Mr. Cal Hegge (Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Human Resources and Corporate Services, Department of Fisheries and Oceans):
Yes, I'll respect the timeframe, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much. It's a pleasure for me and my colleagues to be here this morning to talk about what we think is a very successful program, albeit an underfunded one, and I think that will become clear through my presentation.
We will do our best to address any of your questions. If there are any detailed ones we don't have immediate answers to, we'll be certain to get back to the committee as quickly as possible.
I believe a deck has been circulated to the committee members, and I will go through it fairly quickly. I'm not going to read word for word but will try to hit some of the highlights as I go through.
Obviously we're here to talk about the interests of this committee, and particularly the management of core harbours and the divestiture program, which I think is an aspect of the program of interest to the committee as well.
On slide 3 we talk about some of the key milestones around the program, going back to its beginning in 1977. The small craft harbours, as you're aware, provide multi-purpose infrastructure to hundreds of communities right across the country. It has its statutory base in the Fishing and Recreational Harbours Act. In 1987 the harbour authority concept was approved, and I'll come back to that a bit later on.
If you move into the 1990s, particularly with respect to program review, decisions focused the program on core fishing harbours and at the same time directed the divestiture of recreational and non-core harbours.
On slide 4 we have a summary of the current inventory. You often hear the department speak of approximately 750 core fishing harbours. Those are the core activities our budget essentially supports, and we have roughly 347 non-core fishing harbours, 182 of which are recreational harbours. These are all to be divested, and an additional 108 harbours are virtually in the final stages of divestiture.
The second bullet on that slide refers to the harbour authorities. There are over 500 harbour authorities; they do their work with the aid of 5,000 volunteers and approximately 100 hired staff.
Moving on to program funding, we have a breakdown of our budget, which is somewhat in excess of $86 million. You'll note that 82% of that is essentially directed to harbour maintenance.
A study the committee is well aware of, going back to 2001, indicated that actually $106 million was required to maintain and repair facilities, compared to the $71 million we have currently available for the maintenance of harbours.
It will get a little bit worse with the cessation of $20 million that has been an ongoing program. That money will expire on December 31, 2007, which will exacerbate the funding pressures of this particular program.
A bit of good news, however, is reflected in the last bullet on this page, in that we are anticipating some additional funding. I must highlight that subject to Treasury Board approval, some additional funding of approximately $11 million this year will go into the small craft harbours program.
On slide 6 we talk about the harbour authorities, which are volunteer-based, independent corporations. The harbour authorities are expected to raise revenue where they can to offset operations and minor maintenance. Any major maintenance remains the responsibility of the department. They have raised about $11 million in fees, and this does contribute to their particular harbours.
On slide 7, continuing with the harbour authorities, the fees could be raised in accordance with prevailing market rates. On the other hand, because of the state of the harbours, it's very difficult to raise fees until we can improve their condition.
The harbour authorities are relatively small and volunteer-dependent, with very little turnover. They're a very dedicated group of people, but they are suffering some fatigue, and they need additional attention.
With respect to divestitures--I'm on slide 8 now--as I mentioned earlier, we have been directed to divest the recreational and inactive or low-activity fishing harbours. Basically these are transferred at a fairly nominal value with the understanding that the transferee will maintain the harbour or at least keep it open to the public for a five-year period.
Since 1994-95, when the decision was made to divest ourselves of the harbours, we have divested, at a cost of $61 million, 663 recreational and 382 inactive or low-activity fishing harbours. Most of these harbours have been transferred to local municipalities or not-for-profit community organizations.
We still have an inventory outstanding. Our estimate of the cost to divest ourselves of those 347 harbours I mentioned earlier is roughly $82 million. At the moment, because of other budget pressures, we can only devote roughly $1.5 million to harbour divestitures.
That, Mr. Chair, completes the quick summary of the presentation. We'll be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton—Canso, Lib.):
I think I'll split with Bill.
To the two gentlemen, thanks very much for the presentation.
I found there's a continuum of success with the individual harbour authorities. Some have been able to embrace it and really run with the harbour authorities, while others have their own particular challenges. Can we go back in, on divested harbours? Are there opportunities to help with aspects of authority operation--i.e., governance--and is there any kind of training? Sometimes we get the deal done with the divested harbours and then we let these people loose; some of these divested harbours still have commercial viability, but they're struggling to make it on their own.
Let me ask two questions past that. Some of these divested harbours continue to have a fair amount of commercial activity. Is there any possibility that a fund may be developed, or an envelope of money allocated, to go back and look at divested harbours that continue to be commercially viable? That's the first question.
Again, I think the broad swipes of this program have been very well managed and have been done well, but I can think of one in particular in my riding that may cause DFO to look back and see that it has taken out of service a harbour that, while not essential, would still be a key harbour. It's on a very exposed section of the coastline. It is L'Archeveque Harbour, as a matter of fact, on the east side of Cape Breton; it may have been an error cutting that one loose. Is there a process whereby we may be able to go back and reassess, to see if we can get engaged in a harbour that's been divested already?
So those are the two questions: first, is there an envelope of money for divested harbours? Second, is there a process through which a divested harbour might become operational again? I'll let those two questions go.
Mr. Cal Hegge:
Let me try to address your earlier question on the funding.
I believe, if we look at the capital, first of all, we lost $42 million of program integrity funding, part of which was dedicated to small craft harbours. As I mentioned in the presentation this morning, we are cautiously optimistic, subject again to Treasury Board approval, that we're going to get additional capital, which will put the small craft harbours program back up to where it was in the period you referred to.
I need to confirm this with Robert, but I think the increase in the operating was largely attributable to the $20 million IRP fund we receive, which is due to sunset, as I said, this year.
In summary, all things being equal, the capital should go back up to where it was this year. The operating has increased because of the IRP funding, which is due to sunset, so the operating will take a dip next year as things currently stand. I think that's the difference in the give and take of the funding.
With respect to your question, Mr. Matthews, on the recreational harbour in Newfoundland, perhaps Robert or Bill could speak to that.
Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Eastern Shore, NDP):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for your presentation this morning.
As you're probably aware, those of us from Nova Scotia have been following the Digby fiasco quite closely. I'm going to ask you various questions, if you could jot them down and answer at the end.
What measures are in place to prevent another Digby wharf fiasco again?
The other concerns are about Nunavut. We've been talking a lot to folks up in Nunavut about the possibility of infrastructure money going into wharf development. Would that fall under your purview, or would it be under the Department of Transport, or another department of that nature?
Also, the third bullet on page 7 of your document says: “Most HAs are small and volunteer-dependent, with little turnover and suffering fatigue, thus jeopardizing the model.” Yet before that you say: “There is room for HAs to raise more fees.”
As someone who has been representing fishing communities for a while, I've always looked at wharves and docks as people look at highways in cities. When tolls and service fees are put on these, they put a further burden on people trying to make a living from the sea. I'm wondering how you could say that most HAs are volunteer-dependent and fatigued—because you're absolutely correct on that—then turn around and say they can raise more fees. The last thing fishermen need now is additional fees to cover the cost of their operating.
The last one I want to mention is that I really appreciate the fact you've said on several occasions here this morning the word “cash-starved”. You don't often hear people from departments say that in committee. This $8 million is not going to be enough, obviously, to suit your needs. If you could write yourself a cheque from Treasury Board to meet the needs of small craft harbours in this country, how much money would you like to see added to your department to meet the needs of Canadians?
Mr. Cal Hegge:
With respect to your other questions, your first one on Nunavut harbours, I believe our deputy spoke to that briefly last year during one of the hearings. I don't mind telling you that we have been working closely with Nunavut officials on the requirement for small craft harbours in Nunavut. Through a joint report that is not quite yet finalized--but once it is I do not see why we wouldn't share it with the committee--a requirement for seven harbours is identified.
As recently as last week, we had a meeting with the Nunavut officials. Our deputy was there, myself, Robert, and others with the Department of Transport that you alluded to in your question, because they have infrastructure funding. We are going to continue to have discussions with the Department of Transport on how we might collaborate withTransport and perhaps other government departments, either in the context of a northern strategy or more specifically to address the harbour requirement in Nunavut. So that is a bit of an update, and we should have additional information in the not too distant future.
I should perhaps qualify the comments with respect to harbour authorities, because you're quite right. What the presentation indicates is that the harbour authorities as a group are fairly small, dedicated, and working very hard to do what they can. The way the deck presents the situation is that in accordance with prevailing market conditions there is potential there to raise additional revenue. But your point, which I think is quite valid, is that by raising fees this would certainly be seen to be a negative aspect by the fishing industry, which is suffering.
So when you make that linkage I can fully understand your point. What we were saying is simply from a strict prevailing market situation, there would be the potential to raise fees, which could be directed back into the maintenance of the harbours. I think we have to make that distinction in terms of the linkage there.
Your other question is quite intriguing in terms of if I had the authority to write a cheque for the department. We have done some estimates. I alluded to a figure earlier, an additional $35 million that we could use on an annual basis. There are also additional funds we could use quite effectively, I think, to divest the remaining harbours. So we have figures in mind that we are going to be pursuing with the minister and within our department.
One comment I would like to make, as I think this committee is well aware, is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a very vast and important mandate in terms of service to Canadians. I would not want to suggest that the small craft harbours program, as short of funds as it is, is not being looked at in terms of priority with all of our other departmental priorities.
Mr. Gerry Byrne (Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, Lib.):
Mr. Chair, we've got limited time left.
We'll start with the premise that DFO is indeed underfunded, specifically and especially from a capital point of view. DFO maintains very significant capital budgets, not only within small craft harbours but also within its fleet management system, informatics, and other things.
I have three very important questions. I'll try to make them brief, but I'll be very specific. I am asking about regional allocations. Has there been any change in regional allocation policy in recent years? Have you maintained adherence to your regional allocation policy in recent years, and has there been flow of capital budgets?
The first question pertains to regional allocations. Have you maintained and upheld your own policies on regional allocations, and have there been changes, or are changes currently being contemplated, to regional allocations?
Second, is there capital budget movement within DFO, specifically out of small craft harbours? For example, Parliament and this committee encourage the appropriation of specific funds for small craft harbours, but as we know, capital funds, once within a department, can flow if there is a situation in which fleet management requires an increase in capital appropriation. Has there been movement out of the small craft harbour envelope to other areas of the department? If so, has that money moved back in the spirit, quality, and quantity that was originally ascribed to the small craft harbours branch? We are not here to make subjective arguments as to what is more appropriate or what is higher priority. Parliament approves a particular appropriation based on an understanding, and this committee supports a particular appropriation for the small craft harbours branch; we'd like to know if that is being upheld.
My last question is on the role of Public Works. Public Works is a monopoly provider of engineering services to harbour authorities on all capital projects. Is there any proposal to allow harbour authorities to engage the services of independent private engineering firms to conduct engineering projects on their own capital projects within their own harbour authorities, as we do with municipal governments? Is the harbour authority--the independence and expertise and professionalism of the harbour authority--such that we would be prepared to engage in that and potentially get lower-cost solutions to harbour authority capital projects, and in the same instance create greater service value for money? As we know, Public Works has a limited budget; they have limited personnel and limited timeframes in which to conduct activities, and those factors sometimes limit or reduce the quality of service harbour authorities receive.
Those are three questions. If we don't have time to answer them today, I'd like to follow up on them, and I probably will within this committee.
Mr. James Lunney (Nanaimo—Alberni, CPC):
My question is again related to the west coast. You're talking about Transport Canada here briefly now, but I'm wondering about Tofino.
They have a main wharf there that recently went through the divestiture program. It's not used as much for fishing now, but it's a major transportation hub for first nations communities, coming and going from this little community, in transition from a large industrial fishing base at one time to more recreational and tourism.
We have communities such as Ahousat, an aboriginal community of 800 people, which uses this wharf as a main access point for the whole community, as well as others like Opetchesaht and Hesquiaht. So it's a transportation hub.
When this was divested recently, there was some discussion and we wrote to the previous minister about this. It was a fixed amount of money--I think it was maybe half a million dollars--but they had to spend it all within five years or give it back to the department.
Can you clarify the rationale for that? In these small communities, a lot of work is donated by local contractors, and so on. They could stretch that fund a heck of a lot further.
First of all, is there consideration for needs beyond fishing by DFO, for transportation needs, as we might have had more of a transportation corridor in a wharf like this one?
A second point I'd like to throw in is about eel grass and small craft harbours related to resorts. There is a rapid tidal flow at Tofino harbour and it silts in. Just to get permission to do any dredging, even if they're paying for it, is nearly impossible, because eel grass has grown and somebody in their wisdom has decided that of the hundreds and hundreds of hectares of eel grass out there, a little bit has grown and therefore they can't touch it without planting some more somewhere. That may not be your department, but it's a huge problem for small operators.
So those are two questions.
Mr. Denny Morrow (Secretary Treasurer, Grey Seal Research and Development Society):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and also the members of the committee, for the opportunity today.
To give first of all a bit of introduction, I work as the executive director of the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association, which is an association of over 60 processing companies and exporters on the mainland of Nova Scotia. Our combined export value last year exceeded $400 million. The companies I represent are involved in exporting almost all the varieties of seafood we have on the market in Nova Scotia. I would also remind the committee that Nova Scotia is the number one exporter of seafood in Canada, with over $1 billion exported last year.
The industry is under extreme pressure right now, as is the industry in Newfoundland for the very same reasons: the American exchange rate, fuel prices, electricity rates, and Chinese competition in our markets.
I would like to express a plea to the minister today to come to Nova Scotia as soon as possible, hopefully this summer. We need the same kind of summit as was recently held in Newfoundland, where the minister gets to meet with the industry leaders and understand what the issues are. Perhaps by putting our heads together we can come up with some effective strategies.
I have to underline the urgency of this. I live in an area of Southwest Nova where right now there are boats that are on a cash basis for fuel, where one of the big auto and truck companies is repossessing trucks from fishermen, where we're facing very soft markets, especially in the United States. I hope the minister will hear this plea and that we can get to see him, hopefully this summer.
Now on to grey seals. I'm the secretary-treasurer of the Grey Seal Research and Development Society. We have a number of processing companies and fishermen's organizations that form the board of directors of this organization.
Starting off, what is happening with grey seals from a commercial fisheries perspective? In 1980 the estimated herd size was about 30,000, with a concentration around Sable Island and few seen in western Nova Scotia or Cape Breton waters. In 2006 the estimate of a year ago was about 350,000 to 400,000, with new breeding-pupping areas and concentrations from Cape Breton to coastal areas around the Gulf of Maine.
Unlike harp seals, which remain in the Gulf and off coastal Newfoundland and Labrador for a few months before moving north to the Arctic and Greenland, grey seals are in our commercial fishing waters and around our coast for 12 months of the year. These animals average between 600 pounds to 1,200 pounds as adults and they are eating large amounts of fish and seafood from our shallow fishing banks and coastal waters. They live in a cold water environment that requires more caloric intake on a yearly basis than that of the entire Nova Scotia population of nearly one million people.
While the grey seal population has increased more than ten-fold since 1980, our cod and other groundfish populations continue to decline or disappear off eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. A commercial fishing moratorium has been in place for cod in these waters since 1993, yet the stocks continue to decline because of unexplained high natural mortality and the seeming disappearance of whole year classes before they become large enough to spawn.
This decline in cod and some other commercial groundfish stocks is spreading westward, to areas where fishing and fish processing has until now been able to survive.
The few cod that are harvested for science and analysis from eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton are infested with seal worm parasites and seem stunted in growth. This phenomenon is spreading westward, and our industry fears that we will soon be facing a complete shutdown of the groundfish industry.
Grey seals may not be the only factor, but the ecosystem impact of the more-than-tenfold increase of these large predators is in our view poorly understood and greatly underestimated.
World demand for wild-caught ocean fish is increasing, so we do have an opportunity; this is not a dying industry. Our competition in Norway, with an annual cod quota exceeding 200,000 metric tonnes, in Iceland, with a cod quota exceeding 150,000 metric tonnes, are reaping the benefits through fresh, frozen, and salted exports. By the way, the Atlantic Canada cod quota is less than 25,000 metric tonnes when you add Newfoundland and Nova Scotia together.
Fishing communities are thriving in those countries while we increase our export of young people from our fishing communities. Both Iceland and Norway manage their seal herds at fewer than 20,000 animals and make no apologies for doing so. Norway even licenses foreign hunters to harvest seals as a part of tourism.
A fish-processing industry continues to exist in southwest Nova Scotia, where a modest fishery for haddock, cod, and pollock has survived until now. This industry is under tremendous competitive pressure due to less attractive exchange rates with the American dollar, declining fish stocks, Chinese competition in frozen and added-value products, fuel price increases, and a shrinking supply of labour. The continued increase in the grey seal population and the growing numbers along coastlines and on islands in western Nova Scotia endangers the modest amounts of fish available for harvest. Increasingly, this fish is infested with seal-worm parasites that make it uneconomical to process and export.
Impact Issues: Grey seals eat cod and other commercial species. In Iceland, where there is abundant cod, scientists estimate that cod makes up between 20% and 25% of the seal diet. Our fishermen have observed that grey seals prefer to eat the soft bellies, liver, and gonads of large cod, so the tonnage killed far exceeds the tonnage eaten. Grey seals also prey heavily on the small numbers of juvenile, immature cod and other groundfish species in this region before the cod are old enough to spawn.
When I did this presentation before the committee on natural resources in the Nova Scotia legislature, I circulated pictures of cod with the bellies ripped out of them that fishermen have sent to me at the office.
Fishermen feel it is unlikely cod or other groundfish species are able to spawn successfully on the shallow banks while large numbers of seals are present. Fishermen have observed seals breaking up schooling fish and chasing them. Spawning requires fish to aggregate on certain shallow banks in the ocean. Scientists have wondered since the mid-1990s why whole year classes of cod seem to have disappeared. Fishermen believe that these year classes were never born. I would remind the committee members again that, unlike harp seals, these seals are in our waters 12 months of the year, especially during the reproductive time.
Grey seals chase fish off the best feeding grounds during the summer months and into less productive, colder, darker, deeper waters. Scientists and industry are observing thinner fish in poorer condition, and this phenomenon is spreading from eastern waters to the west as the grey seal herd spreads. Grey seals are the necessary, warm-blooded animal host for a parasite, pseudoterranova, that is responsible for an alarming infestation of cod, cusk, haddock, and flatfish to the point where one DFO parasite scientist in the late 1990s concluded that mortality of the most heavily infested fish was likely occurring.
DFO scientists continue to wonder what is causing the high levels of natural mortality of cod and other species in areas where a moratorium on commercial fishing has been in effect since 1993. I would mention the funding for that research work on the seal worm, pseudoterranova, was cut off around 2000, just after the report by the scientist at Moncton was released with the conclusion of high possible natural mortality.
Infestations of seal worms sap nutrition from fish, and the worms excrete ketones that have been observed to make fish sluggish. This is something I learned from a scientist when I was in Iceland three years ago. The impact of the parasite infestation is making it uneconomical to process our own fish. One processor last summer reported that cod fillets were literally walking across the work tables. Another salt fish processor reported he can no longer do skin-on dried and salted fish from local landings due to parasites and the cost of removing them. That processor now imports ling cod from Iceland.
Grey seals are destroying gillnets and longline fish before they can be brought on board. Fishermen in some areas have given up their inshore herring and mackerel bait fisheries. Halibut and groundfish longline fishermen are seeing good fish stripped and ruined before they can be landed.
The prognosis for Nova Scotia is more pressure on crab and lobster fisheries, fewer fishermen, fewer processing plants and jobs, and more people from coastal communities leaving for Alberta. Some plants and fishing captains are reporting difficulty in finding crewmen and workers. Fishing is a business, and in Nova Scotia the impact of grey seals is adding to other factors in stressing these businesses.
I will conclude with some facts about the Grey Seal Research and Development Society.
The society was formed in the fall of 2003 by some concerned industry representatives. The society requested a grey seal quota or allocation from DFO and received a two-year allocation of 10,000 animals for 2004 and 2005. That allocation was extended through to the end of 2006. The society has been able to harvest 460 juvenile grey seals in 2005 and about 800 thus far in 2006. It is estimated that 50,000 grey seal pups were born on Sable Island alone this past winter.
Grey seal products differ from harp seal products, and the society is breaking new ground in how to harvest these animals for best-quality pelts and meat. Products and markets must be developed. We are having some success in these efforts, but significant challenges remain.
Sable Island and other key breeding and pupping locations are off limits to the society for harvesting due to provincial regulations and the DFO allocation restriction. There is no recognition by either the Nova Scotia government or DFO of the impact that the grey seal herd expansion on commercial fish stocks is having on the fishing and seafood business and the marine ecosystem that has supported fishing communities in this region for hundreds of years. This is in marked contrast to governments in Iceland and Norway, which have maintained viable fishing industries and have managed their seal populations to avoid an increase.
Rather, we see DFO and the Nova Scotia government approach this with a head-down, quiet support for the development of a small commercial grey seal harvest with numerous restricted areas.
I'll end with that. You have the rest of my report, and I will entertain questions.
Mr. Denny Morrow:
The grey seal is a very intelligent animal. It's an opportunistic feeder that feeds on what is most available. It can certainly displace commercial fishermen, taking the food that we take out of the ocean, especially groundfish. We feel that this is taking place. We're seeing it in western Nova Scotia now.
You're right that at some point the animal starts to decline in health, weight, and also fertility. That hasn't happened yet. I understand from the scientists that the grey seal is doing very well.
The DFO scientists are experimenting with a lipid analysis, in which they take a piece of blubber from some of the seals around Sable Island and analyze it to see what DNA traces there are in the food. They're finding that the seals around Sable Island are concentrating on redfish and sand lance now. It's no surprise to me, because the cod is pretty well gone off Sable Island Bank, Western Bank, and so on. Anybody familiar with fishing in those areas can tell you that you can't find them any more. So it's not surprising that you don't see much cod in the lipid analysis.
I understand that in Iceland, where they have lots of cod, they find about 25% in their seals.
Also, fishermen in Cape Breton and other areas report that they find grey seals following their lobster fishing boats, the same way that seagulls do. Only lobsters too small to meet the measure are being thrown back.
There's no doubt in our mind that the grey seal is opportunistic, and there's still lots more to eat. But will there be any commercial fishing business left after they're done?
Eventually they will hit the wall, and a disease will set in. Then maybe they will collapse.
Mr. Denny Morrow:
Thank you for that question.
My objective today, and something I'd like to leave the committee with, is I'm hoping DFO will continue to give the allocation to the Grey Seal Research and Development Society. I would like to see a scientific forum with industry on ecosystem and commercial fisheries impacts. I don't think they are well understood. We need to bring in scientists from Norway, Iceland, and other places where they're dealing with this issue. We need to ask the right impact questions. In my view, they're not being asked, especially the seal worm issue. I think that's a huge one. The scientists in Iceland pointed me in that direction regarding the waste material, the ketones, excreted by the worms. If the committee members could just see some of the fish we take off the Scotian Shelf now and how lousy it is with worms.... In that moratorium area, where we do some scientific research on the fish off the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, processors will open fish and find it's only fit for the trash can. That cannot be healthy fish. No questions are being asked about that.
We need to establish a target population level for that herd based upon its ecosystem impact. We need to review the restricted areas, and they are numerous. We need to look at harvest methods. For example, one of the difficulties we have concerns the great difference between harvesting harp seals. Newfoundland sealers can go out on the ice, there are no restricted areas for them, whereas we have to harvest grey seals on islands and on coastlines. For meat, if we shoot an adult--and that's the way we kill them--if there are 12 of them there, we get one, the rest hit the water, and they're gone. Now that's not an economical way to harvest. We'd like to be able to use a net to catch some of them, so we can harvest an economical group. We've asked DFO for permission, and it hasn't been granted. Right now, we can't fill the order to China, and we want to target adults, because the harvest method is very difficult.
I'll just point out that elephants in South African parks are managed. They're culled when the numbers get too high because of the destruction of the vegetation. Wild animals in Australia are managed the same way. When I was down in Washington, D.C., in December, for a conference, in The Washington Post and The New York Times I was reading about a cull: We need more deer hunters around suburban areas in Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey, because the deer herds see the suburban yards and gardens as one big salad bowl, and destroy the landscape, the flowers. For some reason, seals have become sacred and we'll allow this devastation to happen to an industry and to our coastline, and do nothing about it.
Mr. Peter Stoffer:
Mr. Morrow, thank you very much for your presentation today, sir.
Your analysis of elephants in parks and deer in cities may not go over well as a conclusive argument because as man has encroached upon their territories these animals have not had many places to go, whereas the ocean is a big area, and they have lots of places to go. So I do not know if that would be a compelling argument to government.
But you do make one point about Norway. As this committee knows, the people of Norway are fully supportive of their fishing industry and understand why seals need to be managed. In Canada there is still a huge amount of popular opinion against the commercial seal hunt, and this is among Canadians themselves.
Government has failed, I think, over the years to properly explain to Canadians why a commercial seal hunt is important for the economy and for the management of our east coast stocks. I would like to know if you would verify that statement.
Also--and I would like to thank our researchers for this--in 2001 the eminent panel of seal management stated that there is no scientific consensus on the effects that grey seals are having on the recovery of cod stocks, which means that scientists differ on the effect that grey seals have on cod stocks. I am just wondering if you could elaborate further on that.
The last point is this. You probably read in the Chronicle Herald newspaper last week an article by a woman named Debbie Mackenzie, who is from Mr. Keddy's riding, I believe. She was talking about diseases that seals carry, like brucellosis, tuberculosis, and so on. She made the allegation that CFIA or DFO is not doing a complete health analysis of the seal meat when it is being exported overseas.
I am just wondering if you could comment on that particular article, because I have not heard a countervailing argument to what she has stated about the handling of the meat, and the concern that fishermen should have for handling seal meat, and also about the various diseases that seals do carry, if indeed they carry them at all.
Mr. Denny Morrow:
Thank you, Mr. Stoffer. You will have to keep me on track. There are several questions that you asked.
I would just like to comment, first of all, that seals have lots of places to go in the ocean. Radio transmitters have been put on some grey seals from the Sable Island herd. What we find, not surprisingly, is that they hang around the fishing banks and the coastal waters. They are not out there in the deep water because the energy feedback is not good. If you've got to dive deep in dark, cold water and find your food, it's not nearly as productive as being in a shallow fishing bank or around the shoreline where the population of feed is greater as well. With my farming background, I know animals like the easy lunch.That is what we find with seals as well.
With regard to the article in the Chronicle Herald, brucellosis was mentioned. Again, with my farming background--and Mr. Keddy, perhaps you can help with this--I know that brucellosis is a disease that cattle and bison get. It affects their reproductive system and causes abortions. I understand from raising cattle that the main way that human beings can get the disease or suffer some effect from it is to drink the milk of infected cows. Eating the meat doesn't transmit it.
I understand it is spread by the bulls. So I am not sure what her reference is to here, how it is going to spread, whether there is going to be interbreeding of seals and cattle, or what. I'd hate to think of that.
In any event, I am unaware of any evidence showing that the disease is present in grey seals. If it were, their pupping wouldn't be very productive. We know it is on Sable Island. There hasn't been a fall-off in the pupping out there. So I don't think they are experiencing a lot of abortions.
If there is some impact of this, somebody had better tell the Inuit of Canada and Greenland, because they eat a lot of seal meat, and we don't hear any reports of any bad things happening.
But there is a danger in allowing the herd to expand to the point where you do have distemper or other diseases that have developed around the world in any wild animal population or seal population. We are developing a protocol with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for meat inspection in the exports that are being developed. We are working carefully with them.
I guess I would finish with that issue by saying that the opponents of the seal harvest have adopted a strategy of attacking markets for seafood and seal products in particular. I would expect more such attacks to take place in the future. I would hope that when these people make these kinds of allegations, and put articles in the newspaper--and I am surprised that the Chronicle Herald never asked for evidence.... This is hurting the industry. It is hurting our economy.
You asked a question about the media. Could you remind me?
Mr. Denny Morrow:
I want the allocation that we have for 10,000 grey seals over two years, which will expire. We need that continued and perhaps increased if we're able to supply the market. I anticipate that we'll handle the problems that we have with harvesting the animals.
We need a scientific forum where we can discuss the grey seals in particular—not harp seals, but grey seals—and what their impact on the ecosystem and the commercial fishery is. The industry needs to participate in that. The eminent panel called a few industry people, but very few. It was mostly scientists and the scientific community, but no foreign scientists.
When I was in Iceland, the people basically laughed at what we're doing. We're allowing our industry to be destroyed. They would never do that over there. A scientist said that if they managed their fishery the way we do, they'd be living in mud huts.
In a review of the restricted areas, you have to realize that harp seals and grey seals are different. We don't harvest grey seals on ice. They have to be harvested on islands and coastlines. They're going to be harvested differently, so we need some help with that.
We're in the process of outfitting a boat for harvesting large animals. You can imagine the problems with shooting an 800-pound to 1,000-pound male. We have a couple of sealers or fishermen who do this, and then we have to get that animal on the boat off an island, we have to eviscerate it, and we have to put it in cold storage. It's going to take a special configuration of a boat for that harvest.
We need the province and DFO to work with the industry. This meat thing is a big opportunity for us. I was told that because of avian flu in China, they are looking for other forms of meat protein. The possibility is there. We could do 20 to 100 containers, and that's times 40,000 pounds of meat.
Finally, in the management of the grey seals, we need a target level for the population that we're trying to attain. I think it's about 50% of the population level that we have now. Over five years, we'd like to see the population reduced by 50% so that the impact on the ecosystem, the commercial fish stocks, and our commercial fishery would be less severe.