Tuesday, April 29, 2014

DFO doesn't see need for independent review of its science and management

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has launched a study of the oceonographic and other factors that led to a decline in shrimp stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador. The study began on Monday with witnesses from DFO's science branch. The following are my questions and the department's responses.

Mr. Ryan Cleary (St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NDP): Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the witnesses appearing before the committee.

This committee is studying the changing ocean conditions, or other factors, off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador that led to stock fluctuations in northern shrimp and other species.

I was a fisheries journalist for a lot of years. In the early 1990s when the commercial fisheries were closed off Newfoundland and Labrador, I was the fisheries reporter for the daily newspaper, The Telegram in St. John's, Newfoundland. And I remember the talk of the day, there was some scientific talk about the impact that changing oceanographic conditions had on commercial groundfish stocks. A lot of people saw that as a deflection, it was DFO's way of deflecting attention away from its mismanagement, it's the science that wasn't there; deflecting attention away from that towards changing oceanographic conditions.

A lot of people say that what led to the collapse of groundfish stocks, such as cod, such as flounder, was pure over-fishing, was pure mismanagement, and was lack of science. So when I sit here today and I hear your testimony about how changing ocean conditions are having an impact on crab and shrimp, I kind of shake my head.

We're looking at this question of changing ocean conditions or other factors, let me ask you a question about these other factors.

Now I realize that you're biased in terms of where you come from with the department, but what role did inadequate science, if there was inadequate science, what role did poor management have in the decline of stocks such as shrimp?

I have a second part to that question. So, what role did inadequate science have in this, what role did poor management...and the second part of this question is this; considering DFOs success—or should I say lack of success—when it comes to anything in terms of commercial stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador, should there be—in your scientific opinion—an independent, outside analysis of DFOs science and management?

I think that's a fair question to ask.

So two parts to the question, maybe you can address the first part first.

Mr. David Gillis: Thank you Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Member, for the question.

There's always a bit of uncertainty in any scientific advice. We're trying to measure what's going on in a natural system that has its own variabilities. But in this case we're quite confident about the advice and the information that we're sharing here today. We have been assessing the northern shrimp stocks—all of these stocks, really—for many years. We have well-established procedures for monitoring and collecting the information that contributes to the assessment of their abundance. In recent times certainly our monitoring efforts have been very successful in that they are operationally complete. We haven't missed large parts of the season for doing our monitoring activities.

Given all of that, and the fact that the results that we see are not new, they are a continuation of a trend year-over-year, we're reasonably comfortable with the stock assessment that we see in all three of these cases, and stand by the scientific advice that we have provided to the department for their consideration in management decision making.

For the reasons that we just mentioned it wouldn't be my place to make comments on the management process. We contribute our science advice into that management process, and I can certainly assure the committee that all of the information that we had that was relevant was available to the management decision-making process in the department. But I probably can't say very much more than that on that issue.

With regard to an independent review, from the inside of the department for the reasons that I just outlined a moment ago, we're confident in the signal that we see coming from these resources, and we're comfortable with the advice that we've provided. From inside the department we would not see any compelling reason why we would need to have an independent full assessment.

I would say that in doing our science, the end step in the process is to take all of the calculations and the analysis that we have done, and subject it to a peer review. This is a process that brings in other scientists other than the ones who have been principally responsible for doing the work. We put out all of our information and our calculations in front of them, and they're analyzed and picked apart and verified until the room is comfortable that we have the best analysis, the best interpretation, and therefore the best advice that's available. That process routinely includes people from other places in our department, but also outside the department, including the industry in many cases.

The Vice-Chair (Mr. Robert Chisholm): Mr. Cleary, if I may I'm going to interject, and I'll give your time back.

I just wanted to...Mr. Gillis, just looking at the question that was sent to your officials, to your department, it says that more fully specifies the motion that the study include a review of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' science related to the fishing industry and conservation management measures.

Mr. David Gillis: Yes, I see that at the moment.

The Vice-Chair (Mr. Robert Chisholm): We want to talk to you about conservation management measures, like reduction in quota, allocation of that reduction—

Mr. Randy Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, CPC): Point of order, Mr. Chair.

Whatever the reason, and you can keep beating him up on this, they've said that they're not prepared to answer these. They're scientists, they're not managers.

If I understand correctly, we have a subcommittee meeting following this meeting where we can talk about who or what we need to do to carry on, but let's not keep bringing this issue up with these witnesses.

The Vice-Chair (Mr. Robert Chisholm): I appreciate your point. I don't consider it a point of order, Mr. Kamp, but I think you make an interesting point.

What I wanted to do was, as the chair, be clear what the officials were asked.

We invited the officials and we didn't just invite them to come and give us science, we invited them to also come and prepare to deal with conservation management questions. I just want to make sure that they leave here understanding that and that other members of the committee understand that's going to be part of this study. That was the only point I wanted to make and I won't belabour it further, and I'll turn it back over to Mr. Cleary.

Mr. Ryan Cleary: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The cuts to the shrimp quotas off Newfoundland and Labrador are going to have a devastating impact on Newfoundland and Labrador fisherman, on our inshore fisherman, and on our plants. You're talking about more than 3,000 direct jobs in terms of fisherman, in terms of plants. The economy of a whole, I think that the shrimp fishery alone was worth one third of the landed value of the 2013 fishery.

The question that I have is in regard to the inshore sector and the fishing technology for the inshore sector versus the offshore. Is there a difference?

Because the cuts are so lopsided the inshore sector has bourne the brunt and again, the impact on our rural economy will be absolutely devastating. Is there a major difference between the technology between the inshore and the offshore, and was that a factor in the decision to have such a lopsided cut to the inshore versus the offshore?

Mr. David Gillis: I may turn to Dr. Pepin here in just a second to verify what I'm going to say, but from a science point of view, my understanding of this fishery is fairly clear, it's all mobile gear that's used in this fishery. This is a trawler-based fishery. There are differences between the sizes of the vessels but in the basic technology I would say, no.

I'm tempted to say that from a scientific point of view there would be no difference and certainly that wouldn't have been a factor that we would have provided advice on in our scientific advice, it would have been based on the abundance and the trends in abundance in the stock.

I'll ask Pierre if he's got anything to add on that.

Dr. Pierre Pepin: No, it's actually quite accurate.

Both the inshore and the offshore fleets use mobile gear. They're essentially shrimp trawls. The capacity of the offshore and the inshore vessels, in terms of their catch per unit effort, might be slightly different. I'm pretty sure that in fact they are separated out in terms of looking for corresponding indices of abundance. But they are not treated in any way differently and they do not appear to have any differential impact in terms of impacting the stock in indirect ways in terms of the biology of the animals we're concerned with.

Mr. Ryan Cleary: Mr. Gillis, another question for you.

In answer to an earlier question I'd asked, you talked about an amount of uncertainty. I remember in the early 1990s DFO admitted that it could be off by as much as 25% either way in terms of stock predictions.

Is that 25% either way figure accurate today as well?

Mr. David Gillis: I'd have to verify the exact estimates or the exact confidence intervals on these estimates. Again, maybe Pierre can help us, but that type of range wouldn't be unusual. We're measuring something that is over a vast ocean area, and is a bit of a moving target to start with. But it is a very standard part of the way we do and present our science. We present our best estimates, but we also provide an indication of what the certainty is around those. We can provide the exact figures if you wish.

Mr. Ryan Cleary: I'm sorry to interrupt, Mr. Gillis. I just have a few seconds left so I want to get one last question in.

In answer to my previous question as well for an independent assessment of DFO, you mentioned how basically your answer was the science looks good realizing that you biased in giving that answer. You couldn't comment on the management.

My question is this. Has there been a substantial change in the management structure at DFO since the early 1990s given your lack of success in managing various commercial stocks? Has there been a substantial change in your management structure?

The Vice-Chair (Mr. Robert Chisholm): Thank you, Mr. Cleary.

Mr. David Gillis: Again, if you mean the physical structure of the department and how we're organized, that's....

Mr. Ryan Cleary: I didn't mean the buildings.

Mr. David Gillis: No. I know that. That evolves from time to time. But I wouldn't draw any correlation between any of those kinds of changes that we would make and the management system itself. No.

The Vice-Chair (Mr. Robert Chisholm): Thank you, Mr. Gillis. Thank you, Mr. Cleary.

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