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Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans – Address from Keith Sullivan to Committee

June 3, 2022

FFAW-Unifor President Keith Sullivan addressed the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans today, June 2, 2022. View the address at this link or read his full address below:

Thank you, Mr. Chair. On behalf of over 13,000 of our members from Newfoundland and Labrador, thank you for the opportunity to address the Honourable members today.

FFAW-Unifor represents all inshore fish harvesters in our province, encompassing approximately 10,000 owner-operators and crew members. Our scope of membership also includes hundreds of workers in fish processing plants across the province.

I am here today to explain to you the essential role fish harvesters play in sustainable fisheries management – and the concerning way their knowledge and expertise has been excluded from science and management processes.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the value of the inshore fishery cannot be understated.

It is our oldest industry – interconnecting our provincial heritage and economy – and continues to be the socio-economic foundation for our coastal communities. Throughout our rich history, hardworking Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have devoted their lives to the ocean around us.

It is not an industry that can simply be replaced through theoretical “green jobs”, or tech industry development, nor does it need to be replaced.  It requires support and investment. And it is an industry that can be sustainably maintained for generations to come through sound scientific advice, diversification, modernization, and putting people and communities first when making management decisions.

The fishery is the past and present of our province – and ensuring the industry remains vibrant and sustainable into the future is a primary pillar of the work our Union undertakes. A critical component of that is ensuring fish harvesters’ knowledge and voices are heard – and valued – especially by the Department and Fisheries and Oceans.

In the three decades since the devastation of the cod moratorium, our organization has been a trailblazer for improving marine science by initiating dozens of surveys and other scientific projects – bringing quantifiable information from fish harvesters to the science assessment table.

The demand for robust science has expanded in recent years and our Union has invested greatly in building a competent science team equipped with a full-time fisheries scientist and other science support staff.  This allows us to participate in science relating to most species often filling gaps left by the federal government. Each year, over one thousand individuals volunteer their time and knowledge, making meaningful contributions to science.

But despite all of this, fish harvesters still do not have a valued seat at the table and DFO continues to disregard fish harvesters and their contributions.

The “Blue Economy” must begin with independent fish harvesters who are most impacted by changes to the marine ecosystem. These Canadians and their families have the most to lose. The decisions relating to science and management of fisheries and oceans have very real impacts on their lives, and yet they are usually the last to be considered in these decisions.

Fewer invitations for harvester participation during the science and management process, less support and cooperation from DFO-Science, and a broad sentiment of disrespect towards fish harvesters and the fishing industry has brought me here today.

By ignoring the valuable observations of fish harvesters and by refusing to conduct adequate science assessments, the federal government is eroding the inshore fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador. There is significant concern from harvesters, that their voices are being replaced by influential special interest lobby groups and their impact on government decisions is hurting our communities, our economy, and our ability to work towards truly healthy, vibrant coastal communities.

Recent changes to the Fisheries Act have prioritized the sustainable fisheries framework, including the Precautionary Approach.  While this is, of course, very well intentioned, it often forces ridged frameworks in fisheries that are not supported by adequate science.

Oftentimes, Precautionary Approaches attempt to rebuild fisheries to the highest point in a time series for that species. The result is several independent approaches attempting to build all species back to their historical highest levels. This is impossible for an ecosystem.

One issue that has been ignored for decades is the dreadful impact seal populations are having on fish stocks. On species like capelin and cod that are often scrutinized by conservation groups despite extremely low harvest levels, it was estimated by DFO-Science in 2008 that harp seals were eating 4.2 million tonnes of prey. Out of this amount, harp seals ate 1.26 million tonnes of capelin. To put this in perspective, in 2019 all of Atlantic Canada landed 560,000 tonnes of seafood – and this catch fed millions of people and generated more than $3.2 billion in direct economic benefit.

Recently, the Minister made a decision on Gulf Shrimp that completely deviated from the Precautionary Approach – making significantly more aggressive cuts to the resource. This PA was developed in consultation with fish harvesters, scientists, and management – and yet the Minister’s decision completely discarded this work.

So, I ask you Honourable Members, when decisions like this are repeatedly made, how can fish harvesters trust DFO-Science?

I am therefore here to ask you to consider the following recommendations:

We ask that you immediately consider methods to increase independent inshore fish harvester contributions to scientific and management processes for all fisheries, such as through CSAS, Roundtables, Advisories, etcetera.

As science gets more complex, the Fisheries Act dictates that it will become more rigid unless meaningful measures are taken to ensure harvester knowledge is given weight.

We respectfully ask that the federal government immediately undertake an initiative to ensure fish harvester knowledge be incorporated in all science and management decisions. Both natural and social sciences are critical components of fisheries sustainability and should be treated with equal weight.

Finally, we ask that the Government of Canada explicitly state that independent inshore harvesters and those who live in and depend upon the adjacent marine environment be prioritized in the Blue Economy Strategy.

You will find additional information in the briefing note provided and I welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you and your counterparts further. Thank you for your time and attention.