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Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans
The Senate of Canada
Canada, K1A 0A4
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About the Committee
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans’ mandate is to study issues relating to fisheries and oceans generally. Among others, it is particularly interested in the management of oceans, aquatic resources and fisheries, aquatic life and ecosystems, the fishing industry and the safety of waterways. The committee is also interested in the federal government’s current and evolving framework for managing Canada’s fisheries and oceans.
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries was created in May 1986 to deal exclusively with matters relating to fisheries, which were, until that date, the purview of the former Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The name was changed to Fisheries and Oceans in December 2002 to better reflect the scope of its activities.
Over the last decade, the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has published a great number of substantive reports. Its special studies have dealt with numerous aspects and issues pertaining to Canada’s fisheries and oceans.
In April 2016, the committee received an order of reference to examine and report on maritime search and rescue (SAR), including challenges and opportunities. The committee began its study in May 2016 and through a literature review, public hearings, briefs, and national and international site visits, the committee learned many things about maritime SAR in Canada and how it compares to maritime SAR abroad.
The committee held public hearings in Ottawa through 2016 and to May 2018. It also held public hearings in Halifax (Nova Scotia) and St. John’s (Newfoundland and Labrador). Fact-finding missions took place in both of these provinces, in Comox and Victoria (British Columbia), Iqaluit (Nunavut), Kuujjuaq and Quebec City (Quebec), and overseas (England, Ireland, Norway and Denmark). Through this study, the committee came to four main conclusions.
First, the committee learned that many factors contribute to reaction and response times as well as to the success or failure of a SAR mission. Examples include (but are not limited to): the location of assets, the deployment time of assets and personnel, the amount of information available to coordinators and rescuers, the equipment used by those in distress, and radio coverage. Although gaps in coverage and capacity were identified in the report, the committee acknowledges that the delivery of maritime SAR in Canada has, to date, been effective. However, improvements can be made to the maritime SAR program to: help increase the likelihood of mission success, reduce the risk to SAR personnel, and better equip remote communities to respond to such events.
Secondly, the committee highlighted the realization that although Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel are crucial to the deployment of CCG and CAF assets in the face of a maritime SAR operation, Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (CCGA) members and other volunteer organizations are often the first responders on SAR missions. In the committee’s view, this highlighted the need to not only recruit and retain CCG and CAF personnel for maritime SAR activities, but also to ensure that CCGA and other volunteer organizations are supported – through funding for equipment and vessels and through training – to solidify and expand Canada’s maritime SAR capacity.
The third conclusion was the need for increased prevention. The committee heard that the best SAR incident is the one that is avoided altogether. The committee agreed that investing time and funds into outreach for commercial fish harvesters, recreational boaters and others who navigate Canada’s waterways is time and money well spent if it helps avoid maritime SAR incidents.
Finally, Canada’s maritime SAR program would benefit from enhanced visibility. The committee heard that maritime SAR incidents in Canada were on the rise in certain areas (e.g., the Canadian Arctic) and that maritime traffic was changing (e.g., the Halifax search and rescue region has experienced an increase in pleasure craft incidents over the years). Raising the visibility of Canada’s maritime SAR program and of the CCG could increase awareness, boost recruitment, and ensure that maritime SAR capacity is maintained, if not increased.
In the end, the committee concluded that the ultimate goal should be that no matter their purpose on the water, boaters should feel safe navigating Canadian waterways because a robust maritime SAR program is ready to help them, if needed.
Selected legislative work
The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans generally conducts special studies and is less frequently called upon to consider legislation. However, during the 42nd Parliament, five bills were referred to the committee: Bill S-208, An Act respecting National Seal Products Day, Bill S-203, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts (ending the captivity of whales and dolphins), Bill S-238, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (importation of shark fins), Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and Canada Petroleum Resources Act, and Bill C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence.
For information on the current work of the committee, you may wish to review the orders of reference the committee has received from the Senate, or review the committee proceedings. Detailed information on current work of the committee can be found on the parliamentary website at https://sencanada.ca/en/committees/pofo/.