Full video of the Senate Committee meeting can be viewed here.
Good morning and thank you to the Committee for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.
My name is Keith Sullivan and I’m the President of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union. FFAW represents nearly 15,000 women and men working throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Many of our members are employed in the fishing industry – including 10,000 inshore fish harvesters.
FFAW members live in nearly 500 communities in every region of our province. Many of these communities have existed for centuries and almost all were founded because of the fishery. Their existence and survival of these communities depends on the vast number of fish species in our adjacent waters.
Our fish harvester members are part of the inshore, owner operator fleet. The inshore fishery has been the primary economic driver of coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
As the foundation for the rural middle class in our province, our members recognize that stewardship of our oceans and sustainability of our fish resources are key to their survival as well as survival of their communities.
To ensure our communities and our industry continues to flourish, we must ensure our marine ecosystem is managed in a way that is sustainable, holistic and that ensures our fish resources can continues to provide for us for generations.
Bill C-55, and marine protection, are of utmost importance to our organization and our members. Newfoundland and Labrador’s oceans contain a vast amount of biodiversity that must be both protected and managed sustainably.
In Newfoundland and Labrador we share our ocean with the petroleum sector. Co-existence of the two industries has not always been easy, and the establishment of marine protected areas has been one area in which our members have felt an uneven application of regulations and policy.
Fish harvesters feel our sector continues to bear the brunt of marine closures while the oil and gas industry are permitted to continue operations in the same areas.
In fact, we are witnessing record level seismic activity in our oceans. Some of the effects of this activity on our fish stocks is still unknown and our organization continues to call for scientific research to examine the impact of seismic testing on fish stocks and ecosystems.
Bill C-55 states that Ministerial power exists to prohibit activities in protected areas. Now, as in the past, we reiterate that prohibition of activities in marine protected areas must be uniform across all industries, including oil and gas. We have, in the past, encountered closed areas to fishing where oil and gas activities have not been prohibited. We have concerns around the prohibition of entire classes of activities as it relates to fishing, that might not stop other, more destructive activities such as oil and gas exploration.
The loss of valuable fishing grounds through marine closures is hard to accept when a fish harvester cannot drop a hook in an area of our ocean, but a seismic ship can continue to blast or a drill rig can drill into the seabed without consequence.
While we understand that the lengthy MPA designation process has contributed to the establishment of the five year period to develop regulations, and allow for interim designation, there are gaps in the Bill that cause concern.
The Bill states that within five years of an order, regulations may be recommended or repealed based on consultation and study. Yet, there is no deadline stated for adoption of the regulations.
This open-ended approach causes concern that while recommendations might suggest a protected area has not achieved its intended purpose, there is no deadline for an actual decision.
Spatial management of living resources will always come with the challenge of having to be adaptive in our approach. Often times the lines we draw to protect areas require adjustment to achieve their intended purpose.
Not having a set deadline on when a Ministerial decision must be made means not having a set timeframe that would allow the area to be re-opened and the regulations to be repealed, if necessary. This would mean having our members shut out of an area that might be valuable to fishing, while at the same time knowing the closure is not meeting its intended goal.
While we agree on the requirement of, and advocate for, flexibility in the MPA process, we must also ensure this flexibility comes with strictly laid out timelines to ensure necessary adjustments happen in a timely manner.
Bill C-55 also states that while petroleum companies who have licenses revoked in closed areas will have deposits returned, there is also a legislated obligation for these companies to negotiate further compensation with the Minister.
Fish harvesters also experience significant financial loss when an area is closed to fishing. Yet, our members do not have legal recourse to receive compensation for demonstrable financial loss to their fishing enterprises and communities.
Further, it is concerning that the Bill states foreign nationals and ships can be exempt from the regulations. As we continue to have significant concerns of foreign interests seeping into the inshore fishing industry and buying up domestic fishing companies, we fear this gap in enforcement will result in foreign companies utilizing this legislation to take advantage of resources that Canada’s fishing industry will be shut out from.
The marine protection process is very important to our membership. Our marine environment is currently undergoing an ecosystem shift, and as our members navigate through this period of transition they want to ensure their voices are at the forefront in decisions that significantly impact their livelihoods.
Designation of Marine Protected Areas must ensure that fish harvesters are not only consulted and heard, but that closures do not affect one industry disproportionately more than another. Closures and prohibitions must be uniform across industries, and timelines, processes and criteria must be clear and without ambiguity.
The survival of our coastal communities relies on the protection of the marine resources that provide livelihoods for the owner-operator fleet – the driver of our coastal economies. Ensuring the survivability of this fleet also ensures that our communities continue to thrive for generations.
Through Bill C-55 and more broadly in the process of designating Marine Protected Areas, the perspectives of inshore fish harvesters are vital. Legislation must ensure the designation process is transparent, thorough, and achieves the intended goals of the designation, while ensuring there are no double-standards and that closures do not unfairly impact one industry while giving another a free pass.
The livelihoods of FFAW members, and future of our communities, depends on it.