Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.