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April 4th 2019 - Bill C-68, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence - Various Witnesses

Senator Poirier: Thank you, again, to everyone for being here.


My first questions are for Mr. Lanteigne. First, thank you again for being here.

You shared your concerns with us about labour, particularly about the difficulties for younger people who want to join the fishing industry. In your opinion, how can we amend Bill C-68 to make conditions and the transfer of licences more flexible, while seeing to it that those transfers do not adversely affect the communities? In your opinion, how can the government help you to recruit younger people?

Mr. Lanteigne: That is a fundamental question. Today, if you go to a high school and ask young people if they are interested in a career as fishers, with the exception of the children of shipowners, you will see that there is very little interest. No one anywhere is promoting the fishing trade. Everyone wants their children to have professional careers as doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, teachers and so on; everything except the fishing trade. So the starting point is to spark some interest for that sector.

As I said earlier, we are more or less faced with a two-headed creature. The Fisheries Department is responsible for issuing licences, for deciding who will go out on the water and how. The training aspect falls under provincial jurisdiction. The co-operation between federal and provincial jurisdictions at this time is minimal and varies according to governments. One day there can be good co-operation among government bodies. All of a sudden, the government changes, either at the federal or provincial level, and things are completely different. That has to be discussed in order to figure out how to approach that problem.

For our American cousins, the value of a licence is zero because the state holds the licences. The state gives the licences to the fisher. Once that person has stopped fishing, the licence ends and the state issues a new one.

Here, we have begun to put values on licences, which is all new. If you go back in time a bit, the sale of licences is not such an old phenomenon. On this, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans answers that to them the licence is free and the piece of paper costs nothing. However, there is an underlying transaction, which they don’t know about. This is tantamount to putting a blindfold on and saying that you don’t want to see that. The model does not work anymore.

So some thinking clearly needs to be done. However, the topic is taboo. The fisher has made this issue his or her retirement plan. A lobster fishing licence goes for around $1 million — we have even seen $1.2 million on the Gaspé coast. The fisher tells himself: “Here is a good retirement plan that is just as good as all my RRSPs”. If, all of a sudden, the licence goes to zero, there will be a revolt, and your offices will be very busy. We don’t have a choice; that topic has to be discussed because the time will come when things are not going to work anymore.

Distribution in the fishing industry involves the owner of the business and the deckhands. A ship is a ship. One does not go without the other. Without a crew, there will be no fishing. Once again, there is a lot of unfairness. In most cases the captain gets most of the income, and the deckhands often go home with a pittance. Given those circumstances, a young fisher will probably not develop a lot of interest in a fishing career. The only possibility, to have a real career, is to have a licence. That is when the trade becomes lucrative. As I said earlier, since the cost is $8.2 million, a fisher can’t spend such a large sum. It’s more likely that companies will try to get their hands on the licences. That, right there, is the heart of the issue. The solution is going to take a collective effort between the federal government and the provincial government, with respect to access and training of fishers. However, the training of young fishers never comes up. You might see a young fellow just hanging around the docks. If you say “What are you doing there, young man, with your hands in your pockets? I’m missing one crew member this morning, do you want to come on board?” So the young guy gets on board, goes out to sea and suddenly becomes interested. The captain then says: “Well, you’ll need your licence. Go and get that and I will hire you.” That is a brief snapshot of the situation.

There are very few trades in Canada that are easier to access. You cannot become a school janitor without at least having Grade 12. So there are some big gaps. Mr. Williams explained the principle very well. This industry has the highest growth rate in Canada. No one, however, is taking care of it. It would really be in everyone’s interest to examine the matter.


The Chair: I’m going to leave you time to ask a question, but we are on a time limit here. I realize there’s so much to tell us and you want to tell us. We need to shorten the answers somewhat. I hate doing this; I like to keep the flow of information keep moving. But we have five other senators who need to ask questions and we’re on a time limit. I’d ask that we get precise questions and possibly precise answers.

Senator Poirier: I’ll ask one more and then if time allows, I will put myself on the second round.


Mr. Lanteigne, the bill suggests several changes with regard to obtaining and transferring a fishing licence. When I put questions to the minister about this on Tuesday evening, his reply was not clear. As in most of his answers, he said that everything would be included in the regulations to come. However, there is no precise timeline. Do these changes concern you? Were you consulted on the development of these changes, as an organization?

Mr. Lanteigne: The precise answer is yes. We were consulted, we continue to be consulted, and the work gets done. However, we hope that this will be done as quickly as possible and that the implementation of the bill will also be done quickly. To answer your question, the advisory process includes every organization.


Senator Poirier: I was going to go back to Mr. Sullivan. In reading through your presentation, a lot of the vocabulary that I’m seeing is a lot of the same vocabulary that we are hearing in other presentations. It has to do with the concern over owner-operators of their own fleets, the difficulty for young people to enter into the fishery business, the concerns over people having to compete with Bay Street investors or large companies for your licence.

It’s a concern we are hearing not only from Newfoundland. I have heard it in New Brunswick. In your opinion, does Bill C-68, as it is now, address these concerns? If not, what amendments would you recommend that could address that issue? Is it in Bill C-68 or a bill like that where it should even be addressed?

Mr. Sullivan: I think what’s put forward in the bill gives us the opportunity. It clarifies the mandate of the government and the minister and gives us the opportunity. But like I had said before, we really need to go further.

People have brought up that the devil is in the details. We also need to have the accompanying regulations. That’s an area where our members and people who are fishing and concerned about the fishery of the future are interested in making sure the regulations are consistent with what the industry wants and what our provinces and rural economies need to have success. That’s a couple of those areas.

The other part of that — and I know there is some investment tagged to this bill, not clear where it will actually go — is following that up with the enforcement to make sure there is no more slippage and we don’t find other ways around what will become laws as the way we found ways around policy. Companies were able to go around policies, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the government were not able to enforce that. They are the follow up measures that are needed. I think the bill gives us that opportunity and it strengthens the policies and what is wanted in eastern Canada and, in my opinion, would help the economy and people who are fishing in British Columbia.

Senator Poirier: Dr. Williams, if I understood a few minutes ago, when you appeared before the House of Commons committee, you had talked about the licence should not be able to be sold or transferred to anybody else other than a fisherman or an owner who is going to fish, which means that would eliminate the possibility of somebody from Bay Street, a company or a big fishing plant from buying it.

Could you give us an update on what reaction you got? That’s not addressed in Bill C-68, is it?

Mr. Williams: No. The study being carried out by the House of Commons Fisheries Committee is a follow-up. Because during the consultations on Bill C-68, they got so much input from the B.C. community and industry around this issue; so they set up a separate study to pursue. Yesterday the minister referred to the fact he’s expecting that report shortly. It will provide options and strategies on how this might happen.

Senator Poirier: Do you feel an amendment should be brought into Bill C-68 to address that?

Mr. Williams: No. If the language we’ve talked about here is passed in the act, then it gives the minister authority, and I hope responsibility, to pursue this issue and say, “Why would we have one set of policy objectives on the East Coast and then a radically different and divergent policy on the West Coast?” A minister could then decide they have the authority to do this, which they would do through regulations and other policies.

It would be a licensing policy decision as to who would be allowed, seven years from now, to own licences. There’s no need practically to address that in the language of this act.

Senator Poirier: Thank you.

Back to: Questions in Fisheries and Oceans Committee