Skip to content

FFAW President Speaks to Senate Committee on Bill C-69

April 23, 2019

Remarks on Bill C-69 to the 
Senate’s Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee
April 23, 2019

Good afternoon and thank you to the Committee for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. 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 who are part of the owner operator fleet.

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. Existence and survival of these communities depends on the vast number of fish species in our adjacent waters.

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 are stewards of our oceans as sustainability of our fish resources is critical to their livelihoods as well as survival of their communities.

FFAW members have serious concerns regarding the continued expansion of oil and gas activities over traditional fishing grounds, which has a significant impact on our commercial fishery.

Today my comments will focus on our organization’s concerns with Bill C-69 including: the types of projects designated under the Act; the assessment of socio-economic impacts of these projects; the role of the offshore Boards, Review Panels and Advisory Councils; and the inclusion of Regional Assessments in this legislation. I will also comment on what our organization believes would be “meaningful consultation” as outlined in Bill C-69 and why the role of key stakeholders in planning of these projects must be clearly defined.

There are many references in C-69 to a list of designated projects that would require a full environmental assessment under the new Impact Assessment Agency. Given the significant concerns and potential impacts of seismic activity on the ecosystem and on the fishing industry, we believe seismic activity should be included as a designated project requiring assessment. While exploratory drilling programs, well site surveys, and future commercial production projects very much concern FFAW members, it has been the large amount of seismic blasting in offshore waters in recent years that has distressed fish harvesters.

While it is widely known that the fishing industry is the most vulnerable to risks such as oil spills, the long-term impacts of underwater noise from seismic surveys are largely unknown as significant research gaps exist. Very little research has been conducted to examine the impact of seismic testing on fish stocks and ecosystems. In fact, fish harvesters question why the federal government’s precautionary approach, applied in fisheries management, is not applied to the oil and gas industry in the absence of concrete research that indicates that there are absolutely no impacts of seismic testing on commercial fish species.

The purposes of the Act are to foster sustainability and protect the environment, health, social and economic conditions. Unfortunately, the Bill does little to ensure the socio-economic impacts on other ocean users, such as fish harvesters, are factored into offshore oil and gas project assessments.

In conducting environmental assessments, oil and gas companies are not mandated to consider the activities of the fishing industry in their offshore projects. They often meet with the fishing industry, but it is more of an information session than a meaningful consultation. I’ll get to what we believe to be meaningful consultation a bit later in my presentation.

Fish harvesters have made significant investments to fish in a dynamic industry that does not enable them to own ocean property. However, seismic work can be conducted over vast areas year after year and fishing grounds can be leased to oil and gas companies to conduct this exploratory work without any consideration for compensation of the fishing industry and the potential economic loss associated with offshore oil and gas activities.

When it comes to taking steps to prevent economic loss, project proponents do not go far enough. Mitigation measures should be mandatory, not discretionary, to minimize impacts to the fishing industry during offshore oil and gas exploration and development. For example, there is still no consideration for open fishing seasons and lost fishing opportunities, should a drill rig occupy the same space as a commercial fish harvester’s fishing grounds.

All offshore oil and gas projects being assessed should require consultation with, and consideration for, the fishing industry.

This leads into the role of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and the likely composition of Review Panels, Expert Committees and Advisory Councils associated with this Act. Individuals appointed to these bodies are often unrepresentative of the public interest in that they generally are appointed from within the oil and gas sector. This does not provide an unbiased forum to effectively consider outside perspectives and address the concerns and interests of the public at large with respect to health, social, and economic conditions as well as environmental protection.

FFAW is supportive of the inclusion of Regional Environmental Assessments to consider cumulative effects of offshore developments. Cumulative effects are challenging to address on a project-level basis. However, a Regional Assessment should not exclude an offshore project from environmental assessment. It is difficult to comment on issues of such a vast spatial scale on a Regional Environmental Assessment, as fisheries are dynamic and could be impacted depending on the species, timing and specific location of proposed exploratory work.

In terms of meaningful consultation, Bill C-69 is an improvement over CEAA 2012 legislation, in that it provides opportunity for more public input into the environmental assessment process. However, fish harvesters are a key stakeholder in the offshore environment and, to date, our members feel most engagement and consultation on oil and gas project development has been inadequate.

FFAW recommends amendments to the legislation that more clearly define the expectations and requirements for meaningful consultation, including confirmation from the federal Assessment Agency if and/or how stakeholder comments have been considered by the proponent in the review process.

Fish harvesters also object to being considered as merely a member of the public or “special interest” group when it comes to offshore oil and gas projects. Our membership relies on a healthy and ecologically balanced ocean to contribute to the economy. Our concerns regarding the expansion of oil and gas activities must be given more serious and targeted consideration, rather than being lumped in amongst the concerns of the general public.

An essential addition to the Act would be legislating the proponent to effectively consult and consider the activities of the fishing industry in its initial project planning.

The fishing industry has been and will remain vital to the economy of rural Newfoundland and Labrador. 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 continue to provide for us for generations.

It is critical that all offshore oil and gas projects are thoroughly reviewed. The environmental assessment 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.

Through Bill C-69 and more broadly in the process of environmental assessment, the perspectives of inshore fish harvesters are critically important. Legislation must ensure the process is transparent, thorough, and achieves its intended objectives. It also must recognize and include the fishing industry as a key stakeholder in offshore oil and gas projects. The livelihoods of FFAW members, and the future of our communities, depends on it. Thank you.