HALIFAX, THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2020
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: Good afternoon. I call to order the Subcommittee on Supply. We are continuing our meeting today to consider the Estimates for the Department of Agriculture, which we started yesterday, as outlined in Resolutions E1 and E48.
We have 25 minutes left for the NDP. I believe the member for Cape Breton Richmond will be taking the 25 minutes.
The honourable member for Cape Breton Richmond.
ALANA PAON: Merci beaucoup. I promise I won’t speak to you in French, minister.
It’s good to be here again to ask some pertinent questions around agriculture. The first thing I’d like to make mention of is that I’m taking a look through the budget here and the Budget Address and in the overall government business plan. As much as it’s wonderful to see that there have been increases obviously in seafood - which I know is the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and it comes after this - there’s almost nary a mention that frozen fruit exports are up, blueberries are up. There’s that whole other aspect of agriculture that is the meat and potatoes of the everyday Nova Scotian that I’m not really seeing reflected in the business plan and the budget moving forward.
I know there are plenty of programs that are available. My question is: What is the department doing to really encourage more of the crop and livestock - the basic everyday food that every Nova Scotian needs to be able to thrive? What are we doing to be able to encourage more of that sort of agriculture in Nova Scotia?
HON. KEITH COLWELL: I’ll start with the Small Farm Acceleration Program that we put in place. I spoke about it yesterday as well. We’ve come up with the Small Farm Acceleration Program. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that or not. What it does is, if you have an income of less than $60,000 per year on your farm, you can approach us to be part of this Small Farm Acceleration Program. We’ve had 117 applications, I believe, and 90-some people are participating in the program.
The idea of the program is to address some of the issues that you’re talking about. There are two or three reasons we want to go to that program. By the way, we’re the only ones in the country to have this program. It’s under our CAP program, funded by the federal and provincial governments.
We put it together to make sure that any farmer of any age who decides they’re trying to get into a full-time business from it has a window to do that. We’ve never had that kind of program before. We had programs to help them get there, but really not targeted at that group. Typically, that group of individuals are the ones who go to the farmers’ markets and supply the goods to some of the local grocery stores, maybe, or some of the other places. They work hard to get up to whatever sales activity they are.
With what we have now, you can build a business plan. We’ll pay to help them develop a business plan through a consultant or they can access money and write their own business plan. After they do the business plan, they meet with experts in our department and the department will go through the business plan with them to make sure it’s realistic and doesn’t set a goal that’s too high for them that they can’t achieve. The idea is to get them to set their own goals, where they want to go, how they want to grow their business. Our approach is to try to get them to the size they want to be.
Somebody may say, I only want to ever make $50,000 a year or $20,000 a year, or whatever the story is. That’s their choice, not ours. For instance, if someone was making $10,000 a year - and we’ve got a lot of small farmers, as you would be well aware, who would make that kind of money - they’ve got a really incredible lifestyle and they enjoy that, but usually they want to get a bit bigger.
If they came to us with their business plan and said, we want to go to $11,000 a year, it’s a realistic goal - 10 per cent increase in their sales. We would then work with them to see what tools we had to put in their possession to make sure they can achieve the $11,000 a year, or overachieve it, to help themselves. We put a custom program together to make that happen, just specifically for them.
This program has been extremely successful. We had no idea when we started it if there would be much uptake, and there definitely has been. Probably to make a full-time income in Nova Scotia now - or anywhere in the country now - you’d have to have maybe $200,000 or $250,000 a year in gross sales to make a decent income for you and your family if you’re going to do that.
That is one way we’re helping farmers grow. We’re also working with the beef, sheep, and pork industries to get them to another level. We invested some time ago with NorthumberLamb to get them CFIA approved. That means that their products can be shipped anywhere in the world from that facility. That puts our sheep, goats, and that size of animal at a competitive advantage that we don’t have. We’re working with marketing ideas for pork that we’re going forward with.
We’re working on a lot of things. As I said the other day, there’s no silver bullet of any of these things. We have to continually work with the industries and do everything we can to put the programs in place to help them achieve what they personally want to achieve. That has never been the approach before. This is something new that we started a couple of years ago with a new CAP program. We’re being watched very closely by other parts of the country and they’re very excited about this program. I think that some of the other provinces are going to adopt the same sort of program. There are many, many operations like this that we’re doing.
ALANA PAON: Thank you for your response. It’s wonderful to hear that there is the Small Farm Acceleration Program. I guess what I’m wondering is, what percentage of people who are applying for this program are producing what I like to term “meat and potatoes”? As much as vineyards are wonderful - and I’m very proud of our wines that we produce here in Nova Scotia, which are an incredible product - we can’t survive on wine and lobster and seafood alone.
Again, what I’m asking is, although there’s processing - a new abattoir has just been developed in Goshen - and it’s great that there’s support for beef, sheep, and pork, but there are vegetables, there are other types of livestock, there are crops - the staples of everyday life of Nova Scotians.
We talk about food insecurity and poverty levels. Especially in Nova Scotia, our child poverty level is very high, and the food security portion of it is partially due to the fact that we don’t grow enough of our food that we need to eat here in Nova Scotia. I think it’s less than 20 per cent that we consume.
I want to know what percentage of staple food growth we are seeing going through these types of acceleration programs or any other programs available through the department.
KEITH COLWELL: Actually, we don’t have it broken out by commodity, but typically under the Small Farm Acceleration Program, people are either into sheep, which are relatively inexpensive to get into compared to pork or beef - really some fantastic business plans and initiatives that some of the young farmers and the farmers who would fit into the Small Farm Acceleration Program are into.
Typically, they’ll grow things like lettuce - some of the higher-value products that you would see at a farmers’ market. Some of them would have eggs and the 200 chickens they’re allowed to have under supply management - all those particular things that are relatively inexpensive to get into farming. Once you get into the bigger crops, it gets very expensive to buy the equipment you need and, indeed, to have enough land that you can make a profit from it.
I’ve talked to many young people who are in the Small Farm Acceleration Program and they’re very excited about it. It gives them an opportunity that never existed before in Nova Scotia. If you didn’t have a family member who was in farming who would help you out years and years ago, you were pretty well out of luck.
I talked to one young farmer who lived in an apartment and actually rented some land from somebody that was good enough - the farmer basically almost gave them the land to use. They were selling some really good products at the farmers’ market. They wanted to become full time. That was before we had the Small Farm Acceleration Program. I almost guarantee that they went into that program to move them forward.
If we can get people who are in that boat on the road to developing a business plan, implementing the business plan, and making an income for them and their families, we’ll be very successful. A lot of our farms in Nova Scotia started very small and became extremely successful over time. We’re hoping we’ll have more of those successes.
When I measure success, it doesn’t mean that they become a multi-million-dollar farm necessarily, but that they achieve what they want to achieve in life and live the lifestyle they want and can make a reasonable living doing it.
ALANA PAON: Thank you for your response. I realize that it’s extremely expensive to get set up and into farming for commodities, but you go throughout Europe - and I know that these are intergenerational farms that most people are fortunate enough to inherit, but you go to France, and food is being produced on just about every single foot of agricultural land available. It’s an extraordinary thing to behold.
Here in Nova Scotia, we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum. You go by so many farms that are just not in use. I often say that we’re doing a fine job here in Nova Scotia of educating our children right off the farm - we offer them these opportunities to educate themselves, and farming is a very tough sector to get into. You need to be made of some really strong stuff to farm 24/7, 365 days a year.
What measures can we be putting in place or does the department feel that perhaps could be put in place moving forward so that in 30 or 50 years’ time we are growing most of the food that we are consuming? We’ve got blockades going on. We’ve got climate change happening. There is a lot of insecurity in the world with the coronavirus that we now have.
What is it that the department foresees needing to be put in place so that we see that every single part of the food chain is covered in being produced here in Nova Scotia? What needs to happen?
KEITH COLWELL: I’m really pleased you asked that question. It’s a very important topic for us in the Department of Agriculture. Food security is critical. I’ve been talking about this for a long time now. I don’t think people believe me that there is going to be a food shortage in the world. When you look at the reports in from the United Nations that said we’re not going to have enough food to feed the people in the world who exist today, that’s scary. That’s only 10 years away.
We used to have Select Nova Scotia and Taste of Nova Scotia. Both organizations did a very good job with what they were tasked to do. I want to commend my staff who did work on Select Nova Scotia. They did a great job. They followed the book that was written for them and they went above and beyond.
Unfortunately, that program and Taste of Nova Scotia together didn’t really give us the impact we needed on Buy Local. A year ago, I made the decision and took some assets away from my now-deputy minister. She was the executive director. It was an interesting discussion. We took some assets and some staff and some money that she had aside and designed a new program.
That new program was launched last Saturday under Taste of Nova Scotia. We’ve managed to put partnerships in place with Atlantic Superstore, Sobeys, and Walmart. We’re working on Costco to get them involved too, and they’re very interested. Also, Masstown Market, Noggins Corner Farm Market, and the Nova Scotia farm markets - the list goes on and on - to really drive a Buy Local campaign.
That’s where we need to start. If we don’t have a market for what’s produced, there’s no sense growing it unless we can export it. If I can find something we can export that we don’t need in Nova Scotia, we would definitely be exporting it. That brings a lot of money into the province and helps the whole province.
That whole program is revamped. It’s a long-term initiative that we put together, and you’re going to see more and more of that. There are going to be clearly-identified Nova Scotia products on the shelves.
Something really interesting happened. We were in Clayton Park on Saturday to launch the program. On Friday, the Sobeys store put out a couple of products and labelled them Nova Scotian. We looked all over the store to find them - well, I didn’t, but the staff did. They couldn’t find them anywhere. We asked what happened - didn’t you put them out? They said, yes, we put them out yesterday and they’re all gone - they sold out right away.
There is a real demand from Nova Scotians to buy local. As long as we can keep the price in line and the top quality that we consistently deliver anyway, you’re going to see a huge improvement in our Buy Local campaign.
This is a full-out marketing campaign involving everybody in the industry. It’s really going to fit well with our Small Farm Acceleration Program. We’ll identify products that we’re dealing with. We’re working on partnerships with major food chains.
Sobeys in particular have been incredible to deal with. They buy about $46 million a year from Nova Scotia farmers right now. They get them qualified and work with them. We’ve reached out to them and said that if you have a farmer who needs to be qualified to your standards, we will help them get to where you need them. In other words, they’ll be a supplier of Sobeys. Ultimately, we’ll do the same thing with Walmart, Costco, Atlantic Superstore, and also any of the farmers’ markets that want something special.
We’re very excited about this program. I want to be self-sufficient in the province in less than five years. We’ve got to be there. We can’t not get there. I don’t know what our number is now because, quite frankly, there were goals set a long time ago to get to so many farms - and we talked about it here yesterday. The number of farms doesn’t count. It’s the amount of product that we have, so we stopped counting the number of farms and started looking at the product.
We don’t have a good baseline of how much Nova Scotians are buying of Nova Scotia products. We’re developing that new baseline and we’ll build on that baseline from then on to make sure that when we do a marketing campaign and when we do new product introductions, if we do all those things, we can see how that’s impacting the overall Buy Local program and going towards our food security.
Food security is many things to me. Two of the main things are food safety, which we have well in hand in Nova Scotia, and indeed in Canada. The other thing, as you have so aptly pointed to, is food security in the standpoint that we have food to eat. That’s a real issue. It’s a very serious issue. That’s going to be a more serious issue than climate change, and climate change is a very serious issue.
It’s exciting, what we’re working on now. It’s going to take some time for that to really get down to the farm level so that we see some new products. Climate change is bringing some new opportunities to grow new products. We did find out from one of the major chains that they’re bringing in some products from Asia that we can grow in Nova Scotia. Our questions are, how much do you need, when do you need it, and what price point do you need? Then we’ll go back to the farms and see if we can produce that product for around that price and with a better quality.
These are all things we’re starting to see. I can tell you, the retailers in the province have been really - I can put it in real terms - unbelievably co-operative to deal with. They were excited when they came in to talk to us. They wanted to do stuff right away. They’ve helped us shape how our programs are going together. They’ve totally bought in.
This is the first time that’s ever happened in the Province of Nova Scotia. I want to commend the staff who have been working on this, the farmers who have been working with this, and also the retailers and farmers’ markets in the province. It has to be a total partnership.
ALANA PAON: In order to have a successful agricultural sector here in the province, I am always cognizant that we have to have all aspects of the food chain in mind from farm to plate. If you want to get something onto somebody’s plate, it needs to be on the shelf, and if it’s going to be on the shelf, you need to have proper processing. To have the proper processing, you have to make certain that you have producers and product to be able to process. In order to have a healthy agricultural sector, all of those aspects have to be put in place and have to all be given - from my perspective anyway - the same amount of care and investment.
For example, I know in Cape Breton - it was mentioned yesterday - that processing is an issue when it comes to livestock. We have a major concern there. Again, it’s great to see that there’s a new abattoir in Goshen, but simply from a transportation cost, every single dollar counts when you’re a smaller farm. There are so many aspects that can go wrong along the way that adding that cost to the end and having to ship animals all the way to Goshen from Cape Breton can be very prohibitive, not to mention you then have to come and pick up the product after it’s done.
I talked to you a year or two ago - maybe it was just after I was elected - with respect to the possibility of looking at a mobile abattoir in Cape Breton. Would this be something that the department could get behind? I know it’s probably prohibitive. You were talking yesterday as well about the federal inspection versus provincial inspection.
What are the barriers that would be in place in order to be able to make something like that happen? Do you think it would be a good idea that could kind of fill the gap?
KEITH COLWELL: The answer is very simple and the answer is very complicated. The very simple answer is that it has to be a good business case. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to build a good business case for an independent business to do processing in different areas of the province. It’s the old chicken-and-egg scenario. If you don’t have enough beef in an area, as in Cape Breton at the present time, then you have to get the number of beef up so you can make it worthwhile to do the processing. You have to have the two of them hand-in-hand as it moves forward.
Other than that, and for the proper business case, we’ve talked to several people over the last couple of years who are very interested in building provincially-inspected abattoirs. When they come to us, we want to talk to them. We want to help them get in business. Unfortunately, when they work out the business plans and the business case to make a good business case so that they can make money with this - because if they don’t make money, they won’t last, and that’s no good to any of us, especially not the farmers who have been growing product for maybe two years to go to that facility, hoping that it would open - it puts them in a really bad spot.
The mobile one, again, if there was some business case for this, if an individual or company came forward and said, we have a really good business case, we would help them put the business plan together. We would do everything we possibly could to make that happen. We know we need to do more of these, but we can’t do it ourselves. It has to be a private business that does it.
We work very closely with NorthumberLamb. I think we invested about $150,000 just getting them CFIA-approved. They already had the facility put in place with training and all the necessary documentation they needed to put together, and it took us about a year and a half to get it done in a facility that was already in operation.
That’s an example of how we can help an industry do that. We were only too willing to do that. We were hoping to set up a CFIA-approved pork facility or even Nova Scotia-certified facilities for some of these things. We need either one, and we need it desperately. If you have someone in your area who is seriously interested in putting in a facility and has some resources, have them come and talk to us. We will definitely talk to them. We will work with them. We’ll do everything we can to help them get set up.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolution E1 stand?
The resolution stands.
Resolution E48 - Resolved, that the business plan of Perennia Food and Agriculture Inc. be approved.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolution E48 carry?
The resolution is carried.
We have finished the Department of Agriculture. We’ll take one minute to get set up for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
[3:27 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[3:28 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: I call back to order the Subcommittee on Supply. We are meeting to consider the Budget Estimates for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
E10 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $17,792,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, pursuant to the Estimate.
THE CHAIR: The honourable Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
HON. KEITH COLWELL: Madam Chair, it’s a pleasure to be here on behalf of my government and my staff in my department to make some opening remarks on this incredible industry that I have the honour to work with and the incredible group of people in my department who make wonderful things happen every day for Nova Scotians.
This year, our budget will be $21,500,000, which we’re very pleased with. It’s substantial even though we had a couple of programs that were at the end of their lives this year. This is still the biggest budget in history for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture outside the special projects we did that have come to an end.
Just a review of the sector: we have close to 18,000 people working directly in the fish and seafood industry, and probably over double that again in the support industries for it. I’ll give you one example: Boatbuilders in this province are backlogged anywhere from three to 14 years with orders to build boats. It’s a significant supporting industry for the direct fishing industry, and that employs several thousand people.
Nova Scotia is blessed to have the fishing industry. Fisheries were the number one export from Nova Scotia in 2019, representing 38 per cent of the province’s total exports. We are, indeed, the leader in Canada when it comes to seafood exports. The value of our aquaculture industry was $89,000 in 2018, and this year will probably be close to double that.
This industry is securing the economic future of coastal communities. If most of the coastal communities in Nova Scotia didn’t have the fishing industry, there would be no community - it’s that simple. You only have to look as far as the Eastern Shore in HRM to see that that would be the case - basically the only employer in the community. Long-term sustainable jobs, long-term sustainable careers for young people - those are very, very important to us.
I mentioned just a minute ago about our exports. To grow our economy, we have to have exports. We’re so delighted this year that we have reached $2.32 billion in exports in 2019. It’s a record that has never been achieved before in the province and we’ve well exceeded the Ivany goal, about three years ago, and this is even well beyond that. We’ve seen an increase of another almost-$300 million since the year before.
Nova Scotia has been the top seafood exporter in Canada for at least five years, as I’ve already talked about. The U.S. is our biggest market and continues to be, with 45 per cent of our total seafood exports. Asia represents about 32 per cent and the European Union is around 10 per cent. We have many categories in the industry. We have lobster, crab, scallops, shrimp, and groundfish coming back. It’s very important for us.
We sometimes aren’t happy when the federal government makes trade deals, but in this case we’re very happy. The European trade agreement that the federal government negotiated - CETA - and came into effect on September 21, 2017, basically lifted tariffs on many of our seafood products, and some agricultural ones. It will make a significant difference over the next several years.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership became effective on December 30, 2018. I might note that these two free-trade deals are going to be very significant, but our growth in exports were before these trade deals were in place. We expect to see even more opportunities.
We also have potential markets in other parts of Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the list goes on. We’re doing a lot of work in Japan, Vietnam, and Korea. We actually do business in over 80 countries in the world. We have very diverse markets and we have a diversification of markets that’s very critical to us - especially in light of the coronavirus that is unfortunately plaguing China at the present time, and some of our other customers.
We are competing in and winning global markets. We’ve been very successful. We’ve set the standard in the country for exporting seafood. I attribute that to the incredibly efficient and business savvy companies we have in Nova Scotia. They’re incredible to work with. They understand the markets. They go above and beyond to make sure that they get into the marketplace and sell their products at a premium price.
I also want to thank my marketing staff and my complete staff. It’s a real team effort in my department to work with the industry, work with the customers, work with the opportunities we have at hand to ensure that we can get the best advantage we can and help grow Nova Scotia’s economy and keep young people in Nova Scotia.
As we see these new trade deals go in place, it should be easier for us to compete. It’s especially nice that the Americans don’t have these trade deals. We typically compete with them in some of these world markets.
We’re also looking at the old free-trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico, formerly known as NAFTA - it’s USMCA now - and Brexit in Britain. We’ve met with officials from Britain and they’re very interested in opening new marketing opportunities for us in Britain and vice versa. This is something new that we haven’t had before. I think I meet with an ambassador, probably once a month now, from different countries in the world, all interested in talking to us about trade - trade in agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, everything that we do in our departments. It’s a pleasure to talk to them and see their interest in Nova Scotia and, indeed, the interest in our high-quality products.
Aquaculture is a very strong economic contributor to rural and coastal Nova Scotia. The industry is just in its infancy in Nova Scotia, although aquaculture has been here probably for about 40 or 50 years and worked very well. There’s a real interest in Nova Scotia in particular because of our large coastline, our very modern and stringent regulatory framework. We’ve talked to several companies that are interested in coming here. We ask them, why do you want to come to Nova Scotia? They say several things. Number one is your regulations. We see they’re very transparent, very clear. We understand what our rules are and how we can operate, but at the same time, they really protect the environment and be assured that we can work in an environment that is good for business.
They also talk about the balanced books we have. At first, I was surprised about that, but it doesn’t surprise me now because we have balanced books. The provincial books are balanced. An industry is going to come in and not worry about a huge tax hike to pay for some mistakes in spending in the past. That has become a very interesting selling point for us, too.
Also, a great selling point is that we’re near the big markets in the U.S. - New York and the Boston area. We’re just overnight by truck. We ship fish into Boston every night. It leaves in the afternoon here and it’s in the seafood market in Boston every morning. We already have all that infrastructure in place.
When we look at all those things, we have a great opportunity to grow the aquaculture industry. We’re doing a lot of research on aquaculture. We’ve made a commitment in aquaculture. If it doesn’t make sense for our province, we’re not going to do it.
We’ve also set new regulations around fish containment. There were always a lot of naysayers who say that fish get away and that they’re not reported and all this stuff, but that’s not the case anymore. When we set up a subcommittee of our aquaculture activities, I appointed the former president of the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, an avid sports fisherman, to head this group and combine scientists, industry, and some representatives from our department. The instruction that he went away with was to come back with something that works and we’re going to implement it, and we’re not going to modify what you bring forward. That’s exactly what happened, exactly what we did.
They came back with a traceability system that is recognized internationally. Indeed, we’re in the process of implementing that now, so if we do have escaped fish, we can track them. We can track them right to the net they came from and right from the processor or the company that they had there. That’s just one example.
We also had an advisory committee set up, co-chaired by me and Chief Terrance Paul of the Mi’kmaq nation. We have representatives from the NGO community, industry, government, fishermen, processors, everybody you can imagine. We meet at least twice a year to talk about issues and things that they might be interested in. Those are just a few things we’ve done in aquaculture and there are many more.
We are being looked at now as the place in the world to come and see how aquaculture regulations are written. It took us two years to get to where we’re at now. We inherited a system that didn’t exist, and we’ve turned it into something that has world recognition at the present time. We’ll continue to make adjustments to that program, to make sure that we have the most environmentally friendly and also the most robust set of regulations there is.
I also want to talk about the lobster-handling course. This is quite a rollercoaster ride for me. It was my fault and my intention to do that. I made it mandatory for any fish buyer in the province of Nova Scotia to have a lobster-handling course. We developed the course with Université Sainte-Anne, which we’re very happy about - the co-operation and relationship we have with Université Sainte-Anne. They’re experts in lobsters and they came up with a lobster-handling course. The industry was really upset with us at first and said, you didn’t consult. Indeed, I didn’t - intentionally I didn’t. Normally, I’m just the opposite - I want to consult with people and get a consensus. I knew if I consulted, I’d still be consulting, and we couldn’t wait for the industry to catch up to where we needed to be in international markets.
I remember one meeting we had, this one gentleman was very upset. We had some interesting discussion that day. Today he is the biggest supporter we have of the lobster handling course and is actually on the committee that I struck with the industry and has an input into our level three program we introduced this week.
We have three levels now: the regional one we put in place, the level two, and the level three. We’re going to a level four soon. If you’re going to take the program, you have to take all three levels independently, to get people to understand how to maintain the quality of the lobster. I always used to say when we started this thing, I want to improve the quality of lobsters. The wonderful lady and the scientists at Université Sainte-Anne and one of my staff members, Stacey Frame, said, minister, that’s not how it works. You can maintain the quality, but you cannot improve it. They’re absolutely right and I learned my lesson. I always learned that if you’ve got very smart ladies around, you’d better listen. It was a great relationship working with them, getting this in place.
We’ve had over 1,300 people take these courses now and we’re hoping that one day everybody who is connected with the lobster fishing industry will take these courses. We’ve even had people from the Halifax Stanfield International Airport take them. It’s mandatory for all my staff to take them. It doesn’t matter if you’re not even related or don’t even work on the lobster file, you have to take this course - including my personal secretaries, all my staff, the loan board members, the loan board staff - all have to take this course. It’s mandatory. Those who take the course give very positive feedback. It’s very positive.
As we move the industry forward, and ourselves forward, we can see a movement towards better quality. That quality is resonated when you see the customers on the other end.
I’ve already talked about the three levels of the course. When you see the first level, it’s more science. It’s about the biology of a lobster. It’s quite interesting, actually. Did anybody here realize that a lobster bleeds? Did anyone ever see a lobster bleed? I didn’t think so. Lobsters do bleed and they bleed to death. It’s clear blood, it looks like water. If you puncture a lobster, within 24 hours it’s dead. If you take a lobster and just throw it in a crate on top of another lobster with the spikes, guaranteed you’ve killed that lobster. It’s all this stuff.
The level two courses - I’ve received the feedback from level one. It was more on the harvesting and the focus on proper handling. That was launched last year at the minister’s conference. This year, level three was introduced and we gave all three courses free of charge this year at the minister’s conference, as we always do. We had a whole new suite of courses that’s really best handling practices and land-based operations.
They just handed me a note here that we actually have over 1,400 people trained now. That’s just between the time we’re here - I guess all the new ones must have come from the conference we’re just concluding today. So, it has been very positive. This is a new program. We have partners and we’re going to start working on level four very soon.
Another thing we put in place - and thanks to the incredibly good staff that we have, we have been working on this - we’ve also put in a lobster quality certification for holding facilities. That’s the only certification program, or the only one in the world like this. The only other company in the world that had anything like this is Clearwater Seafoods, that they developed a few years ago. That was proprietary and they were very wise to do that. Now we have this program in place. We have companies in Asia interested in qualifying to our standard.
We’re going to use an international auditing company to audit our own companies and the companies outside of Nova Scotia. We’re the only ones in the world that have this certification. The idea of it is to ensure that our lobsters can survive long periods of time in storage and be in as good condition as they were the day they were caught. That means our customer gets a product that’s the same as that day out of the water. Typically, it’s better to leave it in the water for 24 hours or more to purge, so you don’t get any waste in the lobster. It’s very exciting.
We have also introduced our seafood brand. I’m actually wearing it here today. It’s 45°63°. In order to be qualified to use this brand on your products or anything else, you have to go through a rigorous program of quality. That doesn’t matter if you’re in Nova Scotia operating or anywhere else in the world. It’s very exciting. That brand was developed by my staff. It’s got international recognition now.
We have one company already, an oyster company, that’s almost certified to use our 45° North 63° West certification. That’s very exciting for us. As we roll these quality programs out, it’s a whole avenue of quality, marketing, and branding that all brings these extra-value products we have.
We just announced yesterday a lobster quality research and innovation centre at Université Sainte-Anne in Church Point, providing $2.5 million to help them set up this quality lab and innovation centre. There is a lot of work we still need to do in lobsters. Université Sainte-Anne already has probably some of the top experts in the world in lobsters. This is not research for the sake of research. This is for practical research - how we can treat the lobsters better. We want to make sure that through this program, Université Sainte-Anne is going to get a world-class lobster scientist. Believe it or not, there are lobster scientists in the world, and we’re so happy they are.
We’re working with them on this centre over a three-year program. They’ll be seeking other money from other sources to continue this on for many years to come. We’re very excited about that. We’re very excited about the partnership we have with Université Sainte-Anne.
I announced today - we did a pilot project with the program last year with the sector council on a bursary program for students. It was very successful. We had 119 students participate last year and 35 seafood companies. This year, we’ve changed the program and we’ve turned it into a full program. The way it works is, if you’re in Grade 11 or Grade 12 and you work at a fish plant, a processing plant with a buyer, aquaculture site or a fish farm, any of those operations - if you work there for the Summer and get 250 hours of actual paid time from them, we will give you a $500 bursary towards your education.
If you’re in Grade 11, you accumulate your hours because you couldn’t get 500 hours in one Summer or through the Summer. So, what you would do is just keep your employment record for that 250 hours, and when you’re in Grade 12 and get 250 hours more, we’ll give you a $1,000 scholarship. That scholarship is made out to the university, community college or training program of your choice, anywhere in the world.
The idea behind this - and we’re doing the exact same thing in the Department of Agriculture - is to get young people aware of the business opportunities, employment opportunities in fish plants, the fishing industry as a whole, the aquaculture industry, and the agriculture industry. We’re hoping that they will come back after they finish their education, or stay in Nova Scotia - take their education and then seek a career in those industries. That’s why we’re doing it. We want to get them while they’re in high school.
There’s no academic requirement for this. It’s just, put the hours in. The companies themselves can add to that if they want to. They have to pay them as regular employees, with all the benefits of regular employees. We’ve done this in the Department of Agriculture and it has been very successful, as well.
The two programs are going to be identical. They’re going to be administered by the same organization through agriculture programs. You just have to put the application in. The student puts the application in, not the employer. The employer has no paperwork to do on this. The only thing they have to do is hire the student, put in the record of employment - the record of employment we use to count the hours - and it’s done. They just put the application in and they get a bursary. A lot of the rural communities, particularly in fishing communities, don’t have a lot of scholarship and bursary programs, so that will also help the students in those areas.
One of the reasons we started working on this idea - when I was out talking to a lot of the industry, I can remember one company in Cape Breton, a fishing company down there, and I met the owner a couple years ago. I’d known his father for a long time, but never connected the two of them together. He said, my father sent me away. He said, you’re going away to school and you’re going away to work - you’re not ever going to fish in your life. He said, okay, and away he went off and became an instrumentation technologist. An instrumentation technologist makes very good money.
He went off and went all over Canada and other places in the world to work. He finally came home and his father said, why don’t you take over the fish plant? He said, you told me never to get into the fishing industry. He said, well I’m getting to an age now and it would be nice if you took it over. So, he took it over. The knowledge he had gained from working outside the province and doing the things he did has turned his business into an operation we’ve never seen in Nova Scotia before.
He tracks a lobster from where it’s caught to the end customer. If he ships you a load of lobster in a trailer truck, he’ll tell you where every box is and what boat it came from. They photograph the truck, send a copy of the truck to make sure they don’t switch the trailers around on the way there. It’s all computerized. They’ll tell you that crate of lobster on row five, the bottom box is your box of lobsters. It’s all tracked. They immediately email it off to the customer. They get I.D. from the driver so that they know who the driver is. It’s an incredible system they have.
They even take their electronic scales to the wharf. They tag every crate that comes in off of every boat - they know every boat - and they weigh it on the spot. As they drive up to the fish plant, the scales on the back of the truck are uploading by Wi-Fi to their system to let them know what’s coming. So, when they land there with that box of lobster, they already know what the fisherman is, what box it is, everything. They get the box, they go through the box of lobsters, take out the rocks and stones and whatever else is in there - take them all out - record all of it and then check all the lobsters. They give a slip at the end of the week to each lobster fishman for the number of damaged lobsters and number one lobsters, anything they see there - on a slip, it’s all graduated like that.
Then that lobster is traced all the way through to the customer. They also give that to the lobster fishermen and encourage them to bring better quality to the wharf. It’s incredible what they’ve done. These are the sorts of things we need to do, and we need to see the industry adopt it. That’s what the world’s coming to.
I also announced today another exciting project. We’ve done a little bit of this with the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia in the past and I participated personally in one in the Digby area. We’re going to do a seafood industry cleanup program - a beach cleanup. The one I was in, we went to the Digby area, went to the beach. The mayor came out and she had her rubber boots and I had my rubber boots on - everybody did - and we started to clean up. The fishermen in the area came over and asked what we were doing. We said that we’re going to clean up the beach. It was a mishmash of all kinds of different stuff on the beach. The guy said, I’ve got a tractor, can I bring my tractor over? He brought his tractor over, brought his ATV over, brought his truck over, brought his crew over. The first thing you know, the four or five people we had there to start was about 20 and we were cleaning up the beach. It really did make a nice job of the beach.
What we’ve announced today is a seafood industry clean-up program. There are two phases to it. One phase is to clean up a beach. Any fisheries organization, aquaculture organization, fish buyer/processor or community group in conjunction with the industry can apply for and receive up to $5,000 of the funding for material and equipment to do a beach cleanup anywhere in the province. If you know of anyone in the province that wants to do a beach cleanup, we have that funding available.
This funding is very useful because sometimes you may have to buy gloves for people, maybe rubber boots if they don’t have rubber boots - whatever the costs are to clean this up. That’s number one. The other part of it is that it’s ocean cleanup, as well. We also have a second part of this. Up to 40 per cent of the beach cleanup is covered, so up to a maximum contribution from us of $5,000. We also have an ocean cleanup so we can help get ghost gear out of the water, logs out of the water, whatever is in the water, and we’ll pay up to 20 per cent of the $5,000 of the cost of doing that, as well.
We really want to keep our waters clean and pristine. As we’re marketing and doing our marketing program, one of the big sales features we have in that process is our clean, pristine waters in Nova Scotia. I can give you an idea of how important that is. This is always an interesting story - and it always amazes me, living in Nova Scotia and appreciating the beautiful place we have, we don’t really appreciate it as much as we should. There was a gentleman who came in from China, he’d never been to Nova Scotia, never been in North America before, and he was driving in a taxi from the airport. Now, when you’re driving from the airport, there’s not a whole lot to see - trees and a little lake on the left-hand side. He said, I’m in heaven. He said, I can see the sun and it’s a beautiful day and all these trees. He was all excited to see that.
So, when we market outside of Nova Scotia to all parts of the world, where they have larger populations and they don’t necessarily have as clean air and water as we have, they’re really interested in that. It does bring an added value to our product. That’s one reason why we want to do this beach cleanup. We don’t have terrible messes on our beaches or anything like that, but it just sets another set of pride for people in the community. It makes it better for our tourism industry and all of us. We all gain. It’s a small investment for us to do that. It’s really helped.
We’ve also been very pleased to have negotiated the Atlantic Fisheries Fund with the federal government a couple of years ago. That’s a major program. With Nova Scotia’s investment over the next seven years, there’s going to be $38 million in that. We’ve already got 125 AFF projects approved. Our share was $6.7 million, which is 30 per cent - $22 million total invested in this program. We have 40 lobster quality projects, as well, representing $2 million of Nova Scotia funds.
It’s pretty exciting what’s happening. We’ve got a lot of local companies that have gone and participated in this. It means upgrades in some places to equipment and technology. It means that there’s more efficient operation of fish plants, better storage of lobsters and other fish products, issues that we can address labour challenges on, quality challenges, better equipment, all kinds of different projects. It’s exciting to see how the industry has reacted to that.
I want to thank my staff that’s gone out and seen the industry, talked to them about the things they can do to improve their operations. We’re very excited about how those programs are going ahead. We look forward to that continuing.
In addition to that, the provincial government, with our own funding, has given us a three-year, $9 million provincial investment into agriculture, fisheries, and aquaculture. It’s divided evenly between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. That’s one thing we just talked about today. We announced it yesterday with the Nova Scotia Lobster Quality Research and Innovation Centre with Université Sainte-Anne. We use it to diversify our seafood exports, increase the number of non-resident anglers in Nova Scotia. Our sport fishing industry has always been overlooked in this province.
I’ve come to find out that the guides in the province didn’t even have a training program. There was all kinds of valued-added we were missing there, not only just in the brooks and streams in our waters that we talked about, we’ve also got a very active tuna fishery in the province now, that brings millions of dollars every year into the province. We’re looking at helping them to professionalize even more, put packages together, add value to what they’re doing.
We’ve really got a pretty exciting program that, again, my staff has initiated and come together to see real opportunities. Most of these opportunities are going to be in rural Nova Scotia, places like Cape Breton where there’s not a lot of employment. The best part of it is that it doesn’t affect the environment around there at all. It really keeps it pristine, and the more pristine the area is, the more likely you are to have someone come and enjoy our beautiful area.
As an avid angler - and I haven’t been fishing since I’ve been the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture in almost seven years, so I’m not happy about that, since I started when I was seven years old - we’re really seeing a lot of interest in this from our sport fishing enthusiasts and the salmon association and river associations in the province. They’ve really bought into this. Our recreational fishery right now represents about $66 million a year and we’d like to see it up to about $150 million a year. I believe we can get there. It’s very exciting work we’re doing with that.
I already talked about our international seafood brand, which we’re very excited about. As I said earlier, it’s 45°63° - it’s actually the longitude and latitude of Nova Scotia, very near Murchyville. This was just by chance this happened because we had to pick somewhere in the centre of the province and wouldn’t offend anybody at any wharf anywhere, that we didn’t pick their wharf.
Murchyville is the place that there was the first live broadcast in the world of a disaster or any live event. That was done by the CBC in the 1930s, by radio. They still have records of that event. Disasters are never good, but it made history in the Province of Nova Scotia.
It’s a brand that we have trademarked and registered in many countries. We’ll continue to do that. It gives us a tool to deliver a marketing message consistent with high quality.
I read a statement in the House today about the 22nd anniversary of our fisheries conference, a conference that I started in 1998 with a small group of fishermen that we wanted to talk to about getting a united voice to go to Ottawa to see if we could make some inroads with the federal government at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. That was an interesting meeting to say the least, but, indeed, this whole program did continue. When I became minister again, that was about six years ago, we upped the ante on it and over that time, we get about 100 people who come to it.
We started putting a trade show with it, brought the processors in with the fishermen. This year, we added the sea farmers with it. This year, we had just short of 900 people register. It’s the biggest fish conference in Canada now. I’m very happy with that and a lot of credit goes to my staff, who’s work so hard on this and to the industry itself for supporting it.
This is very exciting to see. There was a lady from the UN in the House the other day - I was over at the conference so I didn’t see her here, but I did meet with her. She came in and talked about some very interesting things that the UN is working on. We had people from Iceland, Norway, Ireland, Portugal and all over the world, bringing their expertise to Nova Scotia so we could talk about how we could change things we’re doing and improve things we’re doing.
We did receive a really incredible compliment from Iceland. When it comes to utilization of their codfish, Iceland gets about $45 to $48 for one codfish. We get $7.50. The difference is that they did a ton of research on skins from the codfish. They use the skins. They found an enzyme in the bones that they get $1,600 an ounce for, and the list goes on. They paid us a real compliment. They said that in Iceland, they haven’t got anything like this conference. They haven’t got all the industries working together.
It was a real compliment to hear that from them, from the country we have very closely studied and worked with to make sure that we learn from their experiences. They’ve been incredible to work with and they’ve really helped us move our industry forward. A lot of our industry has visited Iceland and the processing facility there.
We’re doing a processor licence and buying policy review. This actually was asked for by the licence holders in the province. We put a freeze on new licences and a review is underway. We have 210 licensed processors in the province, 328 licensed buyers. Some of these licences were grandfathered. I must admit that when I was the Minister of Fisheries in 1998-99 and the crisis came in the groundfish, I actually grandfathered some of these, not knowing at the time it was illegal to do. We didn’t have the authority. We only found out about six or eight months ago that it’s illegal to grandfather a licence.
Anyway, we’re correcting that and the people who have them will have an opportunity to either start using them or sell them or we’re going to take them. We’re trying to clean up this whole thing with the processors. The processors are fully supporting this. We have to get a modern, fair, transparent, consistent licensing policy. It has been somewhat less than that over the years.
We did make an amendment this last September that facilitates that work to be done. We’re in consultations continuously with the industry as we move that forward. We want to come away with a way to get more value-added for the province and more opportunity for people to add value to the products and still maintain licences at a very high level. We’re very anxious to work with them.
When I became minister, at the time, West River Sheet Harbour was already doing a huge restoration project for the West River for salmon and trout. At the time, basically, the Nova Scotia Salmon Association had raised a lot of money to put a lime doser on the river, to do a lot of research and science. When I came on the scene, I saw an opportunity for the Province to get involved. The Province was not involved before that. We talked to them and found out what they needed and what we could do to work with them.
Through the then-Department of Natural Resources, we initiated a helicopter liming program to lime the upper parts of the river and the river and the land-based side of it. It’s actually the biggest liming project in the history of North America. We continue to do that with the co-operation of the Department of Lands and Forestry helicopters and their crew.
When we first suggested it to them, they thought that this was a pretty massive undertaking. They weren’t too interested, but now they’re the biggest supporters. They’ve come up with all kinds of innovative ways to do things. I want to thank Minister of Lands and Forestry Iain Rankin and his predecessors for the great work they’ve done and continue to do with this. When you talk about the helicopter pilot and now about the liming project, their eyes light up and say, we’re having a ball doing this, and not only a ball, but this is really what we should be doing. So, from not wanting to do it to becoming the biggest supporters of the whole thing, it’s been a pretty exciting activity.
We even brought in a lime doser, a helicopter one, from Australia because we couldn’t buy one locally. Since we brought it in, the helicopter group has modified it and made it better. It’s really the buy-in from the whole industry.
Actually, since 2016 and the helicopter liming, we’ve put in 2,500 metric tonnes of lime. It’s pretty exciting and the results are really starting to show. We’re seeing success with more smolts in the river. Originally, there were about 3,000 to 3,500 smolts. Now, since the liming started, the smolts have gone up to between 9,000 and 12,000 a year - a significant improvement. It’s not just the helicopter liming, it’s also lime dosers and all the other river restoration that’s been done. We’ve been very active partners on that and we continue to do that.
Back to our sport fishing again. Typically, sport fishing in the province attracts about 80,000 participants each year in Nova Scotia, which we hope to improve - as we already said, $66.5 million. We’re really looking at new ways we can improve that.
We made some changes in the licensing program in 2017, which has been very exciting because we got a 25 per cent increase in the number of non-residents coming to Nova Scotia to fish since that time. That’s pretty exciting and we want to see that more and more. We want to see more local people fishing, as well. If anyone hasn’t gone fishing, they really should spend a day on a lake or a brook or a river and see how peaceful it is, especially a day you don’t catch anything. It’s just nice to have a shore lunch and see the wonderful scenery.
As we go through this thing, the Learn to Fish program was delivered 82 times last year, reaching over 2,000 youth and approximately 18,700 people since it was first implemented in 2006.
I talked about food security here a little while ago on the agriculture topic. The issues are the same in the fishing industry. I want to make sure we have a good, solid, reliable fish supply. Marine aquaculture is one way we can address that. It can address our critical, social and economic issues around food security, employment, value-added food products, and maintain essential service in rural Nova Scotia.
The aquaculture industry is quite interesting. When you talk to either trouters or salmon farming at sea, the food conversion rates are for every one pound of flesh you get from a salmon or a trout, the inputs are about 1.1 pounds to 1.2 pounds of feed. That’s the best conversion rate of all things that we consume in the world. The nearest one to it is chickens, which is about 2.2 pounds to 2.5 pounds per pound of chicken. When you get to cattle, it’s about 8 pounds of food to 1 pound of beef. It’s very quick to see.
Growing fish at sea is a natural habitat for the salmon and the trout and the ones we grow. They also have omega-3 oils, so very healthy. Also, they have a much lower carbon footprint than any other type of farming, so it also adds to our greenhouse gas reductions. That’s very interesting. There are all kinds of advantages to it. I won’t go into them today, but there are many.
I talked about it during the Agriculture Budget Estimates just a few minutes ago, about our Taste of Nova Scotia program. I won’t go over that again because everybody here has heard about it today. We’re very excited to see this roll out. This will continue for many years to come, as we’re committed to growing Nova Scotia’s economy, not just for the exports, but also with local products we put in the marketplace.
With that bunch of remarks, I would be interested in hearing any questions that people have.
THE CHAIR: We will be starting with the PC Party for one hour.
The honourable member for Victoria-The Lakes.
KEITH BAIN: I thank the minister for his remarks. I’ll start off by saying that I know that the minister’s conference has been taking place over the past few days. I want to congratulate all those involved and who have again made this year’s conference another success.
It’s a great achievement, as pointed out in the conference news release, that total fish and seafood exports in Nova Scotia were $2.3 billion in 2019. You mentioned in your opening remarks that of those exports, 32 per cent of those go to the Asian market. I have to say that, almost daily, we in the Opposition are growing more and more alarmed by the devastation caused by the coronavirus - what it has done to the Chinese economy and the impact it’s spreading throughout the world. It’s going to eventually spread out around the world and it’s going to have impacts on trade and markets all over.
Last year in China, the lobster sales were $725 million, but now we see this country virtually paralyzed because of the virus and it’s spreading throughout the globe. If you look at that $725 million per year, we’ve lost a couple of months already with the Chinese market. I believe in an interview you said it could be at least another three to four months before the Chinese market might open up again. That means we could stand to lose over $350 million in exports to that Chinese market. I guess I’d like to get your opinion on how serious the coronavirus threat is to our fishing exports.
KEITH COLWELL: To start with, as we’ve been talking about it, I have no idea when the virus will be under control in China; I’ll put that out very clearly. I’m guessing it might be three or four months based on information that I’ve received second-hand, but I can’t say that three or four months is going to be the magic number. I hope it’s no longer than that.
A couple of things we haven’t talked about is that there was already a lot of inventory in China - Nova Scotia lobster already sitting on the shelves, ready to go. That product is still there. It’s being consumed. Our problem is that we can’t get flights in.
The other thing with it is that we have not lost the market there. I would be very concerned if the Chinese said, like they did with Norwegian salmon a few years ago - a low-level bureaucrat from Norway made some remark in China about human rights; the next day, all imports of salmon from Norway were ceased. They were selling a lot more salmon in China than we are selling lobsters. That went on for several years before they finally relaxed it. That’s not the case with Nova Scotia. We still have the market. There still is demand for lobster in China and other Asian countries. It will come back. That’s the positive side in this.
I’m very concerned about the people in China, as well - how it’s going to affect them. There will be families, probably some people we know, that are going to be affected seriously from that. I really want to express my hope that their families will all be well, and that we can continue that. That virus is going to continue to grow. It’s going to get worse all over the world, so I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not going to affect only lobsters, it’s going to affect everything. We’re aware of that.
I just got some news today - short-term good news - that the price of lobster has gone up a little bit again. We’re still at a really good price, around $8 per pound. When we get down to around $5 per pound and less, then we’ve got a problem at the wharf - we’ve got a problem with the whole system.
A lot of the processors are processing lobster quicker than they were. Our holding facilities, I talked about earlier - we’re capable of holding lobsters for a long time now. They’ll keep as good as the day they came out of the water with the system we have in place. Anyone who has that system can hold the lobsters for six months or a year. They come out of that holding tank just the same as the day they went in. We have that technology in place, and thank goodness we have it. We’re going to expand that. Over time we’re going to make all that holding capacity mandatory here in the province.
Frozen food consumption is up and one of the frozen foods is lobster, of course. We export seafood to 80 countries in the world, and we ship lobsters into over 50 of those. We’ve been aggressively - and not just recently, but for the last two or three years - looking at new markets, expanding our markets, doing a lot of promotion in European markets. The Premier came out with a European strategy like he did with the China strategy years before that. We have been actively promoting lobster in conjunction with our lobster industry.
I’m hoping that the virus problem goes away in China soon. I hope that it doesn’t spread to other parts of the world. From what we’re hearing - and again, I’m no medical expert - it doesn’t sound good for anybody in the world that has people who contract this virus.
The U.S. is still our biggest customer and probably always will be. In pounds, they take more lobster than China does, and always have. They used to relabel them, which made me upset - Boston lobster - and then ship them off to Asia and everywhere else in the world and take advantage of our good-quality lobster and take credit for them. That’s all part of doing business. They’ve got a huge market there - other parts of the world.
It’s going to be a struggle for a while, but over time, it could be a bonus from the standpoint that we’ll open up new markets that we wouldn’t necessarily move on as quickly as we’re going to move on them now.
Over time we should be in good shape, but again, the world’s changing so much that you never know what’s going to happen. It’s well beyond our control, as you know.
KEITH BAIN: I want to go back again to the Chinese market and the $725 million. If you break that down monthly - and that’s a hypothetical because I know there will be more exports in other months - that’s $60 million a month that’s lost in the seafood industry.
You say you’re looking at expanding existing markets and trying to find new markets. Have you been successful with any of those yet?
KEITH COLWELL: We made inroads in Europe and we’re going to make more. We actually have been working with one of the major importers of lobsters in Europe. They’re installing one of our lobster-holding facilities. It’s going to be bigger than anything that’s in Atlantic Canada anywhere, and they’re building to our standard.
We’re going to train the trainers. They’re going to send their staff over to get trained on the lobster-handling course. They’re going to give it to their customers and train all their staff on it.
Once that all gets in place - that’s under construction now - they’re going to hold, I forget how many metric tons, but something like 50,000 metric tons in this facility. That’s going to be a gamechanger for us. They’re only going to buy from Nova Scotia, from certified lobster-holding facilities in the province. They’re all about standards and this standard really goes right down their alley. That is underway. We’ve been negotiating that for a couple of years.
There are all kinds of things that we’re working on and have been working on. We haven’t totally spent all our time in China. We spend our time in many places in the world because a diverse market is always the best thing to have. The more of that we can have, the better.
We’re also shipping all kinds of other seafood products into China. Some of them are frozen. Most of them go by container. It’s not all lobster we’re talking about here.
KEITH BAIN: Nobody can tell how long it’s going to be before the Chinese market opens up again, but I know you’re hoping that it will be within three to four months. In that time period, there are going to be other seasons in other districts opening up as well. That means the market is going to be flooded with lobster. You say that you heard the price is going up a bit. I know the last time we checked, it had gone down, but that was a couple weeks ago.
You called it a blip in the industry when you made your official announcement. Do you still consider it just a blip? I guess that would be my first question.
KEITH COLWELL: It depends on what you classify as a blip. It really is an interruption. The one positive thing - if there’s anything positive, because there’s nothing positive about this virus. Our loss in sales is going to be bad for Nova Scotia in the short term, but it’s even more worrying for the population in China. I’m really concerned, as with any of our other customers or if it was in our own country. It will be here someday - hopefully a long way away, and hopefully they have a vaccine for it before that comes.
The good thing with China is that we sell most of our lobsters for the Chinese New Year. We’re just past the Chinese New Year, and most of our lobsters go at that time. We can’t get enough air freight. It’s impossible to ship all the lobsters when we need to. We truck lobsters to Montreal and Toronto to get flights. We truck to the U.S. to get flights. Plus the airport out here now has tremendous capability with huge freighters to move product by air, particularly lobster. That’s a positive thing.
If we were coming into the Chinese New Year in a couple months’ time, I’d be extremely worried because $60 million a month is probably about $10 million or $20 million a month until the Chinese New Year hits. Then it’s hundreds of millions of dollars in that period of time. The bigger the lobster, the more it’s worth.
From that standpoint, it’s not a bad news story. If it persists for a year, we’re going to have a major problem on our hands. I hope it doesn’t. I would think that if this disease persists for a year in China, we’re not going to be worried about shipping lobsters. We’re going to be worried about some other stuff.
KEITH BAIN: One of the next questions would be, what are the processors having to say with the downturn that’s happening right now as far as the industry goes?
KEITH COLWELL: We’re monitoring it very closely with the industry, basically daily. A lot of the processors themselves are taking more volume and they’re still moving more lobster - not as much as they were, but they’re still moving a large number of lobsters into other markets. They’ve really adapted quickly.
Again, when the new seasons open in the Spring - the only good thing about the ones that are opening in the Spring is that the catches are typically not as big as they are in southwest Nova Scotia. Thank goodness we’re not moving into the southwestern Nova Scotia opening and missing the Chinese New Year. Then we’d be in a really big mess right now. We would see boats tied up.
One of the other things that has happened is some of the fishermen who were pretty well at the end of their season in southwestern Nova Scotia just tied up the boats and took the traps off the water. They said, we’re done for the year and we’ll just leave it at that. They’ve already had a good income, a good year, so that’s a help too. They’re leaving those lobsters in the water for next year. That has helped a little bit.
The industry has reacted very well so far. They’re very shrewd businesspeople. We’re going to see that things will come back. They’re very cautious, and we’re very cautious about it. We’re very concerned about it at the same time, and they’re concerned as well, but it will come.
Again, I can’t stress enough, there’s still time for recovery before the Summer comes - the Spring system comes. Typically the Spring lobsters are all hard shell. It’s all number one lobster. Those are best to store and they’re in high demand all over the world. Those lobsters should move pretty easily.
If we can keep them moving now - and they’ve been moving relatively well, actually, better than I thought they would in the marketplace initially, until they really get their new structure in place - these hard shell ones are easy to sell. They’re in demand in the U.S. because they don’t have hard shell anymore. They have all soft shell. They’re in big demand, so we should be all right when the Spring comes. If we don’t get this resolved by the end of the Summer, we’ll start having some problems in the Fall.
KEITH BAIN: I guess one of the biggest fears that’s out there - and please forgive me for dwelling on the coronavirus, but it’s a very important thing at this point - we still don’t know what’s going to happen globally. Even our own federal Minister of Health told all Canadians just today to be prepared. That uncertainty goes beyond the lobster industry and everything else.
We have to keep looking or plugging to get other markets going. Italy, I believe, is already being hit by the virus. I would ask you for your commitment to work especially hard to make sure that those markets are opened up.
KEITH COLWELL: I’m gladly saying yes. We’ve already started the process. You are absolutely right. We’re very concerned about this virus. I don’t think we’re seeing the real effects of it yet. I don’t know what’s going to happen. None of us around this table do. Maybe the medical people in Nova Scotia know better than we do, but it’s not going to be positive. The worst-case scenario could be that the virus is resolved in China and it gets to a level that they can deal with it and start imports again, and we get it in Nova Scotia and we can’t ship anything. That’s highly possible.
At this point, who knows? I share your concern 100 per cent. I’ve been very concerned about this from day one. When we see how this is happening in the industry - I personally met with the industry and we’re doing all these things.
One of the things is that we’re ramping up our AFF applications to see if we can get more holding facilities up to standard. Some of them are just a matter of putting better pumps on, more monitoring equipment and odds and ends. It’s not really a big thing to bring them up to the standard we have. That too will help over time.
I wish I could give an answer. I wish I had an answer. I just hope it doesn’t get any worse.
KEITH BAIN: We all want that. I’m going to switch topics now. You’ll probably be glad to hear that.
I’m going to talk about shellfish and aquaculture. The opportunities are there for rural communities, for sure. Potential new entrants - they were saying that the support hasn’t been there, but you mentioned about the new loan board and the opportunities that are provided to new entrants.
I guess my question would be: How many loans have been given out to new entrants in the past year?
KEITH COLWELL: I’m going to have to get you that information. We’ve had approximately five loans in aquaculture. That’s quite a bit because the process to get a licence now is quite long. Some of those would have been anyone who already had a licence and some of them would have been new entries.
One big thing that we’ve had, and you probably heard in the news, is we’ve signed an MOU with Argyle to do a preapproved aquaculture site for shellfish. It’s something we’d love to do in Cape Breton if your municipality is interested, or if even an association down there is interested in working with us on a preapproved site.
The idea of that site is to do exactly what you said. It’s pretty daunting to go through the whole process to get an aquaculture site approved. It’s going to be a preapproved site and then they will work with us to get approved. We will be the ones approving it. They’re looking at it like a business park, an industrial park.
We have this piece of water that’s certified to do mussels, oysters, whatever it is - just shellfish. It might be scallops. Who knows? They would do all the science, all the research on it, in conjunction with them. Then they can go out and shop that to prospective aquaculture companies or individuals who wouldn’t necessarily have the resources to do the public engagement, put everything together, and still be able to finance it and do all the things they need to do. That’s the model we really want in the province. That’s community buy-in.
There were a couple of people there - say, a family, husband and wife - who wanted to start an oyster farm. They’ve always dreamt of an oyster farm. They could start out very small and they can grow the business on those sites until they get to a point that they can make a sustainable income from it.
It’s a long process. You have four or five years from the time you start growing oysters until you get a first crop off. So if you can get the upfront cost down some, it’s really helpful.
We have programs through our loan board to help them do that and to help do cash flow on it too, as long as they’ve got a good business plan. We also have our AFF fund. We’re supporting six projects in shellfish aquaculture through the Atlantic Fisheries Fund now. We have tools to do it. We want to help people get into it.
Aquaculture on the finfish side is really limited to people with very deep pockets. By the time you make the investment in it, you’re into it for five years. If you’re going to grow 20,000 metric tons, which is really the size you’ve got to be at to make it so that it’s sustainable and can service a big enough market from one operation, you’re into $1 billion Canadian for the actual setup, hatcheries, and all the other stuff you need to go with it. It’s a big investment.
I can never remember all these numbers because it’s a moving target, which is good, but we have 10 new shellfish sites under review right now in our system. We have seven experimental sites for shellfish approved. We’re moving forward quite quickly with this. When you say “quickly” when you’re talking to someone trying to get a licence, they’ll say, you must have two snails that are fighting with each other to see which one’s the slowest.
Really, to do it all right and to make sure we get everything in place and check with all the different agencies we have to deal with, to make sure the company is secure enough and has the financial resources and does everything they should, it takes about two years to get an application all done. That will speed up over time as we get better and better at it. It’s exciting opportunities for the province.
KEITH BAIN: I know your department has been trying to address leases that are underutilized or not being fished at all, but there are leases that are out there. What is that number? Would you know that? How does it compare to the last few years?
KEITH COLWELL: We implemented a “use it or lose it” program for sites, as you’re well aware. Some people got them approved years ago and never had any intention of doing anything with them, so we’ve taken back 60 sites in the province already. We’re going to be taking back some more. We first give the people who have the licences an opportunity to put them into production. We’re pretty lenient on that initially.
Some of those 60 sites will be available. We’re evaluating them to see if they can actually support the type of aquaculture they were originally set out and approved for. We do all kinds of water temperatures and flow rates and all kinds of activities now that were never done before in history. We’ll evaluate a site to see if it’s still suitable for a finfish site or a shellfish site. If it is, then there’s a tendering process we go through - a call for proposals to come in if anyone is interested in the site.
It’s a competitive one for anyone who wants to get involved in existing sites. We haven’t done that yet, but we’re getting very close to doing that.
KEITH BAIN: Companies that participate in finfish aquaculture are usually major companies like Cooke Aquaculture or Cermaq, but shellfish and oyster operations are traditionally family businesses, and the same regulations and bureaucratic red tape apply to them as to those big companies.
My question is: Do you think that’s necessary? Is it fair to those smaller operations as compared to Cooke and Cermaq?
KEITH COLWELL: I don’t disagree with you. If you have a finfish operation, you have to have very deep pockets and a lot of experience to really be successful. We won’t look at or talk to anybody who doesn’t have the expertise and the finance to do it, with finfish. That was a mistake in the past. It was too easy to get a lease and licence and not enough attention was paid to those details.
On the shellfish side of it, you’re absolutely right. It’s more of a smaller type of business. I know we’ve got some small ones now that have grown quite rapidly because we found that, especially with oysters in Nova Scotia - mussels are a problem for us in Nova Scotia because of tunicates - we seem to have a unique flavour for them. Typically, we can’t grow them as fast as we can sell them. Our market way outpaces anything we can possibly produce.
We’ve seen expansion after expansion in the facilities that started out with family businesses, which was very good. That’s why the agreement we signed with Argyle is so important, so we can get a husband-and-wife team or a family that wants to get into it or an individual who wants to get into it, and they can build over time, because it’s still a big investment.
The regulatory process of getting it in place, believe it or not - it’s hard to believe - we put the shellfish out and oysters actually clean the water. They actually clean it. It’s better to have oysters in your bay than anything else. I got a letter from a guy on one site we had, and he said, are you going to do an environmental assessment to see what damage the oysters do in the water?
That’s what you’re dealing with. You’re dealing with people who totally don’t understand what’s going on. They go on the internet and get all this false information. There’s so much false information out on the internet, it’s unbelievable. We work on science.
It’s as much trouble to get an aquaculture site for oysters or mussels as it is for a finfish farm when you’re trying to deal with a community. It doesn’t make any sense. The regulatory process is the same. You still have to go through the Canadian Navigable Waters Act. We have to do an environmental assessment on water currents and food, and they have to do some assessment if the oysters grow well in an area. A lot of work has to be done.
We have to go to all the organizations that we have to deal with, which is our Department of Environment, DFO, the Canadian Navigable Waters Act, the Coast Guard, CFIA, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Department of Natural Resources in Nova Scotia, the Department of Lands and Forestry, the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, the Mi’kmaq - I probably forgot a couple.
We have to go to those ones. That means that if they delay the process in any one of those for one week - or a month or two months or three months - we’re all held up. The consultation process has gotten so broad and so difficult. I would love to be able to turn one of these things around in a week. If we can get Argyle up to the point that we can get these preapproved, we can turn them around in basically a week because all that homework will be done. It will all be finished. You’ll be able to go and here’s an acre or two acres or five acres, whatever you want. It’s like going to the industrial park, with sewer, water, power, paved roads, and everything all in place and all you have to do is put your equipment on site. That’s what we want to get to. If we can get to that, then we’ve solved this problem.
Argyle approached us with this. We’ve offered it to other municipalities. They’ve approached us. They see the economic benefit to their community. Most of these municipalities are going broke. If you put an aquaculture site on land, the hatchery for an aquaculture site - if you’re going to do a salmon or trout operation, a hatchery is a $30-million investment. That’s a big tax bill that the municipality can put forward. If you do a hatchery for other things, it’s millions, and processing facilities are millions.
We’re looking at other avenues of possible revenue for the municipalities. I don’t know what that will be, but if there was ever anything - if we can get working with the municipalities, even though they have zero authority on this and zero say on whether it goes in, we want to engage and work with them. There is encouragement to work with them. We meet with municipalities and their councils on a regular basis.
If you’ve got someone in Cape Breton who’s interested in doing this, we really want to talk to them. Bring them in to see us.
KEITH BAIN: I think if you look at oyster farms, we do have a very successful one in Cape Breton with Alex Dunphy right now.
We have to give the Municipality of Argyle credit for what they’re doing. They facilitated the process through their economic development officer. But not every community or municipality has the good fortune of having an economic development officer. They’re sort of being held back, I guess. Maybe municipalities can go to another department within government to get funding for an economic development officer.
You claim to have made more information readily accessible to give greater opportunity for communities to comment on any proposed aquaculture site or any activities that are taking place on those sites. If that is the point, why do the communities around Jordan Bay believe they aren’t being listened to over their concerns about Cooke?
KEITH COLWELL: The answer to your question is going to be multifaceted. I’m going to start with your last comment on the municipality. If you’ve got a municipal unit that’s interested in working with us on an agreement like Argyle has, we’ll help you do the economic development part of it. Don’t let that be a hold-back for you. We can also get support through AFF to help the municipalities do planning.
We are much more open than we were. You’re going to find now that on a renewal of a site, all the comments are going to be posted after the decision is made to renew or not renew or amend, whatever the case may be. Most amendments can’t be done unless it goes through the review board. Everybody’s comments will be put there. Right, wrong, or indifferent, they’ll be put up.
In the area you’re talking about, Cooke Aquaculture reached out to that community and asked them to set up a community liaison committee. They refused to do it, which is unfortunate. I think it would be good for the company if those individuals were on that committee. We don’t structure those committees. The companies have to do that themselves.
You’ll find now that when there are escaped fish, they’re on our site. More and more information is going on our site. Escapes, storm damage, reportable diseases - all those are up on our site. That will be updated more and more. We’ve got over 200 decisions posted on our site now. We’ve had less than 10 per cent receive comments. All this information is on our website.
When we get requests for information now, we try to post it on our website. If it comes in through FOIPOP and it’s information we can release, we’ll put it on our website so that everybody can see it, not just the individual who applied for it. We’re going to see more of that as we move forward. We’ll become more open and more transparent.
There are some risks in that, but I think the benefits far outweigh the risks. People will know accurate information and know that if they make a comment, the comment is going to be there. We’re notifying people that if they make a comment on a site, the comment is going to be their responsibility. Whether it’s accurate or not, it will be posted, and it will be posted with their name.
If someone makes an inaccurate statement - which we see on a regular basis from some individuals - that will be posted. If they make comments on our renews, their name will be on it and it will be indicated that it’s not the opinion of our department and we’re not responsible for the information.
That’s a change in where we were because people could basically make anonymous comments and never be held accountable for it. Not that we’re going to hold them accountable, but all those things are taken into consideration. We want people to know that if they make a comment and the comment is something that we should investigate, we definitely do. There’s no question about it. If we get a report of an escape, we investigate, and if we get a report about some other things.
We did have one incident a couple of years ago where this individual sent an email to us that there were dead fish floating all over the top of the water, that the cages were all broken up, and that there were dead fish all over the beach and everything. We got the Department of Natural Resources helicopter at that time and flew over twice to photograph the whole area. We sent teams out in boats and along the shoreline - that was actually in Jordan Bay - and couldn’t find one fish. It was a bogus report. There was minor damage and some buoys and stuff broke loose. There was no damage to the net.
We did a cost analysis on it and it cost us $14,200 to investigate a bogus report. That’s not good, from the standpoint that it wasted a lot of staff time when we could be doing something else.
It raises the question of, if that individual says something again and it’s true this time, well, the enforcement people take it seriously. We take any complaints we get very seriously. We want to hold people accountable.
The aquaculture sites now have to post a performance bond, no matter what type they are. For instance, if there was some debris that got ashore, by the Act, they have to clean up debris. That’s the only industry on the water today that has to do that. They have to clean it up themselves. If they don’t clean it up, we’ve got a bond posted. We can collect the bond and hire a contractor to clean it up and take the bond to pay for it. We’ve come a long way.
Also, the people who make these false complaints are the same people who are claiming they’re not getting enough information. They’re getting the information. Just for your information, so it’s on the record.
KEITH BAIN: Along with Cooke Aquaculture, I did mention Cermaq. We’re hearing a lot of concern within communities about the fact that they’re expanding. Justified or not, after what you said, you have communities complaining about Cooke and Cermaq. Why is there so much distrust between communities and finfish aquaculture?
KEITH COLWELL: I think it goes back a long way. When I got elected, there were about four or five pages - and I was minister before too. At that time, there was no real aquaculture development in the area, no real rules around it. It was clear that the previous government had done a lot of things that really didn’t sit well in the community. The regulations weren’t robust enough to really address any of those concerns. It took us two years to get the regulatory framework we have and we’re still working on it.
We’re going to pass some regulations in the province shortly to outlaw any treatment of nets. It was already not allowed in the province, but we’re going to put it in regulation so that it’s in law. That’s one complaint that a lot of people have.
I think too that there were some - I won’t name the company, but there were some concerns that probably weren’t addressed properly in the past by the companies themselves, where today they have no choice. They have to address them. There isn’t an option to address them or not. We’ve tightened up all that.
I think that’s all part of it. We did some polling on people who approve of aquaculture in the province or are in favour of aquaculture - about 78 per cent of Nova Scotians. So it’s a small portion of people and it’s the same people all the time who are complaining. I’ve got a file on one guy that’s about that thick. It’s information that is not accurate 99 per cent of the time, but that information is being fed out to everybody - social media and stuff.
We have not done a good enough job yet. Previous governments didn’t do a good enough job - that’s including when I was, way back when - to really tell people how great an industry this can be, what a great opportunity it is to help us with a sustainable food supply, help us with environmental concerns, and all the things we should do. We haven’t done a good enough job, but I can tell you that the reason Cermaq is here is because we have these regulations, because it’s transparent, because they know they have a regime to work in and they have a very high standard of operating.
When I met with the CEO of Cermaq a few months ago, he said that the owners are looking a hundred years in advance. That’s almost unbelievable, for a business to be looking ahead a hundred years. If you’re going to set up a finfish operation, whatever kind it is, you’re going to make sure that the water the fish are in is as clean and pristine as you can possibly get it and maintain it that way.
I think part of the problem has been that we haven’t done a very good job in the past. We’re correcting that. We’re doing a lot of outreach work now. We’re doing more communications. We’re making decisions based on science, not hearsay - and not hearsay from internet scientists. We’ve got a lot of internet scientists out there who will read stuff on the internet and believe it, then go to the next thing and believe that, and then the next thing and believe that. Some of it’s accurate. Most of it isn’t.
It’s really tough to get all this stuff put in place. We’re working on it. It all comes down to public trust.
As we go through our process - it’s the responsibility of the companies. The companies too, when they’re out doing an expansion - and it doesn’t matter if it’s a local company or a non-local company - they really don’t understand how to engage the community. When you’re working on your election campaigns, and I’m working on mine, there’s a whole process you’ve got to go through to convince people that you’re the best candidate and they really don’t understand that. You can tell them the things that you would typically do to get public trust in the community, and they say yes and nod their heads and go ahead, and they don’t do it. I think it’s a combination of things. If you’ve got any ideas how we can improve that, I’d implement them tomorrow, or today.
KEITH BAIN: Give me a day or so. (Laughter) Minister, the Prime Minister has already gone on record saying we should shift from open-pen farming to land-based operations. I guess my question to you would be: What has your department done to attract more land-based operations?
KEITH COLWELL: We met with the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec, we met with the new federal minister here in Halifax a few months ago. We addressed that issue with her directly. Her answer was directly: That is for B.C., not for Atlantic Canada.
We already have 29 land-based operations in Nova Scotia. The only ones that make money are the ones that are the hatcheries. We’ve got three of them ourselves and we don’t make any money with ours because we stock rivers and stuff. The 26 of them - there are probably about three of those that really make money and they’re hatcheries. There’s one land-based salmon operation - I think they do some trout and salmon - that makes money. They’ve just recently started making money because of new management and restructured the company and did some other stuff, but they’re making money. Most of the other ones aren’t.
Land-based is easier to license for us. These are people-licensed, so that’s good. The fish, according to what the industry tells us, aren’t quite as good quality because they’re in a very small area for a large number of fish per area. They’re not in their natural environment and there are diseases on land-based, as well. If we go to land-based processes, we won’t have any in Nova Scotia. There will be none in B.C. They’ll be in New York City, Boston, Chicago - where the chef can go in the morning and pick out the fish he wants for lunch that day. That’s what’s going to happen.
From our standpoint, it’s good to have land-based and we fully support land-based. We work closely with the land-based operations in the province and we want to make them successful. In B.C., things are changing. I remember when I first met the new minister of the NDP Government out there - a lovely lady to deal with. She is the same as me - a minister for both agriculture and the fisheries. She admitted to me when we first met that she didn’t know anything about fishing, but she knew about farming. I said that when I started, I didn’t know very much about farming and I knew a little bit about fishing.
The provincial government out there was anti-aquaculture. They were pushing the federal government to move things on land. They have since changed their mind because they started to realize the economic benefit for these ocean-based farms. Now the ones who were pushing to take them out of the water are telling the federal government to keep them in the water.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in B.C., but we’ve got in writing the assurance from the federal government that it’s not going to change here in Nova Scotia or in Atlantic Canada. All the Atlantic Provinces, including Quebec, are united on that and we want to make sure that we give a very strong message to the federal government on that.
KEITH BAIN: I think in my time that’s left, I’m going to look at the independent review board that has been set up, that you referenced in your opening remarks. We’re hearing now from a lot of citizens of Nova Scotia that say they witness the pollution, raised concerns about open pen farming on the waters, beaches, the effects of that on tourism. You say that you have appointed somebody representing your department and that there’s a representative from industry. Who is the industry representative?
KEITH COLWELL: I believe his name is Mike McKinnon. When I went through his resume and stuff, he was a very successful businessman, plus he’s an avid sport salmon fisherman. Maybe I’m answering your question wrong. This is a review board we have.
KEITH BAIN: The one where you have appointed somebody.
KEITH COLWELL: Yes.
KEITH BAIN: That’s the independent, right?
KEITH COLWELL: Yes, the independent board.
KEITH BAIN: Not the loan board - it’s the review board.
KEITH COLWELL: The independent board - that’s what I’m talking about.
KEITH BAIN: You say he runs his own business, this individual?
KEITH COLWELL: He did have his own business in the past. He’s a businessman. I don’t know what he does for a living now, but he was a businessman. We have three people on the board. One is a lawyer with extensive experience in litigation. One is a marine biologist. The other one is a businessman. That’s really laid out in the regulations we have, to make sure we have that balance between business, science and legal.
KEITH BAIN: I guess some of the other questions I might have, I’ll go through them very quickly. I’m just wondering about the status of the Marine Protected Areas - how have you been working with industry to address any concerns they might have?
KEITH COLWELL: We’ve been working very closely with industry on the Marine Protected Areas. There is a lot of the concern in the industry about the Marine Protected Areas. We have staff that pretty well work full time on this. We attend the meetings that the industry has. We work closely with the people who are for and against it to look at the best possible solution.
Our argument has always been - and we agree with the industry - that we’re not against Marine Protected Areas, but they’ve got to be for the right reason. They’ve got to be to protect something, not just to draw a circle on the map and say this is a marine protected area. That is basically what DFO has done. They’ve just picked spots on the map, drew a line around it and said, that’s going to be a Marine Protected Area. That has not sat well with the industry. They’re talking about up to 30 per cent of Nova Scotia’s ocean area to be a Marine Protected Area. They’re talking about no fish zones in those areas - all kinds of things.
If you look at the classification for Marine Protected Areas, there are seven different levels. In some of the levels, you can do many things. In some of the levels, you can’t do anything, except do some research. You’re really not even supposed to be in them at all.
The University of Tasmania has done a tremendous amount of work on Marine Protected Areas in the Australia-Tasmania-New Zealand area. Independently they did it. They said that Marine Protected Areas work well if they’re protecting something. You cannot protect fish in a marine protected area because fish swim through everywhere, so you can’t protect fish in it.
If it’s a unique coral area, if it’s a unique spawning ground, or whatever the uniqueness of it is, then it’s well worth doing a marine protected area. Just drawing a spot on the map and saying, this is our Marine Protected Area because we’re going to, quote, meet our international commitments to Marine Protected Areas is not the way to do it. Even the industry says we’ll support Marine Protected Areas, but there has got to be a good reason why the particular areas are. They’ve identified some potential areas that might be suitable, that would really protect some areas that need to be protected.
We’ll have to see how the consultation with the federal government works out. It wasn’t very well done on the Eastern Shore - not very well done at all. The industry was misled by the people who were doing the consultation, which was very unfortunate because they lost all faith in the process. As a result of that, there has been a community group set up to voice their concerns. Let’s put it that way.
KEITH BAIN: I want to go back to the Doelle-Lahey report that was done a few years ago. Recommendations were made about colour-coding places where farming could take place and everything. Has that been put into place? Have the recommendations that were made in that report been put into place?
KEITH COLWELL: That is actually an independent report we received from them. We did not put in place red, green, and amber areas, but what we have done through science - and we’re doing everything through science, not just some area that has a red, green, or yellow light. I think that was poor terminology they put in the report. We’re doing science on an area.
For instance, we’re working in Argyle. We’ve got sensors deployed in the ocean tracking temperature, currents, oxygen levels, all kinds of stuff. Actually, from the work we’re doing, there was a spinoff company created in Nova Scotia to develop these sensors, which they have, and I believe they’re marketing all over the world now.
Doing testing, we found some areas that aren’t suitable for finfish. Those areas will not get a lease for finfish. We’ve found areas that may not be suitable for shellfish. There will not be leases available in those areas. Basically, we didn’t totally agree with the philosophy of how they put those lights in place, but we’re actually doing it - if that makes any sense. Basically, there will be areas in this province where there will be no aquaculture because of science.
KEITH BAIN: Here come the easy ones now. Seafood Expo North America will be coming up soon. How many companies from Nova Scotia will be attending this year?
KEITH COLWELL: We usually have 20 to 25 companies that attend and we probably have as many more again that go to the show and don’t exhibit per se. They go to the show and meet with their customers while they’re there. They do as much business doing that as if they had a booth there. We would have somewhere between 75 and 100 companies from Nova Scotia.
KEITH BAIN: I just want to thank the minister and apologize to the staff for making them all jump up at different times.
THE CHAIR: The time has elapsed for the PC Party. We’ll move on to the NDP.
The honourable member for Halifax Needham.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m actually going to follow up on a couple of the points that were just raised in questions. Regarding the zones or the areas where you’ve just suggested that there will never be aquaculture, could the minister share that information with Nova Scotians?
KEITH COLWELL: We’re still developing the science in those areas. We’ve identified one or two areas that don’t look suitable for finfish at this point, but we still have to do more testing. As we get the testing completed, we will make all this information public on our website.
LISA ROBERTS: Do you have an approximate timeline for that?
KEITH COLWELL: All I can tell you is that we’re working on it every day. It takes a long time. It takes a year or two years to really get temperature profiles, for instance. It may take that long to get tides, as well, and all the different parameters we measure. There might be a spike or a reduction in temperature that’s not normal. We have to go through all those times and have a look at them.
Once we see a site like that, we won’t allow any development. If it’s not suitable for shellfish or finfish, we won’t let any development go ahead there until we finish the evaluation on it. We have some sites like that now and we’ll continue the testing. Once the testing is complete and we’re satisfied that we’ve got enough data, we will make it clear that this kind of activity will not go on in that area until it changes.
In that same spot, there might be other types of aquaculture that will work. For instance, it may not work for shellfish but it will work for finfish or vice versa. We’ll determine that by the research we’re doing.
I’m stressing again that we’re basing things on science. This is not just because somebody sees a spot over there that looks good. Those days are gone. Now, if it doesn’t meet the science and really have the environment for successful operation of the business - we don’t want any failures. We don’t want it to negatively impact the environment. We base all our information on science and we use incredible science.
We’ve hired a Dalhousie University student to study with our department and DFO jointly. We’ve worked with Université Sainte-Anne to do some studies on issues that have been raised in areas. When those studies are completed, they’re peer-reviewed, and they will be posted on our website. You’re going to find that when you look at our website, over time, over the next year or two, there’s going to be a lot of information on it. The information is going to continually be entered all the time.
It’s a whole different approach to doing business. We’re probably going to be the most open department or division of a department in all government when we’re finished with all this. We want people to have the facts - not based on hearsay and internet science.
LISA ROBERTS: Recently, our caucus office filed a freedom of information request for an implementation plan for the independent review of aquaculture - the report titled A New Regulatory Framework for Low-Impact/High-Value Aquaculture in Nova Scotia. That freedom of information request returned no results.
Can you confirm that your department retains no records on the progress of implementing the recommendations of that report?
KEITH COLWELL: Did you say no progress?
LISA ROBERTS: We didn’t get anything back. We did a search. When you do an access to information request, you have to write what it is you’re looking for. We asked for an implementation plan of the Doelle-Lahey report - the independent review. The way we worded it, we got nothing back. I don’t know if maybe we didn’t word it right, but we’d be interested to know if there is a report or some sort of - I think in other departments they’ve called it a status update on where things are with the recommendations.
KEITH COLWELL: The recommendations were recommendations to start with - not something that was binding on us, although we have probably fulfilled all the recommendations in the report and more. We’re even more stringent in some areas than they reported, but we did not work on an implementation plan. We put regulations in place.
That’s probably why you didn’t get an answer - because we really don’t have an implementation plan. The actual implementation plan is the regulations and the process we’re going through right now to license and monitor aquaculture sites and do the science and all the advisory groups we put together - all those things.
We’ve taken that independent report and the Auditor General’s Report and we’ve taken the recommendations from within our own department. We did reviews all over the world in other jurisdictions to see how they regulate aquaculture. We put that all together in what we believe are the best aquaculture regulations in the world today.
LISA ROBERTS: I appreciate that. At the same time, certainly we’re aware - as I’m sure you’re aware - of many people raising concerns, given the current state of play in Nova Scotia. There are some proposals or some - and I’m not sure if I’m getting the language right, but Cermaq is seeking the ability to operate in both St. Margaret’s Bay and Mahone Bay. Given that, I’d like to go through some of the recommendations, and maybe you can explain to me how they’re fulfilled by the regulations.
First of all, the recommendation that “The regulation of aquaculture will be functionally separated from the promotion of the aquaculture industry.” Can you explain how the department has fulfilled that recommendation?
KEITH COLWELL: Compliance and regulations are two different departments now. That’s all with the Department of Environment. They do the actual enforcement in co-operation with our vets. If we see anything, they do the enforcement on it, which is way beyond what the independent panel requested.
LISA ROBERTS: Just to clarify, that’s once an aquaculture operation is licensed and functioning, but in terms of at this moment, at this phase, where there is a proposal, is the regulation of aquaculture functionally separated from the promotion of aquaculture?
KEITH COLWELL: Yes, it is. Once an option is given to somebody to pursue an aquaculture site someplace, it’s totally the responsibility of the company or the proponent that wants to put it in. It’s their responsibility to community.
There are clear bounds that they have to do community meetings, have to consult with the community - a whole series of things they have to do. It’s their responsibility to do that. I get a lot of requests and comments from the public and I refer them directly to the company - and a set of rules on how they can engage and do all that stuff. That is totally separate.
Again, the decisions are made by the independent board. Their rulings are outside. We have no effect whatsoever on what they are. They’re totally independent, which is also way above what the independent report asked for. We’ve exceeded this independent report in so many ways, based on what we’ve seen in the world. The independent report did a great job. They really did a great job - a great group of people - but they didn’t go as far as we went in looking at other parts of the world and seeing what works, what doesn’t work, how to address these things.
When people really realize what we have in Nova Scotia, they’re going to have a lot more faith than they’ve had in the past. In the past, we really had nothing. It was really nothing. Basically, you could come in with a cheque, set your cheque down and say, I want an aquaculture site here, and you’d get a licence.
LISA ROBERTS: I appreciate that. At the same time, when Cermaq, as it has, seeks an option to lease for two bays, I think you can understand why people sort of feel a bit taken aback and like everything is a green zone. Can you tell me how, inside the current regulatory framework, a community might successfully oppose the issuing of an option to lease, should they choose to do so?
KEITH COLWELL: Nobody can oppose an option to lease because an option to lease is issued by me upon a company - or an individual or whatever the case may be - coming forward to pursue an option to lease. That starts the process. The opposition they have to it - if they’re opposed to it or for it or whatever the case may be - has to be taken to the review board. The review board makes the decision on whether there’s a site or not, not me.
The only thing we can do with the review board - we provide evidence and we provide reports from a big long list of departments and government agencies that we have to deal with. We get all that information. We supply all that information exactly the same way we get it to the board. They have it for their decision.
The immediate community around the area has the right to meet interveners, someone with expertise in the field, if it’s going to be a finfish site or shellfish site - not internet expertise, but real expertise. If they’re a marine biologist and an expert in finfish, they can come make expert presentations to the board, for or against, with support from the community. The company can bring in experts for their application. At the end of the day, the independent board will make their decision. Whatever their decision is, we have to live with it. That’s fine with us. That’s the way it should be.
The option process was a key recommendation of the independent report, which we have followed. We’ve gone beyond that, actually. We’ve gone beyond it now. If you come with an application for an aquaculture site, you now have to prove to me - not really to me but to my loan board - that you have the financial resources to build the facility and cash-flow the facility until you can get the operation in full operation so that we don’t have bankruptcies partway through. We’ve seen a lot of that in the past where people have a dream and no money.
The loan board evaluates that, the same as if they are doing a major loan to a company. They come back to me with a recommendation that says that they’re financially sound or not sound. If they’re not sound, they don’t get an option, or they need more information, they need more capital - whatever it is. Their recommendation is sent back to the company. If it’s not favourable, the company has to address it. If they don’t address it, no option allowed.
The whole process is like that. It’s all documented. We don’t want to set anyone up for failure. The last thing we want to do is have a company that’s not credible and doesn’t have the financial resources go into a community and then cause the mistrust that we’ve seen in some communities now - and a lot of misinformation out there.
LISA ROBERTS: Thank you for that answer. Again, I want to understand how the regulations reflect some of the recommendations in that report. The report stated that “There must be a fundamental emphasis in regulation of the industry on the compatibility of licensed aquaculture with other uses of coastal waters.”
Can you explain how this is done when there are already uses of the area that is optioned to lease? How will those competing uses be considered as the option to lease is sought?
KEITH COLWELL: That’s a real simple answer. We had eight requirements - that’s one of them.
LISA ROBERTS: That’s one of the requirements. Is it the review board that will decide that? Is there an independent assessment done? I can’t imagine Cermaq being responsible for judging what these competing uses and competing demands on that area would be.
KEITH COLWELL: We request the information from the proponent, then we take that information and provide it to the board. They have to provide it to the board themselves and make sure - that’s one of the eight factors they have to address. It’s right in the regulations. There’s no choice on it. They have to address it.
We’ve gone beyond the independent panel. It’s mandatory that they have to do it. If they don’t address those issues, they will not be granted a lease by the board, because that’s one of the things the board has to consider.
LISA ROBERTS: Just to clarify again, it’s the proponent that provides that information?
KEITH COLWELL: Yes. The proponent, all the network partners that we talked about, and our department will provide information on that to the board. The public can comment on that as well. If the public thinks that those factors have not been considered, they take that concern to the board, and the board has got to address the concern. They have to address this concern. It’s not maybe; it has to be done. It’s one of the eight factors that have to be considered.
LISA ROBERTS: Just to clarify because, for example, there is a major community meeting happening on Sunday in Tantallon in response to Cermaq’s option to lease. Is there a way in which those voices and that effort to pull together community members feed directly into the review board’s work? Can they consider that?
KEITH COLWELL: The board will consider any factual information that’s provided to them with regard to that factor. As I’ve stressed, it has to be factual. The information we’re getting back on some of these community meetings - some outlandish comments. One comment we’ve heard through the grapevine - it’s just through the grapevine, so I don’t know if it’s accurate or not - was that the company mentioned bought up all the scallop licences in the area, so the fishermen wouldn’t complain. Absolute, completely false information. Another one is that they bought up the hotel. Again, totally false information.
That doesn’t help the community and their operation as they go through this. All those things will be brought forward by the community. They should bring those things if they feel that’s right, but it should be investigated by the board. If it’s false information, then it makes it look like all their information is false, which would definitely not be the case.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m sure you’re aware that several coastal municipalities have passed motions to oppose any aquaculture expansion in their waters. That includes Mahone Bay, Digby, Queens, and the Town of Chester. Would those municipal motions be considered factual information?
KEITH COLWELL: A vote by council to decide whether they want aquaculture - a yes or no - is not acceptable as information. They’re not in the decision-making process of this, as we’re not in the decision-making process for whether to put sidewalks in their communities or whatever the case may be. But if they bring forward one of the eight factors we’ve talked about and it’s a concern for them, that would definitely be considered.
LISA ROBERTS: Is social licence one of the eight factors?
KEITH COLWELL: We don’t use social licence. We use public trust. Really, no. Public trust is something you earn. It’s not something you factor.
LISA ROBERTS: Again, if public trust is one of the factors and residents in these municipalities have elected these municipal politicians to represent their interests, and if those municipal leaders, based on what they’re hearing from constituents, make a motion to oppose the specific option to lease by Cermaq, would that not be factual information to consider as determination of whether there’s public trust?
KEITH COLWELL: You’re looking at the report by the independent panel. Our eight factors that we’re talking about come out of that independent panel. This is not something we dreamt up. If the municipality comes - as I’ve already said, public trust is something you earn. You don’t measure. You earn public trust.
If there is an issue that’s in one of those eight factors and the municipality has identified it as an issue for their municipality, which they have not done so far - as far as I know, but that’s not for me to judge; the independent panel would judge that - then that would be taken into consideration. If it’s just a vote by the municipal council to influence a licence for whatever reason, it really has no bearing on the licence. They all know that.
It’s the same as us deciding we’re going to do something in the municipality that we have no authority to do. We wouldn’t do that. If they can come up with one of the eight factors - or two or three or all of the eight factors that they see as important - based on science, based on the factors themselves, that they feel is something that’s not good for the municipality, then they should put a presentation together to go into the independent panel and make that presentation.
LISA ROBERTS: I did review the report again recently, but I don’t have it here in front of me. Can you just quickly list the eight, since we keep referring to them?
KEITH COLWELL: The optimum use of marine resources - that’s a pretty broad statement; all these are very broad statements - provincial and community economic development; other users; fishery activities; wild salmon; navigation; biophysical and oceanographic; and the existence of other aquaculture areas.
That’s pretty broad. Basically, it covers anything you can possibly imagine.
LISA ROBERTS: Yes, and I imagine that optimum use, provincial and community economic development - at least the first three, there’s a fair amount of room for interpretation and debate. I wouldn’t be too hasty to judge municipal motions as not fitting within those, but there you are.
I think you began by talking about the value of the aquaculture industry. I wonder if you could re-state that number for me. Do you know what the value of the aquaculture industry is? I’m just interested to compare it with maybe the value of the lobster fishery.
KEITH COLWELL: The harvests come in from January 1st to the end of December the following year. It depends on when they harvest, so the numbers will change from year to year. One year we had $100 million and some. Last year, we had $89 million. Another year we could have $150 million. It just depends on when they do the harvest, as compared to what the stocks are in the water.
I’ve seen the numbers first and they fluctuated so much, it didn’t make any sense. What happens is, for instance, on a finfish farm - which are the biggest cash receipts - if they don’t harvest until mid-January this year, then it counts on next year and they didn’t have it in the previous year. So that number goes up that year because maybe they’re harvesting twice in that one year and once in the next year. It’s up and down all over the place.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m hearing numbers ranging from $80 million to $150 million - that’s kind of the range. That includes both shellfish and finfish. About what percentage? I know that shellfish is a relatively small percentage of that, but approximately?
KEITH COLWELL: Finfish is 80 or 90 per cent. This also includes all land-based, ocean-based everything.
LISA ROBERTS: Do you know, or would you be able to share with me, in terms of employment - is finfish also responsible for 80 to 90 per cent of the employment related to aquaculture?
KEITH COLWELL: Yes. We have approximately 190 in finfish, shellfish about 250, and other related industries about 90. Those are not accurate numbers because they’re the ones who actually work on the sites. If you look at the finfish one in particular, we’re probably triple or quadruple that in industries that repair the boats and do the boats. There’s a tremendous amount of money spent on those. It’s millions and millions a year.
In finfish, that’s mostly the company from New Brunswick that would have people who come here and work in harvest times and different times, in addition to these numbers, so it’s different. The big advantage is these jobs are very well paid. Some of them are very high tech. Waycobah alone, their trout operation is 60-plus people. Again, it’s difficult to say the numbers.
As the industry grows over time, the numbers will go up, but the average salary for a finfish farm - for Cermaq, their average salary is $58,000 per year. That’s a substantial income for rural Nova Scotia. Cooke will be very similar. The land-based ones will be lower. The shellfish ones would typically be lower.
Again, over time, to keep people they’re going to have to pay them quite well. They have to have highly-skilled people - well-trained people. These are very valuable jobs to the economy in rural economy, so people can easily go and buy a new home there and do the things they want to do.
LISA ROBERTS: Just to help me wrap my head around the values - you talk a lot about the actual export values of lobster, but in terms of the value of that industry, obviously it eclipses aquaculture altogether.
KEITH COLWELL: It does at the present time because the industry is still very small here. I feel that over time we will easily hit $500 million in aquaculture in the province, and we could eventually get to $1 billion in the industry. That is with a footprint that would be very small in the province, if it was all put in one spot. It’s a very high-value product.
Everybody gets very upset because of the huge area they’re looking at to set these proposed finfish and shellfish sites. In fact, the areas that they’re looking at are very small in comparison to the areas they’re looking at. They can produce a tremendous amount of fish in five or six different areas and do all the environmental things in a pretty small footprint that makes environmental sense.
The industry is the fastest-growing food source in the world. Over 50 per cent of all the fish we consume now is aquaculture.
LISA ROBERTS: So you envision that the aquaculture industry could get to $500 million. What is the lobster fishery at now, if you were comparing apples and apples - not export values, necessarily, but the value of the industry?
KEITH COLWELL: It’s easiest to put an export value. The aquaculture industry will pretty well be mostly export because it’s too much volume to handle in Nova Scotia. The lobster industry, for instance, is about $770 million right now. If we get to half a billion dollars in aquaculture, it’s going to be very close.
The thing with aquaculture is that it’s long term. If you put in a site and look after it properly, which under our regulations you have to do now - there is no choice - that site can be there for 50 or 100 years. Lobsters may be here for another five years, 10 years, 100 years. Who knows? Climate change.
In Maine now, they’re basically only catching soft-shell lobsters, which really have no value. They’re selling them as a bonus lobster, but it’s not true. They’re moving further and further north. The lobster industry could be stationed in Newfoundland and Labrador in another 25 or 30 years. They could be catching lobsters and we won’t have any as they move further north with the temperature rise.
It’s all environment-dependent, and the aquaculture industry is really a long-term investment. Done properly, which it has to be under our new regulatory framework, it will work very well in Nova Scotia. It will work very well with the communities.
I remember when your government was working on windmills, and our government worked on windmills, and the Progressive Conservative Government worked on windmills, there was a big cry about all the birds that were going to be killed and how the world was going to come to an end and all that stuff. None of that happened.
Thank goodness every government had the foresight to put those windmills up. Now we’re not paying 10 cents of carbon tax like they are in Alberta, because we met and exceeded all the environmental benchmarks that the federal government has set. It exceeded them. Every government has been loyal to doing that.
If we had listened to the communities and not put it in place and not done the things that people thought were going to ruin the thing, the same people who were complaining about these - who don’t complain anymore - would have been paying more taxes that we would have to pay unnecessarily.
I’ll give you an example. Out in my area, they put up two huge windmills. I didn’t know what the community would think about it, so I stayed out of it because it was a company. I went to the public meeting they had. It was probably the most interesting public meeting I ever went to. There was a guy from outside the community - I didn’t know him - who sat down beside me and said, I’m going to end every windmill in the province; there are going to be no more windmills in the province. He had an agenda because he’d had success in stopping one - well, not him, but some other people.
Two other people from the community came. The meeting just started and the lady got up and said, are you going to put our power bills down? The answer was no, and that was the end of it. Those were the only people who showed up. The people who live next to the windmill think it’s the best thing that ever happened. It’s all public trust and it’s all working to get there.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m going to switch gears for a moment. How much money has been given to Perennia to support the development of open-net pen aquaculture?
KEITH COLWELL: Perennia has a Centre for Marine Applied Research. It’s exactly what it says it is: it’s for applied research. This is a recommendation under the independent panel. Their job is to do research on things I talked about earlier - water temperatures, currents, deploying the current metres, all that stuff.
The total project over four years was $3.7 million. That’s the basis of our science - one of the parts of the science that has been done. They work just on the science.
We have some incredibly good scientists working in that. They’re the ones who work with Dalhousie University, Université Sainte-Anne, DFO, and all the other regulatory framework. Their work is peer-reviewed when they put a contract out. We have an independent science panel set up of scientists who review any research we’re going to do. I don’t think that was in the independent panel to do that. We want to make sure science is solid.
Our approach on aquaculture development is science based - not internet-science based that 99 per cent of the people believe in. That is discounted. It’s not science based on somebody’s uncle who told them something. It’s on real science. If we don’t have the science, that’s what this organization was to do. We’ve done that very successfully and we hope to continue that in the future.
We’ve deployed a tremendous number of sensors. The people deploying the sensors with us are the commercial fishing industry - working very closely. We’re sharing that information with them. Actually, as we gather that information and get it in place, it will posted on our website for every site.
We had one community, for example, that did some scientific research. It was questionable how they did it, but we didn’t discount it. There were some statements they made that were on the edge of being internet science, but some of it wasn’t. We did a study on it - we haven’t released the study yet - and they were partially right. Not completely right.
We’re not quite finished the study. Once that study is in place, we’re going to provide them with the information and it’s going to make a change on the site. It will be a change on how we do business on that site - not us, but how we allow industry to do business on that site.
This is truly science based. It’s not any political interference. It’s not anything like that. It’s totally science. If science says that doesn’t work there, it’s not going there - it’s that simple. If it does say it’s going there, that’s a possible place - not a guaranteed place, a possible place. A company would have to come in and want to get an option to lease - they have to go to the community and make all of the eight requirements on top of that, so they can go and satisfy all of those.
It’s a very complex system, but it’s very open and very transparent, and it’s all based on science.
LISA ROBERTS: Is that science complete before there’s a signal that an area - for example, St. Marys Bay or Mahone Bay or St. Margarets Bay - is open to having an option to lease? Is the science complete first?
KEITH COLWELL: No, but a lease will not be issued until it’s done.
LISA ROBERTS: If the proponent is the one who leads the gathering of information related to these eight criteria, does the proponent pay for the data and the scientific research services that it receives from the Centre for Marine Applied Research?
KEITH COLWELL: Typically, it would be done by the centre itself. In some cases, if a company was interested in a particular area, the company could contribute to the science, but the science would still be done independently. It wouldn’t be the company gathering information and then providing it to the centre. The science would be done and go through a peer review and everything to make sure the science is correct. Once the data is accumulated, it’s going to be on our website. It’s going to be public information.
LISA ROBERTS: Does the Centre for Marine Applied Research collect data on competing uses?
KEITH COLWELL: Science is not about competing interests. Science is science. A temperature is a temperature, the current’s the current, the salinity in the water is the salinity. It’s science. Then you take that base information and you can apply it, like you say, to other things that it may affect.
We’re doing the exact same thing now in agriculture - trying to get more data, more weather data and more information that we can have for our own information, for the industry’s information, and for potential investors.
I can’t stress enough how serious we are about the data. I just wish I had about $5 million per year, every year, to collect data. Unfortunately, we don’t have those kinds of resources. If we did, we could profile all the temperatures and all the currents and see the change on an ongoing basis. There’s not a lot of baseline data, so we’re developing baseline data and live data as we do this.
The more data like that we have, the better chance we have of success if somebody puts a site there - and we want successful sites. We don’t want them to go in and then have to be taken out in five, 10, or 20 years’ time. We don’t want to approve sites - well, we don’t approve them anyway, but we don’t want to put up a site for approval that doesn’t meet the requirement. That’s not good for anybody. We don’t want to see that.
We’re serious about the aquaculture. In my personal opinion, if the province was no good for aquaculture anywhere, that’s fine. We’d forget it and go on to do something else. But it is good for aquaculture in some locations - different types of aquaculture - and we want to know what they are and what they may be good for. Then we have to see if there’s an industry interested in that type of activity in that area, and then it’s their responsibility to go to the community and sell it.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m from Newfoundland originally. It’s funny how in this job you end up using knowledge that you’ve gained at every moment of your life. I think I wrote a paper in the second year of my undergrad, which was 25 years ago now, about the scientific knowledge that can be gleaned from inshore fishers. This was about three years after the cod collapse, approximately, and so there was a lot of looking in hindsight at what fishermen at the time were trying to tell DFO, which DFO did not hear.
I’m wondering if in your view, and in this process, lobster fishermen and other actual users of the ocean in these bays and offshore are viewed as possible sources of data.
KEITH COLWELL: As long as it’s scientific, yes. However, in saying that, fishermen do have a lot of data - knowledge of fishing in an area - but typically they would have information on ice conditions, for instance, which is very important as part of the science. If the fishermen are saying that we have ice in this area and this is when we typically have it - some fishermen keep logs, which are very helpful - we take that information into consideration.
Then, with the science and the ability to now do other things with satellite imaging and all the other things, that can all be verified - at least a parameter we would definitely look at and make sure that parameter is fully considered before anything happens. You might have that harbour that freezes over once every five years, and the fishermen say every five years this freezes over, and we’re into year one of a study and it froze over the year before and we didn’t know about it because we weren’t there. All that anecdotal information will be taken in, as long as it’s accurate.
LISA ROBERTS: Unless I’ve lost track of some of the calamitous research out there related to climate change, I don’t think the tides are going to change. The temperatures are changing. The ice coverage is changing. Many things are changing right now, so the past is not a very good indicator of the future.
I think a lot of the relevant information for open pen aquaculture is actually not visible from the surface at all, as I understand it, because a lot of it is about the condition of the sea floor.
I don’t know if you would find it surprising, but I had hoped to attend more of the massive conference that you somehow managed to just host while we were in the Legislature. But we’re too few people, so I only made it to your reception. That was very nice.
In that room, I had maybe about six conversations, and people in four of them were related to the lobster industry in some way, either as a scientist or a processor or a fisherman. They all suggested to me that open pen aquaculture was a very incompatible use with their industry. What’s your reaction to that?
KEITH COLWELL: A couple of things. Number one, to address studies and the fishermen, there were some concerns with fishermen in St. Ann’s Bay. We put a research project together to address those concerns, working with the fishermen to do that. That’s underway now.
What we’re finding is that once the fishing industry understands how they can work together - it’s really about working together and not interfering with their traditional fishing areas, because that’s really important to us. We don’t want to do anything to cause any kind of grief for any type of fishery we have in the province. That’s a priority for us, outside of any report or anything else. It’s very important to us that that traditional industry is preserved and we do everything we can to maintain that industry.
What has happened along the Atlantic coast in the U.S. - they don’t have the same conservation things that we have in place through DFO, even though DFO sometimes tends to drop the ball, like we all do once in a while. Now those same fishermen who opposed aquaculture are the ones getting into aquaculture because they’ve got nothing left to fish.
It’s all about timing and it’s all about trust and public trust. We’re partnering more and more with the aquaculture industry. This year was the first year for the conference that we had aquaculture. The first year of the conference we had fishermen. A few years later - actually, a long time later, since I came back - we put the processors and buyers together because they didn’t like each other, believe it or not. They didn’t get along. Some still don’t get along, but it’s better than it was.
This year we put the Seafarmers Conference together. It’s all the same common-use area. That’s one reason why we attracted so many people to come this year. We anticipated 600 and we got over 800, which is very positive. It’s really starting that dialogue and working with each other. That’s the thing we really have to do.
We’re partnering with DFO and the industry to do a study with interaction between lobster and salmon farms right now. The industry wanted it and they’re part of the process. That’s a pretty exciting project.
One thing I didn’t mention before is that there’s another study that DFO did about land-based fish farming - we should have a copy of that circulated to the Opposition members. It raises some pretty big alarms. They’re actually not as environmentally sound as the ocean-based ones. We’ll get that report and supply it to both Opposition Parties.
LISA ROBERTS: I have not studied a lot of science, but I spoke with someone who has more scientific background than I do about open pen aquaculture. She used this phrase, which I found very helpful - I think it’s based in science, and I think it’s very old science - which is that “the dose is the poison.” A little bit of open pen aquaculture can be perfectly okay in a particular site, but more of the same activity of the exact same type can not be okay.
One of the lobster fishermen I spoke with at your reception talked about Coffin Island - is that near Port Mouton in Liverpool? I guess there has been open pen aquaculture there for a long time. For the longest time it was six pens and it was fine. They didn’t notice any impact. Then it expanded, and now there is a proposal to expand it again.
With the most recent expansion - to 12 sites or 12 pens or 18 pens; I don’t remember - they noticed the difference in terms of the sheen on the water, in terms of lobster catches and so forth. I think that a lot of the answers to this are not yes or no but how much and where.
KEITH COLWELL: We talk about anecdotal information and misinformation. That fisherman didn’t see any change because there is no new site there yet. There is no expansion there yet. There are no new pens there yet. There has been no change.
LISA ROBERTS: Since it began?
KEITH COLWELL: Yes, that’s correct. There was an application for a change. You have to be very careful who gives you what information. Make sure the science backs it up.
That’s the problem with this whole thing. What happens is that the internet scientists get out there and they read something that’s not accurate, not based on science. They run with this information and they elaborate on it to the point that it’s nowhere even near the truth. That causes all kinds of problems.
That’s why we’re so science based. We want the facts. Once we get the facts, we make decisions on the facts. We are never going to send anything to a review panel if we think that it won’t work in that area. We’re going to base that on science - always on science - not because some fisherman said that it’s worse.
We’re investigating a complaint we have now that there’s a slime all over the harbour and all kinds of stuff. We’re taking it very seriously. We’re sending our staff out, sending enforcement through the Department of Environment. We’re going to do some samples to see if it really is there. I had a lady who sent me a letter - the same thing, that there’s slime in this area. There was no slime there.
I don’t know where they get this information - probably someone told them that they saw it or something - and it doesn’t exist. That starts a rumour that there are all these kinds of problems.
From time to time, there could be a problem. We’ll follow up every one of these complaints. We don’t do the follow-up. We work with the Department of Environment. They do the actual thing, but if they need science, then we’ll help them with the science. The enforcement is a good arrangement now.
We have fish vets and we have a modern fish lab that does all the testing. One of our fish vets is one of the most renowned fish vets in the world, so we’re very well-equipped to do this now. We upgraded the lab. We’ve done so much in the last five years. We are lightyears ahead of where we were seven years ago. There’s no comparison whatsoever.
LISA ROBERTS: I’m going to really quickly ask about something entirely different. The halibut stock has been increasing in recent years, and so has the quota, but all of that benefit has been going to the offshore fishery.
As you know, inshore fishery and recreational fishers have been advocating for a small share of the halibut allocation from the federal government, with no success to date. Have you made any efforts to support them in their efforts with DFO?
KEITH COLWELL: Yes, we have. We support the inland fishery getting more quota. There’s a sport fishing group that’s interested in doing sport fishing. They want part of quota, but they’re not licensed fishermen, so they can’t get it.
What we suggested to them - and we would work with them and help them with that - is to potentially buy some quota from one of the inshore-offshore fishing operations. They actually sell that quota - or they don’t sell it, but they lease it out. It could easily go to a recreational one. I think recreational fishing of halibut would be incredibly good.
One of the things we have done through our sport fishing - I talked about it earlier - is that we’re going to train guides. We’re in the process of training guides, which has never happened in the province, and put packages together. Part of that is ocean fishing. The tuna charters in the province have been extremely successful. Whale watching has been extremely successful.
Basically, the companies that have done that have done it on their own without any support, any proper marketing or anything. We’re putting a campaign together to help them do that to get more value, so maybe someone will stay in the community for three days instead of one day.
THE CHAIR: Order. The time has elapsed for the NDP. We’ll move on to the PC Party.
The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
COLTON LEBLANC: This is my first time asking questions in Estimates, so bear with me as I get settled into this process.
A couple of questions for the minister, just tidying up the list from our caucus. How many new value-added companies have been created in the last year?
KEITH COLWELL: It’s a difficult question to answer. New value-added companies are different than companies adding value. A lot of our companies are adding value to their products by doing all kinds of different processes. That’s one of the reasons that our exports are up to $2.32 billion - because of the value added. A lot of our existing companies do have value added and we’re working with other companies that are interested in value added.
“Value added” has a very specific definition. If you take a fish, for instance, and you fillet it, that’s not adding value. If you take a fish and fillet it, smoke it, and package it, you’ve added value. It’s a complicated one to answer, but we’ve been very proactive with that.
Actually, we’re working with Perennia under the Seafood Accelerator Program to work with companies to help them through that - there are food safety issues, packaging issues, labelling issues; they’ve got tremendous expertise in that - and help companies that may have a product and don’t know how to get it to market or don’t know how it’s going to be packaged. All of those things. They’ve got the opportunity to do all that work - nutritional analysis, all the things we need for marketing.
It has been significant. I can’t give you an exact number, especially with new start-ups.
COLTON LEBLANC: The minister alluded to the Seafood Accelerator Program. Can you specify how many companies actually took advantage of that program, or is that too similar to my last question?
KEITH COLWELL: This program is a new program, so they’re just starting to roll it out. We have eight companies right now, maybe more, that are actively involved in it. We hope for a lot more.
COLTON LEBLANC: You took a trip to Norway for an aquaculture mission. For our benefit, can you explain what the takeaways from that trip were, please?
KEITH COLWELL: We attended Aqua Nor, which is the biggest aquaculture trade show and conference in the world. We go there and talk to municipalities to see what issues they had. We talk to the industry - a lot of marketing in that area.
It’s a whole system. We took some people with us from municipalities. In the past, we’ve taken some from the Mi’kmaw community so they could see it themselves and talk to their counterparts in those areas to see if it’s a good thing to put aquaculture in place in Nova Scotia or not and let them make their own decisions.
We’re always marketing the province and our products besides that, even on those trips. That’s why we have our seafood exports up to $2.3 billion.
COLTON LEBLANC: What other seafood shows do you plan on attending in the next year?
KEITH COLWELL: Depending on the virus - let’s hope that it doesn’t spread much further, but I don’t think that’s going to be accurate. We’re planning to attend the Seafood Expo North America and Brussels at this time. Brussels is the second-biggest seafood show in the world. We have several Nova Scotia companies that attend that every year. It’s very successful. Especially with the activities going on in Asia now, it’s going to be even more important for us marketing those communities.
COLTON LEBLANC: What dialogue have you and your department maintained with counterparts in Asia to keep an eye on the situation there and make sure that our markets are going to be as strong as you say they’re going to be at the end of this virus?
KEITH COLWELL: We have our marketing division that continually works with our contacts in Asia. It’s really difficult to get information out because they live in a different society in China than here. If the government puts a black-out on, there’s a black-out. There’s no argument. There’s no discussion. There’s nothing. So, it’s difficult to get information out to see exactly what’s going on there.
I’ve seen it. When we were there, we talked to one company about putting a lobster handling and holding facility in place. They were very interested. It was a $3 million per city investment they had to make. The Prime Minister came out one day and said that they wanted food safety in China. The next day we got a call and they were going to put food safety in place in our system. That’s how it works there.
We’re watching the market very carefully. We’re talking to our contacts on a regular basis and getting as much information as we can - not only us, but also our businesses have really good business relationships there. They’re continually in contact with them, as well.
COLTON LEBLANC: I know first-hand the importance of our lobster industry, particularly to my constituency of Argyle-Barrington, which is home of the lobster capital of Canada. The current state of affairs regarding the coronavirus and the impact it has here at home - it’s not so much the health effects yet in Nova Scotia, but on our rural economy. It affects everybody from the fishers to the buyers to the pound workers and exporters and suppliers.
They’re really feeling the pinch, so I have to respectfully disagree with your term of ‘blip’ because it’s a minor and temporary deviation from the general trend. We’re one month in. Unfortunately, we’re at least three or four months away from, hopefully, what’s the end, but we’re not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
With other markets getting ready to open, other seasons, there’s a possibility for the market to be continuously flooded with product, which I’m concerned about what’s going to happen for not only my constituency, but right across our province.
I read an article from CBC. It says, “Canada poised to lose lobster edge in China in wake of U.S. trade deal.” That has some concerns because the Chinese market trade measures announced this week are going to make a wide range of U.S. products, like lobster exports, from the 35 per cent tariff.
How will this affect our market? When the market in Maine was tanking and ours was soaring, it was partly due to this tariff. How is this change going to affect the market at the end of the day, at the end of coronavirus, for Nova Scotians?
KEITH COLWELL: We have a very strong relationship and reputation for Nova Scotia high quality lobster in China. The Americans typically buy lobsters from your area - buy lobsters from all over Nova Scotia, rebrand them and sell them as Boston lobster in China. Quite frankly, that’s what happens, because they mostly have all soft shell lobster now. It will cause us some problems.
From dealing with some of my counterparts in China, I know for a fact they have been directed by the central government to buy products from Nova Scotia in particular. I’ve heard that reinforced over and over again. They want to become the number one customer in the world for our products. That’s their goal. That is a good thing and a bad thing. It means that the work we’ve done in the past has really put a tremendous amount of money in the pockets of your residents. Hopefully, we’ll get a lot more money in their pockets, quite frankly.
I’m not too concerned about the Americans getting into the marketplace. If they come, even with a free trade deal, that would hurt us some, but I don’t think it would kill us. Either way, we’re going to sell the lobsters there - whether we sell them to the U.S. and they sell it to them or we sell them direct. We’re selling them both times, so we can’t lose on that deal.
I’m concerned about the virus. I want to thank the fishermen in your area because some of them took their traps out of the water when they realized this was happening. That was really good planning on their part. I heard this afternoon the price is up slightly. It’s a little bit above $8 per pound now.
If we were to have this crisis - which we do have - it’s probably at the best time of the year we could have it. The Chinese New Year is over. Your area is now pretty well shut down for fishing. That’s where most of the lobster comes from. There will be an argument from another community, but I’m not going to argue by any stretch of the imagination that you’re the lobster capital of the world - not just Nova Scotia.
You guys have stopped fishing. When they start fishing on the Eastern Shore and Cape Breton, the catches are no comparison to what you guys get. The quality is typically more hard shell lobster, which is easy to sell anywhere in the world. We’ve got that going for us. We’ve got up until the beginning of the Chinese New Year next year to really get this behind us. I hope it comes back before then because we still have a good, steady market all the time in Asia. If we can get to that point, we’ll be alright.
It’s a positive time of the year to have one if we’ve got to have a crisis. It’s not a positive time to have a crisis anytime. That is very positive. I was really worried initially that the price might go to $3 or $4 per pound. That would basically put everybody out of business, but it didn’t go there. It’s staying pretty stable around $8 per pound. I think we’re alright as long as it doesn’t go below $5 per pound - that is really getting way down there. If we can keep it at $6 per pound or above - and again, we don’t decide that, as you know. It’s your buyers and processors.
The processors have really stepped up to the plate. They’ve stepped up to the plate and taken a lot more product. The new holding facility program that we’ve put in place for holding lobsters - they can hold lobsters up to a year now and they’re just the same quality as when they came out of the water, if they’re handled properly to get there. We have all that working for us.
The big thing over time is that we still have the market. They still really like our product. I’d be really worried if they would have upset the market - not a disease causing the problem, but that we would have some kind of hiccup in the marketplace that said they don’t want Nova Scotia lobsters anymore. I would have been really concerned about that because the demand is there. They love our lobsters, they love the quality, they love the fact that they come from the clean, pristine waters of Nova Scotia - the whole nine yards that we’ve been marketing for the last several years now. That would be more of a concern to me than this.
This eventually will go away - the sooner, the better, but it will go away. In the meantime, we’re always looking for new markets. We’re marketing all over the world. That’s one reason why we go to Brussels every year. We see customers from all over the world. That’s why we travel so much, and it’s paid off. It really has paid off. There was $925 million when I took the portfolio almost seven years ago. Now we’re $2.3 billion. The numbers speak for themselves.
We made small investments in marketing, but I’ve got an incredible marketing team that works for me. We get a lot done. Combine that with the expertise of the industry, working in an environment and with the trade commissions in the countries we work in, it’s a really fantastic team for working with our marketing.
I can guarantee you, in the fishing industry, we’re the envy of the country. New Brunswick said, the last time I saw them on a trade mission, we’re just copying what you guys are doing because we can’t do it as good as you do. That was quite a compliment for us and our team that we have working, and that goes for the industry because the industry has been incredibly good at this.
COLTON LEBLANC: I thank the minister for that answer. I spoke previously about the U.S. purchasing our lobsters, which is alright, but then rebranding them and then selling them to other markets. Are there any potential negative impacts for our product following that practice?
KEITH COLWELL: It has been something we’ve been doing ever since we started catching lobsters or any kind of fish. The Americans are really good at marketing and taking advantage of our products.
You ask some of the processors down in your area if they put Nova Scotia lobster on the band and see what kind of call they get. You be there and take the call. It’s a screaming match: Don’t put those tags on anymore because we’ve got to take them all off and put our tags on. That’s really what that’s about. They even market our lobsters in the U.S. as Maine lobsters. So, they can say all that stuff, but talk to some of your processors down there and they’ll tell you how it works.
That’s one of the reasons we came out with our seafood brand - 45° North 63° West - to really designate us separately. It’s good to see the federal government is going to a tracking system to track the lobsters from the harvest right to the customer. That’s going to cause all kinds of problems with the Americans. They’re going to be really upset about that. For us, for marketing, it’s going to be great. It’s really going to be good. People want to see it. With the phones we have today, people want to say - it’s down to a point now that we could track that particular lobster right back to that fisherman. That could be a nice little story about the fisherman and where he caught the lobster and all that kind of stuff.
We actually had lobsters in China with tags on them about where they came from. People were all excited about it. We had a picture of the boat. I’m not quite sure of that exact boat, but it was in that community where it was caught. They were all excited to see the boat and this is the lobster. It’s a lot of excitement.
I can tell you, when we go to Asia and if you pick up a lobster in Asia in a room of 200 or 300 people, and you hold it up on the stage - they always have a stage set up - no matter what they’re doing, everything stops. They go straight to the stage and see what’s going to happen because they love our lobsters. I mean, the marketing has been incredible. It really has paid off.
Again, I stress the companies have done such a great job. We go in and set up the atmosphere for it, work with the trade commissioners, and they go in and they really know how to sell. It has been a really good partnership. I can’t say enough positive about our companies.
COLTON LEBLANC: You mentioned those tags and how it could be an option for our province to market our lobsters. Would that be something that your department would look at implementing across the province - that you’d have some sort of identification number on the tag that could be tracked on a phone or computer and that said it was caught in Clark’s Harbour, Nova Scotia? Or is that too much trouble because they’re going to say, like you mentioned, don’t put on Product of Nova Scotia because they’re going to get ripped off and rebranded either way?
KEITH COLWELL: That’s a very good question. We’re absolutely doing that right now. We’re just finding a way we can label the lobsters without harming them. It’s quite complicated to get something that will stand - so you can cook it with the tag on so it doesn’t cause any food safety issues and you can still read the tag - whatever the tag is - and it doesn’t harm the lobster and diminish the quality in any way or in any of its health.
We’ve been looking at this for some time and there are some solutions. We’re looking at that. The customer is demanding traceability now, and more and more as that comes in place - especially in Europe. Europe is way ahead of us and anywhere else in the world. If you can trace where that came from right to the boat, right to the area it was caught in, they’ll buy that before they’ll buy anything else. It’s just that simple. It’s getting the same way in Asia.
COLTON LEBLANC: At present, how much of our market, percentage-wise, is in the Chinese market? You said earlier that they want everything if I’m not mistaken. Looking forward and preparing for the future - and, hopefully, not having situations like we are currently faced with - is there a number that we’re going to say, no, we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, we want to spread them right across the boards? Could you address that, please?
KEITH COLWELL: You raise a very good point and I agree with you. We’ve been very fortunate in the Asian market overall. Asia overall is about 32 per cent of our total sales of all seafood, and the United States is 45 per cent and the European Union is about 10 per cent. There are other ones outside the European Union.
We’re really working. We’ve got a new European Union strategy that we’re working on. That’s how we got into China, as well. The Premier came up with a Chinese – really, an Asia strategy, which has worked really well. We’re doing the same thing now in Europe that we have been doing for almost two years. We have free trade agreements with them that the U.S. doesn’t have.
We’re always interested in diversifying our market. We’d be in more trouble if the U.S. closed the border on us, and that could happen. For instance, if this virus gets into Canada and not into the U.S., guaranteed there would be nothing coming out of the U.S. and nothing going into the U.S. That could be a bigger risk for us than China has been so far.
COLTON LEBLANC: If we’re faced with that unfortunate closure of the U.S. border, what would be our contingency plan for the lobster industry in our province?
KEITH COLWELL: We would probably pick up some of the markets where - in the short term it would take a little while - some of the places that they’re selling lobsters to, they claim they come from Boston lobster. We’d probably pick up some new markets there, but not enough to accomplish all that. A lot of our lobsters are consumed - we really should be talking about overall seafood - in the U.S. because they’ve got a demand for really high-quality seafood, no matter what it is, as you are well aware from the community you live in.
It would be a major problem for us. It really would be a major problem. It could happen for all kinds of reasons. The President of the United States has been doing some interesting things, so anything could happen. Again, who knows? We’ll have to wait and see. I’m just hoping that there’s an antidote or a vaccine or something to get for this virus soon. I don’t think it looks too possible, but who knows? It’s like playing the lottery. What’s your chance of winning? You’d probably lose more times than you win.
Again, we’re doing everything we can. We’re doing really aggressive marketing. We’ve stepped up all that. We’re working with the industries, keeping in touch with them all the time - everything we can do. We look at the industry as our partners and we’ve developed a really good working relationship at the staff level, at my level, all the way through. They’re very frank discussions we have with them. We don’t always agree, but we always come to a mutual understanding that is really of benefit to the province. As long as we can get to that, I’m super happy, they’re super happy and our economy grows, and your fishermen get more money for the lobsters and the other products they get.
COLTON LEBLANC: The line of questioning towards the end here is a lot of hypotheticals and what-ifs. It’s to open up our eyes to everyone around the table of the importance of our fishery in our province and preparing for what could be a worse event next time, unfortunately.
With that, I want to thank the minister and all his staff for their time, answering my questions and the questions from my colleagues. I have no more questions.
THE CHAIR: Minister Colwell, we have 20 minutes left.
KEITH COLWELL: Just before we finish, I would like to thank you for bringing these concerns forward. What you brought forward is very legitimate, very real. We’ve been working on this. I’m glad to hear that you’re thinking the same way we are. It’s always good to have that second opinion on these things. It’s very, very important. Anything that I can do personally to help in your community, or our staff can do, just let us know and we’ll be there to help you with it.
Again, not disputing your lobster capital of Canada, BUT I think the world is a better way to put it. I can’t support that because I’d be in trouble with another community, but I would be disappointed if you didn’t do that.
Again, thank you so much for that because this is something that affects the whole province, so we all have to work towards a solution. The solution is not going to be easy, but it’s very possible. Thank you.
THE CHAIR: Are there any questions? Mr. LeBlanc.
COLTON LEBLANC: The minister indicated he had some closing remarks.
THE CHAIR: He only needs a couple of minutes. You still have about 19 minutes if you’d like to take them.
COLTON LEBLANC: Let me think off the cuff here. You put me on the spot. Unfortunately, the coronavirus is right on the top of my mind right now.
What preparations and what steps - this is following through the report. Although you’re confident that there won’t be any negative impacts at the end of this virus, what assurances can you provide to Nova Scotians that there won’t be any negative impacts and any fall in the market to the Asian countries?
KEITH COLWELL: I can’t give a guarantee, of course, but one thing I can tell you is - you’ll recall when the lady was arrested in B.C. The repercussions from the China market were across the country, basically, but the repercussions stopped in New Brunswick. There’s a reason they didn’t hit Nova Scotia. It’s because of the relationship the Premier has made on the political level in China for our products. We are preferred suppliers. When canola was a problem and pork was a problem, our sales were going up in double digits, with absolutely no issue of bringing products in.
I’m very confident that with the relationships we’ve built in Asia, and China in particular. it’s about the relationships we build with people. If you build a good, solid relationship with the people, those are everlasting. They will be there to work with you as you move forward. Those relationships are hard to build. It takes a long time and it takes a lot of concerted effort and a lot of trust on both sides. But when you get those in place, all of a sudden, a deal that looks impossible is very easy to do. Very, very easy.
I’ll give you one example. One of our seafood companies has been very, very active in China. This goes for Vietnam, Japan, Korea - all Asia. They were negotiating a container-load of seafood products. They negotiated a price for the first one in U.S. funds, which was $10,000 higher for that one container-load than we would if we shipped it to the U.S. The gentleman who was doing the deal was excited.
Then he had four more container-loads that were ordered over the next few months, one every so-many weeks. He said, I’m going to fix the price. I said, no, don’t fix the price; you have got a good rapport with this company. He said, we do. They’re great to work with. We’ve sent some stuff before. I said, what you do is you tell him you can’t guarantee the price on the next ones because and I explained to him - if your supply goes up, if you had to pay more at the shore price, and where your costs go up in any way, you’re going to have to put the price up. He said, they won’t accept it. I said, you just try it and see.
He made a deal on the first one - $10,000 above anything else he could get for it anywhere else in the world. He went back to them that evening and came back the next day. He said, guess what? We got the fixed price and a minimum price on the one I’ve got, I can accelerate the price on the other three, and I can change the price on each one.
That’s when you’ve got a customer that you really have a relationship with, and they don’t go away, especially in Asia. A lot of these relationships take almost a lifetime. Once you get that relationship, you’ve got it and it doesn’t go away, unless you don’t treat them properly in a transaction.
That’s why I’m very confident that the market will be back. I’ve seen it myself. When all this stuff was going on with the federal government around the lady being arrested - and there were repercussions from that - we had absolutely the opposite effect. We sold more product. We’re the only ones in the country that did that.
COLTON LEBLANC: I want to talk a little bit about exporting of our products, whether it be lobster or fish - I guess any products that come from Nova Scotia. We’ve heard that the ferry will resume in Yarmouth on June 26th. I’m wondering if there has been any consultation with the trucking sector or exporters - particularly in southwestern Nova Scotia - to see whether trucks will be able to be accommodated on that ferry. If so, with the schedule as presented - 9:30 a.m. Atlantic leaving Yarmouth and 3:00 p.m. Eastern returning from Bar Harbor - will that be an appropriate schedule for those exporters?
KEITH COLWELL: Actually, the Yarmouth ferry doesn’t take trucks. They all go through Saint John. That may help with more space on the Saint John ferry; people may go to Yarmouth instead. It will have no impact on our shipping the fish. They’ve got that down to a pretty fine science, and they’ve got it down to the minute to arrive at the ferry. If they don’t get there in time, they don’t even go - they drive around.
They’ve been doing that for I don’t know how many years, to get to the seafood market in Boston just before it opens to get it unloaded and get that fresh fish right there. We’ve got a reputation for being some of the best fish in the world in that marketplace.
COLTON LEBLANC: I’ve spoken with constituents who are involved in the exporting sector - whether it be truckers, for example - who have been negatively impacted by the seasons of drydock - the ferry in Digby - or by the cancellations, which on different occasions are unavoidable, of course. They’re advocating for a conventional ferry or a ferry that could take transport trucks, that could accommodate to the needs of southwestern Nova Scotia to export our valuable product to that market, to allow the drivers to not be as fatigued.
I guess this is more of a question for the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, but would that be an option to pursue? You said that they have it down to a science in Digby, but do you believe that it would be beneficial for the constituents of southwestern Nova Scotia - those who export - to have a conventional ferry that could accommodate the trucking sector for exports?
KEITH COLWELL: By all means. All we need is your Party’s support to do it. You’ll have to work on that one.
We’ve been working with the Yarmouth airport, as well. I’d love to see that as a location that we can send some of these super jets out of - cargo jets. That would be just-in-time delivery from the facilities there. Anything you can do to help us work with the Yarmouth airport, we’d be very interested to do that.
The trouble is that they’ve got to extend the runway. The rest of the infrastructure there looks like it can handle it; there’s the fuel lane, there’s de-icing. Where you’re so close to the supply of the lobsters in particular and other products, they could be there just in time for the plane to arrive, load up the plane, change the crew or whatever they do, and then fly on. It would be a big boon for the whole shore down that way, as much as the ferry is that’s going back in this year.
Work on your caucus on that one. I know it’s a tough sell, and getting the support of the ferry we’re working on. We’ll work on it together, getting one that can take the trucks, because it would be a big benefit.
COLTON LEBLANC: I’ll be clear for the record that we support the ferry, but a ferry that’s accountable, transparent and sustainable. That’s a topic for another day. Although I disagreed with your statement regarding that and our caucus’s support of the ferry, I stand firm on my opinion about the ferry.
I do appreciate your comments about the Yarmouth airport. Although it’s essential distribution for the major cargo, as is in Halifax now, I am optimistic of your point of view regarding the opportunity to revitalize the Yarmouth airport. The use is very slim, just for EHS LifeFlight, for search and rescue training out of Greenwood, for example.
What opportunities or what path should government take to explore that, to partner with the Yarmouth International Airport Corporation, for example?
KEITH COLWELL: We’ve been talking to the Yarmouth airport quite a bit. Our problem is how we could fund an extended runway. Then we’d have to get a charter plane to come in. It’s a pretty complex issue to resolve, but it’s doable. We’re very interested in pursuing that opportunity, and the Yarmouth airport people are.
We’ve been holding meetings between the industry and ourselves and the Yarmouth airport people. We haven’t come to something that will work yet. If you would like to have a chat with me afterwards, I can tell you why that may be changing positively for Yarmouth. I’ll share some information with you that you probably don’t know and I don’t really want to talk about in this setting, but it’s important that you do know about it.
It’s something that’s affecting the industry as a whole. It’s small - it’s like a splinter in your finger, but the splinter is going to fester and it’s going to get to be a bigger problem. At that time, we’re really going to need the Yarmouth airport.
COLTON LEBLANC: I caught the tail end of the discussion about my constituency and one of the municipalities I represent, the Municipality of Argyle. You mentioned about helping communities that don’t have an economic advisor or community development officer. Why doesn’t your department have in-house staff dedicated for that purpose?
KEITH COLWELL: Through our AFF fund, we have been very proactive. I think we’ve actually met with your municipality. If not, we will be meeting with them to talk about opportunities where they may be able to help their industries in the area become more efficient or less labour intensive, or whatever the case may be. They’ve been great to work with, as I say. If they’re interested in aquaculture, we would be only too pleased to talk to them and help them through that process where they may not have the expertise on developing that. We’d very closely work with them, if they’re interested, like we have with Argyle.
We’re there to work together and we really appreciate the work we do in their area down there. It’s very critical to Nova Scotia’s economy, especially the community you represent - as all the fishing communities are in the province. We’re probably the first government in a long time that has really recognized the fishing industry, aquaculture industry and agriculture industry as really key contributors to the economy, and how important those contributions are to everybody in the province. They pay a tremendous amount of tax that goes into building hospitals here, building roads and doing all the other things that happen.
Every time that they get $12 per pound for lobsters, they’re paying a lot of tax. That tax goes right back into the system to help do the pre-Primary school stuff and all the other stuff that’s possible and will hopefully continue to be possible as we grow these industries and make them even more profitable.
COLTON LEBLANC: In times of uncertainty like these, surrounded by the coronavirus, I have to appreciate the initiative of the announcement of Nova Scotia Lobster Day, which happens to be tomorrow, if memory serves me right. Hopefully, members and Nova Scotians can enjoy some lobster on that day.
It really emphasizes the point of supporting Nova Scotia products and the initiatives last weekend of Buy Local and the new stickers for the products that are coming out of our province. Like I said, it really puts the emphasis for Nova Scotians to support our own industries that are out there.
I mentioned in the House earlier this session about initiatives like the Nova Scotia Lobster Crawl, coordinated by the South Shore Co-operative, who really want to emphasize during the month of February - which is typically a slower part of our lobster season - to surround the community about anything to do with lobster, from cooking contests - the Lobster Shack restaurant won the best lobster roll along the South Shore for the second time in three years - to craft beer festivals to weekend getaways at Trout Point Lodge. I’m very supportive of that initiative.
I guess to wrap things up, can you speak a little of the Buy Local initiative and the importance for Nova Scotians to support local and what measures or what initiatives your department is looking at to implement in the future to hit that out of the park?
KEITH COLWELL: I’ll talk about Buy Local. Cut me off when I’m done.
THE CHAIR: If I may just add one thing: the Yarmouth area supports the lobster with their Gran Fondo. Over 1,200 lobsters are served right after the Gran Fondo. I enjoyed one of them.
KEITH COLWELL: That’s really good to hear. Actually, last Saturday, as you’ve seen in the media, we announced our Taste of Nova Scotia buy local campaign. Just over a year ago, it was obvious we weren’t achieving the buy local numbers that we really should get to, so I wrapped up the Select Nova Scotia program.
I told the story earlier - my deputy now was then the executive director who looked after the Select Nova Scotia program. The team was doing a great job. They were doing exactly what they were supposed to do, but they weren’t instructed to do the right things. I stole away from her some money, some staff and we wrapped up the Select Nova Scotia program and I survived. That’s all I can tell you. Now she’s deputy. I don’t know what transpired there, but anyway, it’s fantastic news.
We wrapped that up and we’ve been a whole year building the Taste of Nova Scotia program. We have all the major food chains on side for the first time in history. We’ve got Sobeys, Loblaws, and Walmart. Costco is not signed on yet, but they’re coming on. We’ve got Masstown Market. We’ve got all the farmers markets. This is a province-wide, major promotional print campaign to buy local.
I’ve told this story already a couple times before you came in. We were in Clayton Park to the Sobeys store there and we were labelling, putting on stickers, really highlighting Taste of Nova Scotia for the event. We were holding the event there. It was one of the places. We had them all across the whole province. We looked for two items that were put on the shelves the night before that were Nova Scotia products. We couldn’t find them. We went to the store staff there and asked if they’d put them out. Yes, we did, they’re all sold out. Once the signs went on them for the Nova Scotia product, they all sold out - they were gone.
We’re on the right track. Now when you go in the grocery store, you’re going to see different labelling. You’re going to see labelling for Taste Nova Scotia.
THE CHAIR: Order. The time has elapsed.
Shall Resolution 10 stand?
Resolution 10 stands.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 7:01 p.m.]