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Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Fisheries and Oceans

Issue 5 - Evidence

OTTAWA, Tuesday, May5, 2009

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 5:44 p.m. to study on issues relating to the federal government's new and evolving policy framework for managing Canada's fisheries and oceans.

Senator Bill Rompkey (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: I would like to welcome Dr.Jeffrey Hutchings. Before I mention his professional accomplishments, Senator Cook and Senator Cochrane will know well that Jeffrey Hutchings played hockey with St.Bon's Forum and his roots are in Trinity Bay.

Dr.Hutchings is professor of biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax; Canada Research Chair in Marine Conservation and Bio-diversity; and Chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC. Committee members will be aware that COSEWIC maintains a list of endangered or threatened species in the country. Professor Hutchings' visit to Ottawa is co-sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund.

Jeffrey Hutchings, Professor of Biology and Canada Research Chair in Marine Conservation and Biodiversity, Dalhousie University: Thank you for this opportunity to meet with you. My initial comments will reflect some of my own research, some of my experience as Chair of COSEWIC and there will be some personal elements to it, as well.

Canada has the longest coastline in the world. We have the geographical, if not moral imperative to be international leaders in protecting the health of the oceans and the species that inhabit them. The oceans are more than simply a repository of water. They provide a primary source of protein and food for the world and they contribute to cultural and spiritual values that cannot be easily quantified. The oceans moderate our climate, they affect our weather and there is a sense of wonder and aesthetic beauty to the oceans that mean something to us all. However, the health of our oceans is deteriorating because of two human stressors: Global warming and overfishing.

Since 1961, 90percent of the global uptake of heat resulting from climate change has been borne by the oceans, not by the atmosphere. This will have important, if unpredictable, consequences for things that live in the ocean and for us, as well. Oceanic water masses are changing in size, temperature and salt concentration. They may change their patterns of circulation. The oceans are becoming more acidic. Sea levels are rising. All of these changes will affect the productivity of the oceans.

There may be shifts in the distributions of various species for the simple reason that species determine their locations on the basis of temperature. These distributional shifts will alter the balance between predators and prey. Endangered species along our Atlantic and Pacific coasts are losing their habitats because of increasingly-frequent storms and more intense tidal surges. In the Arctic, home to three-quarters of Canada's coastline, loss of critical habitat in the form of sea ice affects the polar bear in serious ways.

However, as important as these climate-change-related threats are to marine species, they pale in comparison to the consequences of overfishing. In the Pacific, one can find Canada's largest fish, the basking shark, which is as big as a school bus. It feeds on plankton and other small organisms. Around Vancouver Island in the 1930s and 1940s, there were hundreds of basking sharks in the coves and inlets. They were fished for their livers in 1940s and they were the subject of a pest eradication program by the federal Fisheries Department, from 1954 to 1970. Since 1996, only six have been observed off the coast of B.C.

British Columbia's rockfishes are what I would describe as the gems of the North Pacific; they are the coral reef analogs of the Pacific Ocean. They are colourful fish and some live to be more than 150 years of age. However, most of the rockfishes we have been harvesting have declined by 80percent or 90percent.

The Atlantic makes up 20percent of Canada's coastline. Here, many species have been depleted to almost unimaginably low levels because of overfishing. The porbeagle is a shark that has declined 90percent since the early 1960s. The American plaice off Newfoundland and Labrador was once the largest fishery for flatfish, sole and halibut in the world. It has declined by 96percent.

However, the cod stock off Newfoundland and Labrador declined 99percent from 1962 to 1992. It stands as the greatest loss of a fishery in the world. This was once the largest cod stock in the world and, to put this in some perspective, the decline of cod is the greatest numerical loss of a vertebrate in Canada history — more than 2 billion individuals in 30 years. By weight, trying to compare that, the loss of reproductive cod would be about 27 million humans. Why have cod declined by levels unprecedented in Canadian, if not, global history? Overfishing is the reason. We never remotely achieved the intended management targets.

Canada's fish are a common property resource. They belong to all of the people of Canada. According to the Supreme Court of Canada, it is the duty of the Minister of Fisheries and Ocean duty to manage, conserve and develop the fisheries on behalf of all Canadians in the public interest, not solely in the interests of commercial fish harvesters.

Canada is a signatory to a variety of agreements, one of which is the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. Under that agreement, it is stipulated that signatories shall apply the precautionary approach to the management of its fisheries. When you adhere to the precautionary approach, you are acknowledging, "That the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing decisions where there is a risk of serious or irreparable harm.''

From a fisheries' perspective, the idea is that one sets target reference points for harvest levels and levels of fish abundance that you wish to achieve, and limit reference points for harvest levels and fish abundance levels that you wish to avoid because they are likely to lead to serious or irreparable harm. In other words, the argument is that there should be open, transparent, numerical objectives against which management plans can be defensively constructed and against which they can be judged by industry, lawmakers and our society.

The Auditor General has severely criticized Canada's fishery management plans for not identifying clear, measurable objectives. A paper published last year by DFO scientists concluded that implementation of sustainable fisheries management on marine fisheries has occurred slowly, if at all.

In the United States, recognition of overfishing and the development of fishery rebuilding plans are undertaken under the auspices of a piece of legislation called the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The act makes it clear that any management plan by the Secretary of Commerce must contain measures necessary to prevent or end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks. The U.S. has formally adopted fishery reference points, these are used to determine when a fish stock has been over fished, and they are used as targets for rebuilding plans. Few fish stocks in Canada have reference points, and none of these are recognized by legislation.

Where do some of our cod stocks stand today? Cod in the Southern Gulf of St.Lawrence are currently at one-third of their limit reference point. Northern gulf cod are currently at less than one-quarter of their limit reference point. Northern cod are at about one-sixth of their limit reference point, where the limit reference points are the points below which serious harm can occur.

It is under the auspices of Canada's Fisheries Act that fisheries depletions have taken place. Few would argue, I would think, that it currently offers an effective legislative tool for the rebuilding of fish stocks.

In the U.S., one can look at a comparison between the American legislation, the Oceans Act, the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act, SARA, and look at the degree to which they are likely to be useful tools for rebuilding and recovering fish stocks.

One can also ask the question of whether we should have proscriptive legislation as opposed to discretionary legislation. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has arguably the greatest discretionary power of any minister of the Crown. Neither the Fisheries Act nor the Oceans Act can be described as proscriptive pieces of legislation. That is, neither act specifies specific conditions under which the minister must respond in a proscribed form. However, whereas the U.S. act is mainly proscriptive the Fisheries Act, being highly discretionary, is unlikely to be an effective tool.

What might we do about this situation? There are steps that can be taken, and I will identify four. The first is fairly straightforward. There is a need for honourable, accountable and effective leadership with respect to our oceans. Such leadership must begin with the Prime Minister and simmer down through the cabinet to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and to the upper echelons of the bureaucracy.

Second, I would argue that there is a need for new legislation, the primary purposes of which would be to prevent and end overfishing and to rebuild depleted fish stocks. The new act could be called something along the lines of the "fish and fisheries conservation and management act.'' The new law would formalize the explicit use of target and limit reference points in fisheries conservation and management. That would fulfill obligations that Canada has under various international agreements to implement rules for how to harvest and rebuild depleted stocks. Proscriptive legislation would end overfishing and allow stocks to rebuild. These are the objectives written into the U.S. legislation.

A related concern is the regulatory conflict that exists within DFO insofar that the department has a dual role: promotion of industry and economic activity on the one hand, and, on the other, protection of fish and fish habitat. The simultaneous achievement of these two goals within a single piece of legislation has generally proven ineffective.

Third, we require environmentally informed consumer and corporate behaviour. Among other things, it would involve the simple labelling of fish products at the supermarkets that would inform the consumer about things such as the correct species of fish, the waters from which the fish were caught and the means used to catch the fish. The increased move towards some form of third party certification of sustainable seafood may provide an effective means of informing consumers and of changing consumer behaviour.

Fourth, I would point to education and acceptance of society's responsibilities. I have an eight-year-old daughter, and it will be up to people like her and her generation to change things. We can help by educating our youngsters, our children and grandchildren about the oceans and the diversity of life that inhabits the oceans. Such education can only lead to a sense of proprietary care and concern and a sense of stewardship and ownership that does not currently exist in this country.

Assigning blame for overfishing is not simply a matter of pointing a finger at a minister, at a bureaucrat or a fisherman. We are all involved; we are all implicated. The fish are our fish; they belong to us. We all need to pay for the sustainability of that biological ocean bounty in some form or another. The question is: What will you give up? Be it the commercial catching of fishing or the eating of tuna-filled sushi, societal behaviours must change.

Newfoundland's northern cod provides an illustrative example of what I have been trying to convey in these introductory remarks. For 500 years, the fishery was sustainable. It was the largest cod stock in world. Since then, it has declined 99percent. It represents the greatest numerical loss of a vertebrate in Canada history. There has been no recovery since the fishery was first closed in 1992, 17 years ago, but that has not stopped the fishing for northern cod. In June of last year, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced a 30percent increase in the quota for northern cod. It was astonishing to me that such an environmentally and scientifically vacuous decision, so bereft as it is of careful thought and consideration for future generations, could have been made on the most depleted fish stock in the world with barely a whimper from the media, the public, the NGOs or Parliament.

It speaks volumes to me of the central political problem facing fish and fisheries in this country: there are minimal political costs associated with poor decisions.

To conclude, biological depredation of the waters bordered by the longest coast line in the world ultimately reflects a disingenuous commitment to environmental sustainability. There is a clear need to replace societal and governmental lip service with meaningful responses to over-exploitation, habitat alteration and climate change. I have suggested that such responses require committed and honourable leadership on the national and international stages, new legislation in some form, environmentally informed consumer and corporate behaviour and acceptance of the inevitable short- term socio-economic costs borne by all Canadians that will be required to achieve longer-term societal benefits.

Recovering and maintaining the health of our oceans is a non-negotiable responsibility to future generations that we can neither afford, nor have the right, to ignore.

Senator MacDonald: Professor Hutchings, we thank you very much for being here today. As someone who grew up in a fishing community and whose family fished for generations, I can recall going into the Grand Banks and coming back with 230,000 yellowtail and 35,000 bycatch cod in the early 1970s. It seemed like the fish would go on forever. We had a processing plant in my home town of Louisbourg with over 400 people working two shifts, six days a week.

Now I speak to fishermen at home, and it is desperate in terms of what they see out there, the cod in particular. Some of the people around the table know this: My brother-in-law was a long-time fishing captain with National Sea. In the 1970s, he was also a fishing captain on the Gadus Atlantica. A scientific captain sailed on that ship. My brother- in-law gave me the heads up in the late 1980s about what was going on with the cod.

It is a problem of overfishing, and I realize that Canadians must take full responsibility for the overfishing. We also know there has been substantial overfishing by foreign trawlers and factory freezer trawlers for generations off the East Coast of Canada.

The Europe Union made its decision today regarding the seal hunt, or "cull,'' as I prefer to call it. Professor Hutchings, with the acknowledgement that overfishing has been the problem with what has happened to cod stock, in terms of the regeneration and recovery of that stock, how large a role does the burgeoning seal population play in keeping that stock down?

Mr.Hutchings: Senator MacDonald, you have asked a very important question. The way I can answer that question is to consider the variety of factors that we think are affecting the recovery of cod in a general sense. You have identified the fact that marine mammal populations — harp seal off Newfoundland and Labrador and grey seal off the Maritimes — have increased in abundance tremendously in the last few decades.

Where we are today reflects an extraordinary imbalance and refers earlier to what I said about the imbalance between predators and prey. The number of harp seals, for example, that are off Newfoundland, is probably how many there were in the 1700s and 1800s when 700,000 or 800,000 harp seals were being taken out annually, but there were a lot more cod back there was a balance between the two.

Today, marine mammals are probably close to the peak levels of abundance, at least the harp seal, while the cod are extraordinarily depressed. Almost certainly there is increased mortality to cod resulting from marine mammal predation; seals eating cod.

There are other things happening as well. One of the factors that is thought to have come into play in the Gulf of St.Lawrence is we know there is mackerel and herring that eat young cod and their eggs. What has happened is as we have reduced the number of cod that would eat herring and mackerel, we have taken away that top predator, and there is more herring and mackerel and they are eating more cod eggs and young cod. That is preventing the recovery of cod in the southern gulf.

A third reason is the idea that there has been a genetic shift in the cod. Insofar as when you have a heavy fishing mortality, and fisheries that target the large, old cod, that there can be a shift, genetically, favouring smaller and younger cod. If that is the case — and there is some reason to think that that has been the case — then we have, instead of cod waiting until they are six or seven or eight years of age and a very large size before reproducing, they are now reproducing at 12 inches, 14 inches, 30 to 40 centimetres in length.

Senator MacDonald: About two years old.

Mr.Hutchings: Two to four years of age, and smaller fish produce fewer eggs, they do not live as long, et cetera. Those are three factors that have most certainly come into play.

Senator MacDonald: In terms of recovery, I think the arguments for preserving what is left of the fish stock and returning it to levels previously enjoyed, one of the elements must be an extensive seal cull on the East Coast. Not one related to the collection of seal pelts, but one that must be done regardless of whether we will sell those pelts.

Mr.Hutchings: The issue of what to do about the marine mammals — harp seals being a good example — is clearly one that has been around for a while. First, when it comes to the seal hunts there seems to be popularized perspectives. I have no trouble with the seal hunt so long as it is done humanely.

However, there is a very important consideration if one wishes to cull the seals for the purposes of allowing for the recovery of cod. The problem there is that taking out 300,000 or 400,000 seals is unlikely to have any measurable impact on the recovery rate of cod. There are so many seals out there — estimates between 5 million and 5.5 million harp seals — that in order to have a demonstrable effect on the recovery you would have to take out 3 million or 3.5 million harp seals.

Senator MacDonald: There is a number then?

Mr.Hutchings: One could estimate a number, then the question is could you actually physically remove them. Then what would be, of course, the moral and ethical concerns associated with that removal?

Also, from a management perspective, how would you know that that actually had an impact on the recovery? In other words, when you take management action, ideally you take action with a known or predicted sort of result. Let us say for argument's sake we were able to take out 3.5 million or 4 million harp seals next year and somehow keep the population down at a low level, and five years later cod started showing recovery, or maybe 15 years later. The question that would come to my mind is how would you know whether it was the culling back of the seals that did it, or whether it was something else?

Senator MacDonald: That is why we need the scientists.

Mr.Hutchings: I do not think they could tell you. They could tell you how many could be removed, but they cannot reliably predict the outcome.

Senator MacDonald: There is more than just the harp seal. Around Cape Breton, the harbour seals are everywhere. People get so excited about culling seals, and there is not a fisherman in the area of Louisbourg who does not go out with a gun and plug as many seals as they can, and they do. No matter how many days they do it, the next day there is nothing but seal heads everywhere sticking out of the water, waiting for them to come so they can eat the few fish they are catching.

Mr.Hutchings: Some of the data do indicate before we started to reopen fisheries to northern cod that they were recovering. The trick is how fast a recovery rate you anticipate.

Senator MacDonald: What sort of effect does the infestation of cod with worm, which comes from the seal, have on the reproductive abilities of the stock?

Mr.Hutchings: That is a very good question. The short answer is nobody knows. Is it likely to have an impact? I would say that given that cod are maturing at smaller sizes and younger ages, any increase in infestation by the worms would have a negative impact on their survival.

Senator MacDonald: I am told anecdotally that the average cod caught now has up to 100 worms in it. How much evidence do people need about the damage the seals are doing to the cod stock? I am not saying it is only the seals — obviously it is not — but when you have a vulnerable stock like the cod stock and it is so important to recover it, I would think we would take every reasonable avenue available to help that stock regain its health. A substantial seal cull must be part of that recovery. It is not very popular in some parts of the country, but it seems like common sense, regardless of whether or not you use the pelts for anything.

Mr.Hutchings: My thoughts are that that could be part of a strategy. However, I would also make the point that reducing fishing mortality and limiting fishing, as much as absolutely possible, would have to be a fundamentally important part of such a recovery plan.

Senator MacDonald: We are concentrating mostly on seals and cod, but the other fish, the pollock, the mackerel, the capelin, are all part of that chain. We all assume seals only eat cod, but I assume they eat more than cod out there. Obviously, if we run out of cod they will have to eat something else if they are to survive as a species.

You talk about shutting down fishing. It is obviously a critical situation, and these are extreme measures, but maybe extreme measures are needed. How do you assess the relative condition in terms of these other species, such as the mackerel, pollock, redfish, all the other fish that are normally fished?

Mr.Hutchings: Do you ask what their current level of abundance is today?

Senator MacDonald: Yes.

Mr.Hutchings: Capelin, which you may know is a small fish like a smelt, is fundamentally important to everything from humpback whales to harp seals to cod.

Senator MacDonald: It is the best fish in the world to catch.

Mr.Hutchings: I will not disagree.

Senator MacDonald: Have you ever caught capelin?

Mr.Hutchings: I have. Capelin is the primary source of food for harp seals. Cod actually comprises a small percentage of their diet, mainly because there are not many of them left. Capelins are really important food, as is Arctic cod, another type of fish that is not commercially fished but is incredibly important throughout the Arctic.

In terms of other fish, we have American plaice, which is a flatfish. It was once part of the largest flatfishery in the world. Throughout Newfoundland and Labrador it declined by 96percent because of over-exploitation. The redfish are not doing so well; it depends where you look. Cod off the Scotian Shelf, which is where you are talking about, has never had a directed fishery since it was closed in 1993, and it has shown no sign of recovery. For haddock you get the odd good year that shows some improvement.

I would say it is a mixed bag now. We still have a fishery for Greenland halibut or turbot, but most of our groundfish fisheries are remnants of what they once were. White hake is another one. A good example of ecosystem consequences is that the shrimp and the crab fisheries are exploding because we have depleted the cod.

Senator Raine: How did the cod fishery come to be opened again? Did someone just on a whim open it up? It must have been decided that there was enough cod, but obviously it appears there is not. I am new to this committee and its issues.

Mr.Hutchings: The cod fishery has been reopened since it was closed in 1992. The first was in 1998. At the time, there was a council called the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, or the FRCC, that was providing advice to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans on what the catch limits ought to be. There is some very interesting correspondence from that time. The chair of the FRCC admitted that there was no scientifically defensible reason for doing so, but they recommended a reopening of the fisheries, in large part because of fishers in parts of Newfoundland in two bays, Bonavista and Trinity, noted what they felt were very large concentrations of cod in their local areas. Some of them felt this was indicative of the abundance of cod throughout its entire zone, so they felt it was an argument for reopening the fishery.

There were so many fish taken out relative what was there — and there was not much there — that the fishery was closed again in 2003 because the harvest rates had been too high.

The fishery was reopened, three years ago, again primarily because of the pressure put on the minister by the fish harvesters in that part of Newfoundland. The quota was increased last year, against scientific advice, and the reopenings were against scientific advice. I hope that provides you with a brief response.

Senator Raine: That is depressing.

Mr.Hutchings: It is depressing for those of us who are looking into the long term and want to see a recovery of these once incredibly bountiful cod stocks to what they once were. We think of the communities and people they could support as a food source. All of these small-scale fisheries, which appear to be small but actually have a big impact, are consistently eating away at that recovery.

Senator Cochrane: Dr.Hutchings, you talked about education and about the different nutrients that come from fish. You spoke about how we must preserve the fish and so on. Have you seen any evidence of lessons that have been learned?

We see how people in Newfoundland want a greater catch every year; they want their quota increased. They appeal to the politicians, who are stuck in the middle. Have you seen any improvements at all?

Mr.Hutchings: It is difficult to say. It is an important question. At one level one can ask who is most vocal on these issues, and it tends it be those who want to go out and fish. It tends not to be those who care about it; they tend not to say very much. It is hard to know whether they are the majority or the minority.

I agree with you senator, that we need something from an educational perspective Perhaps, the lack of an educational perspective has hindered society's response in this regard. It seems that while we have talked about overfishing and declines, I do not think that Canadians in general, or even Newfoundlanders, for that matter, think of fish in the ocean as much more than something to be caught.

From an educational perspective, when we look at animals on the land, we hear great stories about monkeys and chimpanzees, or hear terrific stories about birds. We see their habitat, how beautiful and colourful they are and how they mate. These are wonderful and interesting stories. Children love them; everyone loves them.

We never hear stories like that about cod, plaice or flounder, but they have their stories. I work on cod spawning behaviour. I can tell you how cod spawn. The male goes underneath the female and grasps the female, then they swim together. The male is upside down and the female right-side up, and the male produces sounds from his chest, grunts, and it appears that females decides which male to spawn with depending on their size and some element of the grunt from the male. The important thing is that this is a form of communication. Birds do it; we talk about birdsong. Some fish create sound as well.

There are stories to be told. To stop treating marine fish as simply a commodity and recognize that these are living organisms and beings with stories of their own will be fundamentally important, as well as perhaps other minor things, such as aquaria. Actually, that is not a minor thing. We have almost no aquaria in this country. We have the Vancouver Aquarium, the Biodôme de Montreal and a scattered one here and there. We have had some education in the past, but that type of education has not been as likely to lead to a stronger conservation response.

Senator Cochrane: Perhaps the school curriculum should be improved in that manner.

Mr.Hutchings: I could not agree more. Children are fascinated by all of these things. They love all this stuff and I am sure there are very few public schools in this country that concentrate on marine fish, or even these other issues.

Senator Cook: I speak from two solitudes. I spent my first 15 years of life were in an outport. I played on a beach because there was no road, and there were lots of fish. You talk about your daughter. What will we tell her? What will we preserve for her? I will tell you a story from my earliest memory.

I remember going on a wharf. I do not know how I got there or when I came back, but I stood by my dad. Years after I realized why I went to the wharf. I went with my dad to see the strange boat called a dragger with a net on the side of it. My father's conversation was to whoever was beside him. He said, "The day will come when that little maid will not be able to eat a bit of fish because it will be gone.''

That was the end of the hook and line, the Grand Banks fishery, as we knew it on the South Coast of Newfoundland, when we went to the draggers and the greed set in.

I will skip a generation. I have a granddaughter. What will I tell her?

Mr.Hutchings: What you tell her is what you have just told us. You tell her that it was not that long ago that we had more fish than you could imagine. It was possible; it did exist; it existed in our own memories and in our own lifetimes. The second thing that I will have to tell my daughter is, "I'm sorry, because it happened on our collective watch.'' I suspect there will be a lot of angry youngsters.

Senator Cook: Yet, if I want fresh cod tomorrow I can walk to Lapointe's in the Byward Market and I can get the best, freshest cod you ever tasted — never frozen. If I go home for a weekend, I can go to any supermarket and do the same.

The question begs itself: Where is the cod coming from, who is catching it and who is responsible for allowing the fishery to go on?

Mr.Hutchings: Senator Cook, you have identified an important point, and that is the fact that despite our huge losses of cod, if you are in Ottawa, or Winnipeg or Regina or Toronto and you want to buy cod it is no trouble to get it and it does not cost you an arm and a leg. Of course it is not Canadian cod. It comes from Norway, Iceland or the Barents Sea off Russia. However, society does not know that. On the one hand, society hears about all these depletions but it does not match their experience from a day-to-day perspective.

Senator Cook: The fish from Lapointe's in the Byward Market is as fresh and as good as any cod that I ate as a child. I cannot tell the difference. It has never been frozen. I guess it is a miracle of progress that allows this to happen.

More to the point, we knew that in the 1990s and we knew it before the 1990s. We knew — if I can use the phrase — capitalist greed was the prime reason with the onslaught of the draggers when the feds issued the licences and the provinces built the plants and it was all in the interests of who will be in and who will be out of government. I believe that was the beginning of it, and I do not think anything has changed. When are we going to persuade someone to listen to the scientific community? We have had SARA and COSEWIC and the FFRC, and then we have the jurisdictional people of NAFO. We have all those elements or band-aids and we do not seem to be moving along the continuum. We are not doing anything about it.

Mr.Hutchings: That is why there are two things. The first part is a realization that there is no political cost to making bad decision in the oceans. We can reopen fisheries, we can crank up the quotas for fisheries and there is no backlash because there is no political cost. That is one of the reasons why I have suggested that some form of legislative change is required. It has been 17 years since the northern cod collapsed. There is no change in the cod stock. We keep reopening the fishery and reclosing it. Again, to repeat myself, to my mind this simply says that our current legislation is insufficient to allow for the recovery and conservation of these stocks and that at some point we need to identify targets.

We need to say what it is we want to have, what we want to avoid, and after we identify those targets, or those reference points, we have to, to my mind, enshrine it in some piece of legislation, as they have done in the United States to prevent decisions that might be inconsistent with the conservation perspective. When I say conservation perspective, ultimately it is to the benefit of society. Again, what does society want? Does society want to wait? Is it willing to wait 10 years or 20 years for cod and some of these other fisheries to increase to a specific level, or is society happy to have things as they are?

Senator Cook: Well, society does not care because when they want fish they can get it and it is fresh.

Mr.Hutchings: That will end. There used to be orange roughy in the supermarkets, for example, and it is difficult to get orange roughy. That is fish not from around here, but there are a lot of examples of fish that are declining worldwide.

Senator Cook: I go into the supermarket and I will ask, "Is that fish fresh? Yes. Has it ever been frozen? No. Where did it come from? Sentinel fishery, my dear.''

Senator Raine: What is sentinel fishery?

Senator Cook: Sentinel fishery is a targeted fishery to determine what the biomass is, if I may put it in those terms.

The Chair: It is an exploratory fishery to explore what is there.

Senator Cook: I have one last question. The Fisheries Act is archaic. There is talk about a review. Are you suggesting legislation that will be compatible with the Fisheries Act, or should we throw out the Fisheries Act, as it is 100 years old and I do not think it has been amended, and do something there?

Mr.Hutchings: I am not a lawyer. I am not quite sure what the precise mechanism of change ought to be, but I think there is room for an act for which the primary objectives are to prevent overfishing, to recognize overfishing when we have it, and to rebuild fish stocks for the broader general good.

The Fisheries Act is highly discretionary, which is a problem, and second, it does allow for the protection of fish habitat but similarly it has allowed for the severe levels of over-exploitation we have had. Perhaps amending the act might be an appropriate way to legislatively introduce these reference points, or perhaps something different is required.

Senator Cook: The elements of SARA and COSEWIC and the like are laudable but they do not seem to be connected to anything. Is it your vision to connect them to this piece of legislation so they can work together?

Mr.Hutchings: You raise an interesting point. COSEWIC advises the federal government and I chair that committee. Since 2003, since the Species at Risk Act was passed, COSEWIC has assessed a number of marine fish at risk in Canada and to date the federal government has not accepted COSEWIC's advice to list an endangered or threatened marine fish. If the federal government does accept COSEWIC's advice and identifies a marine fish as endangered or threatened, then the act stipulates that there must be recovery strategies identified for those species and that would presumably require recovery targets.

We do not really know whether SARA is an effective legislative tool and we will not know until threatened and endangered marine fishes are put on a legal list.

The Chair: I have a follow-up question. We can change the Fisheries Act and we can do the things that you are suggesting. There are two other elements, though. Senator Cook already mentioned NAFO. The second important element is enforcement. Let us take NAFO. I suspect we differ from the United States because some of our stocks on the Grand Banks are straddling stocks and, while we have jurisdiction inside 200 miles, we do not have jurisdiction outside 200 miles.

You can catch away at stocks outside 200 miles if you want to and there is nothing that Canada can do about that. The NAFO treaty is being amended and we have had some hearings on that. However, one of the fears we have arising out of the amendments is that NAFO will be given some jurisdiction within 200 miles. I do not know if you have addressed or dealt with that issue.

The new Fisheries Act is one thing. However, the second thing for Canada is how to deal with NAFO because NAFO has not worked up until now. Our findings were that it was a toothless organization; none of the partners ever followed the rules and regulations. The quotas were set but they all set their own quotas and fished away. There was nothing we could do or did do about that.

That brings up the other point, which is enforcement. Iceland enforced its rights to the marine resources off its shores. Canada has not similarly engaged in that kind of enforcement. The Fisheries Act is one thing, but NAFO and enforcement are two other important elements for Canada, if you are to be successful in protecting marine species.

Mr.Hutchings: I certainly agree the Grand Banks presents a special case with the nose and tail being outside. I also would not disagree that NAFO is an ineffective organization for the conservation of fish stocks. You are correct that there are enforcement issues.

However, I wonder about the degree to which Canada is perceived by other countries to be taking strong, meaningful conservation action. One possible benefit of taking strong action by putting some of the marine species on the Species at Risk Act, by perhaps introducing new legislation or having new legislative means of defining "overfishing,'' preventing it and rebuilding fish stocks, is that it shows the world we actually mean what we say and we are willing to take very strong measures on the national front to preserve fish stock.

Senator Raine: We are not.

Mr.Hutchings: We are not right now but I suggest that along with the Species at Risk Act we might show the world that we do mean something. That might well give us the leverage, if you will, on the international front to deal with overfishing on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks.

Senator Hubley: I would like to refer to the 2006 study. The study said that if current rates of depletion continue, there would be no viable fish population in the world's oceans by the middle of the century.

I would like to discuss your third recommendation, which is environmentally-informed consumer behaviour. You suggest the correct identification of species — where and how they are caught. I think that will be a monumental task. I think you can do it, but I think Canadian people being able to relate to that with some meaning or some knowledge will be another challenge that you will have to face. I would like you to comment.

I would like you to comment on the eco-billing or similar identification. Are you referring to our future markets, or do you see a sustainability aspect for the fishing stocks?

Mr.Hutchings: I will address your last points first. I think with respect to altering consumer behaviour, I agree: I think there are a number of challenges and you have identified an important one, which is the degree to which one informs Canadians in the first place as to the most appropriate choices. Before that happens, Canadians have to want to be able to exercise choice; they have to want to make desirable choices from a sustainability perspective. I think a lot of Canadians probably are already motivated to do so. They just need that information.

On the flip side is the corporate responsibility. Rather than the initiative coming from consumers on their own, it could come initially from supermarkets and wholesalers that provide seafood products to insist that they will only supply seafood products that are from sustainable fisheries. That could be another element.

How does one determine that? There are some bodies — and I mentioned the Marine Stewardship Council in the United Kingdom as one — which uses a third-party means of identifying sustainable fisheries. After these fisheries have been certified, a label or a sticker goes on the food product so consumers can see it. All they need to know is that they can trust the Marine Stewardship Council and they will buy the product, if they are so inclined.

Those are the types of elements that will alter behaviour. You mentioned the 2048 prediction in the 2006 paper by Boris Worm and colleagues, published in Science. You are correct in that one of their conclusions was that fisheries might be entirely depleted by the year 2048. I think a key caveat to that prediction is that might happen if nothing changes — if everything stays the same as it is today. If we do not take action to prevent overfishing, then this might be one consequence.

I think in the specific sense, focusing on a particular year is not always helpful but I think they are on the right track that if we do not change, the stocks will be depleted.

Senator Adams: Thank you, Mr. Chair. You asked Senator MacDonald something, mentioning you had caught — and we used to look for — the Arctic char. At that time, before nets were around, we used spears. In the early fall, before snows covered the ice and people walked over the top of the ice, they found females on the bed. Every time they spear the male, the female goes out and brings in another male. That is what the char used to do and it would still do the same thing here. It had to have a home to hibernate in the winter time.

I want to come back to the cod and the seals. I do not know if you study it, but seals eat cod liver. We have heard that sometimes, the seal does not eat the rest of the fish. They just eat the liver because it has fat and they do not get hungry. It is just like the polar bear. In the winter time, they just eat the seal fat and leave the rest behind.

At Wager Bay, four or five years ago we would go along the sea. At this time of year — that is, between now and next month — grisly bears are still hibernating up there in the Arctic. They will see the ice falling and the polar bears will see the leftovers from the seals and eat that seal meat. Polar bears eat mostly fat. As soon as the ice goes out, they do not catch many seals. Do you know about that up in the Arctic?

Mr.Hutchings: Yes, your point is very well taken. You have identified a couple of things. First, with the char, your behaviour and whether or not you spear the fish depends on whether it is a female and whether or not it is on the bed. For most fisheries, we do not worry about whether the fish are spawning.

Your second example is about the seals consuming only the livers. As some of you may know, we tend to think that seals only consume small cod because there are bones in the head of cod called ear bones or otoliths. This is how cod, and all fish, hear. The otoliths are white, are made of calcium and are hard. When a seal consumes a small cod, that bone, or otolith, is in their stomach. If you open up the stomach of a seal and you see the white bones and can identify them to the species, then you know they have eaten a cod. As the cod gets larger, however, the seal cannot consume the whole cod. As Senator Adams mentioned, if the seals are focusing on the liver and the belly of a cod, perhaps they are eating the belly of a cod and if that is the case, they are eating the liver but those ear bones will not be in the stomach of a seal.

This is a scientific question that still has not been adequately answered. Right now, we think that seals only consume small cod but perhaps they are having an impact on the larger cod.

Senator Adams: Have you been studying the turbot fishing up there? Are you familiar with it?

Mr.Hutchings: I am.

Senator Adams: You said that DFO has some scientists up there. I believe they take out a few turbot every year and they study how much they have grown during the year. For the last four or five years, nothing has grown. Do you know what may be causing that?

Mr.Hutchings: It is difficult to say whether or not they have been overfished because we do not have a sense of how many there are. If we do not know how many there are, then it is difficult to know what percentage you can take out from a fishery.

There is a turbot fishery around Cumberland Sound and Baffin Island. Your committee has just released a report on the Arctic and various elements to deal with Arctic sovereignty. A key point is that as climate change affects the Arctic, it will also affect the species and the degree to which various fishes may move into Arctic waters and might affect the fishes already there. From a science perspective, that is something that has not been addressed. We do not know much about the marine fishes in the Arctic waters at all.

Senator Adams: Some of the elders told us about it. Some of the DFO officials and some of the scientists have told us too. Every time the ice goes out, they look for a warmer place to spawn. It is usually around the coast, around the shore, because the deeper water is too cold and too deep. Some of the elders told us about this, three or four years ago, at a conference in Iqaluit. Any mammals that go up there in the cold weather, like geese or snow geese, have to be there 24 hours a day to nest their eggs. The eggs need warm water to hatch. They need to fertilize their eggs. Do you think water temperature is important?

Mr.Hutchings: Temperature not only determines where things live but also where they spawn, as you say. That reminds me of Inuit and Aboriginal knowledge and the knowledge of fishermen. I spent the mid-1990s interviewing fishermen on the East Coast of Newfoundland. I learned a tremendous amount about the behaviour and spawning behaviour of cod. I gained information that scientists do not know and are not aware of. You have reminded me of the incredible importance of the knowledge of local people and what that can tell you about where fish live and what they do.

Senator Adams: Have you done any studies of polar bears and how their numbers are changing with climate change?

Mr.Hutchings: I have not. My work has been cod on Baffin Island and char on Ellesmere Island.

Senator Adams: I worry about Arctic char. I live close to the community, only 12 kilometres from the lake. Some time ago, they were fishing outside of the mouth of the river, after the fish went out to the sea. They would catch them in the sea. In the wintertime, about 10 or 20 people were all around the nets until the ice melted. I have heard some scientists say that Arctic char is growing a lot slower than many other species of fish. We have heard scientists say that they only grow one inch a year.

Mr.Hutchings: That can happen.

Senator Adams: We also heard that it takes about five years before they go to sea and then seven years before they start to spawn. Is that true?

Mr.Hutchings: It is definitely true for a number of char stocks. As one goes further north, the fish do stay longer in the rivers before going to the ocean. Some go to the ocean and then come back to the river. Before they spawn, they might come back and forth two or three times before they start spawning at seven, eight or nine years of age.

The Chair: I will remind everyone that we will hear from the British Columbia Wildlife Federation in an informal setting outside the committee structure. We are hoping to go to British Columbia next fall. Some of us have already had representation about the effects of aquaculture in B.C.

Senator Raine: Mr.Hutchings, I am from British Columbia. I take it that most of your research has been done on the Atlantic coast. I would be very interested in hearing your views on effective aquaculture on the Atlantic salmon.

Pacific salmon is equivalent to the cod in terms of its importance. It has a huge cultural importance and many people, especially First Nations people, who are emotionally and spiritually involved with the salmon. For the salmon to disappear would be a huge tragedy.

Do you have anything to share with us on the impact of the Atlantic aquaculture on the Atlantic salmon? Have you done any research on this topic? If so, can you share it with the Pacific coast people who are concerned about it?

Mr.Hutchings: It seems that this committee deals with some of the more difficult questions, whether it is seals and cod or aquaculture.

I have worked on aquaculture. I have worked on the farmed Atlantic salmon since 2000.

In earnest, yes, over the last seven or eight years we have been taking farmed salmon in Nova Scotia. In Atlantic Canada, almost all of the farmed Atlantic salmon come from a single group of salmon, and they were originally from the Saint John River in New Brunswick, and then they were bred for three or four generations near St.Andrews, New Brunswick.

The Chair: This is the farmed salmon?

Mr.Hutchings: That is correct, the farmed salmon. It is the primary stock of farmed salmon throughout Atlantic Canada. We have taken those farmed salmon and bred them with salmon from two wild populations in Nova Scotia. We have done this for about eight years to look at whether there are consequences of mixing the two. To date, the consequences in the first instance depends on the population in question.

We cannot always say that farmed salmon have negative consequences to wild salmon; it really depends on which wild salmon population you are talking about and which farmed population you are talking about. In a broad generic sense, we make a mistake by assuming that all farmed fish are the same and all wild fish are the same.

Are they likely to have negative consequences? Yes. We have noted a number of changes. In other words, if you take a farmed fish and a wild fish and mix them together and look at their offspring, their young, there are often characteristics about them that would be unfavourable if they were to live in the wild.

My answer would be negative consequences result from the interbreeding between escaped farmed fish and wild fish. That is compounded by the fact that Atlantic salmon, particularly in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which is where most of the farms are, are severely depleted. Salmon are at incredibly low levels in southern Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick which creates even more of a conservation concern.

To what degree can that be translated to the Pacific? It is difficult to say, in part because Atlantic salmon will not interbreed with Pacific salmon, so the negative consequences that I see will rarely be applied in that type of a case. How likely is it that escaped farmed Atlantic salmon will breed with native Pacific salmon? There is not a high chance of that; however, there are other things such as disease and sea lice being particularly important in British Columbia. Work in the Broughton Archipelago, suggests that there are much higher levels of sea lice in farmed fish than there are in wild fish, and that is absolutely true. Whether you look at the East or West Coast, there is definitely more sea lice on the farmed fish.

The great concern is that when wild fish go by the farmed fish pens that the sea lice will transfer on to the wild fish and hurt them. There are different perspectives and viewpoints within the scientific community. Fisheries and Oceans tends to say one thing; other scientists have tended to say another, and I personally think it would be helpful to have an independent scientific inquiry with fresh eyes and fresh minds looking at those data and drawing some conclusions about them.

Senator Raine: There is Atlantic salmon now in many rivers spawning and competing for territory. Huge numbers have escaped. So many people are concerned about what could happen. It might be a good time to pursue some public education on what happened to the cod and the chance that this will happen to the salmon. It might be a good time to open up a dialogue between the fisheries on both the East and West Coast. It is a shame that the two fisheries have not communicated on this subject. They should be learning from each other about overfishing and the proper maintenance of the stock.

Mr.Hutchings: I certainly agree with you that there ought to be much more interaction. I have spoken in Vancouver a number of times on the cod issue, and the aquaculture issues you raise. I have spoken on overharvesting issues and habitat destruction and I have heard many concerns for the Pacific salmon.

I have noted with great interest, just as you have said, how intertwined Pacific salmon are to people of British Columbia, Native people. It is similar to the affinity the people of European origin have to the Atlantic cod.

At some point, one needs to identify the various tradeoffs. The biological tradeoffs, the economic tradeoffs and the polarization that currently exist are unhealthy in terms of leading to productive debate. I do not think the debate of late has been very productive. Again, perhaps as you point out, not only greater interactions and sharing of what has happened would be helpful but some form of an independent review would be helpful as well.

Senator Raine: I am studying the report that the Senate did in 2001: Aquaculture in Canada's Atlantic and Pacific Regions. I do not know if you have seen this.

Mr.Hutchings: No, I have not actually.

Senator Raine: Here is a quote from the report.

They very carefully construct research projects that only give one side of the argument. When there are research projects that have federal support, and they come across evidence that does not support their view of the world, they retrieve their research funds . . .

When I read things like that, I get so upset. All through this is the thread that the Department of Fisheries is promoting aquaculture. It is scary. The report also states:

In the Bay of Fundy, the Atlantic salmon is virtually reduced to a handful. We are really counting those Atlantic salmon on our fingers and toes.

That is from the report of 2001. It would be a real shame if we do not do a wakeup call on the Pacific salmon. Maybe it is too late for the cod. Maybe the cod has run its course of public opinion and no one cares anymore, but there are many people who are almost romantically attached to the Pacific salmon, and they do not like it that the Atlantic salmon are displacing the Pacific salmon.

Mr.Hutchings: I think the aquaculture debates in British Columbia are a good example of what can happen when the public does become engaged in something that matters to them with respect to the oceans. It sounds like this is a report I ought to read. From the excerpts you have read out, they are consistent with my experience.

Senator Raine: The Atlantic and the Pacific fisheries were looked at. I was surprised to read that they continue to bring in the eggs. The Atlantic fishery aquaculture was going to only use Atlantic salmon stock but then they started importing more. I guess in Maine they were bringing them in from Norway and then they were starting to escape and breed with the Atlantic salmon.

Mr.Hutchings: You are absolutely right. There were aquaculture interests in Maine bringing in eggs from Norway, and then they said they could not import eggs and then brought in sperm from Iceland or Scotland. Yes, you are absolutely right; there has been a mixture of foreign genes in the aquaculture industry.

Senator Raine: My gut feeling is we will not get political will to change things until we have a demand from the public to change. It has to go further than just the people in the fishing business. It has to go to the general population.

Mr.Hutchings: I often use the Vancouver Aquarium as a prime, excellent example of what I mean by educating youth. It is a wonderful facility; it is the best in the country and it is a pity we do not have anything of that nature on the East Coast. Maybe that is one explanation; it is clearly not the entire explanation, but it is a strong contributing factor to the education of the youngsters in British Columbia that we do not have in the east or in the central part of the country.

The Chair: This committee could suggest some interaction between the East Coast and the West Coast in promoting an educational experience. At this point, I do not know how we would do that, but we should think about what we could do as a committee and to suggest ways and means forums in which that sort of issue could be discussed.

While salmon may be decreasing in New Brunswick rivers, they seem to be coming back in Labrador rivers. We have a higher catch rate. I am not an expert fisherman, but I do fish in Labrador in the summertime, and our catch limit is higher than it is in New Brunswick. For the past three or four years, the salmon have been increasing in number and size. They have come primarily from Greenland. The theory is that the salmon returned to Labrador rivers because of the closure of the commercial fishery in Greenland. Indeed, the salmon seem to be coming back.

Mr.Hutchings: You are right, Senator Rompkey. Salmon in Labrador and along the East Coast of Newfoundland are doing just fine since the closure of the commercial fishery in 1992, as well as the closure of the Greenland fishery.

There are rivers in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and the Miramichi in New Brunswick. There are severely depleted populations in the Bay of Fundy. Along the south coast of Nova Scotia, on the Atlantic side, there are populations that are still affected by acid rain. You are quite right; in Labrador, salmon are doing well.

Senator Raine: What do you call it when they drag the bottom?

Mr.Hutchings: Trawlers or draggers.

Senator Raine: I understand that is not allowed in most places in the world now and that in Canada it still is allowed.

Mr.Hutchings: Actually, it is still allowed in many parts of the world.

Senator Raine: Maybe I am just thinking of the United States. They are only allowed to drag within, I think, six metres of the bottom of the ocean, so they are not scraping the fish right off the bottom.

Mr.Hutchings: There are certainly different regulations from country to country as to where you can do that and where you cannot. There is considerable debate as to whether or not it is a useful thing to do. The bycatch levels, the catch of species that you are not targeting, can be much higher in trawls. That is of great concern if you are worried about the ecosystem and the health of everything that is out there.

From a fishery perspective, I have often said that for depleted populations such as cod, the best thing you could use is a handline, which targets the best fish. You can get the highest quality fish and the large fish. You can target the size of the fish, and when you bring it aboard, there is no bycatch and it is alive and you can put it back in the water if you want to.

The way we catch fish is a fundamentally important part of the education and the consumer behaviour and in informing people that there are some ways of catching fish that are more destructive to the ecosystem than others.

Senator Raine: They probably do not make as much money when they catch fish that way.

Mr.Hutchings: Actually, that is not necessarily the case. The price that you get per fish depends on the quality, on who is buying it and why they are buying it, and the location of the market.

You hit the nail on the head when you said that there will not be change until the public wants change. However, change can happen and the public already cares about the environment, more so today than in the past. The public increasingly cares about the oceans and want to do the right thing from the environmental perspective.

We can do a great deal through proper education campaigns. The education is in part for the future, but in terms of what we can do today, we can simply inform Canadians that these fish and seals, in fact all creatures in the ocean, belong to the people of Canada. There is a stewardship element to this. People are generally good-hearted; they want to do the right thing and protect things that belong to them. A variety of overarching principles could form the core of meaningful action

Senator Raine: We have the Kyoto Protocol that talks about global warming. Are there any international protocols that we should be living up to that we are not living up to?

Mr.Hutchings: Indeed, there is the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement that we signed in 1995 to adopt a precautionary approach to fisheries management and to identify these targets and reference points that I have been referring to, and that was 14 years ago.

Senator Raine: That is probably the first step.

Mr.Hutchings: To my mind, that is step one.

Senator Raine: How much does it cost to establish those ground levels?

Mr.Hutchings: Scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were working on this in the early 2000s, just prior to the advent of the Species at Risk Act, so there has already been a lot of work from DFO scientists to identify reference points. Reference points exist for a few stocks but not for most of them, so it would not take that long to come up with reference points. Then the question is what do you do with them, and to what degree would the ministers feel beholden to abide by them? At least once you have the reference points and you have the targets, then it better helps society to judge management plans.

Right now, it is effectively like giving someone a lot of money and not asking for a budget as to how they are going to spend that money. We have given the responsibility of managing our fisheries resources to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans without asking for targets to guide fishery management plans.

The Chair: We now have some questions for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans when she comes back again.

Senator Raine: The Auditor General did an audit, so maybe that is a first step. If she is going to be auditing the fisheries, she needs to have these reference points in order to audit what they are doing.

Senator Adams: Do you know how many pounds of fish that seals eat in a day? I heard it is up to about seven pounds a day. Is that true?

Mr.Hutchings: How much cod a seal eats in a day?

Senator Adams: Yes, per day.

Mr.Hutchings: I could not tell you exactly.

Senator Cook: I have heard 60 pounds. I do not know how true it is.

The Chair: I heard a tonne a year.

Mr.Hutchings: I think my answer would fall within that range.

The Chair: Senators, give this some thought, because we will be meeting with the B.C. Wildlife Federation on Thursday morning. We can continue part of this discussion. I am intrigued by the idea of an east-west dialogue and educational effort. At this point, I do not know how that would be done, but we should think about it.

Mr.Hutchings, please drop us a line if you have some specific ideas.

Mr.Hutchings: I would be more than happy to contribute.

The Chair: I would like to thank you for coming tonight. It has been very helpful to us. We have learned a lot and we have some ideas for the future, and that has been very useful. Thank you very much for being here.

Mr.Hutchings: Thank you very much for your questions and your interest.

The Chair: Honourable senators, on Thursday morning we meet the B.C. Wildlife Federation. This is not a committee meeting; it is outside the committee structure. They were in town to see a number of people, and they asked if they could see us as well, and we said yes.

(The committee adjourned.)