HALIFAX, MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2016
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Gordon Wilson
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, I'd like to call the Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply to order. We will continue with the estimates of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. I believe we have 21 minutes left for questions from the NDP.
The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
HON. STERLING BELLIVEAU: It has been an interesting couple of days, and I'll get right back to where we left off, and I'm going to try to get to some other questions as we move through our portion of this time. I want to just return to the lobster-handling course. We discussed that in our previous session on Friday afternoon. I took the minister's advice, and I can tell you that I went back and spoke with the industry. I am more confident now than I was when I left here Friday in suggesting that there are some large concerns with the buyers on this topic, and I point to some of the comments I made on Friday.
I am aware that the minister said that he had four letters of support from various different groups across Nova Scotia. I respect that. What I thought I heard the minister say is that he would produce those letters today, and I'm looking forward to that. My first question is, can the minister explain to the committee the schedule of the lobster-handling course in the upcoming months?
HON. KEITH COLWELL: We have been working with the fish packers, SPANS, and the lobster processing association, and we have come to an agreement. Unfortunately, I cannot discuss that agreement. I believe there are seven or nine points we have come up with that we agree on, but the most important thing we have agreed on is that we're going to work together from this point forward - or that point forward, when we come up with the initial agreement on moving forward - and not just on lobster handling but on other issues that we can help and work with the industry.
We truly respect their knowledge of the industry and the hard work they do and the importance they are to Nova Scotia's economy - probably one of the most important that exists in the province and one of the businesses that does not always come to our doorstep looking for money, which is a really positive thing.
As I said the other day, the lobster-handling course is going to be handled and also a registry at the community college. We're working towards getting programs put together for individuals who do not necessarily want to take a written test for whatever reason, it doesn't really matter to us at all; if people want to take a written, that's fine. Also, to make it convenient for processors and the individuals who want to pursue maybe training in their own facilities or however they want to do it and also agreed that the processors themselves, or the buyers themselves, can designate whoever they want to take the training. That was one of the stumbling points that we had.
We looked at other issues as well. At the end of the day we came up with an agreement that will work very positively, we're just fine-tuning that, and once that's fine- tuned we'll be making that whole thing public.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I will return to this in my other time allotted, but I need to move on. Before I leave this particular question dealing with the lobster-handling course, I can tell you there are some serious concerns. I'm just as confident now that the buyers - and I spoke with the president of Nova Scotia fish packers and he shares the same view, so there's a gap. I'll leave this topic as I move on to another topic with one question regarding the lobster-handling course.
We have several months left in 2016, and the minister has indicated that this will be mandatory. My scenario that I paint to you - and, again, this was asked by a major buyer in the homework that I did when I went home this weekend, and the scenario goes like this. On December 1, 2016, let's say there's 300 buyers who haven't participated in this program, or between now and March 2017 if those 300 have not complied with your mandatory request, what happens then? What happens to those buyers? What happens if the 300 were in southwest Nova Scotia for instance? Can you explain that to the committee?
MR. COLWELL: I can't tell you exactly what the terms of the agreement are, but I believe you meant to say January 1, 2017, not December 2016, so I would assume that's the date that you're talking about. At this point, with what we've tentatively agreed on, that would not be an issue.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Just before I move on - it would not be an issue if they did not comply by January 1st. I was making reference to that because December is a very busy month; it's just common sense you're not going to get people in. If these 300 have not complied by January 1, 2017, for clarification, what would happen to those particular individuals?
MR. COLWELL: Once the agreement is finalized, that will not be an issue - and we're going to finalize the agreement.
For the record, the president of the fish packers has agreed to the points of the agreement. We have it in writing.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I'm going to move on here, and I'm sure I can return later on in my allotted time.
In a different direction now, the federal DFO is mandated to govern the licensing of fishermen and fishers across the Atlantic Provinces. One of the issues that has arisen over a number of decades was the owner/operator policy, and I think you're very familiar with that, basically protecting the independence of fishermen. In 2007, there was a statement by the federal minister at that time basically suggesting the dismantling of trust agreements. This was given an allotted amount of time. In 2014, that was all supposed to be carried out. But there was also a condition in there suggesting that there would be an audit by the federal government on any given time to review this policy.
You alluded to the fact that you'll be meeting with the federal minister, Mr. Tootoo, in June in New Brunswick. There is some concern or controversy around the present suggestion that there is a product agreement now with fishers. The industry has brought this to my attention, and my question is, will you be asking Minister Tootoo to do an audit on this particular policy, and have you had any discussions regarding this policy in your mandate?
MR. COLWELL: We haven't received any information from the federal government on that, and I know you're concerned about owner/operators. I am, and we support the owner/operator model. But we haven't heard anything from the federal government. It's something we will bring up with the government. Nobody in the community has brought it up to us either. It would be really good if you could bring a particular case in point forward to us or have them contact us and let us know what they're hearing and what they think.
MR. BELLIVEAU: In the interest of time, I raised this question during one of the previous sessions on this topic. I think the industry is interested to know that the federal government is auditing this particular policy and reviewing it. We'll leave it at that.
My other question is, each year the minister hosts a ministers' conference, and this year is no different. My understanding is that this particular year there was concern from individuals or groups that wanted another topic added to the agenda. My understanding from listening to the community is, the issue of oil and gas and the use of dispersants in the Shelburne Basin was suggested for a topic to be held at the ministers' conference, and also it has been suggested to me that that had not been supported. My question is, can you give us an update on that particular scenario? Are those facts right?
MR. COLWELL: That is correct. We have since met with that individual and an individual from the industry that we respect greatly and suggest that they bring that topic up with the appropriate board members from the fishery that are in that field. We support them doing that. They made a very good case, and we're very interested in it.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Just for clarification: my understanding is that the scenario that I tried to paint was correct. My interest is that that is an important topic, and I certainly raised that in the other Chamber of this House, the concern about dispersants. I can tell you when I raised it with the Minister of Energy, he called me an unparliamentarily word that actually had to be corrected by the Speaker. How I'm trying to paint the situation is that the Minister of Energy painted a picture that, basically, I didn't know what I was talking about when it came to the concern of dispersants. Again, this is something that is of great interest to the fishing community, in southwest Nova Scotia particularly, and I'm making reference to Shelburne Basin, in particular the blocks of Areas 3 and 4.
I think what the Minister of Energy - I can't get in his mind, but I think his concern was that the local knowledge is that the tidal flow did not have any influence on the Bay of Fundy. I think that there was actually charts that will prove otherwise, dealing with the Labrador Current, and I'm not going into details, but the industry is concerned about that issue of the use of dispersants.
Now, to me it should be on the minister's agenda when you have a conference like this, and I don't know, I'll give you an opportunity to respond, but it is of great importance. There is an influence in the Bay of Fundy. The lobster box protected area is in close proximity to Areas 3 and 4, the Shelburne Basin, and it has a large influence on that particular area. In fact, the lobster box was built in the 1970s and it was determined at the time that it would actually be a nursery for the Bay of Fundy and the southwest shore. So, again, we have the Minister of Energy saying one thing and the industry saying something else. I'm asking for the minister to comment on that particular scenario.
MR. COLWELL: Yes, and indeed we did look at that, even though we didn't have a presentation on the fishing industry at that point on the energy issue you're talking about. We did provide information to all the attendees at the program on basically who to talk to, who to lobby, and indeed who to bring the information to, and we gave them complete information regarding that.
We also indicated that, anything we can do if you don't get a response from somebody that's representing the fishing industry on this board, because it's quite an extensive number of people on the board that advises energy, please let us know and I would raise that issue with the Minister of Energy. If the industry feels that anyone on that board is not truly representing the fishing industry, we haven't heard anything back. Energy is the lead on this file, that's why we didn't have it at the ministers' conference, and it's a concern for the industry. We're very aware of the concern and there's a lobbying process that has to go on that can directly influence what energy does in that field.
There's several members on that list and we can provide the list to you. I don't think we have it here today of who they are, but we will do that shortly. We could probably do that tomorrow and provide that information to you, who they are, and I would ask you to distribute it to anyone in the industry who has a concern about this and ask them to make those contacts and let their opinions be known.
I think that's going to be the best way to handle this, and unfortunately we're not the lead on it, or however you want to look at it, and it really has to go through Energy. That's why I'd also suggest maybe you address this with the Energy Minister in their estimates.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Thank you very much, and time goes by quickly here. I want to go back to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board. In the previous year we suggested that there were two vacancies and I'm glad that they are being filled, we've asked that question a number of times.
Again, in the absence of time, in southwest Nova Scotia, if I can go back to December 2015, roughly, there was a Newfoundland and Labrador company that proposed an offshore wind energy project for southwest Nova Scotia - literally directly off from my home or the tri-counties, and I would say it's probably the busiest, most active, productive fishing area in Canada. In the news release it suggested that there would be no harm or it would not affect the fishing ground or the fishing industry. I took note of that because it's very active.
My question is that we have made every effort to contact this company, as a Party and the office, and we haven't been successful. I'm deeply concerned with this proposal going forward and I know, in fairness to the company, they have gone to the Yarmouth area and met with some of the industrial commissions or the different groups there. I guess my question to you is, do you share those same concerns of the heavy activity of the fishing industry in that area? To me there needs to be some consultation between the two groups.
MR. COLWELL: I always feel it's important to have consultation between the two groups. I'm not familiar with that proposal. Anything that could negatively impact the fishing industry or positively affect the fishing industry, although it seems like that's rarer than the negative things, we are very interested.
Again, that's an Energy issue that should be addressed through the board that they have. I would suggest that the more people you can get to contact the representatives from the fishing industry on that board, the more effective all of this is going to be as these projects move forward. It's a bit nerve-racking if you can't get hold of somebody with the contact information that you have. Just a suggestion, if you can give us the name of the company afterwards, we'll see if we can find some contact information someplace. We'd be only too pleased to provide it to you if we can get it.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Quickly, just to back up, you suggested that because this is wind energy - this is an overlap - that this is an Energy issue, I heard you say. I think you made a reference to the dispersant issues. To me, yes, they are overlapping between two departments, but the fishing industry is as important as energy so there has to be a consideration there to protect the fishing industry. I think there has to be a reasonable measure of interest from each minister. Can you comment on that particular scenario?
MR. COLWELL: We're very concerned about anything that will damage the fishing industry and internally we lobby the Department of Energy. The more that the community can lobby as well with the people on that board, the better. As I said before, if there's any concern about the representation or if there needs to be more representation on it, we can always request that from the Department of Energy. But again, at the end of the day they will make the decision who sits on that and who doesn't. But we're very concerned with anything that would affect the fishery in any way.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I'll continue. To me the Digby ferry is a crucial transportation link and yet there's 30 per cent less truckage on that at any given time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the NDP has expired. We'll now rotate to the Progressive Conservative caucus.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. LARRY HARRISON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. There is a matter happening in my constituency that has taken a lot of time and energy out of a lot of people, and of course I'm referring to the Alton gas project. There are a number of reasons why folks are kind of contrary to the project, and I don't want to get into all those because the minister is here for fisheries.
I'm wondering what the department did to satisfy themselves that the salt will not do any damage going into the Shubenacadie River and the bay that's nearby.
MR. COLWELL: Actually the only involvement I have is under the Department of Agriculture, regarding the dykes in the area. That's it. The rest of it, the salt in the water and all that, is under DFO. They're migratory fish, and anything that travels from saltwater into the freshwater - you're talking about bass and other fish that go there. The salinity in the water has all been investigated by DFO, and an environmental review has been done by them. Unfortunately, we have no jurisdiction there whatsoever.
MR. HARRISON: I'm just surprised at that. I would have thought that they would run through the Departments of Agriculture and Fisheries as to what would be the possible risk to the fish in that area. But as you say, you have not been privy to that information. So I guess I'm going to have to ask another minister what the results were because that's one of the main components in the opposition at this point.
MR. COLWELL: I just want to make sure on that. I was correct in what I said. This is DFO regarding the fish and all the fish in the system - well, all migratory fish. The only other department in government you might want to talk to would be the Department of Environment because they had to do an environment review, and I don't know what that entailed. We had actually no input on this. The only thing I had under Agriculture was the dyke there. As you know, they destroyed a bit of the dyke, but they did fix it. Now they have a permit from us to move forward with the dyke, which has no impact at all on the operation they're doing.
MR. HARRISON: I thank the minister for his answers. I will ask the Department of Environment what they found and how they have addressed this fishery problem.
MR. COLWELL: If we have any reports from DFO, we'd be only too pleased to share them with you. I would suggest maybe getting a hold of DFO and seeing if they have anything there that they can provide on the assessments they've done. I don't know what we have, but whatever we have, we'll be only too pleased to forward to you. I know there's a serious concern there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. TIM HOUSTON: I thank the minister and his staff for being here today. I was actually going to just follow up on that and ask, did the minister or any of your staff have any discussions with DFO on that particular issue? Is it hands-off and over at the DFO?
MR. COLWELL: DFO doesn't really consult with us, quite frankly. We deal with DFO on a lot of issues. I can just check and find out what they did, but I don't think there's very much.
It's exactly what I thought. I asked both my inland fisheries director and executive director for fisheries overall, and they don't consult with us. They don't have to consult with us on these things. It's unfortunate. We have other issues that we're working with them on that we'd like to get some movement on. We're working on it.
MR. HOUSTON: I'll switch gears and talk about aquaculture, specifically oyster leases. How many oyster leases have been issued in the province?
MR. COLWELL: I don't know the exact number, I know it's quite a few. We're going to have to have a little look. I know there's several of them, many of them, but we'll get you the exact number.
MR. HOUSTON: Okay, I'm just wondering, like the order of magnitude, would it be hundreds or dozens?
MR. COLWELL: In excess of 100, I would think.
MR. HOUSTON: Maybe the staff can check that. I wanted to get some perspective on how many are available. If there's 100 issued, are there 300 suitable areas type of thing? I'm just trying to get a sense of kind of where we're at.
MR. COLWELL: Well, we're going to do assessments on the areas over time, now that we have our new regulations in place. I think they're going to turn up quite a few other sites that aren't in use now or haven't a licence now. There's a large number of sites that weren't in production that we are going to take back under the new regulations and make them available to people who may be interested in putting them in production, if they meet all the new requirements we have under aquaculture.
Also, most of the aquaculture sites for oysters are in use. The only ones that are in the Bras d'Or Lakes typically have MSX, and we're working on solutions for that now and we have been for some time.
MR. HOUSTON: You mentioned that there's a number of sites that are being taken back because they're not in production. Do you have a number as to how many sites are being taken back? Presumably that means the lease is cancelled, I guess, is it?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, there's approximately a half-dozen sites but again, we investigate them all and give people an opportunity to put them in production. If they're not interested in putting them in production, we're not going to let them continue to hold them.
MR. HOUSTON: So six sites have been taken back because they've been deemed not in production?
MR. COLWELL: Approximately. It's a fluid number until we actually take them back.
MR. HOUSTON: The "not in production," is that a defined term - when you say a site is taken back because it's not in production, is there some rate that they have to get over?
MR. COLWELL: Well anyone that's not in production has not been in production. They had an opportunity to come back and put a plan together of how they are going to put the production and that point has gone by now in all of them. Then, if they did present a plan, they have so much longer to put it in production. So it's a very slow, fair process to make sure that if anyone really wants to use it, it's there. If not, we don't want to hold it up because somebody has a gold-mine attitude that if they hold onto this thing it will be worth a whole pile of cash for them down the road someday.
It's a public resource and a resource that can help grow our economy so we don't want to see the economy suffer because somebody is sitting on an oyster lease, or any lease for that matter, and not actually using it.
MR. HOUSTON: I understand a valid lease is good for 10 years.
MR. COLWELL: The new ones will be. The old ones were anywhere from three to five years; the new ones will all be 10 years or a bit longer.
It's actually a new approval now that's good for 10 years and the lease itself is good for 20, but there's some real restrictions on that. If people don't use it, if they don't use it properly, if they're not looking after the environmental monitoring, all the things in the new regulations, we now have the ability to take the lease back anytime.
MR. HOUSTON: I did talk to a fisher who said he had a lease, it was a 10-year lease, and then after 10 years he could renew it for five.
MR. COLWELL: The leases now, anyone who is renewing it now, will be renewed for a 20-year lease and a 10-year licence. The two things go together. That way you can go to the bank and you can get some pretty stable financing because a lot of these sites take three to five years, maybe longer to get them in production, and you need to be able to go to the bank and get cash flow and long-term financing to make these things work.
Under the new regulations it has changed, but it used to be what you're talking about before. Any new ones now, even ones that are renewal, we go to the longer period of time. This whole process, too, will help cut down the red tape and delays in doing things.
MR. HOUSTON: Right, so that's kind of where I'm going with this because this individual indicated that they got a letter in the summer that they had to renew by October. They responded to that letter in September, so a month before, roughly. Then there was a 30-day public notice - I don't know - somewhere. That happened in January. As we sit here now, approaching May, still no renewal, so they're saying to me, why the delay? This is the time when they want to be harvesting oysters and they don't know what to do.
So I guess my question would be that presumably you would be upset hearing those kind of delays within the department, would you?
MR. COLWELL: Typically those kinds of delays at the present time would only be because of incomplete applications, that's usually the problem. If you would like to share that with myself or my staff after this - of course I can't talk about an individual file here - we'd be only too willing to discuss it with you and let you know what the holdup has been. Typically we want these things renewed as quickly as possible. We have a time constraint on that.
Unless we haven't received all the detailed information we need, and we need a lot more information now than we used to, because we're new monitoring. If it's a shellfish site it's pretty straightforward, typically. It's not the same as a finfish site. Typically the way it works now is you get a notice to renew your lease, or licence I should say - lease or licence, it depends what the term on it is and where they are at in that process. Then we would ask for certain information on the site. The standard information for everybody is exactly the same. Then the application would be received, hopefully complete, absolutely complete. Then we would look at it and go to a public consultation period and that's just basically online, it's done by staff, it's a standard renewal, I have nothing to do with that. We've taken that away from the minister totally and I think that's the right thing to do, like we would with a fish plant.
If they meet all the criteria and they put it up on our website for comment, unless there's somebody in the community who comes up with a legitimate reason why there should be an investigation or there's something wrong or it doesn't meet the criteria of our regulations which we would look for ourselves, anything else like that, the application would be approved for the new time period and away you go.
We've done some in shellfish, finfish and land-based. We've done all three already and run them through as a pilot. Everything went well, we had only one or two comments back from the individuals and there were individuals who weren't even adjacent to the sites. But their issues were addressed and all three of those have been approved and we've got a whole batch now going again. It took us a little while to get everything straightened out but now it should be a pretty quick turnaround, as long as the applications are totally complete and we tell people exactly what we need, so it's not a matter of not telling them exactly what you need. If they don't know, they can easily call, our staff will sit down and talk to them about it and help them any way we can because we want these things approved and in production.
MR. HOUSTON: Yes, we do want them in production, that's for sure. You mentioned with this new process that it has already worked for a few - I don't know if it's one of each of those categories you mentioned or more than one but when would those have been approved? How new is this that that kind of process has been tested as working properly?
MR. COLWELL: Just in the last three, four months. We started the new application process in January and that's what the system will be from now on. Prior to that I would sign them off, based on recommendations from staff and an application they would have put in in the past. Basically the way the old system worked, they would send the renewal in and we would sign it off and that's how it has worked forever.
Now it has to go through a review process. People have an opportunity to go online or write us a letter or phone us, whatever the case may be, if they have any issues or recommendations. If someone says we like the company in our area, that's fine too. All this goes on the record and those are all on our website - total transparency in all this process now.
MR. HOUSTON: So started that process in January and have already had some go right through it, so it's like two to three months.
MR. COLWELL: The turnaround time would be about two months from the time they apply but they can apply anytime for the renewal in their lease, as long as they're getting close to the end, they can apply earlier. We want them to apply before it expires, well before, so we can put it through the process and have the new one in place well before the old one expires. That's the ideal situation we'd like to be in.
MR. HOUSTON: What's happening with the leases in my area, like down through Merigomish and Little Harbour. There was a whole series of applications made that were ultimately withdrawn and nobody has heard very much about them since then, to my knowledge. Will they go through this process?
MR. COLWELL: No, it's a different process because they're new leases. The leases go through a different process now. What happens now when someone is interested in an area they would have to write to me, as minister, and get permission to - an option to lease. Then once we decide whether there's going to be an option to lease or not, and that would be based on a lot of different things, one of them being economic impact for the community and also environmental issues that we might perceive. For instance with an MSX area, we wouldn't necessarily accept a lease application at this point unless they had some really good scientific background of what they're going to do and how they're going to do it.
Once that is made available to them, that's the last time I see the whole file. Actually, I wouldn't even know about it, except maybe get briefed on how many there are out there or whatever the case may be. Then it goes through to staff. They look at it to see if the science is correct around the location for currents, nutrition in the water, potential environmental issues, whatever the case may be, to make sure it's suitable for that type of aquaculture activity.
If they come back and say yes it is, we may have to do some evaluation or probably more likely we would make the company do that evaluation for the site to see if it meets all the criteria we have. If it does do that and it meets all those and everything that's put in the option is satisfied then the process would start for a formal application. Everything they've gathered up to the point of the formal application would be used in their application as well. So the time they spent on doing all these things is not wasted. No one else can apply for that particular site while this process is going on.
Then they go into the normal licensing process. For instance, if it looks like it's going to go ahead, then you would put in a formal application. Once a formal application is in and our department is satisfied that all the information is there, they would then send it out to all the partners we have. I believe there's seven different departments we have to send them to for feedback from all those. Any issues they had would go back to the proponent to say there's an issue with maybe a current in the area or the shipping lane or whatever the thing may be. Then the proponent has to go back and resolve those problems and come back again. Then once all that's satisfied, we go to the three-person panel that would make the ultimate decision on the application. They can either approve the application as is, they can approve it with amendments, or they can reject it. They are a totally independent panel.
MR. HOUSTON: So this is all part of the new regulations that were announced I think back in October?
MR. COLWELL: Yes.
MR. HOUSTON: So how many applications have gone through this new process?
MR. COLWELL: None, because we haven't opened it for applications yet. We're going to open it up very soon for shellfish. There's some sites that are offsite; existing leaseholders aren't on the proper site. They may be off a few feet, or they may be 200 or 300 feet off - whatever the case may be - or their anchors may be off where their sites are. Those sites are going to go through first. We're going to open it up for shellfish aquaculture because those are pretty straightforward. We're probably going to look at maybe finfish trout to see how that works. We want to really test our system as well on these things.
There's one other thing I think we're going to do too. That's all we're going to do initially. Once we get that done, then we will open it up after we test our system and make sure the system works properly. It's all new, and it's completely changed from where it has ever been in the province before and probably Atlantic Canada, I think. Once we do that, we'll open up the application including all types of finfish, shellfish - everything.
MR. HOUSTON: So it was announced in October, but it's not open yet. That strikes me as a long time. Is that not a long time?
MR. COLWELL: Really not. It's a very quick time actually. Don't forget we've had a moratorium imposed by the last government on some of the aquaculture activities. That was one of the reasons that these new regulations are coming in place.
Plus they needed to be changed anyway, the regulations. They should have been changed a long time ago. We've actually condensed the time substantially. I can tell you the staff we have in our office - I remember more than one time they said to me, we've got to have a meeting with you; we've got to go over these regulations and see where we're going to go. I said, the only day I can meet is a Sunday. The only answer I got back from my staff was, what time do you want to be here? They were all at work on Monday and Tuesday and all the rest of the week, and we did that. I can't say enough positive about the staff in my department around this file. They have moved probably two years' of work and done it thoroughly - absolutely thoroughly - in a few months. It has been phenomenal, the work ethic, the professionalism, and everything else they've done.
It has really set up a world-class aquaculture regulatory system, and I mean world class. If we're not the best-regulated in the world, we're either number two or number three in the world. It's just that simple. We reviewed every single regulatory system in detail in the whole world. We've come up with a system where we feel we can protect our environment, grow our economy, and also look after the concerns that are out there from the fishing industry, any ones they have. It's a really positive story, and it will become more obvious as we start looking at some different leases and going through the process.
I don't know if you've had a chance to look at our website now, but we've probably got the best website in all of government. It's proactive. Anything that we can make public is public on there. For instance, if somebody had some kind of issue on their site - a real issue, not somebody who has just dreamed up some complaint - but a real issue on the site. We'll indicate that we got the complaint - not from who, of course - we'll indicate what inspections were done and what orders were issued for enforcement by Environment. That's all going to be on the site and that will be on the site for that site from then on. The follow-ups will all be on there, totally transparent.
We don't want people out there in the community thinking we're not doing the job properly, looking after the environment and looking after this valuable resource that's so important with it and also not interfering with the traditional uses of the area.
MR. HOUSTON: You mentioned that if you're not the number one regulation regime in the world that you'd be number two or three. If you are number two or three, who would be number one? I'm just teasing you.
MR. COLWELL: I'll tell you, it's not in North America. I don't even know - we've checked Australia, New Zealand, and Norway. I would say that if we're not number one, I'm going to have to have someone explain to me why we're not number one and they're going to have a hard time doing it.
MR. HOUSTON: Fair enough. So that process will be opening up soon for - was it land-based fish farming first or shellfish?
MR. COLWELL: Well land-based, they can apply now. Land-based is not a big issue. Land-based is a different process. For instance, if you decided you wanted to put a land-based facility adjacent to a piece of property you had at home, all you need to do is let us know that you're interested in doing it. Then you would have to come up with - there's a whole group of things you would have to come up with. You would have to have an environmental farm plan and several other things you would have to do. It's all laid out very clearly, there's no hidden agendas or anything in there that's not open to the public and to you.
You would put your application together and if your application was complete, with all the information requested, the administrator doesn't even have to go for a proposal to me. The administrator would accept the application and everything is in order, the administrator would issue a licence. It doesn't even have to go to the three-person panel to do it. So it's a really different process, almost the exact same process as if you were putting a new fish plant in. It makes sense to do it that way in land-based.
We really recognized them as two separate, although connected, licence-renewal regimes.
MR. HOUSTON: You mentioned the three-person panel, would that also be known as the aquaculture review board?
MR. COLWELL: Yes.
MR. HOUSTON: Has that three-person panel been struck?
MR. COLWELL: Not yet. We have advertisements out for people who are interested in it right now.
MR. HOUSTON: Is it a paid position? Are those paid positions?
MR. COLWELL: It's paid - it's expenses and I believe it's $300 a day, so it's not something that anyone is going to get rich at. We're looking for people who really care about what's going on.
MR. HOUSTON: Do you know when you expect to have that panel in place?
MR. COLWELL: We'll have it in place long before we get any applications that they're going to have to deal with. I would say we're going to be about a month, up to two and a half months before it's done, just by the process itself because we have to wait until the process closes, they then have to review all the applications and before any final recommendation is made it will take some time just to get it through the system.
MR. HOUSTON: I want to go back to those licences in my area. If that panel would be in place in two to three months, and that's well before applications would be reviewed by it, do I take that to mean that it's another fishing season that will have passed?
MR. COLWELL: No. They can approach us now, very shortly, with the ones I've already mentioned, the shellfish ones and the ones to correct the sites because they have a year to correct the sites that are maybe off-site a little bit, or wherever the case may be, all those things. We're going to get that process started June 1st.
MR. HOUSTON: Okay, I think there were nine applicants that were withdrawn.
MR. COLWELL: Those will have to reapply, under the new rules.
MR. HOUSTON: So has anyone gone to them yet and said look, the first thing you have to do is write to the minister, asking for an option. Has anybody reached out to them yet from the department?
MR. COLWELL: They would have to do that after June 1st, or as soon as we announce it, they can do that.
MR. HOUSTON: So somebody will be contacting them?
MR. COLWELL: We're going to contact the industry and also make a public announcement and everything. As well, anybody who might have applied or been interested in applying in the past will be notified. We want to make sure we give everybody an opportunity to get involved in this industry that I think is going to add a lot to Nova Scotia's economy, and do it right.
MR. HOUSTON: For the lobster fishers in my area, they're going to set their traps on Saturday. Many of them told me that they would pay for their licence in January and then receive the list of conditions around their licence - they only received some of those conditions over the last couple of weeks. The first thing I'd ask is, is that consistent with your understanding? Some of the conditions were changed around the escapes on traps.
MR. COLWELL: Lobster fishermen are totally licensed by DFO, not us. I know the conditions that DFO - I don't know how they figure it out, quite frankly. DFO strictly does that, and they don't ask for any input from us - never have, probably never will. When it comes to aquaculture sites, at the present time, unless DFO decides they want to take it over in the province - hopefully that doesn't happen. The lobster fishery is strictly DFO.
MR. HOUSTON: On those leases for my area, if two people write to the minister and ask for an option to lease for overlapping or similar, what is the mechanism in the new regulations?
MR. COLWELL: We go through a process on that. We would be looking for who knows the industry the best - in other words, if they can run the business properly - see what kind of plan they have for growth and how they're going to run their operation in that area. I can tell you right now up front, some of those leases you're talking about were just guys protecting bottom to fish on them. We're not going to accept those leases. They will not be accepted. They will not be approved. There won't even be an option to do it.
If someone in that area comes in and says they have a plan over the next two or three or five years - whatever the case may be for the term of the lease, whatever they want to put in for their application - and they're going to expand it and they're going to make it into a true aquaculture site, there's going to be economic benefit because they're going to hire one person or two people, whatever the case may be, and they're going to invest this much in equipment, this is how they're going to put their equipment in place - in other words, put a proper business plan together for it. If they put a proper business plan together for it, they're much more likely to get an option than someone who comes in and says they just want to enhance the bottom that exists. Those ones will not be accepted. They will not be approved.
MR. HOUSTON: So it's going to be a fully open, competitive process then?
MR. COLWELL: Yes.
MR. HOUSTON: Normally when you see a process like that, part of it would be who's bidding the highest, who's going to provide the most revenue to the government. Would that be a part - would somebody say, here's my expected catch; therefore, your compensation to the government - our licence fee or our lease fee would be we're willing to pay X? Is the monetary amount part of the process at all?
MR. COLWELL: No, not at all. What we're looking for is if someone comes along and says, we're going to produce - and reasonably, with a proper plan for it - I don't know, some number - say if they're going to produce 100,000 oysters a year, but it's going to take us five years to get there, and here's how we're going to get there in five years. That's what we're looking at - and what kind of spinoffs there might be for the local community. Maybe they're going to put up a small processing facility there. That would be a bonus as well, but of course they wouldn't do that immediately because it doesn't make sense financially. If they come with a good business plan of how they're going to utilize the space, and also we're confident that they're actually going to do what they say they're going to do and make that happen, then I would say that they've got a very good chance of getting an option to move forward with a lease.
But we have to look at a lot of things there. There would be the economic benefit I just talked about, past record - if somebody has been, let's put it this way, not a very reputable business person that would be taken into consideration, the ability to carry out the operation, if they have the financial wherewithal to do it, based on what they're proposing to do. Of course some people would be a lot different in some areas than others and some people might have quite a modest plan that could still be approved and they have to adhere to the policies we have. If they don't meet the criteria that they said they have, in other words, if they get a lease and they decide they're not going to do any of this stuff they'll be faced with losing their lease, if it's approved.
I would think that anyone who goes through this process would be quite anxious to make some money for themselves out of it. That's what we want them to do, if they make money then it satisfies most of the things we need done because then they're reinvesting in the site, they're reinvesting in their operations and get to a point that we will help Nova Scotia's economy because of the work they're doing. When it comes to taxes and stuff they pay and all those fees and everything, that's not what this is about, it's not about that at all. It's about building a sustainable long-term industry in the province to supply a top-quality product to a customer base that is there.
We actually now can't supply the market at the present time. We can't even begin to supply the market. Most everybody is sold out in just a few months and they're only usually selling to one or two restaurants, maybe in Toronto or in the States someplace and that's it, so we're really short on supply, especially when it comes to oysters. We have the top quality in the world oysters in Nova Scotia, just because of our clean waters and the rocky bottoms.
I love oysters and I've bought them from P.E.I. Some of them are exceptionally good and other ones are full of mud. I won't buy the ones full of mud anymore and I'm sure that most people in the world are the same. We have a real advantage in oysters in Nova Scotia. We want to make sure we utilize that resource to its fullest extent.
MR. HOUSTON: I respect that. So when the department gets close to opening up the new process, which would be around June 1st . . .
MR. COLWELL: It will be June 1st.
MR. HOUSTON: . . . would staff go up to my area and meet in May, so that people understand the rules? Have those meetings been set up?
MR. COLWELL: We've already been out to the industry association, describing the process to them already, we've done quite a lot of work around that. We'd be willing to go pretty well anywhere to make a presentation to the community on what we're planning, what we're looking for, what they need to do so they get a good idea. Then if someone is really interested and decides they're interested in moving forward, we would need to - I've got to get a sheet here that I can read. A blue pen and a blue pad don't really work too well for a guy who can't see very well.
If somebody is really interested and legitimate and quite interested in pursuing, or a group of people - say if you had three or four people in the area who were very interested in it - we'd be only too pleased to meet with them and describe what the process is and help them along as much as we can. We can't babysit, this is where a regulator - so our process has changed a bit. But we will very clearly lay out the criteria on how you do it, how it should be done, and a list of things that you have to get in place to make this happen.
We want people in this business, we want them to be successful. Those are the two main criteria; if they are successful, they'll achieve all the other things we talk about.
MR. HOUSTON: I agree. Okay, we'll switch gears a little bit. Nova Scotia's fish health lab received some upgrades. What were the upgrades and how much did they cost?
MR. COLWELL: I think the cost on the one in Truro is about $0.5 million, in addition to what was already there. It's nice when you have financial people who know the numbers right offhand - $610,000.
MR. HOUSTON: And that's a one-time . . .
MR. COLWELL: It's a one-time thing. We will be, over time, and we also made some small investments in the Shelburne lab but the main one is going to be in Truro, that's where most of our vets are stationed. The idea of the lab is to make sure we get a top- quality processor and we do, we have a great staff there, well trained. There's not many fish veterinarians in Atlantic Canada and we have three or four - three.
MR. HOUSTON: What would the nature of the upgrades have been?
MR. COLWELL: Mostly equipment so we can do different types of tests. We're also moving towards a certification which will probably take us two years to get in place, a national certification. I can't tell you what the certification number is but we have the labs in Truro under agriculture certified to not an IOS standard, an international lab standard. We're going to do something similar for the fish lab but it's a different qualification. They're working on that now but it's a long process. We'll be the only one probably in the country that has that certification.
MR. HOUSTON: Does that mean that other provinces might send some work here, that we'll be able to generate some revenue from this lab?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, that's the hope.
MR. HOUSTON: Last week there was a terrible tragedy at sea where a lobster fisher lost his life, we always hate hearing about those things. I am wondering what safety training is available to fishermen - is it mandatory or voluntary? Is there a program put on by the province?
MR. COLWELL: It's not put on by the province, it actually falls under Transport Canada, but we do work with associations in Nova Scotia that have been very successful at delivering the safety courses and also awareness of flotation and other accidents have happened. It has been very successful because Workers' Compensation last year reduced their fees by 15 per cent in the province for fishermen, so it has been very successful. I've never heard any time before that Workers' Compensation has ever put the rates down for anybody. It's Labour and Advanced Education, as well as Workers' Compensation.
MR. HOUSTON: I wonder, is that safety tool kit that was announced last June a Fisheries and Aquaculture thing?
MR. COLWELL: What's that again?
MR. HOUSTON: It was called a safety tool kit for fishers. Maybe it was another department as well.
MR. COLWELL: I know what you're talking about but it's not us directly.
MR. HOUSTON: Last winter there were fish deaths at several aquaculture sites. I don't know if that was caused by cold weather or if you can talk a little bit about what caused those kills.
MR. COLWELL: Well it's the first time in history that it has happened in Nova Scotia. It was the severe cold weather for a prolonged period of time, they call it superchill. There was a substantial number of fish lost. Not only did it affect the aquaculture sites but mackerel in the Bras d'Or Lakes were killed by it as well, in the wild setting. It's just a phenomenon that hasn't happened before. We're going to do some research on it with the industry and see if there's some way to prevent it if we get that kind of cold weather again.
That has to be one of the coldest sessions that time of year probably in history. It's something we are investigating, there may be some way we can help avert it in the future if it gets that cold again. We're going through a lot more monitoring now than we ever did on temperature and currents and other things at the sites that are in production. Just one second, I'll get you some more information.
Even though last year - not last winter but the winter before, it was publicized quite a lot, but there were still a lot of fish that survived and did very well.
MR. HOUSTON: Do you happen to know if those losses were insured at the aquaculture sites?
MR. COLWELL: We understand they were insured, but it was private insurance. We don't offer insurance for that.
MR. HOUSTON: Will there be a lobster levy in Nova Scotia?
MR. COLWELL: There will probably be a lobster fee someday in Nova Scotia, if they want to call it that. It will be when the industry steps up and says they want to do it. At the present time, there is part of the province that's interested, and the majority of the province isn't. Until the industry says they want to do it, we just have it on hold. We've got the Act in place, as you're well aware. We can put the regulations in at any time they want and construct it any way they want. We did extensive meetings all over the province. There's really not a lot of appetite right now to do that at the present time. I think part of that is driven by the price of lobsters now. That could be part of it, but there's also other factors outside of what we're doing that people were not very happy about.
MR. HOUSTON: Are the other provinces moving ahead with a levy at all - the other Atlantic Provinces?
MR. COLWELL: P.E.I. is the closest. They've set it up under - I don't even know if they call it a levy or not, but they set it up under natural products. They have two divisions to it if I remember right - one for the fishermen and one for the processors - that they've set it up under. I don't know if that's in full swing yet or not. New Brunswick was putting their legislation through I believe last Fall or this year. They indicated before that they were ready to go, but they weren't. I don't know what the results are going to be there; they've got a different model than P.E.I. has. I'm not quite sure what they're doing because they told us one thing one day, and the next day they told us something else, so I'm not really sure where they're at with it. We really don't know.
MR. HOUSTON: Right now, the department's not pursuing it; it's kind of off the table for now?
MR. COLWELL: We just set it there. If the industry comes back to us and says, we want to implement it, we will implement it. It won't be a levy; it will be some kind of fee process, however the industry decides they want to structure it and set it up. The concept of it is very good, and there's no agreement in the industry how they would spend the money or what they would do with the money, how it could be accountable. I think that's the biggest issue we've heard, accountability. Again, there would have to be an independent organization, which we can allow under the present legislation or regulations - whatever we want to do. There's a lot of concern about accountability. We're hearing the same thing on the FIOSHA. The same thing there is accountability issues.
The industry is changing. The industry is getting more and more interested in making change. We've had a lot of talk about the course we're talking about. The industry is changing. They want to change, but the right environment has to be there before we move forward. I guess that's the short answer.
MR. HOUSTON: In the absence of a fee or levy, will the department spend more money on marketing the product to new jurisdictions? I see you nodding yes, so how much more money will the department spend this year?
MR. COLWELL: Last year and this year combined, before the new budget comes out: $1.5 million.
MR. HOUSTON: Of additional spending?
MR. COLWELL: Additional spending - strictly on marketing, marketing lobster, basically. That's a huge change from where it was - it was never spent before.
MR. HOUSTON: What markets is that money being spent in?
MR. COLWELL: We're looking at Asia as a prime market and pretty well anywhere else we sell lobsters to improve the marketing there and the process there. It has been very successful so far. We're getting 300 per cent to 400 per cent increases in Asia, in markets that really hadn't grown very much. We have some concerns - not us, but the customers - about the quality of products they're receiving. That's also part of our marketing process, quality. There are some issues around shipping problems and with the airlines and stuff like that. But I'll give you an idea how successful we've been with that. Just in China alone in 2013 there were $89 million worth of exports to China, this year it's $208 million, so a substantial improvement in the market. That's because we've been out there marketing.
I know that one campaign we did initially to start this was an online campaign that sold for lobsters in China, and we're not just looking at China, we're looking at South Korea, Japan, and other areas in Asia because those are the biggest markets. It was $208 million in 2015, from $89 million.
MR. HOUSTON: In 2014?
MR. COLWELL: Yes.
MR. HOUSTON: Did that translate into a price difference in what the fishermen were getting at the wharf?
MR. COLWELL: What's that again?
MR. HOUSTON: Did that translate into a noticeable shore price?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, definitely. Every time we can market in a market like that and put the demand up for lobster, it helps the shore price and helps it substantially. I'll give you one example; we did one promotion - I can't remember when it was, I think it was 2014, and in 24 hours we sold $2.2 million worth of lobsters and we ran out of lobsters, online sale in China.
MR. HOUSTON: Who is managing that $1.5 million marketing spend?
MR. COLWELL: We have a marketing group and it's headed by Scott Hosking. He's the director of marketing for us, and we're working jointly with NSBI. But the $1.5 million we have is out of our budget, not NSBI.
MR. HOUSTON: Is that person a department person?
MR. COLWELL: Yes.
MR. HOUSTON: So it's internal. Is that being spent - there's different seasons obviously for lobster, so at the end of our season now, is there a marketing campaign starting now?
MR. COLWELL: Well it depends on the different times of the year. The Spring season, in 2015 we did an online team promotion; in the Spring of 2015 we did a restaurant promotion in 60 restaurants in China, we did a Canadian seafood reception in Beijing, and the list goes on and on. It's all different things. We're into Sam's Club now. In January 2015 or 2016, I'm not sure here, but Sam's Club, which is the same as Costco, actually they sold out in a couple of hours. Just unbelievable.
MR. HOUSTON: I'm just wondering if you can kind of give me some perspective on the shore price for lobster right now, versus what it was exactly a year ago, as the season was about to open.
MR. COLWELL: We can get that for you. I know it's high. It typically drops . . .
MR. HOUSTON: It's higher this year?
MR. COLWELL: It's higher than it had been traditionally but I don't know if it's $6 or $7 a pound right now. It's actually better than I thought, it's $8 a pound. That's substantially higher than what we saw three or four years ago. Then it usually drops down to $5 or $6 and stays pretty steady there through the year.
Again this year it's hard to say because there's a real demand for the hard shell, full lobster. We're getting more and more of those now as the season is open on the Eastern Shore and up in Cape Breton and in other areas. We're hoping to get continuous improvement in quality in the hard shell, full lobster. I know in some areas they just don't catch that lobster and they go to processing and that's fine, that's a different business model.
We want to get that hard shell, full lobster at a premium price on them at the wharf and all the way through the value chain. That's what our marketing is aimed at. Even the packaging has to change substantially. We're getting complaints from customers there that you throw 30 pounds of lobsters in a box and you send it. When you get it there, because of the way it is packaged - and it has traditionally been the way - you could have 50 per cent of them dead when they arrive so we're looking at new packaging. We're going to develop new packaging that will be easier for the airlines to look after, make sure the lobster keeps the temperature right in it and all the other conditions they have to have to make sure they make the long air trip to China and Japan and South Korea and other areas like that - it's a long trip - a lot more successfully.
It's not a problem that a lot of the packers have done or the industry has done, it's just that we haven't had the packaging available and we're going to work on that packaging to make it available for anybody who is going to ship top-quality lobsters into European or Chinese or Asian or wherever the market is. That's all part of improving the quality and the end result to the customer.
MR. HOUSTON: It's interesting on the price because I don't know if the marketing campaign is translating to a higher price, based on those numbers. At the price per pound you mentioned there, much of that could just be exchange rate U.S. dollars. I would be curious as to how you're tracking the success of the marketing campaign, if it's just anecdotal or if there's any kind of science behind - I guess sales are one metric you used, sales volume, but what type of other metrics might you have?
MR. COLWELL: It's pretty straightforward; we're selling $89 million in China, just as an example, in 2013, and two years later we're at $208 million, so it's pretty straightforward. The market there, the exchange rate will have some effect on it but really not a whole lot.
The Americans can also buy lobster from us cheaper, with the American dollar, but they also ship into China. They are shipping Nova Scotia lobsters into China, guaranteed. They call them Boston lobster, which we've got to stop. We've got to stop that trend because we're losing a lot of money.
MR. HOUSTON: I guess what I'm trying to figure out is - I'll just throw around numbers - if you sell 500 million tons of lobster and now we're still selling 500 or even maybe 450 but just more of it's going to one area, so the number for China, the $89 million up to $208 million, just in isolation it doesn't really - and I'm trying to get my head around, well, is our overall provincial sales three times as high, or is it just that it's more concentrated on this market but overall, they're down? I don't really see the price and it's purely just going from memory but it didn't sound like it's a huge amount of price increase translating to the guy who is bringing the lobster to the wharf.
MR. COLWELL: The thing is other markets haven't gone down in sales either, they haven't gone down. So when you look at everybody thinks the dollar has done all this, but if you don't have the market your price will soon drop because you're not going to be able to sell them. So we're creating the market.
The currency exchange is a great thing, it's a help to some, there's no question about that, but that's not the whole reason that we're really increasing it. I can tell you, pick up a lobster in China, you pick a lobster up, you've got 100 people around you, instantly. It's just unbelievable. The whole thing with the lobster there is something they've really not been properly marketed in the past. I will say, though, Clearwater has done a great job at opening the market there over the years. They worked hard at it and so have several other Nova Scotia companies and done it very well. Now with the marketing we're doing, it's helping drive more markets and a bigger market there. It has been very successful.
I have been in marketing and business for a long time and I've never seen anything in all my years in business and all the businesses I've ever dealt with, have this kind of market penetration so quickly.
You also have to remember, too, that the volume of landings is way up. When the volume of landings go up typically the price goes down because there's oversupply. We are now in a situation where we have markets for that high volume. There's a whole change; everything is changed. You have to have the marketing. If you don't have the marketing, then the price won't stay up. It's that simple. And you have to have the quality to go with the marketing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has expired for the Progressive Conservatives. We'll now switch to the NDP.
I would only ask that we dispense with the decorum of doing announcements as long as the minister is given the chance to answer the questions thoroughly.
The honourable member for Queens-Shelburne.
HON. STERLING BELLIVEAU: Mr. Chairman, certainly time goes by fast when you're in this. It's really amazing. I just have a number of questions, and hopefully we can get through some of them here in the next hour, and I look forward to hearing the minister's comments.
During the budget process, what has been highlighted by our staff is that there has been $2.8 million allotted for an increase for aquaculture. I just wanted for the minister to give some detail.
I apologize for missing earlier. My colleague may have raised this question. Could the minister give us an overview of this?
MR. COLWELL: Is the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal still in the other chamber? If he is, did you get any paving? I'm hoping for some too.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I didn't hear anything new. It's difficult to be in two places at one time. I appreciate the interest.
But to me, this is certainly an interesting part of our fishing sector, aquaculture. To me, it's something noticeable to have $2.8 million allotted to that industry, and I just wanted to hopefully get an update on where that money is going to be directed.
MR. COLWELL: There's several things. We have five full-time equivalents that we had actually in our budget. We don't have to create new full-time equivalents, but there was no money with them. We have money allotted for that. We have money, actually $2 million, in R&D, we have set aside for research and development. We have new equipment we're getting. We're getting an ROV, and we're getting not a patrol boat, but a high-speed boat so that we can get out in most weather conditions, a new truck, and a new trailer. This is a pretty heavy boat, so it's going to be a dual-wheel trailer, I believe, and really top-notch equipment. We've got to train our staff.
We're going to have some more operating expenses. The review board - as I said, it's not big expenses with them, but there are going to be meetings we're going to have to hold in local communities and rent halls. There's going to be a clerk hired as one of the full-time equivalents. The list goes on. It's a pretty comprehensive list. Really, it's addressing some of the issues.
Some of the issues, once we get them addressed - for instance, in our R&D, one thing we started right away was the interaction with lobster and finfish sites. We hired Université Sainte-Anne; under a tendering process, they got the contract to look at that. They did go in the communities and consult with the fishermen to see what their initial feelings were. We got that feedback, and now we're working with them again to do some actual tests under sites to see what the effects on the lobsters are and indeed what the volume of lobsters is and anything else.
The aquaculture industry tells me that the biggest issue is - and I think we mentioned this before with lobster fishing - the lobster lines and traps and everything get in the way and sometimes get tangled in the nets because the fishermen want to get as close as they can to the site to catch lobsters. But that's a minor thing as far as the aquaculture sites are concerned. They say that's just one of the things.
We want to verify this sort of thing, and we have to do some other research. As I mentioned before, there are a lot of myths out there. The myths may be true - we don't know - in some cases, but they may not be true. We want to settle it once and for all. If the myth is true, then we'll change the regulations to make sure that is considered as a fact, and when we're approving sites or monitoring sites, whatever the case may be - if it's a myth, and it's not true, then we're going to address it that way. We're going to use science to do that and, as a result of that, we've selected a board of scientists to sort of peer review everything we do and make suggestions on how we can do research and what research should be done to review all the conditions around that. We want to do it right.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Certainly it has got my interest, the ROV. To me I know there's a number of different aquaculture sites around the province so my question would be regarding - I think there is a range of depths anywhere from 10 to 20 to 30, particularly in the Digby area, maybe deeper.
My question, the ROV, what is the depth of that ROV capable of? I think that's an interesting question to observe the bottom. Will the public have access to video that may be run by the ROV when they view a particular lease site?
MR. COLWELL: The ROV will handle any depth of water we have under any aquaculture site in Nova Scotia. These things are mechanical and they're designed for very deep water. It's not like a diver.
We will pay for the ROV in probably one season, what we would save - even the operating costs and everything we'd save. We can operate in a lot rougher weather conditions and in a lot more confined areas than you can with a diver, with the ROV. It's a good long-term investment for the province.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Again, Mr. Chairman, through you, the ROV certainly will address a number of issues. One of the issues that has been raised through residents of particular aquaculture sites is the mooring of anchors that may be outside the leased area. I know the minister is very familiar with this topic but again, the technology that I would think would be included in the ROV is not only can it see the bottom - I guess my initial question was, would the public have access to this information?
I would assume that the coordinates of the leased site will be determined by the ROV and you can soon determine whether the anchor was outside or within the leased area. Would that information be available to the public and, first of all, would the ROV be capable of producing that info?
MR. COLWELL: The answer is that the ROV is capable of that. The thing with these sites, there are a few sites we have in the province that are off-site, either anchors or whatever the case may be. Under new regulations they all have to be brought in, on site, and those sites will be very shortly - on June 1st we will be opening up applications for them to get their sites, whatever they want to do. If they want to move it to include where the anchors are or they're going to move the anchors or whatever the case may be, they're going to have to be approved within a year to be within their sites.
Now some of them may decide that for operational reasons maybe there's a net in an area that's outside the lease, by dear knows how much. Again, that will be all measured and checked, and as part of this new process they will have the option of coming back and saying okay, this is the best place to operate it because we get the best currents underneath it, or whatever the case may be, based on the activities and the science they have around it that they've got to prove to us - not just say but prove to us - by studies and current flows and temperatures and whatever the case may be.
Once that is done, they'll have to go, if it's going to relocate a site off of where it was, then they would have to go through the formal process. It would go through the panel, the panel makes a decision on it, and it would go from there and their decision would be final. The new regulations are going to take all these things into consideration. They've got 12 months to get that done, also the environmental farm plan in place. When do the 12 months start?
By the end of October of this year all the farm plans have to be put in place. That means everything up to scratch, not just the plans but everything up to scratch. So if they're doing something that doesn't meet the new criteria, they'll have to have it in place by the end of October of this year.
It's all under way. We had to give them some time to get these things readjusted. The industry is well aware of that right now. We've informed the industry, we've informed the aquaculture association to let all their memberships know, plus anyone who is off-site has been notified. Then we'll have to do an evaluation of how much they're off-site and what corrective action they're suggesting they do, and that doesn't mean we'll approve it.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Again, this really opens up a lot of questions. The $2.8 million in the budget regarding aquaculture, I was wondering how much of that is going to be designated to implement the Doelle-Lahey report.
The follow-up part of that question for the minister is, which of the recommendations from the Doelle-Lahey report will be implemented this year?
MR. COLWELL: The independent report we received, most of the items in that report are either met or exceeded at this point. There are some different views on what the Doelle-Lahey report, and I shouldn't say the Doelle-Lahey report but the independent report has said in interpretations of it, what we have again is probably the best set of regulations in the world today. When it comes to the environment and everything around that, it's designed to let the industry grow and at the same time make sure we do it in a sensible, planned, and environmentally friendly way that is going to help Nova Scotia's economy and not let our environment or anything else like the environment be damaged.
MR. BELLIVEAU: To me again I think there's a different opinion when we talk about the Doelle-Lahey report. I think there is a view out there shared by some of the Nova Scotia residents that the Doelle-Lahey report should be totally supported by the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and it doesn't go far enough.
What I heard, Mr. Chairman, is the minister saying that it's stronger and I think there is some difference of opinion, if I could put that out there. A couple of comments, the Doelle-Lahey report talked about colour zones. I know the minister is very familiar with that. It talks about a green zone for one of the best sites, to use that analogy, and the other one is probably a red zone where you will not have aquaculture sites. To me I think that was something that the public was looking at: thorough consultations.
In your new regulations that you're suggesting are the best in the world, does it include a colour zone around Nova Scotia's seacoast?
MR. COLWELL: The simple answer is no, but saying no, we do have a regime that would allow us to eliminate an area from a certain type of aquaculture activity if it didn't make sense for the environment, or whatever reason we may choose, but we would have to back that up with science.
There are areas that would be better for certain types of aquaculture and there's areas that may be okay but not super okay. Those things will be taken into consideration when sites are put in. We're already doing some temperature monitoring and current monitoring in some areas to determine if they are suitable for finfish. If they're not, maybe they're suitable for shellfish; maybe they're not. Maybe some areas are not suitable at all. The idea of this is to really do a proper study of it because the way that an independent report said red, green, amber - whatever it was - really was an area that had connotations of somebody who didn't want something to happen somewhere, it's automatically a red zone.
We did receive some letters about that initially, until we came out with our regulations that said, "my zone is a red zone," "my zone is a red zone" - everybody's is a red zone. We can't just base it on somebody's decision that they don't want to see something or whatever the case may be. We've got to do what's best for Nova Scotia's economy and our environment. We've really addressed that issue, but in a different way. We'll accomplish exactly the same thing, but we're going to base it on science.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Minister, also the Doelle-Lahey report talked about dormant sites. I want to make sure I'm clear about this: I'm not talking only about finfish or salmon sites. I know there's also a number of dormant sites across Nova Scotia, a good number of them, shellfish, oysters, mussels - the list goes on, so just in general. Doelle-Lahey had thorough consultations, and one of the suggestions was that these dormant sites should go through another evaluation, an environmental assessment or community involvement. That is something that, again, the people who had some issues regarding this particular topic really fought for, to make sure that was included in Doelle-Lahey.
I put it back to you, minister. You're suggesting that your regulations are the best in the world. Do you address dormant sites across Nova Scotia so that they would go back to basically hit the restart button?
MR. COLWELL: We have a process where if a site goes up again, or somebody comes along to a dormant site that they haven't been using or has maybe never been used, we'll do an evaluation on the site internally to make sure number one, it meets the criteria for what that site was at that time based on our new criteria. If everything looks fine, then it will be up on the site for review by the administrator because it is a lease that's already existing. People will have their input, and based on their input, based on what they hear, a decision would be made.
Saying that, there's also a provision that if there's some sites in the province we don't think would work properly for all kinds of reasons - wrong location, temperature may not be quite right in the water, or the water flows might not be high enough, all kinds of issues that would maybe make a site not suitable for that process. It may be a finfish site that would be a better shellfish site. Typically, shellfish sites are pretty well anywhere, but not always. All this needs to be taken into consideration. If we deem a spot that's dormant as not suitable for whatever application is there, we will deem it as not suitable. It's that simple. We look at all this stuff, and again, it's a little bit different wording than the independent report said, but it accomplishes pretty well exactly the same thing.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Well, I think this raises a number of questions. The dormant site, again, may have had 20 or 25 years of inactivity. Community leaders change, and the water temperature changes. I'm looking through my notes here, but earlier, my understanding from the minister's comments was that superchill was for the first time this year. I asked the minister to review that statement, because I know of a superchill in 2001, and I know this has affected different locations across Nova Scotia.
The point I'm trying to make here is that there's climate change, and we're dealing with different environmental impacts over a large period of time. Again, these dormant sites were certainly of high interest to the public across Nova Scotia, so apparently what you're saying is that the regulations you have in place now basically will do the same thing?
MR. COLWELL: That's correct. The thing is, one thing you should be aware of is that 99 per cent of the dormant sites are shellfish sites, they're not finfish sites. Shellfish sites typically, unless someone just doesn't want to look at it out in front of their house, are pretty benign in the area. If they're oyster sites, they actually clean up the water, as you're well aware. That's 99 per cent of what we have and probably - and I'm just guessing at this point - I would say if a finfish site hasn't been used in 20 or 25 years and I don't know if we have any that have been that long, probably not suitable because someone would be using it today if it was suitable because we don't have that many leases in the province for finfish sites.
I can think of possibly one that's not suitable, that had been in use a few years ago. The company has basically abandoned it and said it's just really not suitable for what they're doing. That one may or may not be up for - nobody may be interested in it and it may be one of those ones that we say is not a place to do finfish.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I'm going to move along here because again, time is of importance. In the budget, minister, you talked about grants and contributions and there has been certainly an increase of over $2.8 million. Can you give us some details on where this money - I guess my question is regarding the monies that were possibly spent. To me there are a number of questions that we're dealing with here. I know in the past there were groups like the Fishermen and Scientists Research Society that did a lot of extensive work, from lobsters on down to what we're talking about. Are those groups being supported, as we go into this budget year?
MR. COLWELL: The Fishermen and Scientists Research Society, we gave them $50,000, or intend to this year, or last year I guess we did and we've signed an MOU with them to do research, a more formal one, and I believe it was over three years or four years, which they're very happy about.
All these organizations that we've been dealing with in Fisheries and Aquaculture, and Agriculture are - almost every one of them, there's a MOU now, that they know exactly what their funding is going to be. They can plan for the future and the MOUs have performance requirements in them. It's no longer just giving an organization money and sort of the money vanishes and you don't know what you've got from it. We make sure we have all the t's crossed and the i's dotted. Again, the MOUs are very useful.
We have several of these. As I say, most of them are under MOUs now or they're something specific we do for one year and that would be it.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Under Grants and Contributions - and I heard the minister address different topics in the previous sessions - would the Lobster Council of Canada be eligible or where is their support in this upcoming budget?
MR. COLWELL: There is no funding for the Lobster Council of Canada this year.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Is that final or it just a consideration of this year? I mentioned earlier that you had MOUs with the Fishermen and Scientists Research Society so was there a structure there with an MOU with the Lobster Council of Canada, or was that just severed off completely? I'm trying to understand the difference.
MR. COLWELL: The last few years, we've put over half a million dollars in the Lobster Council of Canada, the only organization that got that much money out of the province at that time. Research is a different topic. When we're doing research on lobsters and other things we're doing research on, those MOUs are in place. At the present time, we'll no longer be funding the Lobster Council of Canada.
MR. BELLIVEAU: If I could just move back to the Ivany report. The Ivany report is basically two years old now, and I've asked the minister this question. There are opportunities to double fish exports, and I know you made some response saying that it's doing okay. Would you like to have an opportunity to expand on that? The Ivany report talks about this being done in one decade. Where I'm going with my next question is underdeveloped species. There are great opportunities out there. Before I get into the specifics of what products are there, do you really think that the Doelle-Lahey report can be achieved in the next eight years?
MR. COLWELL: We are so close to achieving it now it isn't funny. This October, we'll be three years into our mandate, and in the first three years, we may have already achieved doubling the exports in seafood. We're $1.67 billion right now, and I think we have to get to a little bit over $1.7 billion. We're so close. I never want to count it, though, until we know for sure that we've got it, but we're so close. We've seen that a lot.
I want to give a lot of credit - all the credit - to the industry for stepping up and finding new markets. This is very, very positive. We'll achieve the doubling. I think with our new aquaculture activities, we should achieve the doubling of those export sales - way above that - within the next three to five years, above the doubling. There's lots of possibilities there.
We've taken a whole new approach in the department. We want proper business plans. We want people who are going to step up and work on innovation. It's working. I think the industry has just been waiting for this opportunity. I can tell you, dealing with the industry, some of the stuff they're doing now, you wouldn't even think the fishing industry would do 10 years ago. It's innovation. It's engaging young people. It's all the things that Nova Scotia really is about and what it should be about. It's exciting to see the industry is doing this, and they're doing it on their own. We're working with them. They'll call us up and work with us on some things.
It's exciting to see some of the research going on in the labs. It's just unbelievable. Again, they identified problems, they're looking for solutions, and they're finding solutions. As we get these solutions in place and with the new business model we work under, you're going to see some huge changes in the industry - all positive.
Where you're going with the underutilized species, I couldn't agree with you more. Those are things we really have to pursue as well. At one time, a sea cucumber was sort of a pest when it came to the fishing industry, but now it's a very high-value product. We've seen processing facilities - actually, there's one being built now for a very specific market. There's all these different things, and I know there's some that you've mentioned, and I totally agree with you. But unless you ask a question on that, instead of getting ahead of myself here - we're going to achieve the doubling of the exports well before the 10 years.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Again, the topic, to me, there are a number of opportunities not only in the traditional fisheries but also these underdeveloped species. I know you make reference to your meeting with the federal minister, and I think this is a great opportunity to get him onside because there are certain regions or areas - I'll use whelks, for instance. Whelk fishers have licences in Newfoundland and Labrador and Cape Breton, yet in southwest Nova Scotia it's very difficult to achieve even an experimental licence. Sea cucumbers again have great potential, and I can do the reverse. There are people in southwest Nova Scotia who have access to sea cucumbers, and the reverse can be said in the northern part of Nova Scotia.
The other one I'll make reference to is an unexploited area which is just new to the lobster fishing ground - east of LaHave Bank, the offshore area. I'm talking offshore lobster now. As you move from Shelburne down along the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, there's a long shoreline to Cape Breton, the majority of the offshore/inshore is not being exploited. All of the offshore lobster area is not being exploited for lobsters. My observation is that total area is doubling the fishing area of Atlantic Canada's lobster zone. There's a very large zone there that's unexploited. The industry is moving to start fishing that zone, and there's great potential there.
I guess my question is, is this on the minister's radar? There's a number of questions about the fleets that are in that 33 area. They can't get the infrastructure in place fast enough because their wharves are overcrowding, and they're getting larger vessels as we speak. The infrastructure, the wharves are not accommodating these vessels. This is a question for Minister Tootoo to address this infrastructure deficit, especially from 33 along to Cape Breton. Can you comment on that observation?
MR. COLWELL: I would agree with you on all of those topics. Infrastructure not only in 33 is a problem; I think it's a problem all over the province, the infrastructure. Years ago, the federal government decided they were going to change it over to harbour authorities, and it wasn't quite clear how they were going to support them financially to do this very expensive work. I believe that there's some work being done. I've heard of some projects that are going ahead now that have been on hold for quite a while, so those are very positive.
Underused species and underused fishing areas are a serious concern for us. We really want to make sure that those are utilized. That will help us well exceed the doubling of the industry. We just have to get DFO convinced so that, number one, they will let us fish it and then we get the resources in place so we can fish it and some kind of structure so that will work. We're totally in tune with what you're saying and couldn't agree more.
We've got a big hurdle with DFO to come over as always. Sometimes you wonder why they do things the way they do, and then they change their mind. You've been minister; you know what it's like. There's lots of possibilities there, and we're going to pursue every avenue we can possibly pursue to grow Nova Scotia's economy.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Again, on the same topic probably in a different direction, in order to fish that particular area, naturally, the fleet is going to increase, get larger. Again, a success story that gets very little media attention is the boat-building industry in Nova Scotia, Atlantic Canada. Basically, the boat-building industry's order books are booked out for five or six years, and they can double their workers if they can get the tradespeople. To me, again, this is great potential for rural Nova Scotia. I guess I'm asking that question not only for licensing but for the federal government to assist in getting some of the tradespeople. My question is, can you have some influence on your other ministers that can help those tradespeople be available to the boat-building industry across Nova Scotia?
MR. COLWELL: I think that's the only time the oil industry has ever helped us in Nova Scotia, with young people coming back with trades experience. We're starting to see that, and I know you've seen it in your area. We get a lot of highly skilled tradesmen who are out there who, with some more training and some more experience, can definitely work on boat-building. I know boat-building is a different trade in itself, but again, if you're a qualified excellent carpenter or electrician or any of the trades, it's not very long learning how to do what Nova Scotia does very well: building some top-quality premium boats. That's why they're so busy as well.
The industry is making a lot of money, and we want them to continue to make a lot of money. That's why we're doing the marketing and the other things we're doing. It does spin off and there's not a lot of credit given to these people who work so hard to build a boat-building business and build a quality product that they do. I think we have to change that and I couldn't agree more.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I just want to bring the minister's attention to the Halifax Stanfield International Airport. One of the things that we did while we were in government was to make a contribution to extend the runway for cargo aircraft to come in and pick up the products. I know that we're talking about fish. We also have agreed that the possibility of doubling the fish export can be easily achieved in the next eight years.
To me, that is crucial - that portion of infrastructure out there. You talked about China, their contribution just recently in the last few years. A lot of that is being flown out, as we speak. The question is how crucial that infrastructure is at the airport and if we're going to double fish exports, can the facilities accommodate as we speak? I suggest that we need to improve on that. I'm asking the minister for his comments on that statement.
MR. COLWELL: You're right with that. There is a lobster holding facility out there with proper refrigeration and everything that caters to the charters that come in, which is a huge improvement over what it was a number of years ago. I know the industry has complained a lot about the ability of Air Canada to properly handle the seafood products. That's the one thing that I've committed to the industry - we will work with them to see if we can get Air Canada to handle the lobsters in particular, or any seafood we have flying out. That problem was there when I was the minister in the late 1990s and it hasn't been cured with Air Canada. I'm sure that they want to do things. They're a good Canadian company, but we've got to have special handling.
I think that's part of our problem with the quality getting to the customer not as good as it should. That's one of the value chain things that we're going to address in time, and again, co-operating with the industry.
I made a commitment to the group of people - and the organizations I talked to you about earlier around the lobster training course - as one of the things we will do working with them. We will address issues with Air Canada that they can't address by themselves, but we can certainly help them address them and we're only too willing to do it.
I've heard stories of heat lamps in the winter time out there to keep the staff warm, concentrating on the tops of boxes of lobsters. So you know what's going to happen to those lobsters before they get on the plane. They're going to be dead. Then the industry is going to be blamed for it, and indeed it was nothing to do with the way they handled them. So those sorts of things we have to work with - total partners.
We're looking at the value chain right from the time the lobster trap started to be hauled until it's on someone's plate. It doesn't matter if it's in Halifax or if it's in China or South Korea or Europe. Wherever it is, that's where we have to get to. The points you're bringing up are absolutely true, and that's one part of a very complex chain that we have to address and we're starting to address it.
MR. BELLIVEAU: If I could just take the minister back to the federal government. It appears to me, from one who has been involved in the fishery for a number of years, that the science - in particular dealing with the previous federal government - their budget has slashed scientific research. I know you talked about your commitment to the Fishermen and Scientists Research Society, and I commend you for that, but there are a lot of questions regarding water temperature and aquaculture.
I guess my general question on this topic is because of the previous federal science cuts, there's a big gap there. Will you address that and see if you think there's enough money in the budget to address some of these concerns for the fishing industry?
MR. COLWELL: A couple of things. We understand that water temperature and water flows and all those things - more research has to be done on those. We've added $2 million in our budget to do research - that kind of work.
At the last federal-provincial meeting we had, we did talk about research and reinstating research in the federal budget. So there is some interest in the federal government changing that back somewhere to where it was. I can't tell you at this point because I don't really know but it's something we're pushing for because we have to have science and we have to have the right science.
We talked about cusk the other day and the lack of proper science on that. That's just one example, a prime example of where DFO has dropped the ball on it and not really looked at what the reality is today and what the reality was and how they got to the numbers they have now; there was probably some interpretation of what was landed, let's put it that way, in the past and they're going by those numbers instead of actual numbers.
It is a concern for us, it's a concern for the whole industry, a concern for the province. Everything we can do, I keep stressing, we've got to grow our economy. The fishing industry is one example of a group of very hard-working people who never really got credit in this province for the fantastic job they do, helping pay for all the other services that people who aren't even connected to the industry have, with the taxes they pay. They have to be recognized for this great work they are doing.
I know they're stepping up to the plate right now to do the job even better and look for more resources, look for better ways to do things. It's exciting to see, it's actually exciting to see that we have such a vibrant industry that is excited. When you go to talk to people now they are excited.
I didn't see that excitement in the last 20 years, being an elected member for over that time, but this is a new excitement in the province. There seems to be a commitment to moving things forward and making use of every resource we have and getting maximum results from those resources. I can't say enough positive about the industry and the people who work in it. They're professionals, they have not been given the credit they should be given for the hard work they do and the dangerous jobs they have, and they add so much to the economy.
Just think about it, the fishing industry is the number-one exporter - again, it was in the late 1990s but it wasn't until just recently. I think the marketing we've done in the industry has stepped up to the plate. It's the biggest exporter in the province. That makes them the biggest employer in the province and the most important industry in Nova Scotia, when you think about it.
In the past they just said well look, just a fisherman down on the wharf, he's not doing too much and works eight months of the year, he has four months off. But it's four months of working to get their gear ready and they don't have any income for four months. These people really need to be recognized for the fantastic contribution they make to Nova Scotia and they continue to make to Nova Scotia and have since Nova Scotia was founded.
I know our budget, the two Throne Speeches we had, highlighted agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture as prime economic drivers in this province. We went back to see where that was ever indicated before. We went back a long way and we couldn't find any place that actually said that was a key driver. So we're committed to growing these industries and growing them in a sustainable, environmentally-sound way.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Again to me there is a gap that - and it's really noticeable dealing with the science research. To me there is strong evidence that our water column is warming, and again, I'm pointing to the offshore development of oil and gas. The communities definitely support that but there are concerns raised by the fishing industry - I'm suggesting the use of dispersants. To me that is a scientific question and the fisherman has legitimate knowledge of that particular Bay of Fundy and the Shelburne Basin area. They are suggesting that the Labrador currents in the Bay of Fundy will have an influence on that.
Without the science it's kind of - if you listened to the Minister of Energy in the Red Chamber, you would conclude that there is no concern, but when you listen to the fishermen they're deeply concerned about the tidal range around that zone.
Again, my question is - these are legitimate questions and there have been studies done on dispersants and the effects. I know from my parents and grandparents, the effects on the Bay of Fundy. Again, there is a gap between the Minister of Energy and local knowledge; science can address this question.
My follow-up question is, are you confident that there will be enough scientific information or research done to address this issue?
MR. COLWELL: I can't speak for Energy, of course, but during the meetings in January we did specifically ask Minister Tootoo for more research money. We are committed to another $2 million on our aquaculture file, which will give us some baseline information on those areas that we will be testing.
We have been actively testing for some time now - although it has been very quietly we've been doing it. We've been doing it and that will add to the base information that DFO has and probably federal Environment and some other organizations. We're also researching any information they have available so we can put all that information together to give us a better tracking of what's going on.
The last thing we want to have happen is an industry collapse because we didn't do the science. That's the last thing we want to see. I lived through the cod moratorium on the side of it because I was manufacturing longline fishing equipment at the time and it was a big hit for me and it was an even bigger hit for the industry that was in that business. We don't want to see that happen again. I think science is an important part of that and also making sure we can serve our stocks, and doing the things you've already mentioned about underutilized species. If people are interested in catching different species, it takes some of the pressure off of the other areas that may get overfished for whatever reason.
So science is critical. We've been after the federal government already. It's something we'll bring up again with the federal government. They've committed to increasing science again, I believe, in their election campaign, although I didn't watch their promises too closely, but that's what I understand.
I think we're on the right track and I think we're on the same page as you are on this issue. It's important that we pursue this to the fullest extent that we possibly can.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I want to just kind of highlight - getting back to the lobster handling course. To me, there is a scientific question regarding soft-shell lobsters and lobsters moulting very near the Fall opening season, I think. We're seeing more and more lobsters and to me, it's a scientific question - understanding the warming trends.
My understanding in the past, there has been some scientific work talking about - I haven't got the right terminology - a gizmo that can basically scan a lobster and rate the blood content or the blood protein. It's my understanding that research has been done in the past through Dalhousie. Again, to me this is a question that needs to be addressed and my observation is that - am I comfortable or finding enough money for the science research to address this question.
I think this is a very serious question dealing with what we described regarding handling lobsters because it's caused by lobsters moulting too near the season. So is there research being done by our universities? Are you comfortable that there's enough scientific research money going to address this particular topic?
MR. COLWELL: When it comes to lobster moult, we've funded a study this year for $100,000 to look at the lobster moult ourselves. I don't know what DFO is doing with it, but we're going to encourage them with everything we can to do that.
I know New England is marketing a premium soft-shell lobster and that's how they're getting around it because they're seeing almost all soft-shell lobsters, but I don't think that's the way we should go. There has to be other ways to research this and see what other decisions could be made to improve the catch, whatever that is.
I think the industry someday - it's not going to be us to suggest, but the industry may look at changing seasons a little bit based on science so they can get a fuller bodied, harder shell lobster, if it's possible to do that. I don't even know if it is, but that's the sort of thing we have to look at, and we have to look at the economic impact of that as well. Again, that's for the industry - to work with the industry and come up with some suggestions and ideas of how we can pursue this whole thing.
MR. BELLIVEAU: I want to go in a different direction now and I want to talk about the safety. There has been much improvement on the personal flotation devices in the last few years and regarding my background, I can assure you from the golden age of sail, when a fisher goes to the rail, there has been very little personal change on that individual in the technology, in the wheelhouse has far exceeded and has advanced the electronic technologies right up to date. But on the person, I think that technology has really struggled.
In the last couple of years I want to recognize there has been significant improvement on those personal flotation devices. My question is, I'd like the minister to give me an update right now, personal flotation devices can actually look like you have a shirt on, that's how far they've come in the last three to four years.
I know a lot of fishermen do not wear them because they are awkward or clumsy in the workplace. I'm hoping that the evolution of these personal flotation devices will someday be worn by all fishers, so I'm just asking for some comments from the minister on that topic.
MR. COLWELL: I know, as you've very clearly indicated, that it's a reluctance by some fishermen to wear safety equipment and it has been the history of the province that typically people don't. With the new flotation devices that are basically no more difficult to wear than a rain jacket - the ones that inflate - we've had demonstrations of those at both ministers' conferences I've had since I've become minister and I'm sure - I don't know if you had them when you were minister or not but we've had them, we're working with the safety association in the province to help with that.
I know the Workers' Compensation rates have dropped 15 per cent for the fishing industry, and as I said earlier in the meeting, I think that's the first time in history I can ever remember a fee being dropped by Workers' Compensation. As an MLA, as every MLA around this room knows about Workers' Compensation problems, even though the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education who is here right now, I'm sure she shares it even more than I do.
They've done a great job, the industry has done a great job. We've got a long way to go yet. Your idea of more comfortable, easier to wear equipment is good. You're already starting to see some of those things in place and hopefully we'll see a lot more of them.
There are lots of opportunities for improvements, there always is. Yes, our staff also sits on the safety association's technology committee to improve PFDs as well so we're very dedicated to this and it's very important. I can't imagine anything worse than someone having to make the phone call or knock on someone's door and say your son or brother or father or husband isn't coming home tonight because they fell overboard and they weren't wearing a PFD.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Mr. Chairman, again I want to move, in fairness - time is very important but I want to move to a new topic. To me it's a personal question that I need to get an answer for - the inland fisheries. I'm going to allude to a fishery which I always find interesting because I guess first of all, I never researched this but the glass eel, it's caught in the estuaries of our tidal flow. The tidal flow affects the mouth of the river systems, their brackish waters are somewhere between freshwater and saltwater.
I guess my first question is - I know this is a very good success story and I know they use the Halifax airport - there's a number of questions in there. First of all, is that classed as an inland fishery? Also, just an update on the success of that particular fishery.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture with five minutes.
MR. COLWELL: It won't take five minutes to answer this question, I promise you. It's the DFO regulations under which those are fished because they're a migratory fish, the same as everything - they're called alewives, I guess; they are commercial DFO.
I believe there are only six or eight licences in the province and it's somewhere between an $8 million and $10 million benefit for the province, if I remember my numbers right. It is a success story but there's also some concern that they might try to make the alewives an endangered species in the province. We don't agree with that but again, it's some of those old studies that were done and some people who want to see some things stopped. If, indeed, it is an endangered species, of course that's a whole different matter because we don't want to destroy a market.
The thing with the alewives that really surprises me is we export those so they're growing out into full-size eels. Evidently there was some work done in Nova Scotia in the past and we weren't successful at doing that, I don't know why. I don't see why that couldn't be another aquaculture product and instead of selling them as small fish products, live fish products, we could sell them as fully-grown eels and get a lot higher value out of them. I don't know what the problem with that is, that's something that I haven't got a clear answer on.
I don't know if when you were minister if you investigated that at all or had the staff at that time but we're looking at every opportunity we can to improve the values you've indicated of our fish products and that's one we're going to look at in more detail as time goes on and see if there is some way to grow them in Nova Scotia, which would again add some real value and some more employment in rural Nova Scotia where we need it so badly.
MR. BELLIVEAU: Just in the absence of time, Mr. Chairman, I know that in the inland waters there is a concern about invasive species in different lake systems. I'm just going to lob that over to the minister but first I want to say that there are a number of licences issued each year across Nova Scotia for the inland sports fishing. One that I was really interested in was fishing for recreational use, they had access for handicapped individuals to have access to lakes for their own spot, and are licences available to seniors or people like that?
MR. COLWELL: Well a licence for seniors is only $6.85, it's only a conservation fee they pay. Anyone fishing who is a senior doesn't mind paying that. I'm sure if they were asked to pay more that they would for the purpose of the ability to fish and the enhancements it has done in the rivers and the lakes in the province on the inland fishery.
It's a market that we believe has a great opportunity in Nova Scotia and we've actually invested more in our inland fishery this year. We've upgraded some of the equipment they have and will continue to upgrade. We're taking a new approach on it, we're looking at economic benefit for it now, rather than just dumping fish into a lake we'll continue to do that for the right reasons and probably in the same lakes we're doing it now but we want to see if we can get more economic benefit for everything we do, including the inland fishery.
We think we can easily increase the sales, with proper marketing. It has not been marketed in the past in the province very well and I think that really ties into more tourism marketing in that case than it is like we would do with our product from our oceans. It's a different type of market and different things. There's no reason we can't entice someone to go fishing here for a one or two-day fishing licence and have a great time on a river or on a lake in the province.
I think we've missed the boat when it comes to guides in our province, guided fishing trips. I know Newfoundland does a great job, Quebec does a great job. Labrador does a great job and even New Brunswick does a great job, but Nova Scotia doesn't seem to do it as well. I don't know what the reason for that is but it's something we've got to look at. That would be a really good employment opportunity for some of the people who love to be on the rivers or lakes all the time.
We are working on a strategy right now to increase out-of-province licence sales, which means that those licences will add more economic benefit. But the licence is only one part of it: someone will buy food at a restaurant, they will stay overnight in a hotel, they will buy some souvenirs when they're here, and if they're fishing they'll probably buy some fishing flies and fishing equipment. So the economic benefit is tremendous and typically someone will spend a little bit more money on vacation than they do when they're home all the time.
This is another avenue we're looking at for economic benefit to the province, but we're doing it in a little bit different way because the economic benefit around an experience - and that's really what fishing is: an experience. I'm an avid sports fisherman and since I became the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture last year, I didn't get out last year and I may not get out this year, which doesn't make me very happy, but this is an experience-based industry and we have some fantastic opportunities. I mean, we have the sport fishing tuna now that is really a group of people who come together and have great ideas and that.
We're looking at enhancing our salmon rivers. Someone will pay $2,000 to $5,000 a day to fish on the river with a guide. That's a lot of money in the province we're really not utilizing. So we're looking at a strategy around that to increase the out-of-province sales and to get more benefit when people are here.
We have people flying into Cape Breton to go play golf on some of these incredible golf courses. There's no reason we couldn't tie a tuna fishing day or a salmon fishing day in with that and have an experience that they will tell people about and come back again for the golf and for the fishing, not just the golf. So those are the things we're looking at and working towards.
It's a very important factor again - we're taking an approach on all these avenues for potential economic growth in the industry and we're taking a very careful, measured approach on it, and we're trying to make sure we make every dollar count. We do some investments on marketing or wherever the case may be. So it's important to us that we do that and we're making progress. It is coming.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time allotted for the NDP has expired. We will now rotate to the Progressive Conservative Party.
The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. TIM HOUSTON: I thank the minister and his staff. The minister referred to New England marketing a premium soft-shell lobster. I wonder - the $1.5 million that the department is investing in marketing our lobsters, how are you branding our lobsters?
MR. COLWELL: Basically, at the present time, we're branding hard-shell, full- meat lobsters. That's what the key thing is. We're working on a branding strategy right now in Nova Scotia because typically in Nova Scotia the soft-shell lobsters go to processing. In Maine, in the past, they've had no capacity to market or process soft-shell lobster into lobster meat so we're moving more and more towards that sort of approach.
It's a good market both ways. We need to do both. A soft-shell lobster makes great lobster meat - the same quality as a hard-shell one, but hard-shell lobster would typically demand a higher price than the soft-shell, but the soft-shell that's processed has more value because you get more value out of the meat because it's already processed. So both of them are very important factors in the growth of our fisheries.
MR. HOUSTON: I apologize - I probably wasn't that clear on the question, but I think there are a lot of people in the world that would think of lobsters in two ways - spiny lobster or Maine lobster. So if we are marketing our lobsters, are we marketing them as a Nova Scotia lobster or are we marketing them as Canadian lobster?
At one point - $5 million is quite a serious chunk of change to be marketing our lobsters so I'm just curious as to how is the gentleman - I think you said Scott-something - how are we branding the Nova Scotia lobster? Would we go to markets and spend marketing dollars?
MR. COLWELL: The only way we could really do the branding of the lobster long term is we really have to promote a Canadian-Nova Scotian lobster because Canada in the international market has a tremendous value, the Canadian brand. People don't know where Nova Scotia is, typically, but they know where Canada is or they've got a rough idea or they've heard of it.
We are, and I believe all the other provinces are, looking at a Canadian-New Brunswick lobster, Canadian-P.E.I. lobster, a Quebec lobster, a Nova Scotia lobster. Now we are the predominant harvesters of lobsters in the county and we ship 95 per cent of the live lobsters that are shipped in the world but we are branding them as a Canadian-Nova Scotian lobster. If we don't put the Canadian brand on it, we can't sell as many as we do now, it's just that simple.
MR. HOUSTON: Does New Brunswick have a similar marketing exercise that they're undertaking?
MR. COLWELL: Not to the same extent that we are. But again, you've got to remember that we ship 90 per cent of the lobsters in the world and their market is much smaller than ours. Their success in the lobster industry has been processing - buying Nova Scotia lobsters and processing them.
Fortunately, now we've got a couple of companies in the province that are doing processing and they're growing exponentially in their growth of the products they put in the market. They're really top-quality, innovative products that they've come up with, and they continue to expand and provide an excellent second choice or first choice, whatever your market might be, of a vacuum-packed frozen lobster product and several other products that add value to the soft-shell lobster. They would process some hard-shell ones, too, through the facility. Both are very important and both are branded under Canadian-Nova Scotian.
MR. HOUSTON: Did I take it from your comment that Nova Scotia is exporting 90 per cent of the live lobsters in the world? More than Maine? More than Maine, New Brunswick, and P.E.I. added together?
MR. COLWELL: That's correct, of the live lobster, we're 90 per cent of the market.
MR. HOUSTON: And how much tonnage would that be?
MR. COLWELL: The other thing is, too, you've got to remember on this and we'll look for that tonnage and see if I can give you the exact number, but don't forget, Maine buys a lot of our lobsters and rebrands them as Maine lobsters and ships them and I'm not counting those. We are the lobster business in the world, literally, and our industry doesn't get enough credit for that.
MR. HOUSTON: No, they don't. The program that was just recently talked about, kind of a quality program that was like from catch to plate, referred to a pilot area taking place in this type of a study. I wonder if you can say how many lobsters would you estimate went through that process, from trap to plate?
MR. COLWELL: That's a pilot project we're working on. We've got three areas, and a fourth area entrusted in it now. I don't know the exact number but this is not about numbers, this is about quality and change in the attitudes and the process of everything, right from the fisherman, the deck hand, to the guy who picks their lobsters up at the wharf, the guy who handles them in the holding facility, the buyer who has those lobsters and how he markets them, right into the stores.
We've got Sobeys involved in this as well and several other companies. It's really starting to pay dividends but this is a research project, so rather than try to put all kinds of quantities through, we want to put in areas where there's not large quantities but one area that is a large quantity that has come onside but not all the fishermen and we don't want them all right now because we just can't handle it, identifying the lobster. You can basically identify the lobster from the boat, right back to the fisherman, no matter where you buy it in the world.
The answer to how many we export, live lobsters between 80 million and 90 million pounds, so it's a huge amount of lobsters.
MR. HOUSTON: Thank you for that. We are exporting between 80 and 90 million pounds of live lobster. Earlier we talked about the Chinese market alone going up from 89 million to 280 million. I thought that was pounds but that must have been some other measurement.
MR. COLWELL: That's dollars - U.S. dollars, I believe. Those are where we're going. It's exponential growth in the market.
MR. HOUSTON: On that pilot project then, that's in three areas - might expand to a fourth area. Those are still mystery areas - and in those areas there are specific fishermen that are participating in this?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, we have two areas that have - we have LFA 26B and 32; also buyers in those areas. We have one other area - we have some fishermen involved in the areas, but the areas that's done, the fishermen have put up their money out of their associations to pay for pilot projects like a buy-in. We're looking at the possibility of enhancements on the boats - all kinds of different things that would work on this.
It's a slow process because we're starting at the boat with the fishermen and it's got to get buy-in from them. We've got reasonably good buy-in and a lot of interest as we're moving forward.
The program has been very successful. This is one of those things where it's attitude change we're after and approaches on how we do things differently. We've got about 47 harvesters and about 10,000 data points we're gathering on this research, which is temperature data, everything you can imagine that would affect the quality of the delivery of the lobster to the final customer.
MR. HOUSTON: All measured by some tag on the lobster?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, there was a tag that was on it last year. We're going to a band this year because a band is more robust and less likely to come off the lobster, so we've changed to a band this year.
MR. HOUSTON: So the band will be capturing information.
MR. COLWELL: And identify directly to the fishermen. So you can go online, punch that number in on a program that they have and you can actually see the fisherman that caught the lobster.
MR. HOUSTON: There was a similar program to that. I remember my buddy who is a lobster fisherman telling me about something like this about four or five years ago that he was getting calls from people somewhere in Texas or something. How are the 10,000 data points being measured? Because as the band goes through a process that's being scanned or something?
MR. COLWELL: Well it's water temperature as well and several other data points we get besides just following the lobsters through the chain. The industry wanted the tracking more than we did so they are paying - the money goes to the tracking system that's on them so they can be identified with the lobster.
As all fishermen do, they take great pride in the quality of product they have. They wanted the customer to know where it came from and the boat they came off of. That's some information we want to share, too, to make sure we get the - it's an attitudinal change in the industry.
MR. HOUSTON: I'm just wondering - like if it's, let's say I catch a lobster and I'm one of those 47 harvesters and I put the band on it and it's band number 150, but that's just a number on a band, so do I also have a log book that says: band number 150, brought on the boat at 7:15 a.m. - how are those data points being collected?
MR. COLWELL: The data points on the band are - one fisherman would have a band number and all his lobster would have the same number on it. That wouldn't tell you what day it was caught or anything like that. The fisherman, number one, is not going to share that information with anybody because then they can tell where they fish and they could be at a competitive disadvantage.
The idea of it is it would tie every lobster that comes off that boat to that boat, so if we have an issue with quality, we know where it is, the fisherman can be informed and work on it. The buyer will then know which boat it came off, if he has an issue down the road with a customer so we can track them, whether it's an issue with the fisherman maybe not doing something properly on the boat, whether it's in his transportation system to get it to his facility, whether it's the transportation system after it leaves his hands or whatever the case may be, they can track that lobster all the way through.
I can tell you it was pretty exciting. We did a little video in Three Fathom Harbour, Fisherman's Reserve, myself holding a lobster up that had been tagged. It wasn't the exact same lobster of course. I go to China and I was making a presentation about Nova Scotia lobsters at a trade show that the federal government arranged and I said I need to get a couple of live lobsters. Lo and behold, there were four or five lobsters they had there on ice and all of them had the bands from this pilot project, every single one of them. It was quite neat to see.
I told a little bit of a fib and I said these are the ones I held in Eastern Passage two weeks ago. I don't think it was the same lobster, it would be a pretty remote chance of being the case but they came from one of the fishermen in that general area. If I had scanned the tag I could have told them right on the spot what boat it came off but I didn't do that.
MR. HOUSTON: So there is a skew on that tag.
MR. COLWELL: Well there was but now we're going to a number because what they had before was like a wire tie, if you're familiar with what a wire tie is. It's a plastic thing that they put through - they were putting through the bands and a little plastic tag with a QR code on it. But we find that they're too expensive, and the little wire tie they used on them was too flimsy and they would break and come apart so they changed over to a band this year. It's a lot less expensive - not quite advanced as what they have but you can still go on the website, it's mynslobster.ca and the information is there on the different ones. There have been quite a few hits on that site and a lot of good feedback from the customers on the other end, too, from what I understand.
MR. HOUSTON: You mentioned being in China, how many trips have you taken over the last year or so?
MR. COLWELL: I've been in China twice in the last year.
MR. HOUSTON: Okay, I'll switch gears a little bit.
MR. COLWELL: I'd just like to add that the first trip to China, we sold $30 million on the spot in China, the first trip.
MR. HOUSTON: Based on your efforts?
MR. COLWELL: Based on the fact that we were there. China is a very different market than it is anywhere else in the world. The Chinese people value government, not like the reputation we get in North America. They value government and if you're there as a minister - not me personally, but as a minister - you get a level of respect that is not seen anywhere else in the world I've ever experienced. I remember one company and an agriculture product we had there as well at that time asked me to go over and speak to his customer. Now I can't speak Mandarin and he couldn't speak English but we had an interpreter. We spoke for about two minutes and now he said can we get a photo? So we got a photo of the Nova Scotia company representative and this potential customer and myself, and I didn't think any more of it.
A few days later the gentleman in the Canadian company came to me and said well thank you so much for coming over and having a picture taken with this gentleman, saying hello to him. I did that. He said that because you came over and spoke to him, got his picture taken with you, he placed an order for between five and seven trailer truckloads of samples that he's going to pay for - trailer truckloads, he was selling blueberry juice - because you went over and said hello. The reason is that in China, if a government official says it's something you should be doing - and I never even commented on the product or anything like that - will listen and they do that. That's the way the country's structure and culture is, so it's critically important that we can have those opportunities.
As far as I'm concerned I don't really care about travelling too much. I've travelled too much in my life and that's not something on my bucket list or anything else or anything I want to do, but in this case it makes good economic sense to do it and the benefits are huge.
When the Premier was back in China this year after I had seen that, he witnessed the signing of a long-term distribution agreement for this blueberry juice in China and it just so happened that the gentleman who is going to do the distribution is the distributor for all China for Perrier water, so it was a natural match. That will hopefully be millions and millions of dollars into Nova Scotia's economy that didn't exist two years ago or even 18 months ago.
Those are the kinds of things that really pay big dividends. The more we see the benefit from that, again, it all goes towards - and that's not even counted in the exports of fisheries. Anything in agriculture is totally separate.
MR. HOUSTON: I don't think you should sell yourself short. I think you're held in the same esteem right here at home. (Laughter)
MR. COLWELL: I'll believe that when I see it.
MR. HOUSTON: I want to switch gears and talk about Cooke Aquaculture. I think the company had access to about $18 million in loans - I see you nodding in agreement. They repaid a couple million of that but is the rest written off or are taxpayers on the hook for a writeoff there, or what is the status of that situation?
MR. COLWELL: The taxpayers aren't on the hook for it. From what I understand, it's NSBI so you should really talk to the Minister of Business when he comes up about the Cooke Aquaculture deal. It was a very poor deal by the last government, to put it very politely. It should never have happened. There is some research and development content in that.
Again, I would suggest you talk to the Minister of Business because that's his file. I believe there were some arrangements made, but I can't give you any - I don't have the knowledge of it to answer your question properly.
MR. HOUSTON: The Doelle-Lahey report recommended this green, yellow, and red zone system for aquaculture sites, but are you proceeding with that recommendation?
MR. COLWELL: No.
MR. HOUSTON: Why is it you don't agree with that approach?
MR. COLWELL: We're doing something similar - probably going to get to the same result. We have the ability in the regulations to designate an area as non-suitable for aquaculture, but it will be based on science, not just somebody saying they don't want it in their front yard. The independent report you're talking about basically was - if I don't want it in my front yard it should be a red zone. That's not the way we're going to do business.
That will be taken into consideration, but we have the ability to designate an area as a non-suitable, but that will be based on science. We know some places now that there was licence issued some years ago that probably will be designated not for that type of aquaculture again when we move forward. Those leases we would probably be going to take back over time.
MR. HOUSTON: How many areas are we talking about - just a couple areas?
MR. COLWELL: There are not a lot of them, but some of the R&D funds we have for that purpose will be checking water temperatures and water flows to identify areas that are suitable and non-suitable. If we find they're non-suitable, they're going to be declared non-suitable for that purpose and basically they will be non-aquaculture for that purpose. When I say that purpose, it could be finfish. It could be good for trout operations and finfish, a sea cage. it could be good for salmon, but maybe not both - maybe only one. It could be good for neither, but an oyster farm may be suitable there.
So we're looking at the science. We're going to address this as science. So the answer is no to the different colour zones, but the answer is we're going to do something very similar, based on science.
MR. HOUSTON: Would you be able to say what percentage of the Doelle-Lahey report recommendations have been accepted? Most of them or a few of them?
MR. COLWELL: We've accepted all of them. We've implemented most all of them and the ones we haven't implemented are implemented a different way and we've gone beyond the Doelle-Lahey report in many areas of our regulations.
I've said before, we are probably the top in the world in our regulations now around environmental sustainability, environmental monitoring, enforcement, everything you can think of while at the same time being very clear on what the industry needs to do and where they need to go in order to satisfy our work. We're probably one of the only places in the world that require an environmental farm plan of what you're going to do on your site. That includes a tremendous amount of information they have to provide and we have the ability to get the information from them and we do have the ability now to shut down a site. Believe it or not, we did not have that ability before, the province never had it before.
We have a lot of tools at our disposal. They can write onsite tickets, the Department of Environment, for violators that are violating. That could never be done before. We have a bond that's going to be required, so we don't see buoys and other equipment laying around the shoreline, as we might have seen in the past. All these things have been taken into consideration. We have very carefully researched this and not only the independent report you're talking about but also concerns and complaints we've had from people over the years. We've evaluated all those. We've talked to every jurisdiction in the world that does aquaculture. We've seen what kinds of issues they've had and how they've addressed them and what success they've had addressing them with the enforcement they have with them.
One of the big things that I'm very happy about and we were in the process of moving it out of our department anyway, we're the regulators and scientific research arm of aquaculture and in some ways the developer of it but we don't do the enforcement. That's done by Environment. They have the tools now to do that, as we have the tools now. We couldn't even get out to a site in the past, until recently. Our boat is on order and we didn't have really, I don't think - maybe there were one or two people in the department who could run the boat, who were trained to do it.
All that's being changed. We are going to a complete, new system that has been well researched and also we're willing to modify the system if it doesn't work, if we find that there's something we don't have. That's why we've been very cautiously moving out with approvals. We want to test our system to make sure the system is responsive, make sure we've got it right because it's a huge change from where we were. We've gone basically from living in the Dark Ages to a state-of-the-art, modern, and scientific approach to things that never existed before.
We had a steep learning curve but again, I can't say enough positive about the great young staff we've got working on this with great ideas and ideas that have some real meaning, not just an idea for the sake of an idea. They approach it and say: there's the problem - what are the five or six potential solutions, and then pick ones, or a combination of the ones that you can (1) verify, and (2) that we've got the ability to do that.
MR. HOUSTON: Would you like the opportunity for a short break to stretch the legs?
MR. COLWELL: No.
MR. HOUSTON: Keep going, eh?
MR. COLWELL: We don't have much time left.
MR. HOUSTON: I think we have quite a bit.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It's nice of you to offer but I think that's the Chair's discretion.
MR. HOUSTON: Sorry, okay, maybe it was me that wanted one, I don't know.
I want to come back to the lobster buyers' course. I know my colleague asked some questions about that. There is definitely a sense that there's a lot of unknown and uncertainty around this lobster buyers' course. I'm just wondering what the minister would say to those people who say there's an attempt to keep this course quiet because there's a lot of concern about the course. I'd like you to respond to the allegations that there's an effort by the department just to keep everything quiet.
MR. COLWELL: That is not our idea. That's the industry's idea.
MR. HOUSTON: It's the industry's idea to keep it quiet?
MR. COLWELL: To not talk about this anymore in the public because what's happening is the more they talk about it, the more they ramp it up, the more the - believe it or not, our customers all over the world watch what we're doing. Already some of the buyers and shippers have had calls from their customers as far away as Asia and Europe and ask, what's wrong with the quality of your lobster? They realize that there are some issues out there and the more it's publicized here, the more difficult it is to market this quality product at a place in the world.
So that's reality. That's not us. That's an agreement we've made with them and we respect their view on that and we totally agree with it. I never went to the media with this to start with. The industry did. We responded in the best way we possibly could, knowing the situation before the industry really realized it. They understand that now. This is sort of an in-house family thing that we really need to handle in-house.
We communicate with the industry and the buyers - not media. We don't want to be talking to media about this because it raises issues - well, is there a quality problem? If there is a customer out there that has been having a quality problem, which is sometimes the case, then they really raise some red flags and maybe we should look at buying the Boston lobster, which is actually half the time Canadian lobster anyway.
MR. HOUSTON: When will the course begin?
MR. COLWELL: You can start now. It's available now. The course had already been arranged in June and we have quite a number of courses lined up already.
MR. HOUSTON: Is it online?
MR. COLWELL: No, you have to take it in a classroom setting or in a community hall or something like that. It's a good course and any MLA that's interested in taking it, we offer them free of charge. I think it's important when you're talking to your constituents to understand what we're doing with this. It's developed totally by Université Sainte-Anne through a lobster biologist we have in our department that actually has several years working in lobster quality with Clearwater. So these are people who know what to do and how to do it.
It's a good course. It's not intimidating for anybody. We're going to make the course available for anyone who wants to take it verbally instead of a written course - that's fine. We want to make it easy for anybody to understand that the key is that people take the time - they understand better handling practices and just some of the conditions under which the lobster can survive better, and simple things.
I never knew before I saw the preliminary part of the course that lobsters bleed, and when they bleed they die. It's clear blood. You talk to fishermen even and they don't know that. One little hole in the lobster body or the little peak at the end of its head breaks off, the lobster is dead. Not immediately - three or four days, and that one might have been damaged as it was packed going to an airplane and it dies. That's lost revenue for both the fishermen on the wharf and for the buyers.
The fishermen have to understand - and I think some appreciate - that if the buyer takes significant losses because of lobsters dying for whatever reason, wherever along the value chain, it cuts the price down at the wharf. It does - because someone along the chain is going to pay. When they pay, they're going to pay less for the product on the wharf and it drops the price at the wharf.
Every lobster we can get to market in top-notch condition keeps the price at the wharf up, and actually may bring it higher. So that's what this is all about - just to improve the profitability of all the value chain right through the whole thing. The value chain part we're really interested in is Nova Scotia. We want to see the lobster fishermen get maximum value for the lobster; the buyer get maximum value; the shipper get maximum value; and the processor. That's key.
MR. HOUSTON: The course would be free to MLAs but how much is it to - what is the cost to take the course?
MR. COLWELL: It costs $85 - now, we can charge you $85 if you wish, but I think it's an educational thing that would be good for all of us. You can now register online so if you want to give us $85, we'll gladly take it. We don't get it, the community colleges get it but we would have to give you the course ourselves. Then you would be a registered recipient of the course and we have to pay actually to register that with the community college, I think it's $10 per person, so it would actually cost us to train you.
MR. HOUSTON: I think I'll pass it over to my colleague, the member for Inverness. I thank the minister and staff.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Inverness.
MR. ALLAN MACMASTER: Mr. Chairman, how much time is remaining?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The time remaining for the Progressive Conservative Party would be roughly 26 minutes.
MR. MACMASTER: My first question - and I recognize that this is really more of a question for the federal government and something that is ultimately decided by them, it involved the ground fishery. I'm just wondering if - I'll give you the details but my question is I'm just wondering if it's something that's being discussed by your department, if there's any input that you have, as minister, in the situation.
I was contacted by a ground fisherman recently and of course this fishery is shared by a number of Atlantic Provinces. Sometimes decisions have been made in the past where fishermen from certain provinces, likely our own, feel they've kind of gotten the short end of the stick and perhaps for whatever reason other provinces ended up with a greater share.
Recently, I think as recent as a couple of years back, Gail Shea, when she was Fisheries Minister, had changed the formula so there were eight zones and the new way the quota was divided up is they allowed 70 per cent to be based on geography, so each of those zones got an eighth-based - weighted 70 per cent - and the other 30 per cent was based on historical quota. I guess that was to sort of - that was the formula that was reached.
Local fishermen in my area seemed to be happy with that. I think that was better for them than things had been before. Now we're hearing that things might change back. There's a new government in Ottawa, perhaps influence coming from other directions, things could change. Is this something the department looks at or has any input in? If so, does the department have a position on it?
MR. COLWELL: I believe that's around the halibut fishery you're talking about. The federal government did recommend or promise during the election campaign that they would review that whole process. We made it very clear to them that we want to see the status quo because that's supposed to go for another year under the past minister who was there.
That's the recommendation that we made to the minister. Now whether he listens to us or not, that's a whole different story, as always is the case with DFO, but we like the present system as well and it seemed to be reasonably fair to our fishermen. But again, that's a federal decision. We put our two cents in for what it's worth and they recognized that our position is very clear.
MR. MACMASTER: I appreciate that. That's certainly something positive that I can report back, that I've heard it from you directly. I appreciate that and I think it's important that we stand up obviously for our own fishermen here in Nova Scotia. It would certainly be something that questions worthy of asking our local MPs about as well for the sake of that resource and the wealth that it brings to our province.
My next question is about the aquaculture industry and specifically oyster farming. I'm going to give you a description of a meeting I was at recently in Mabou. The industry there is fledgling but it's growing. They have great oysters. I know you've had them yourself. I've had them too. It's worth about $1 million. There are eight or nine people in the industry so it's starting to provide some pretty meaningful income to people.
There are some problems with the harbour in Mabou - with the quality of the water. I believe there is some fecal matter - e-coli would be part of that - in the water. There are a number of potential sources. It could be the agricultural activity, but I do know that our local agriculture rep has been working with farmers to help address any of that potential impact on the water.
I guess there's also the possibility of wildlife, but that seems less likely to me. I'm not an expert, but I suppose they could cause periodic spikes in the count. There is also the issue of people with older homes that don't have proper septic systems and they're running it right into the water supply.
Finally, the other item that came up was the municipal water supply. This is really more of an issue for Municipal Affairs and the infrastructure programs that the federal government would support and the province would partner on with municipalities to provide that infrastructure.
I asked a question about this in Question Period the other day. This is an issue where we have a problem, which may be very easily fixed, which may be as a result of - I would call it somewhat negligence if it is the water supply - the water treatment facility - because that is something that's managed by the municipal level of government and if it's not being run properly, now it could be a reason for why - the harbour is not going to be shut down, but it's going to be limited and I think they're going to be allowed to have the oysters until September. Of course, that's just when they start to harvest, but they're going to lose from October to April. I know October, November, and December are great months typically for oysters - for harvesting them and getting them to market.
We can see here how an issue, which is not directly related to your department, but is an issue that's greatly affecting the aquaculture in the province, and in this case, the industry in Mabou. Are there times when you would approach the - like the municipality claims they put forward applications in the past. I've not yet seen the evidence of that, but I've asked for it. Either way, I suspect they would put one forward soon again. Is that something that your department would have some input on to offer words of support, which might raise that in terms of priority for the province because if the system needs to be refurbished - it's 55 years old - maybe not only does it need to be fixed for its very own purpose, but also because of the impact on the oyster industry in Mabou. Is that something that your department would have a chance to weigh in on and perhaps improve the standing of that application so there's a greater chance of it being funded?
MR. COLWELL: To your first question, any time you would like us to speak with your fishermen, just contact us and we'd be only too pleased to do that - on the other issue.
On this problem we're working with the federal government on the potential source of it. We can use some of our R&D funds to look at this. Our issue with this is, again - and rightfully so - we want to see that shellfish farm probably expand. If they can't harvest their product, that puts them in a really tight financial situation. So we'd like to see them expand, they're a good company.
One thing I can tell you is that in my area there was a big outcry when a new subdivision was being built with a water treatment system and everything in it, and they blamed the existing trailer court for all the pollution in the lake. At the time I said be very careful what you ask for because you're probably going to find out it's your septic system that's causing the problem. The municipality spent like $200,000 and did all this big investigation, and guess what? It's the property owners and the people who were complaining the most who had the systems that were either malfunctioning or pipes right in the water, all those things that you're not supposed to do.
All of a sudden they realized they had better back off this whole thing and they eventually did. That is probably - and I'm just guessing - the problem. It's either the sewage treatment system the municipality has not up to current standards, and I know there's several areas along the coast that years ago they just put the pipe in the water and everything went out in the water. I don't know the community that well, but there could be some of those things happening, too, that's usually where it comes from.
There's one other thing that staff told me a while ago, when they put the fish farm in there's no E. coli from fish, it's only from humans. So when you look at these things it's a matter of getting the proper analysis done on the harbour and see what's going on. We don't have the funds to do all that but if it's areas that we could help with and if it's an agriculture issue we could help with that, but we'd have to know for sure if that was the case. It's most likely the septic systems and sewage treatment system because that's the only thing that has enough quantity to really do that.
The only positive thing about the oysters is it cleans the water up, they actually clean the water up. They make the situation better so if the municipality was smart, they would help the guy expand and put a whole pile more oysters in and then come up with a system that we can get them cleaned up maybe through depuration and put them on the market when they are proper and safe and everything to use.
So there are solutions for it. I don't envy your position trying to get money for a sewage treatment system or anything like that because that's never any fun for any of us, as politicians. We're going to have to seriously look at those things because they are hurting the economy. If that farm or other farms in the area can't produce year-round, that means lost employment and income for the community, which helps the municipality and helps everybody. Anything we can do in that regard to help we'll be only too pleased to help. We want to see those things in production.
MR. MACMASTER: Excellent, thank you, minister. I guess just a follow-up question, has there been any discussion - because I presume if people are piping sewage out into the water supply, they're not allowed to be doing that - is there any discussion between your department and, say, the Department of Environment about the level of inspection that goes on, to see if they can identify some of these situations and perhaps have landowners address the situation?
MR. COLWELL: You're clearly identifying - the Department of Environment is responsible for that. That's a pretty politically touchy question when you go to somebody's home and say you've got to fix your septic system and it may cost you $30,000 to fix it, especially with so many seniors who may not have a very high pension income, to get those resolved. I run into them in my riding on occasion.
It's something we could ask Environment to look at and see if there's some way we can help resolve those problems. I think it's going to be essential long-term that it's going to have to happen. Anyone who is polluting the harbour and stops the harbour being cleaned up by the one shellfish that really does clean it up - I know in one part of the eastern U.S. and New England and along the shore there they actually grow oysters and dump them into the river to help clean up the water - a massive operation that they have been doing, and it's working. So the more issues we can get in the site, the better. Any suggestions you have on how we can do that, please feel free to contact us and we will work with you on it.
MR. MACMASTER: I think that's pretty much as far as I can ask you because I do realize that it's not really your department that's directly responsible for that. You've also identified the fact that it's a touchy issue, but we talk about climate change and all these things we can do for the environment, yet those are things that are perhaps even more - at least immediate - to our environment in terms of benefit and, of course, common sense. I realize it's easier said than done.
I had a couple of other questions. I hear this a lot - there are not a lot of opportunities for local slaughtering. I think of beef cattle primarily, but other animals as well. Has anything changed there in terms of - there seems to be very few places. We had Pictou County, which the issue there was chickens, I believe. I can't recall the gentleman's name, but he had been doing it for years and he was no longer able to do that.
When you don't have that ability locally it's almost like a barrier to the sale of food. Is there anything that your department has been doing lately to assist with that or is there a feeling that we shouldn't really be having local facilities anyway because they're too difficult to police or too difficult to ensure that they meet the standards in terms of cleanliness and so on?
MR. COLWELL: Well this is really an agriculture question, but I will answer your question.
We feel that the small processor in the province is very important because, again, it's a distance issue for someone taking their product to try to get it slaughtered somewhere else and looked after properly. We look at those facilities as a one-off basis. So if they approach us, we will make some resources available to help them upgrade their facility, either to a provincial inspection or a CFIA inspection.
We've done that in the past and we're only too glad to do it again, but we do it on an individual basis because some places would need a small amount of assistance; other places need a tremendous amount, including training. I know we've been working with the Department of Labour in training on a lot of topics. We will definitely look. If you have one in particular that you're interested in and you want to talk to us later, we're only too glad to work with them and see if we can get them up to an inspection level.
Personally, I would like to see every facility in the province be inspected in one form or another. I can give you - off the record, off this thing, we don't have time to talk about it today - some of the serious safety concerns when they're not inspected.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you and I appreciate you answering because it is fisheries that we're on now and I realize your staff are agriculture. As a little aside, I was in an area of St. Joseph Du Moine near Cheticamp - I'm pretty sure it's right in St. Joseph Du Moine - and there was a gentleman there who was a butcher for many years and he was more or less finished at that point and his son had done it for years too. I got to see the inside of the place and it was really small, but these guys were really good. Of course, they had done it for many years and I was thinking - they were pretty much finished at that point, but I was thinking about how practical it was in terms of the size of the place.
Of course they had been in business for many years - probably not with a lot of inspection over those years, but they had the expertise, they knew what they were doing. They probably did it in such volume that - and of course having a pristine reputation in the community. I realize times do change, and of course there is as much need for safety today as there was then. In any case, I will move on.
I have one more question here and it is perhaps somewhat more agriculture but it could be fisheries, too, I suppose - maybe expanded someday to fisheries - and it's the tax credit for farmers who donate to food banks. I just wanted to ask you, is that something that you've had any involvement in discussing before its addition to this year's budget? Is it something that you see will be positive for both farmers and food banks? Of course, any other comments you'd like to make.
MR. COLWELL: First of all I'd like to talk about the small operation you identified there. We've actually had three of those in the province, they started very small and now are inspected facilities, so it's very positive. We'd like to see every one of them inspected.
The other thing was the tax credit for food banks. I think it's very positive. It's something we support and always have supported. That's something that you'd have to ask the Department of Finance and Treasury Board more details. I think it's a fantastic opportunity. We have a lot of very generous farmers in the province who have been giving produce without any kind of a benefit, and unfortunately there's so many in the province who need the assistance of food banks. Anything we can do to help in that, it's the social side of the industry. I can tell you, with the people who have been giving so generously for so many years, it's nice to see them get a little recognition for that work they're doing and continue to do.
MR. MACMASTER: Minister - through you, Mr. Chairman - have any farmers been in contact with your office about this tax credit? I realize it's very early on, the budget hasn't even been passed yet, but have there been any comments from the agriculture community?
Now it is a farm tax credit, I don't know if it extends to fish farming or not, but any comments on that? I'll let you comment.
MR. COLWELL: We've never been approached for that yet. Typically in a fish farm the way it is today, everything is gone. On a farm you may have some produce that is surplus or a product that for whatever reason you don't want to donate it, but typically on a fish farm everything is sold. Anything that isn't sold would have to go for other purposes, for other types of feed that another industry wants. There could be some sections in the industry that would be interested in that. We have never approached it, we have never been approached by it.
The Federation of Agriculture is very supportive of what's in the budget. They're very happy about that, they've been asking about that for some time. I'm just pleased to see that the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board included it in the budget.
MR. MACMASTER: Thank you, minister. I was pleased as well. Of course, as you know, I introduced a similar bill in the Legislature and the gentleman - I always like to give him credit - was actually the chair of the food bank in Port Hawkesbury, Larry Evans, who had approached me I think it was back in 2011, was the first opportunity. I think it's a great move and I know it's working well in Ontario.
Just to your comments about fish farming, I think some products are going to be more practical than others, in terms of making a donation to the food bank, and not just for farmers but of course for our food banks themselves and how they get that food to their clients, the people who use the food bank.
Mr. Chairman, I think we're pretty close to the finish here and I think we've got just a couple of minutes left. I've exhausted my questions, I'm not seeing any more from our caucus - oh, Mr. Orrell.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Northside-Westmount, with approximately two and a half minutes.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: I have just one quick question, if the minister could. A seniors group in my area was concerned about the sport fishery, especially the salmon fishery on the Margaree River where there's a catch and release only this year, I'm told, and they're paying full price for their licensing. The question was asked, if it's a catch and release and they're seniors, is there any way they could get some kind of a break on their fishing licence? It's a great sport but if some of them are doing it for actually to catch and feed themselves or if it's a sport fishery and a catch and release and it's a senior, would they be able to get some kind of a break on their fishing licence, to help with being able to get out and do some sport fishing?
MR. COLWELL: Well once you turn 65 in the Province of Nova Scotia, you pay only a conservation fee, which is $6.84, I believe, and you don't pay for the licence itself. They're probably talking about the federal licence that they have for salmon fishing. We have no control over that, it's strictly the DFO that does that. I would suggest that you talk to the DFO about that part of it. We've had that for many years now that once you hit 65, you don't pay for a licence. The conservation money all goes back into rehabilitation. Some goes into that river, actually, and other rivers in the province, to bring back.
We're going to make a substantial investment in salmon habitat improvements this year in one river in the province we haven't announced yet, but that's coming. I think everybody would be pleased, we've been working with the Nova Scotia Salmon Association and also the Atlantic Salmon Federation to do habitat enhancements beyond anything that has ever been done before. It's a real co-operative effort between both those organizations and the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
One of the gentlemen said we've never seen this kind of co-operation before, but we think it's important because we can see huge long-term economic benefits for it in the province, plus it makes our rivers more exciting to go and see a salmon. There's nothing like seeing a salmon do a tail dance on the water in a river and then splash flat on their side. Sometimes it scares the living daylights out of you when you see that happen. I remember as a child seeing that and you don't see it anymore. I want to see it back to that condition, if we can get there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has expired for the Progressive Conservatives. The NDP are not present. We will now revert to the Liberal Party. We have 36 minutes left in the session.
The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.
MR. DAVID WILTON: To the minister, the lobster handling course that has to be taken by the lobster fishermen, how long does the course last? What is the time frame in school kind of thing?
MR. COLWELL: Well it's actually for the buyers or whoever the buyer designates to take the course and not for the fishermen. They can take it, it's available to anybody who wants to take the course, either a fisherman or even the general public, if they want to take the course it's available to them.
The course is about three, three and a half hours. It talks a lot about the biology of the lobster. As I suggested earlier, it's really useful for MLAs to take it and see how to handle a lobster properly. I learned a lot from it and I was hauling lobster traps when I was 12 and 13 years old. Not a lot of people realize that but I was doing that. At that time you just threw them in a box and didn't even put a cloth over them or anything. If it was a hot, sunny day they didn't last very long and they didn't catch very many at that time. We would haul 50 or 75 traps in a day and we might have 10 lobsters out of all the traps, not like it is today, so it has become even more pronounced today.
It's a good course. Université Sainte-Anne did a wonderful job, an excellent job preparing it, in conjunction with staff in our department. It's going to make a difference in the industry long term. Again, it's an attitude change, it's educational. I can't commend the industry enough for working out a deal that we have now with them. They've come up with several other recommendations they want to see implemented. We're going to follow their lead and work hand in hand with them.
It has enabled us to strike a new working relationship with the lobster industry which we're very excited about. I mean the catch-to-plate pilot project is a start of that. This lobster handling, and the issues they had around that, has been excellent and they've come up with some great ideas. We'll be announcing shortly - we won't do it publicly but we will let the industry know because we made a commitment to them, and we didn't initiate any media on this lobster training course intentionally because we knew what the outcome would be. The industry has realized that now because they got calls from their customers.
We made arrangements with them that we will do this, get the word out to the industry. The word that's going out to them is stuff that they've already agreed to and made suggestions on, and I think made the whole thing a lot better.
MR. WILTON: Can you tell me how much money the industry would have lost in the last years just with the mishandling of lobster? How do you see that in the future affecting the fishery?
MR. COLWELL: We don't have any solid numbers on what the value would have been, but I can tell you - I'm guesstimating that not just handling, but with proper marketing and added value - I would say we're losing $100 million, $200 million a year on the industry. That goes all those things - it would be added value to a product, the way it's handled, the way it's shipped, the way we sell them in general.
It has been a tradition to ship Nova Scotia lobsters that are relabelled as Boston lobsters or Maine lobsters, and they're actually Nova Scotia lobsters. That's really irritating because they're making a mark-up that we're losing. So all these things we have to take into consideration. It's a whole suite of things that we have to do to get the maximum value back in Nova Scotia's economy so that it can help pay for all the things that we need to do in the province and not put taxes up.
MR. WILTON: Your recent trips to China, you mentioned one trip was $30 million. I'm not sure what the other trip was, but was there a need for that where we didn't have the market in North America and there was a need to go there to sell these?
MR. COLWELL: I met with the Ambassador for South Korea. He was in my office here recently. He very aptly pointed out - and we already knew it - 60 per cent of the world's population is in Asia and it's going to grow, and it's growing. Where we're shrinking, they're growing. So it's a natural place to go.
I can tell you in those markets in South Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, and the other countries there, they love doing business with Canadians. That's why we are really aggressively going after those markets. Also, our landings are up so we had to find a new high-value market for our products. We can't just continually improve the catches, which is fantastic, but if the fishermen are getting $3 a pound, they can't make any money, so we have to aggressively go after marketing for this.
It's a good combination, the timing is right, and we're making huge progress in marketing in Asia. Even some of the labelling that has been done in China now - they used to deliver them in China and Asia, most places in Asia you order lobster online and it's guaranteed delivery to your door in two hours. Now that's a logistical, unbelievable feat, but they do it.
As that transpires, the boxes are plain cardboard boxes on the outside, but very carefully packed in Styrofoam and ice packs and shields between the lobsters and everything. Come up with a package that shows a great big red lobster on the side of it, all sides and on the top, you can't deny what's in that box when it's going down through the streets on bicycles. They usually take bicycles to get through the traffic to deliver these things to a drop point - like if you live in an apartment building, it would have a drop point and it drops in your box. Almost like the mail service, but the box is a lot bigger. You go down there and you know in two hours it's going to be there. So two hours later you go down and pick it up, away you go and you've got your lobsters. So now as they're driving through the roads they're going to be clearly identified Canadian-Nova Scotia lobster - a beautiful picture of a red lobster on the side of it.
In China, the ladies get married in a red wedding dress so when you think about it, it's all part of the culture - the red colour and the Communist colour that is their country's colour, so it really fits into the market. I mean, it's a perfect marketing opportunity in lobster. Not only is it lobster that we're doing very well - we're also doing a lot in other fish products as well as agricultural products now.
The UN tells us that between 20 and 40 years we're not going to have enough food in the world to feed the middle class. The middle class is going to be 65 per cent in the next 20 years in Asia. Where it is now in North America it's going to be in Asia, so we're going to slip to that level that we've never seen before. So there's not going to be enough food to feed the middle class in the world in 20 to 40 years' time.
MR. WILTON: So just on our own stocks, will we be able to provide some of that stock to them and where are we with our own stocks now? Are we feeding that? Is there a shortage in any of it? Where do you see that going?
MR. COLWELL: Well the fishing stocks in the world are fished to the maximum now, in most cases overfished, so there's nowhere to go in more harvesting and we may get for a while an increase. We can only increase so far - for instance, the lobster industry - then it will level off and hopefully it just levels off, doesn't crash like we saw in the groundfish.
That's one reason we're very interested in aquaculture. Aquaculture in this province has barely been touched at $60 million now. We feel we can get to $285 million within three to four years. I think we can go well beyond $285 million, probably close to $0.5 billion in five to 10 years. So we've got to do it right, we've got to do it environmentally friendly, and we've also got to make sure that we take people's issues and concerns seriously, which we do.
MR. WILTON: Just as one of the newer MLAs coming on board here, I want to thank you for all the work you do with the fisheries. It's great to hear something expanding and great for the province. That's it, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Cumberland North.
MR. TERRY FARRELL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the minister. I'm glad to have the opportunity to ask you a couple of questions tonight. I've been in and out a bit while you've been giving your evidence and I haven't heard anything about any work that might be going on in your department with respect to onshore aquaculture and what might be happening in the different communities. I know there's one fairly successful operation in Cumberland County. I've talked to that guy and he's really optimistic for the opportunities in onshore aquaculture. I'd like you possibly to tell us maybe what some of the successes and challenges are and what work is going on in the department to support that sector of the industry.
MR. COLWELL: Well one thing we've recognized is the onshore aquaculture doesn't have to go through the rigour for approval of a site that we have for onshore, compared to the traditional in-the-water or ocean process. The approval for a site is relatively easy. They still have to go through an environmental farm plan and we are open for new sites now. We have never stopped doing that.
The trouble with onshore aquaculture sites to date in the province, the only people in the past who have made any money at it is the hatcheries. They've done very well if they're onshore aquaculture sites. We have three of them in the province, owned by the province for sport fishing ones. There is one company that does bass, I believe, that is doing quite well. There's another company that's doing salmon that has the potential of doing very well - very good products, all of those products.
When it comes to aquaculture, any opportunities we can see that again meet the environmental concerns that we have, that everybody has, we're open for business. We want to see those expand as well as the offshore - when I say offshore, I mean near-shore sites. Offshore is another possibility as well in this industry, a very real one.
MR. FARRELL: What are the ideal conditions, if you will, for an onshore operation or are they different in each case. Are each of the ones we have unique? What are we looking for?
MR. COLWELL: We're looking for good water flow patterns, good temperature structure for a particular site so we make sure through the year what the temperature variations are from highs to lows. We don't want it too hot and we don't want it too cold. We're looking at those.
Each species has a different requirement. Shellfish again are a whole lot different than finfish, a trout is a lot different than a salmon, and now we're getting a lot of interest in halibut. Halibut is the highest value of all of them.
I visited a site in Norway and we supply - not the province, but a local company supplies the small halibut. We're the only ones in the world that can grow from an egg to a halibut. Norway has tried it; they can't do it. They're the only ones in the world who are growing out halibut, so there seems to be something wrong with this picture. We've got a lot of interest now, and the Norwegian company is really interested in working with us to develop some ocean grow-out sites for halibut.
Salmon in value is about $3 to $10 a pound, $10 for really top-quality, organically grown, which they are in some cases. Halibut in Norway is $20 a pound not cleaned. When we sell a salmon here, it's cleaned. But they can sell every halibut they can get; there's a huge demand for it. I think the fisherman here has got as high as $17 or $18 a pound for halibut, had it and got halibut here that they catch in the wild. There's great opportunities here, and we're working on some potential opportunities to do that. The technology has been pretty well developed.
Back to on-land as well as the near-shore and offshore stuff, we have R&D money to help them as well to get these operations profitable. There has been a lot of people going at the onshore stuff who had a great idea but not the resources to follow through because it's a long process: you're three to five years to getting your first crop off. Most of the times, you can't get enough quantity in the systems we have - even though the systems we have are state-of-the-art - to get the payback. That has been the big hold-up, and you have to have tremendous cash flow to get there.
MR. FARRELL: Okay, thank you. I think there's about 20 minutes left, and from the point of view of the Liberal caucus, we'll give you an opportunity to make some closing remarks prior to conclusion. I think everyone else seems to have exhausted their questions, and we have as well. Thank you, minister.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you. How much time do I have left?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The minister has 21 minutes, to be exact.
MR. COLWELL: I'd just like to recap some of the stuff we've been talking about here. If you could give me maybe a 30-second or one-minute warning?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'll give you a one-minute warning.
MR. COLWELL: We look at the fishing industry, and I've talked a little bit here about the importance of the fishing industry in the Province of Nova Scotia. I want to thank the Premier and my colleagues in Cabinet and my caucus members, and the Opposition Parties for the work they've done in the past to highlight these industries in the province. I've never seen - I don't know in history - when the budget of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture has been increased to the level it is now and the four-year commitment of over $12 million to look at aquaculture in the Province of Nova Scotia.
We think the fisheries industry is the biggest opportunity for economic growth that exists in the province. If I was talking about agriculture, I'd be talking about wine, but wine doesn't even have the immediate potential that aquaculture has. I truly believe, with the plan we've got put together and the new structure we have, that we can hit $285 million in three to five years. That will be sustained for a long, long time.
This is something we're in for the long game. I know successive governments have come along and put money in call centres, and when the money's gone, they're gone. This is something that's huge infrastructure, huge economic benefit.
I don't know what the exact number in Norway is - maybe one of my staff can let me know what finfish aquaculture is in Norway - but it's substantial, I mean substantial. We won't get to that level in the Province of Nova Scotia unless we go offshore, and then we could easily do that. Aquaculture in Norway is $6 billion a year. Just imagine that, $6 billion a year. We could achieve it in Nova Scotia if we go offshore, and the technology is there to go offshore.
We can probably really stretch everything we have, get every shellfish operation in place, every finfish site that makes sense, maybe grow halibut for higher value, maybe some other products are higher value. Bass is an onshore site that they're doing very well with. You don't hear anything about it, but it's happening, and the gentleman who has perfected that has done very well. We could probably get somewhere between $0.5 million and $1 billion a year in the industry. If we go offshore it's a totally different game. We can definitely improve that part of our industry.
I think there's hundreds of millions of dollars left in added value on the traditional, wild-caught fishery, whether it's in halibut that we get, whether it's in lobster, even herring, all those different things. Years ago, I remember when I was Fisheries Minister before, you'd take the herring roe from the herring and dig a big hole somewhere and put the herring carcasses in the hole. It caused all kinds of environmental issues which are still there today. The oil doesn't go away, it doesn't break down, it's there forever. Maybe someday someone will mine those and indeed, provide another product that we never dreamed of today. Fish oil years ago was basically used for cod liver oil and if it wasn't cod liver oil, I don't know what they did with it. They didn't do anything but it's a major source of income.
The Icelandic industry has created an enzyme out of cod bones worth $1,600 an ounce. Some of this stuff is just on the cutting edge and it's just starting to realize. I know when I was over there they gave me a card holder made out of cod skin. It's just like leather, it's beautiful - a little cod skin business-card holder, pretty neat. They're looking at more and more products like that and they're on the leading edge of the cod industry and their industry is vibrant. They did it by - they passed a law that says you're not allowed to dump any fish at sea, you're not allowed to dump any fish on land anywhere, you've got to fully utilize everything you catch. They took it seriously and they have unbelievable returns from the cod industry.
Our cod industry is coming back and it's guaranteed that we're not set up like they are, so there's hundreds of millions of dollars we're losing every year. If we grow our aquaculture the way I think it can grow, and again responsibly and environmentally friendly, we can easily hit $3 billion by adding seafood exports in this province - $3 billion. Imagine the economic benefit in rural Nova Scotia and for the whole province. Those are the things we need to do.
Before, it was almost a penalty if you were a farmer or a fisherman. At the same time I know when I was minister before, we were exporting $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion a year in fish products and it dropped. When we came into power it was $880 million or $890 million and now we're $1.6 billion, almost $1.7 billion and we're just scratching the surface. When you look at the economic benefit and clean environmentally, and you do it right, it's absolutely huge. If we take that and add value all the way along the chain - I'll give you an example. There's one company in Nova Scotia that takes salmon products - aquaculture salmon products, that's the only thing we can get - and they probably add five to six times the value of that salmon they get and they can't get enough product made. It's that simple, and that's just one company. You see exciting things are happening.
There's a shrimp processing facility in Cape Breton I was in, it's state of the art in the world - not just Canada, in the world. They've got quality standards in that facility that are beyond anything that exists in North America, and for one customer, the customer is making them go to that level.
You go into the plant - you can't get in the plant on the floor. You cannot go in there at all. Four or five people working on the floor, all dressed in white - absolutely spotless. The floors are absolutely spotlessly clean; the equipment is spotlessly clean. All the maintenance is done from the ceiling above, which is totally sealed from the processing facility. They run all the wiring, and the maintenance crew is only allowed in when it's shut down. They clean everything at night and the maintenance crew comes in and does the work then, the only time they're allowed in the plant. If they have a breakdown, they've got to clean the whole thing out and do the maintenance if it's an emergency breakdown.
It's state-of-the-art that's going on in Nova Scotia. People don't realize how far we have advanced. We need to advance further. We need to automate more. We need to get more quality and more products in the marketplace. Canada is known for the cleanest waters in the world and the greatest people to buy products from. That's why we market as Canadian-Nova Scotian. Without the Canadian content, we're going to miss the market. We don't intend to miss the market.
This free trade deal with CETA, the European Union and with the Trans-Pacific Partnership is really positive for the fishing industry. It's going to take tariffs away. They're just out of sight. It's going to open up markets like you wouldn't believe. I know that we're going to really move forward in the fishing industry and grow the economy in the province - just because of those two trade deals, never mind anything else we do.
People are looking for high-quality, premium products and we need to get a high- quality, premium price for it. Once we get that established and that's happening, you're going to see economic growth in this province that you've never seen before from an industry that everybody thinks, well, there's a guy with a pair of rubber boots and he cuts up bait on the wharf and he goes out in his old beat-up fishing boat. That's the farthest thing from the truth in Nova Scotia.
You get the high-tech boats as mentioned here before with the up-to-date electronics, the holding facilities and everything you can imagine on these boats. A fishing boat now can run you - a 45-foot fishing boat - up to $1 million. Those things are beautiful. They've got everything on board and for the creature comforts, for the deck crew and all those things you can imagine and all the latest technology that you can possibly get for navigation and everything else.
The free trade issues are there. We also have support for certifications like the same with the shrimp plant. They never accessed any of that, as far as I know, but for a small plant that wants to get certification on something, we have programs that can help them with that, so we're really integrated with the whole thing.
We're looking at automation for fish plants to stop some of the labour shortage and get more productivity out of our fish plants. We're doing all those things.
One thing we haven't talked about a lot, and I mentioned a little while ago, was the sports fishing industry. You're going to see us come out very shortly with a program we've been working on for some time around salmon habitat improvement at an area in the province that there's been a lot of work done by the Nova Scotia Salmon Association. We're picking up on that and working with them.
One thing we did for the Nova Scotia Salmon Association last year, we have a subsidy on freight for lime. The lime, as everyone knows, helps the pH level in the rivers and lakes, and makes it a lot healthier environment for the fish. The fish actually come back, and they're bigger and healthier than ever. So we put that agricultural subsidy in 90 per cent of the freight at the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure level - same as they're hauling gravel - in one direction only.
To the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, what that's allowed them to do is buy more lime and put more lime in the rivers, so that has really been a progressive thing. They couldn't believe we were going to do it, but it's really nice to have that synergy between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
The reason I did that was - I was in a meeting early on with staff from both departments. It doesn't happen a lot because they're totally different industries. I asked them, where the farms are liming the soil a lot in the farming industry, how are the streams for the fish? The immediate answer was, it's great - the pH is really good. They had never talked about it before and never realized that was the case. So it just made all kinds of sense to put the two things together and put the subsidy on the lime. They buy the lime, they fundraise for it, and they get it that way, so it's a great partnership.
The other thing we have done, we have hired a scientist at Perennia. It's in our budget this year. We allotted $100,000 for that. They work for Perennia. His complete and total job is salmon restoration on specific rivers that we pick to work with the Nova Scotia Salmon Association. We do that in co-operation with them and in consultation with them. The industry is extremely excited about it. We had a briefing not long ago on how we're going to do this and how we're going to put it in place.
We picked one river that had a lot of work done by the Nova Scotia Salmon Association. It's the West River in Sheet Harbour. A lot of work was done by them already, so we've got a good baseline. This scientist had been working there on his Master's degree and towards his Ph.D., so he knows the river inside out and backwards, so we don't have to start without any knowledge. With that knowledge, we are going to do some major things that we'll be announcing shortly with the Department of Natural Resources. It's been really fantastic working with the minister who's there now and the previous ministers who were there. We've really come a long way in what we're going to do and how we deal with the structure of that. It's very exciting.
A day fishing a salmon river anywhere in North America, if you get a guy, has costs of anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 a day. It doesn't take much math to figure out that if you get a river that's really productive and you can put 100, 200, or 300 of these trips, day-fishing trips, in place in a year with a guide, that's a huge economic impact to a rural area that has no employment. It puts guides to work, the local stores to work, the hotels or motels to work, those local restaurants to work, those fish and tackle companies - everybody wins for a small investment on our part.
We've committed to working with the Nova Scotia Salmon Association and the sports fishing industry - not just on salmon but also on trout. We stock 400 lakes in the province. We grow all the fish in our own hatcheries at three sites, which we're very excited about, and it's a very professional group. We've got a new director in the department who has brought fresh new ideas to the forefront who has a lot of a connections with a lot of industries.
We've just made an informal arrangement which we're going to formalize down the road with Nova Scotia Power to work on the rivers with us to help improve habitat for salmon. They had not been involved with us before. They're going to work with us and the Nova Scotia Salmon Association jointly; it's going to be a group. We're also going to approach other businesses in the province that have a vested interest in sports fishing and/or forestry or the rivers and lakes in the province. It's all positive things we're putting together as a multi-pronged approach to growing our economy.
It was interesting: I was at the Atlantic Salmon Federation meeting, as I said, with the Nova Scotia Salmon Association. Parks Canada were there with a presentation on what they're doing on salmon enhancement in the rivers in New Brunswick, in the park. They have a partner that - the guy showed us a picture with a big trailer truck with all the fish boxes on the back with water on them, moving salmon around, and there was a Parks Canada helicopter in the foreground. He said the truck in the back is Cooke Aquaculture. Cooke Aquaculture transports the fish for us. The reason they did that is because they gave us one of their sites to use, provided the pens for the wild salmon to grow them to a larger size than normal, and the return rate is incredible, just incredible, compared to putting the small little smolts in, which has been the tradition all the way along.
It was interesting to see, and I know some of the anglers are really anti-aquaculture salmon farms. They were asking some tough questions. They said, well, do they get sea lice? The answer was definitely yes. What do you do if you get sea lice? They told me, the same treatment we do that they would use on the wild fish is what they do on the farm fish, which is hydrogen peroxide, which is an inert product. Or whatever other product they use, they're going to use the exact same solution there. They feed them the same food, and they do the same inoculations if there's an issue that they have to deal with. All of it's recorded, but the fish are in healthy condition.
Then they take those fish. Cooke transports them for them, takes them to the site, and they actually release them in the river quite a ways up the river, so they get familiar with the river. There's no issue between the salt and freshwater. They find that for salmon, it's not an issue.
During that meeting I had discussions with Parks Canada and both in Cape Breton, they're very interested in doing some work there and in New Brunswick, they're very interested in working with us, so another partner we've got engaged, and DFO as well. We've got a great working relationship with DFO. We're going to try to come over some of the hurdles of getting, once we get one river in sports fishing approved for fishing, they want five or six rivers in a row done. We want to see if we can get one done and if that one works well, we can get back fishing on it.
There's some innovative ideas that the Salmon Association thought maybe there's a small fee for fishing on the river for the day and all the money go back to the Salmon Association, 100 per cent restoration work on that river, but that's again a discussion we have to have and make sure we discuss it with the public and everything as we move forward but it's a novel idea.
Another way to raise money that people would be only too willing, avid sports fishermen would be only too willing to be able to catch a salmon in a day and pay a small fee for that, and I'm talking local residents as well as people from outside the province. They know they are putting something back into it so that instead of having 20 salmon that they can see jumping, maybe we can get 40 salmon jumping there and we can open up other rivers. We're using this as a model to see if we can't create a model of how it's done, with all scientific research, all scientifically backed up, co-operation from the industry, the sport fishing industry, our department, DFO, Parks Canada, Nova Scotia Power - anyone else we can get onside to help with this stuff.
MR. CHAIRMAN: One minute, minister.
MR. COLWELL: When push comes to shove, when you really start talking to people about doing these projects, their eyes light up and they get all excited and say, we never thought about doing this before and we never had anyone we could work with to organize all this stuff and we're just setting it up and coming up with the idea.
The reaction has been incredible. We're very excited about that and we look forward to a lot of great things happening in the department and for the Province of Nova Scotia. There's not one person, I don't think, who sits in this Legislature who doesn't want the economy in Nova Scotia to grow, so our children will stay here and our grandchildren.
Before we run out of time here, I'd like to make one comment. I'd like to thank the Premier who has been a big supporter of our department, my Cabinet colleagues and my caucus colleagues for the biggest sums that have ever been given to the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries in history.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E10 stand?
Resolution E10 stands.
The time allotted for today's Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply has expired. We'll now adjourn.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 8:58 p.m.]