex officio members from the provinces, the territories and the federal government.

We would like to think that over the past four years, the FRCC has managed to change and improve the decision-making process. We allow for a direct say by fishermen through consultations. We are helping to create a better relationship between scientists and fishermen. The FRCC is instrumental in bringing about programs such as the Sentinel Fishery Program, and fishermen working with scientists. This work is factored into the stock assessment process. There is discussion taking place between scientists and fishermen which can truly be described as a two-way street. We have made progress from a few short years ago, but we have a long way to go.

In 1996, I came in as chairman. The minister of the day tasked the FRCC to develop a blueprint for east coast groundfish conservation. Combined with what we learned from the FRCC public meetings on 52 groundfish stocks, the best scientific knowledge available, and lessons learned from the collapse of the fisheries, we came up with a groundfish conservation framework for Atlantic Canada. I hope you have copies of that as well. We think that this report, followed in its entirety or in whole, will be a framework for conservation.

The report sets goals, principles, conservation measures, and a practical set of guidelines for all stakeholders in the fishery. We firmly believe that conservation must be everyone's concern, and our framework is written for those involved with the fishery. The report is about our future. We cannot go forward if we do not come to grips with the errors of the past.

So let us look back. If you listen to commentaries, fingers are being pointed at one source as being the problem. The crisis that we are in today is not related to a single cause or group. It was the failure of the whole fisheries system. We have a tremendous harvesting capacity that was driven by greed and subsidy and combined with an inadequate management system and poor knowledge of the resource.

In the past, we looked at Band-Aid solutions. We did not address the attitude, change or underlying causes. The result was non-conservational fishing practices, namely, dumping, discarding, ghost fishing, accepting undersized fish for processing, and failure to recognize that the ocean's resources are limited.

The key issue is we failed to recognize the impact of technological changes that have taken place since the early 1980s and into the 1990s. Therefore, we all must accept various degrees of blame. We had a window of opportunity in 1977 when we declared the extension of the 200-mile limit. Unfortunately, in our euphoria, we missed that window. Today council believes we have a narrow window that is still open, but it is closing fast. That is the reason we think a groundfish conservation framework is the last opportunity to make real and lasting change in Atlantic Canada.

The FRCC report is very comprehensive. It sets out goals and ways to achieve them. We have key messages: Change the way we think about the fishery. Conservation is not easy, but it must come first to rebuild groundfish stocks. When we rebuild them, the key is to harvest them at sustainable levels. We must err on the side of caution, reflect the cautionary approach, and realize the uncertainty of information and the fallibility of human judgment.

We are committed to an ecosystem approach to fisheries conservation and management that recognizes the delicate relationship between the species, the environment and the harvesters.

In that mix, the favourite topic of the day is seals. We must acknowledge the role seals play in the ecosystem. We are not suggesting that seals are the cause of the collapse of the fish stocks, but we firmly believe that the explosion of the population over the past few years with no or limited harvesting, has impeded the recovery of fish stocks.

Many have said this publicly and the Minister of Fisheries in Newfoundland has recently mounted a very public campaign across Canada. I too say, and the FRCC has said, that the moment there is an imbalance, there is no question about it. There is an imbalance of harp seals northeast of Newfoundland and grey seals off Nova Scotia.

The stock off Nova Scotia -- we refer to eastern Nova Scotia as 4VsW -- has sustained the Nova Scotia offshore fleet for years. Today the total biomass is only half of what the harvest was when we closed it. There is now about 32,000 tonnes and it is still declining after five years of moratorium. There is a message here.

On the northeast coast of Newfoundland, there are 5 million plus harp seals. Another sad story, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, both north and south -- known as 4TVn, in the NAFTA terms, the 4RS,3Pn -- has very low biomass levels, and in a lot of cases they are declining or just holding.

There is the juvenile problem and recruitment. Scientists tell us they cannot find young fish coming into the system. The animals out there love small fish. We firmly believe that seals are affecting and lowering stock recovery.

Also we must pay more attention to the connection between spawning and future recruitment of young fish. Science has told us that it is critical to have a large spawning biomass to sustain a fishery. At the moment, in the case of northern cod or eastern Nova Scotia, we do not have that. We must adopt measures to maintain adequate spawning potential, such as limiting harvesting rates, protecting spawning concentrations and implementing selective harvesting practices.

We still have a limited understanding of the complexity of inter-relationships between given species and their environments in the ocean. Doctor Elisabeth Mann-Borgehese said in her speech at the International Summit of the Sea in St. John's Newfoundland last September, "There are 10 million species which exist in the ocean which we have not yet examined." She went on to say that we do not know enough to realize the importance of the ecological processes and the food chain of all fish species, that fish at their early stage of their life histories are especially vulnerable to loss of habitat and that fish of all ages require areas where they can remain protected.

We must adopt measures to protect the ecosystem, measures to protect critical habitat, including implementing marine protected areas, implementing an ecosystem-based management, limiting activities that could be detrimental to the habitat, and applying technology toward reducing negative impacts of harvesting on the fishing grounds and the habitats where they live.

Proper conservation calls not only for rebuilding of fish stocks and maintaining them at healthy levels, but also obtaining the greatest benefit from the fish caught. I am afraid that in the past we did not realize this. The FRCC strongly advocates adopting measures to minimize resource waste. We do have limited resources to work with, so let us maximize our return on what we have. In other words, we should target fish at the proper size and at the proper time, minimize incidental harvest, and implement proper handling procedures in order to maximize utilization of the fish that we have.

A recent edition of Time magazine carried a feature on the world's oceans. The title centered on the oceans being on the brink of collapse. There were worldwide examples of stock collapsing and disappearing. I quote from that article:

We are reaching, and in many cases have exceeded, the oceans' limits. We are no longer living off the income, but are eating deeply into the capital.

We must deal with some real problems we have out there. One of the greatest is overcapacity, and it is not easy to deal with. There are a lot of people expecting to go back into this fishery and make a living from it. Unfortunately, resources are not rebounding, but we have a lot of equipment and fishermen out there waiting to go fishing. It is a gear and boats problem.

However, the major issue in the groundfish sector is not the number of fishermen, but the ability we have today to target and kill fish. We have larger, more efficient vessels and a lack of economic opportunities, and that works against us to reduce capacity. It is imperative that we strictly control the level of capacity and the number of fishermen as well as controlling the effort and the technology; we must have a better understanding of the resource itself and a better understanding of the ecosystem, and we must build a system that works for everybody.

The solutions will not be found here in Ottawa; they do not rest in Moncton or in Halifax or St. John's. They rest with those who are involved in the fishery. There must be a change of attitude; there must be respect for the oceans, and that includes all of us here today.

I personally have been involved in the fishery for 40 years, and my family has been in it for 100 years. I live in rural Newfoundland, and I have seen the devastation that the collapse of the cod fishery has caused the communities. I have seen houses boarded up and people moving on. When I speak about this, I speak with a passion for this industry and for Atlantic Canadians. I hope the tough lessons we have learned, the sacrifices we have made will never be forgotten and certainly will never be repeated.

Conservation is compulsory, and it is not an option.

Those are my remarks, honourable senators. My colleague will take us through our conservation framework, a document which we think should be implemented and put into practice immediately.

The Acting Chairman: Thank you for your challenging and troubling testimony before this committee today.

[Translation]

Dr Jean-Claude Brêthes, Vice-Chair, Fisheries Resource Conservation Council: In the groundfish conservation framework, we are recommending a series of actions to achieve a number of goals associated with conservation principles. Four broad conservation goals have been identified.

The first, and most obvious one, is to rebuild depleted stocks. Everyone is well aware of the status of most groundfish stocks in Atlantic Canada. The first task is to rebuild these stocks.

The second broad objective is sustainable utilization of the resource to enable future generations to continue exploiting this resource.

The third goal is the use of conservationist practices in keeping with the principle of sustainable utilization. If sustainability is the ultimate objective, conservation is the means to reaching it.

The fourth goal is to ensure optimum benefits. Conservation is not meant to eliminate a particular economic activity, but rather to ensure that optimum benefit is derived from that activity while ensuring resource sustainability. This is indeed a fairly complex goal to accommodate.

We have also devised a series of seven principles as part of our strategy. The first principle is understanding the resource. We cannot take action or set targets without adequate understanding of the resource. For this, we need adequate information. I will come back to this point later.

The second principle is to protect resource renewability. Mr. Woodman talked about this earlier. To ensure sustainable utilization, we need to be certain that in as much as possible, the resource has the ability to renew itself, since we are dealing theoretically with a renewable resource.

The third stated principle is to take a precautionary approach. This implies a reverse burden of proof, meaning that contrary to past practices, and not only in the fisheries sector where we had to demonstrate that actions were harmful or could have harmful effects, we must now demonstrate that actions taken have no harmful effects.

What this all means is that steps must be taken in advance to avoid catastrophic situations. When we weigh the information, we must be able, on the balance of evidence, to take action without necessarily having formal proof. Action must be taken before a scientific consensus has been achieved.

The next principle calls for the use of a systems approach. As Mr. Woodman mentioned, in the fisheries sector, interactions take place between the biological and ecological systems and between the physical environment and species. There is also an interaction between human behavior and the biological resource. Only when we manage to understand all of these interactions can we truly take proper, well-targeted action.

The next guiding principle is consistency. All players should abide by the same principles and broad rules of action. When we talk about a particular type of stock, conservation rules must be consistent from one region to the next to avoid a situation where certain sectors would not have the same rules in place as others, thereby compromising resource conservation.

The next-to-last principle is accountability. All players must enforce conservation rules and be accountable to some extent for their actions. When I say all players, I mean the biologists who supply the information to managers all the way down the line to the fishers themselves and to the processing industry.

The final principle is flexibility and responsiveness. When we adopt conservation principles, we must put in place monitoring and follow-up systems so that we can act as quickly as possible when problems occur. The management system must be sufficiently flexible and innovative to address problems where and when they occur.

These then are our broad principles. From these principles, we have developed a checklist of seven basic tasks which will help us to abide by these conservation principles.

The first, and perhaps the most fundamental and immediate task, is to establish conservationist harvest rates. Our harvest rates must correspond to the resource support capability. The first consideration is to ensure that harvest rates are consistent with the resource's ability to renew itself.

The second task is to maintain adequate spawning potential. The objective is to ensure an adequate concentration of reproductive biomass, as well as the quality of this biomass in terms of age and quality of spawners.

The third task, which ties in somewhat with the second, is to establish a diverse age structure in the stocks. When we harvest the resource intensively, the end result is a recruitment fishery where the focus is on harvesting newly recruited fish.

This is an extremely dangerous situation to the extent that the fishery is subject to recruitment fluctuations. In view of this diverse age structure, we must achieve two objectives: on the one hand, maintain spawning potential and, on the other hand, provide the fish population with a hedge against major recruitment fluctuations.

One subject that comes up quite often during the discussions is the issue of protecting genetic diversity within fish populations. When fish stocks become depleted, we note a lack of geographic distribution within the fish population. Reproductive fish stocks are concentrated in certain sectors, that is in zones where fish customarily spawn. This situation is cause for extreme concern. As part of our conservation strategy, we must take steps to restore or maintain genetic diversity of the resource.

Another somewhat more difficult task that we face is to protect the ecosystem. The council is presently hard at work trying to determine exactly what this task entails. Protecting the ecosystem means protecting fish habitats and critical zones and trying to achieve a balance between predators and prey, namely capelin, cod and seals. This gives you some idea of what protection of the ecosystem entails.

Protecting critical habitats is a task that ties in with the previous one. We preferred to deal with this issue separately. It is an important one, particularly when we get around to discussing integrated management, which is much more than simply managing the fishery. Other activities may prove harmful to fish habitats.

The final task, which ties in with the council's mandate, is to minimize resource waste, that is to target the resource, i.e. target fish at the proper time and at a proper size and avoid fishing species for which there is no market or which will only be rejected or destroyed, a situation which puts added pressure on the resource. We believe, and this was mentioned during some of the hearings, that we must aim to achieve the same or even increase the level of economic benefit while fishing less. Our objective must be to harvest good quality fish, which means processing the fish while still at sea and addressing conservation problems in terms of preserving products on board fishing vessels and in processing plants. Of course, it is not within the council's mandate to suggest action in this area. The mere fact that waste does occur puts added pressure on the resource. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Looking at all of these recommendations involving broad objectives and principles, we believe that decisions regarding resource conservation must be based on sound knowledge of the resource. Moreover, it falls within the purview of our Council to make recommendations to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans regarding the department's research priorities.

In our resource conservation framework, we have identified a number of problems and recommended possible follow-up action to the department and to the department's science sector. The first problem identified is recruitment. Despite the moratoriums and the five years of fisheries closures, we still have not achieved recruitment levels where newly recruited fish will replace those that die of old age or of other causes.

Another problem identified is knowledge of biology and of the basic resource. When we talk about ecosystems, we must understand how the resource evolves within its own ecosystem. We need information about biology. When we talk about biodiversity and about the need to protect certain components, we need to understand the different fish stock components in order to better target management principles.

In adopting a systems approach, and I will get back to this point later, we also need to understand how the ecosystem works. We need to understand this when we talk about protecting the ecosystem and fish habitats. We have to recognize that although considerable progress has been made, we are still a long way away from truly understanding how everything is interconnected.

To understand everything that is happening in the research sector, we must not rely on a single source of information. We must be able to compare information from various sources and try to be as fair-minded as possible in our assessment of the situation.

We know that much uncertainty prevails in the science sector. This fact must be taken into consideration. It is one of the reasons for adopting a precautionary approach to stock assessments and to the management and conservation process.

Mention was also made of the fishing effort. Major technological improvements have been made in this area. Fish mortality is not the only issue; we need to consider something far more complex, namely the technology and behavior of humans who fish. We need to understand the significance of the fishing effort. When fishery biologists assess stocks, their assessment models cannot or do not take into account environmental fluctuations. We do not know how to extrapolate on these environmental fluctuations to ascertain the impact of fishing mortality and the fishing activity. We must adopt a more comprehensive approach and take environmental factors into account in our assessments.

Technically speaking, we have the results of the assessment done in 1995; we are pouring over the figures for 1996 in preparation for our 1997 recommendations. We are two years behind in the recommendation process. In our view, we need to reduce the amount of time that elapses from the moment information is gathered and recommendations are formulated and adopt a much more systemic approach to research, taking into account the knowledge of researchers in various disciplines and in various regions. These disciplines include the social sciences sector, not just the field of biology. We must also take into account in this process the traditional knowledge of fishery people, the knowledge that exists outside the industry. We must try to take all of these factors into account.

This year, like last year, we have issued a series of recommendations concerning research. Working from the problems identified in the past and also raised in our conservation framework, we have devised a series of recommendations which address current research concerns.

The Fisheries Resource Conservation Council is grateful for the assistance of the science sector. It has received all the support it needs from this sector which has also acted in line with our previous recommendations. The Council would like to thank and congratulate the science sector for its support and assistance in helping it to carry out its mandate.

One issue raised repeatedly is the recruitment dilemma. We do not understand what is happening. We have suggested that the sciences sector take a look at the recruitment system not as a series of separate components, but rather from a regional perspective. In other words, it should adopt a zonal approach, as Fisheries and Oceans calls it. We propose that researchers from all regions and disciplines work together to formulate a strategy to resolve this problem. We must compile existing information--a great deal of work has already been done in this area, but what we have are separate reports -- identifying the information that is lacking and from there, build a research strategy. We have called for a status report with a view to developing a research strategy. We want to take a look at the problems of natural mortality and the predator-prey relationship. The seal situation and this animal's reproductive capability are extremely important considerations.

In this report, we have suggested possible courses of action to help nature help us. The fishers have done their part. We shut down the fishery. People have been fishing very little, if at all, over the past four or five years. We must find a way to help nature help us rebuild stocks. We need to identify protected habitats and spawning grounds, define that which constitutes a critical habitat, zones and seasons, close the fishery down completely during the off-season and determine what needs to be done to help stocks replenish themselves.

Regarding the stock unit problem, we find a variety of stocks in southern Newfoundland. Biologists have also identified a number of problems in the Bay of Fundy. Management, the industry and we at the council have a responsibility to know what the status of the stocks truly is when we issue recommendations. This is one point that biologists need to resolve. They have extremely modern and high-tech tools available to them and they must not slacken their pace. We have called for activities to be stepped up in this area through other means.

During the moratorium, the source of our information was scientific surveys. We know that the industry harbors a great deal of skepticism about this. To our minds, scientific research campaigns are in extremely important source of knowledge not only about biomass, but also about environmental factors, recruitment levels and so forth. Moreover, during the moratorium, very little fishing activity took place. Scientific campaigns are extremely important and must not be eliminated from the research sector.

However, we need a variety of sources of information and we strongly recommend that the sciences sector and the industry carry out joint activities. This is already happening. Consider Sentinel fisheries and research surveys conducted jointly by the industry and the sciences sector. Such activities must be bolstered and better structured.

This year, we are recommending that the department hire a coordinator for Atlantic Canada to oversee all activities between the industry and the sciences sector and also to promote these activities within the department and within the industry. We realized that there have been cutbacks in the department and inevitable budgetary constraints. Not only would this be one way of obtaining additional information, but it would also restore eroding confidence between the industry and the research community. People need to work together to understand the problems that both sides face. These activities are important and we feel that a coordinator will help to promote activities of this nature.

I have already made a reference to the fishing effort. We focus on this in our recommendations. Now is the time to take a precautionary approach. We must look at things from an ecosystem perspective at all levels, the research community as well as management. In this report, we focus solely on research, but researchers must be able to provide a minimum amount of information about certain things, particularly reference levels, biomass levels or reproductive biomass. We must gain a better understanding of the relationship between stocks and recruitment levels. The scientific sector must be in a position to supply us with this information. In order to make progress in this area, it is important, as I said, to take an ecosystem or precautionary approach at all levels.

[English]

The Acting Chairman: Thank you very much, Dr. Brêthes. This is really very useful testimony from both of you.

Senator Stewart: We hear a great deal on the wharves about the impact of foreign fishing on some of the stocks. I notice that you did not make a big point about that. Is that because you think the impact of foreign fishing has been exaggerated? Do you think that, given our international obligations in any case, perhaps there is nothing much we can do about it, at least in the short run?

Mr. Woodman: You have asked a good question. In our reports over the years, starting from the time this council came into being right to the present, we have shown our concern about foreign overfishing and, I should say, the behaviour of foreign fishermen outside the 200-mile limit. Inside the 200-mile limit at the moment there is very limited fishing being done by foreigners, or foreign fleets. There is one in Nova Scotia, I believe, with respect to the silver hake fishery, and another one in the northern turbot fishery, but there is zero up off Baffin Island. That to my knowledge at the moment is a very well-controlled fishery.

From the reports that we get, which is what we have to work with, we know that the selectivity is working well. They are using Nordmore grates to eliminate by-catches; the Nordmore is a piece of equipment that goes into the end of an otter-trawl to allow escapement of undersized fish or other species of fish. That is working very well; so we do not have a great concern there at the moment. We think it is very well controlled.

Senator Stewart: Both of you have emphasized the delicate relationship between the various species. Do you think that the intensive activity in the shrimp fishery may well be having a deleterious effect upon the groundfish or other important fisheries? What about the harvesting of the herring that takes place in the Gulf? What about the mackerel fishing? Is what is going on there bad? Perhaps I should add to the Gulf the area off southwestern Nova Scotia. What about that?

Mr. Woodman: With respect to pelagic fish, according to its original mandate the council was supposed to move into "pelagics" -- that would be our next species -- but, unfortunately, we have not done so yet; however, we do take great concern over the harvesting of pelagic fish, especially as that applies to the food chain. In my comments, I mentioned the ecosystem approach.

Senator Stewart: Before you go on, I should mention that I am going to send this testimony to a fair number of fishermen. You used the term "pelagics." Perhaps you could be more specific, and use wharf language.

Mr. Woodman: Actually, I should use wharf language. I came off the wharf. Pelagic fish are herring, mackerel, capelin. Pelagics, in many cases, are surface fish. They are at all depths, but, at certain times of the year, they cling to the surface.

You mentioned shrimp. In this year's report, which we have just released, we made a special point trying to ensure that this developing shrimp fishery in the north is very well controlled, well monitored and policed. Everybody in that fishery uses the Nordmore grate, which they tell us is an excellent conservation measure to protect the juvenile cod and juvenile redfish that are coming through the system. There is no question that that is a concern.

We have a Gulf shrimp fishery. In the beginning, most fishermen would tell you, it was very destructive; but today I think the northern Gulf shrimp fishery is very conservative.

Senator Stewart: Do you have anything to say about the removal of the shrimp from the sea as the removal of a food stock for other species?

Mr. Woodman: I will make one comment. I have not seen the biomass estimates, but they tell us that the biomass estimates since the decline of cod in the north are unbelievable. The increase of shrimp has been such that, in fact, they have taken over the whole area. There is a tremendous biomass of shrimp at the moment in the north, and no doubt a lot of people think that is due to the fact there is no cod in the area to eat those species.

Senator Stewart: That is like the argument that the increase in the lobsters in certain parts of the Gulf is a result of the increase in the seals. The seals have eaten the cod which used to eat the little lobsters.

Mr. Woodman: It is a very complicated system, sir. You are on the right track. I am not sure we have all the answers.

Dr. Brêthes: We have one stock which is recovering in the Gulf. It is Greenland halibut. Most of the fishermen in the area think that the Nordmore grate is responsible for that. It means for the moment that the shrimp fishery in the Gulf does not have a detrimental effect on one fish.

As for the removal of shrimp, of course, shrimp are eaten by fish; but what we have to keep in mind is that shrimp is a poor food for fish. If a cod has a choice, it will go for capelin or young herring instead of shrimp. It is not easy to say that, if you remove shrimp, you will jeopardize cod recovery. I am not sure it is true.

Senator Stewart: You would be more suspicious that the removal of herring would have an impact on the cod recovery.

Dr. Brêthes: Capelin and young herring are a good food source for cod; that is for sure.

Senator Stewart: All right. I hear what you are saying.

Both of the witnesses, Mr. Chairman, have emphasized the complexity of the situation and have urged a coordinated approach. Let me share a thought with you, Mr. Chairman. I have watched the fishery problem for quite a while, first as a member of Parliament and then on the wharf. I have wondered over the years if the Department of Fisheries has been given a chance to succeed. I will tell you what I mean.

My impression is that the Minister of Fisheries within his jurisdiction has more power than any other minister of the Crown, certainly more than the Minister of Agriculture. He has all these species. It is an industry. He is running a socioeconomic system. By reason of the way that the department evolved, I wonder if some of the ministers were ever fully seized of what a tremendously big responsibility had been imposed on them.

If you look back a few years, and I am sure I am simplifying here, they were concerned with a good deal of scientific research on the one hand and with a certain amount of policing of the stocks and the seals and so on. I am sure individual members within the department would have realized, but I wonder if there was ever a government mandate which said to the Minister of Fisheries and the permanent public servants, "Look, you are not just running an industry; this is a wonderfully complicated socio-economic system.

I do not want to say I am accusing, but I am saying the department has not had a chance to perform the job which we think it ought to have performed, because the task was never properly defined. I guess the question that this all leads to, Mr. Chairman, is this: We have had very sophisticated testimony from these two witnesses. Do they feel that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is structurally and mentally geared up to provide the kind of response which they believe is necessary?

Senator Comeau: That is why they gave them the Coast Guard.

Mr. Woodman: I do not see either one of us jumping at that one, senator. I would love to sit down and debate that with you person to person. However, as Chairman of the Council, I cannot answer for the Department of Fisheries.

Senator Stewart: I think you are answering by implication.

Mr. Woodman: No. You go back to the question of decisions and the power of the minister, but after 1977 there was a great illusion. This world was going to unfold with an enormous quantity of groundfish that was going to take care of all the ills of Atlantic Canada. We went on that track. The minister, as well as myself as part of that industry, thought at the time that once the foreigners were gone everything was going to be great. It did not unfold that way.

Senator Meighen: Your testimony has been fascinating. I certainly think if any of us could wave a magic wand and cause it all to come to pass, that would be the best news for the fishery in a long time.

Looking at the people involved in the food chain, I want to explore just for a second the relationship between you and the fishermen -- and I hope you will pardon my use of that expression, but I am in agreement with the lady from Newfoundland who is proud to be a "fisherman" and is not going to use the politically correct expression "fisher." I also wish to explore your relations with the minister, whoever that person may be.

First of all, in terms of the minister, you have been in business since 1993. Presumably, you have been making recommendations since then. Do you have a box score of how you have done by way of having your recommendations accepted and acted upon? Are you, as chairman, happy with the reception you have received from the minister of the day, whoever he or she may be?

Mr. Woodman: Yes, senator, I think that we have had great support from council. There is a realization that we have serious problems. The recommendations that we have made so far, and I believe this is our fifth report, have had just about 100 per cent acceptance.

We are speaking with respect to total allowance catches. We have documents that are in process but that at the moment are not accepted. The conservation framework is one. The lobster report, I think, is in the system right now and, hopefully, the conservation strategy will be in the system as well. We think it is imperative that a document be part of any management policy in Atlantic Canada in the foreseeable future.

Senator Meighen: I am sorry, I did not quite understand.

Mr. Woodman: The minister has not commented on that particular document you have today, which was released last Wednesday. Previous to that, yes.

Senator Meighen: Do you expect that most, if not all, of the recommendations will be accepted?

Mr. Woodman: We would hope that most of the recommendations will be accepted.

Senator Meighen: Was there a similar document in previous years?

Mr. Woodman: Yes.

Senator Meighen: Were most of the recommendations accepted?

Mr. Woodman: Yes.

Senator Meighen: Going down another way in the food chain with the fishermen, I think Dr. Brêthes indicated that one recommendation was to employ a coordinator between the scientific community and the fishermen. Is that a recommendation, or is that going to happen?

Mr. Wood: That is a recommendation. Dr. Brêthes can comment on it, but that is our recommendation.

Dr. Brêthes: It is not the first time we have made this recommendation. A few years ago, we made a recommendation to implement the so-called Sentinel Fishery. It means scientific surveys, but carried out by fishermen. Now we see that several are in place in most areas under the moratorium. Some are working very well. Some are working not so well.

Also, we see industry being more involved in scientific surveys. Last fall, there was an industry survey under scientific supervision in the 3Ps area, southern Newfoundland, in St. Pierre's Bank. So it is moving.

[Translation]

Senator Meighen: You indicated that at times, this approach is successful, whereas at other times it is less so. Does this depend on the fishers and on the quality of the people who are participating or do other factors come into play?

Mr. Brêthes: The principle of sentinel fisheries, as it exists, called for the industry to submit project proposals. Researchers assessed the projects and worked with the industry to implement them. That is why different sentinel fishery models are in place in the different regions. Some provide the information that we desire. In other sectors, we observed that after two or three years, the results were not what we had hoped for. Basically, the initial project proposals came from the industry and were developed jointly with the researchers. There was a need to reconcile somewhat different viewpoints.

Let me also just say that fishers are regularly invited to board research vessels during scientific campaigns. Under a process followed by the former Science Advisory Board and discontinued in 1993, assessments were strictly an internal Fisheries and Oceans matter. For reasons of scientific accuracy, the process was strictly scientific and confidential. Now, a regional advisory process has been initiated where biologists share the results of their assessments and their data with industry officials who are systematically invited to attend these meetings. In late January, a 15-day meeting was held to discuss the status of cod stocks. Industry representatives were in attendance and addressed the gathering. The public continues to have a romantic image of the fisher as a benevolent individual who does not know much of anything sitting on the dock. Industry people now know what scientific research entails and they are prepared to discuss the matter.

Senator Meighen: I would think that the opposite were true, that the people sitting on the dock are the ones who are leery of the scientists.

[English]

Given the collapse of our cod stocks, and the two recent collapses of the herring in British Columbia and the anchovies off Peru, I just wondered whether we knew what happened subsequently? Did those stocks recover? Do we know what steps were taken to help in the recovery, if they did?

Mr. Woodman: I cannot answer with respect to the anchovy collapse off California, but as I recall -- and Senator Perrault may be able to answer this one -- the herring stocks off British Columbia recovered.

What has happened to the cod stocks is incredible. That this great amount, 2 million tonnes of fish, could be decimated in 12 to 15 years is unbelievable. Recovery is a big question mark.

Senator Meighen: They are not coming back very much, are they?

Mr. Woodman: They are not coming back as we had anticipated.

Dr. Brêthes: The situation is a bit different for herring-type stocks, for anchovy, et cetera, and cod, because pelagic species have a very short life cycle. The Peruvian anchovy collapse is now a case study in the schools, showing the synergetic effect of various factors. There was mismanagement, increasing pressure from the fishing industry, a decrease in the price on the foreign market for fish meal, and there was El Ni<#00F1>o. Everything went together, and the stock plummeted from 30 million tonnes to 3 million tonnes. It is recovering now, but slowly.

We do not have a clear sign of what will happen here, but you know that nature abhors a vacuum. When you bring a stock to a very low level, some other species may overcome the situation. That happened in California. It happened a bit in Peru. It happened in St. Helena, west of Africa.

In the groundfish fishery, we observe that a shark-like species, skate, and small sharks are increasing in the area of the Scotian Shelf. Is it a cause-and-effect relationship? I do not know. Nobody knows, but that is what we observe.

Senator Meighen: One of the witnesses indicated that there is a clear imbalance in terms of the seal population now in many areas. I have not had a chance to read the documents that are before us this morning. Have you made any recommendation with regard to the seal population?

Mr. Woodman: Our recommendation to the minister this year, which he has on his desk now, is that the harvesting of all species be increased immediately.

Senator Meighen: All species of seals?

Mr. Woodman: Yes. We feel there is a definite imbalance.

Senator Stewart mentioned herring, capelin and the effect of the seals on those food species as well as on cod. This is a hostile environment for northern cod. Scientists have told us, and I think we all agree, that in that environment there has to be a tremendous biomass in order for that stock to recover. At the moment, that biomass is not at a level which we think is satisfactory for any fishery.

Senator Butts: I was interested in some of the objectives of your council in general. Objective 3.6 is about the mechanism for the public to be able to get this information. Would you tell me specifically how that is working, and how effective that is?

Mr. Woodman: Every year, we do a series of Atlantic-wide public consultations. We meet in different areas. To give you an example, this winter we went to the coast of Labrador and the northwest coast of Newfoundland; we were in Grand Falls, Clarenville, Moncton, Port Hawkesbury and Gaspé. We hold public hearings in different areas, in a kind of town-hall, public-forum sort of meeting in the town. We usually get a very good response. We discuss the stock assessments. We discuss with the local fishermen what they see under water in carrying on the other fisheries they participate in. It is a fairly open process.

As Dr. Brêthes said with respect to the meetings in Newfoundland, which carried on for two weeks and then were extended beyond that, it was a very open process and had been well advertised. That is the process that we are using at the moment. We still think there is room for improvement in communications.

Senator Butts: Are you are familiar with a study done at Memorial University on communities of fishers and fish. It came out in April. It may be part of your scientific studies. They use all kinds of figures and studies to show that the collapse of the cod was not because of cold water. Then she goes on to say that, apart from the collapse of the cod, the ecosystem where the cod should be is rather healthy.

I think her final conclusion is that the problem is with harvesting. She says that the only way that we might get around this is to connect harvesting with stewardship.

When I was thinking of that, I was thinking of the study on the gear technology which was done by a subcommittee of your group. It was distressing to read there that they realize there is overcapacity but, for some reason or other, they say that they cannot achieve their objectives of conservation because the willingness to implement the change does not exist.

It is very depressing. Which is the problem section where the willingness does not exist? Is this in is your group or somewhere else? Do you know where it is? Why is there such a statement?

Mr. Woodman: I will make a short comment and then I will hand it over to Dr. Brêthes and let him carry on, because I think he has good views on this one.

Senator Butts: There is an admission of overcapacity in the harvesting, which says to me there is something wrong in the connection between harvesting and stewardship. There is an admission that there is excess capacity out there, but there is a pessimistic ending to it that says the willingness to implement the changes does not exist.

Mr. Woodman: For change to occur, first, there has to be recognition of a problem. That is the first step. The majority of fishermen out there think that, in a lot of cases, they were not the problem. I think we are all part of the problem.

Senator Butts: That is the inshore fishermen, is it?

Mr. Woodman: I think all of them believe they were not part of the problem. However, we are all part of the problem, because somewhere in the past we did over-harvest and kill a lot of fish. Nevertheless, there is a definite feeling out there that the environment has played a part, but not a major part. The harsh environment that was out there did play a part in bringing the resource to its current low level, and it is playing a part at the moment because of the lower numbers that are available to sustain the stock or to bring it back or recoup it, and that is a problem.

I know Dr. Brêthes would have a comment on the capacity issue.

Dr. Brêthes: First, the FRCC is fully aware of the overcapacity problem and it is recognized as a major issue in our report.

Why did the stock collapse? We have to remember that temperature is just an index of something in the sea. It does not mean that temperature has a direct effect on cod, but I do not think anyone will deny that the ecosystem is a problem.

If you look at what is going on in eastern Newfoundland, everything has gone down; it is not just cod, but it is flatfish. Almost everything is closed there, except shrimp. Even if we agree with the scientific data, even poorly exploited species or non-exploited species have declined, so it is a global problem there.

When you hit a species very hard that has some difficulties to survive because of the environment, you reach a threshold and then you arrive at the collapse. Overharvesting is a major cause, but there was overharvesting in stocks that were in poor shape because of an environmental condition.

The environment is playing a role. If we look at a stock of 40 cod in the southern Gulf in 1977, the biomass was as low as it is now, but the younger amount was good enough and the stock recovered in 7 years. Now we have the same level of biomass, maybe a little bit higher than in 1977, but nothing is happening and we do not fish. We have not fished since 1993.

Senator Butts: Thank you. I appreciate your task of bringing together all of the scientists in agreement on this.

Senator Comeau: You acknowledge that there is an overcapacity problem, and somewhere in your documents it says that it is necessary to evaluate the feasibility and efficiency of conservation measures to help restore the fishery. However, you noted at the beginning of the presentation that you did not want to touch licensing. I assume you mean any kind of subject that would involve licensing.

I have a fairly good idea of why you would not want to touch this subject, but I think it might be a good idea to get it on the record as to why you do not wish to touch this subject.

A number of groups -- and we continually read about this in the newspapers --have, in fact, proposed a panacea to solve the problems of overcapacity, to solve the problems of stewardship that Senator Butts alluded to, and to solve all the ills of the world in the oceans. Such groups include the Atlantic Institute of Management Studies, Environment Probe, the Fraser Institute and Jeffrey Simpson of The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail is supposedly Canada's national newspaper that is able to solve most of the problems of the world. Even DFO policy analysts have indicated the way to solve all these problems in their writings, which I have seen. The solution proposed is the privatization of the fishery. They propose it as a means to solve all these problems as well as to conserve the fish. Yet, we still do not have, as well, a government policy on this as such. There is no enunciated government policy.

I would like you to put on record why you would not propose this, since it is being put forward by certain groups as a means to solve the problems.

Mr. Woodman: I am not going to try to tell you, senator. We have to follow our mandate, which was given to us back in 1993. Allocation policy and licensing were not part of that mandate. I am not saying that there will not come a point in time when that might have to be addressed, but I am not sure whether the FRCC is the correct forum. Other than that, sir, it is outside my mandate to even make an observation on the licensing or the allocation policy.

Senator Comeau: I wanted to get that on the record, which is why I posed the question the way I did. I think you would have to acknowledge that this proposition is out there, being articulated by very articulate people who write extremely articulate articles. These articles -- and I am quite sure you have read them -- are well prepared by academic people, university professors and so on, who have a mean stroke of the pen when they sit down to write.

I guess it boils down to the government's specifically leaving you out of what is supposedly a means to resolve all these problems. At the end of the day, if this were to be true, if Jeffrey Simpson is the great knowledgeable expert he appears to be, you would even write yourself out of a job because the fish would, in fact, be conserved.

I know you have been meeting with fishermen probably much more regularly than anybody else, including DFO. You continually meet with people right in their home communities, fishermen, plant workers, and so on. You have become probably the most knowledgeable of groups today outside of industry in terms of actually being on the wharf and meeting people. That is why I find it kind of sad that this has not been a part of your mandate, where it would be so important for you to be able to say something about this. Would you consider recommending to the minister that the FRCC be given some say in this very important area, which could be a policy initiative?

Mr. Woodman: Again, I must say that we have not discussed the allocation issue at council. At this moment, I do not feel I could comment on whether we would consider it at some future date.

Senator Comeau: This committee, in its last two reports, one in 1993 and the last one in 1995, has requested that the department look at this whole concept of privatization and that it discuss it with the industry. To date, there has been no government initiative and, specifically, no DOF initiative to do that. However, we do see snippets related to this issue in various published reports. It is unofficial, but DFO officials are, in fact, advocating privatization through publications and so on.

There has been no public policy debate on it, which is rather frustrating for us, given that we have recommended it twice and no action has been taken.

I would come back to a question raised by Senator Stewart. He took a very broad view of the fishery. I would liken it to a comment made by President Bush some years ago about vision. There seems to be no "vision" coming out of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, other than what is called "conservation." Do you have in your mandate a recommendation that DFO should expand its vision and take a more vision-oriented approach to fisheries?

Mr. Woodman: Dr. Brêthes took us through the groundfish conservation framework. In the opinion of council, this document has a vision of how this fishery in Atlantic Canada should unfold. We would like to see that carried forward. It covers the whole gamut of the fishery, as Dr. Brêthes took you through it. As a council, this is our vision. It is a start. It is not the be-all and end-all, but it is certainly where we should be heading with the ground fishery in Atlantic Canada.

Senator Comeau: You noted that the biomass in 4VsW had decreased by approximately half since the moratorium had been imposed, half of what used to be cod. Am I correct in that?

Mr. Woodman: Yes.

Senator Comeau: In other words, only half the number of cod are in that area, so the biomass is continually going down in at least 4VsW. You said that tells a story. Would the same be applicable to the northern cod stocks? Is there some similarity between the two biomasses?

Mr. Woodman: You have an environmental problem in 4VsW, the eastern Scotian Shelf. The water temperatures, for whatever reason, are not warming as they should be. The reverse of that is found on the Newfoundland-Labrador Shelf, where water temperatures are back to normal and, in certain areas, above normal, and we are still not seeing any great recovery.

There has been some recovery in northern cod. However, in 4VsW or the eastern Scotian Shelf, that stock, for whatever reason, is still on a downward trend.

Senator Comeau: We often hear, and I think you said it yourself, that there is no one particular problem that you can point to. Many factors acting synergistically caused the collapse. A great number of people still want to blame somebody. They want to point the finger at somebody.

For the northern cod, can the finger be pointed at any one specific problem or is it, again, a whole number of things that happened?

Mr. Woodman: As I said in my comments, senator, I think it was a failure of the system. We had an overestimation of biomass, an overestimation of recoupment. We had an unbelievable harvesting capacity. When we closed the fishery to foreigners in 1977, the stock did show some recovery. However, when we removed foreign capacity, we then replaced it with Canadian capacity which was coming into a technological age where it was just as good or better than anything that was there before. We also have the imbalance caused by seals.

We thought the northern cod supply was unlimited. It had been there since John Cabot came over here. We abused it and lost it. We thought we could never take it down but, unfortunately, we found a way to do it. The combination of all of that put together is what has placed us in our present position.

Senator Stewart: Right at the beginning of Mr. Woodman's statement he referred to the overcapacity problem and he mentioned subsidies. Have the subsidies which had a deleterious effect been terminated?

Mr. Woodman: I really cannot answer your question. I do not know for sure.

Senator Stewart: What kind of subsidies are you talking about?

Mr. Woodman: I will give you an example. In 1977, when we declared a 200-mile limit, everybody in this industry felt the stock was going to recover. There were subsidies for plants and for boats. We even paid per diems for trawlers to go north.

There were provincial loan boards and federal subsidies that were there for the taking. That, in itself, increased the capacity tremendously.

I will turn to the capacity issue again. Even when we had a full-blown northern cod fishery, when we had ideal times, everything going into the Gulf of St. Lawrence in eastern Nova Scotia and southern Newfoundland, we still were not extracting from that resource what I call a meaningful living. The overcapacity has been there for a long, long time.

Senator Stewart: Thank you, sir.

Senator Cook: I have a question that is probably very simple but it has bothered me for a number of years. Mr. Chairman, I am a child of that wharf and I grew up in an outport. The fishing chain was very predictable: fish came in season. The harvesting of the capelin, especially the female capelin, which we believe fed the cod that our forefathers caught, has always troubled me.

I would like an opinion, if you can give one, on the impact of that of the commercial fishery.

Mr. Woodman: Senator Cook, there is a school of thought that says the recovery of the cod is contingent upon the recovery of the capelin. If you have a good food supply, then you will have a faster recovery than if you have a limited supply. It goes back again to the imbalance in the system.

Senator Cook: The commercial fishery harvests the female capelin instead of the male capelin, which results in a shortage or roe.

Mr. Woodman: Still, biologists would tell us that the low percentage of the biomass that we take is insignificant to the total biomass. In our consultations, some people tell us that the recovery of cod in the north is contingent upon a food supply of capelin.

The Chairman: If there are no other questions or comments, on behalf of members of the committee, I thank you for coming here this morning. You have made a valuable and significant contribution to our hearings. We wish you every success in your efforts to restore a thriving fish industry on the east coast.

The committee adjourned.