HALIFAX, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2017
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Suzanne Lohnes-Croft
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I call this meeting of the Subcommittee on Supply to order. Under the estimates of the Department of Agriculture, we left off last evening with the Liberals. They do have 53 minutes. Would you like to continue your questioning, or turn it over to the Progressive Conservatives?
Okay, we will turn it over to the Progressive Conservatives. Mr. Lohr.
MR. JOHN LOHR: I understand that the minister has a report he wants to table. Maybe I should let you do that right off the bat - I think that is what you intend to do, so maybe I will turn it right over to the minister if you intend to do that.
HON. KEITH COLWELL: Yesterday, I promised the member that I would table a summary of the investigation that alleged stumping of Quebec cabbage in Nova Scotia. I would like to table that and make an official document to the committee.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The report is tabled.
MR. LOHR: I would like to ask the minister a few questions about Perennia. I would like to start off with - I know that Perennia has, for a year and half now, been providing service to the fisheries sector. I just would like to ask the minister if he could give an overview of where he sees that going, and to what extent does Perennia’s involvement - where does he see that heading? How deeply will Perennia get involved in the fisheries sector, and to what extent is that reflected in the budget for Perennia - how does he see that happening?
MR. COLWELL: Unfortunately, I am not going to answer that question. We should come back to it when we do our fisheries estimates, which will probably be today or Monday. I will be glad to get into that. I will answer anything around agriculture and Perennia.
MR. LOHR: Perennia is extraordinarily important to the agricultural community as the minister knows. What I would like to ask is, where does he see Perennia’s business role - or role with agriculture - going? Is it expanding or decreasing? What are the priorities he sees for agriculture?
MR. COLWELL: Perennia is an incredibly good organization. It is an organization based a long time in agriculture. As the member has indicated, it has been expanded into fisheries as well. I will take questions on the fisheries side when we do the fisheries estimates. But agriculture has not diminished Perennia whatsoever. I did appoint an all-industry board to Perennia, chaired by Charlie Keddy, one of the foremost strawberry plant growers in the province.
It has taken on a new goal, expanding. Perennia is really looking at all things food, and any products we can take to market that can help grow Nova Scotia’s economy. They have been very successful, they have come up with some fantastic products, and we look forward to them doing more exciting work in the years to come.
MR. LOHR: I know that your government has talked about red tape reduction. I am just wondering if you can give me any concrete examples of red tape reduction in agriculture.
MR. COLWELL: There are several initiatives we have under way, and some are in early stages, so we can’t give you too many details on them. We talked about new BRM projects yesterday federally and provincially. We’re looking at that.
One of the main reasons we’re looking at that is because of red tape. I know that when the farming industry puts applications in, sometimes it takes months or maybe over a year to get a cheque back if it’s on Agricovery and some of the other programs. That’s being reviewed. Hopefully, the review from that should come back with some very positive recommendations we can implement across the country. That’s one example, and that’s a very important one.
We’re streamlining our wine regulations in the province. We’re in the process of reviewing that now with the industry. The regulations were set up when it was a hobby industry in the province, and now it has turned into a business, so those are under review. We have several other things that we have done over the last few years. Again, when we looked at all the things we do in the natural products, we have streamlined some things. We just passed a red-tape reduction item in Cabinet, which I can’t talk about until it’s announced from there, this week which will help one of our commodity groups, at their request, which was really nice to see. We have been working on a lot of different things. It’s a slow process. Indeed, to find things, it can really cut the red tape down. It’s difficult in a regulated industry.
MR. LOHR: There are several different examples of red tape or issues of what you would maybe call red tape that I would like you to comment on.
I know we have had people who access a farm from the Amherst area who would like to do business at the Moncton farmers’ market and have some issues going across the border. I’m wondering if the minister has heard of those, and if there is any attempt to help them to access the biggest market in their region, not that far away.
MR. COLWELL: I haven’t heard about the issues there but I would almost guess it’s the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. You’re not allowed to ship food products from one province to another because it’s looked at as exporting. Unfortunately, it’s rules that they have set up. All the products would have to come from a CFIA-approved facility, and we don’t have a lot them in the province.
We’re actually also looking at a pan-Atlantic agreement for the possibility of moving products across the border like that. I know we worked with Northumberland Lamb about two years ago to get them CFIA approved. It was a long process and very worthwhile. Everything that they can produce they’re selling now, and it has opened up huge markets for us.
There is some interest in other processing facilities to be CFIA approved. It’s a long, complicated process for a small business, but through Perennia and through our department, anyone who’s interested in becoming CFIA approved, we will definitely work with them. I think it’s essential to improving our exports. If you would like to give me the details on that particular facility, I’d be only too glad to work on it.
MR. LOHR: I know there have been issues that we have discussed in the past on provincially inspected meat killing plants. I know the Federation of Agriculture has - in one of their goals to have scale-appropriate for these very small meat plants that choose not to be provincially inspected. I realize there’s a food safety aspect to that, but is the minister working on scale-appropriate regulations for provincially-inspected meat plants?
MR. COLWELL: Well, we really should have everybody CFIA approved That would be the answer. That’s what happens in the fishing industry. Every single plant - it doesn’t matter what you’re doing - has to be CFIA approved. Whether it’s somebody that employs two people or 2,000 people, it all has to be approved.
We’re doing a capacity study right now in the department on red meats and white meats to see what is needed in the province. Indeed, we feel that there is an opportunity there for some of the products - not beef, because of the processing plant in Prince Edward Island. I was talking to the minister a couple of months ago and they said they finally turned a profit over there after several years of losing money like crazy.
Northumberland Lamb is making money. I think there are opportunities to do more maybe for the pig industry. Eden Valley is doing very well with chickens and turkeys - they’re CFIA approved.
When we get them provincially inspected it’s good for the local market and it really should all be inspected. I think that someday we’re going to see that in the province, strictly because of health issues. As we look at this inspection process - and I’ll be glad to see the review finished and see exactly what we need in the province for processing, because I know some of the pig farmers are shipping pigs in trailer truck loads - it costs them $8,000 for trucking fees to ship them to Ontario. That gets really cost prohibitive and really doesn’t make any sense, but in order to ship them out of the province or even to sell them to the big food chains like Sobeys or Loblaws or Walmart or anyone like that outside the province, you’ve got to be CFIA approved.
I would like to see our industry be all CFIA approved someday like the fishing industry. We’re a long way away from that. Once you get CFIA approval in there, it’s pretty easy to operate it. It’s just a matter of getting used to doing a lot of paperwork that you’re probably not used to doing. A lot of it can be computerized and a lot of things we can do.
We have programs in place that will help do that - to get people in place. All the enforcement, as you know, is all done now by the Department of Environment - but we do make the regulations and work with the industry to do that. If you know anybody in your area that’s interested in processing and has the will and the stomach for it, let’s put it that way, financially, then we’d be only too glad to talk to them about it. One of these facilities is quite expensive to set up.
MR. LOHR: Another example - I don’t remember if I brought this up last year or not, I might have - was a case where in our area, a farm market wanted to put in a food wagon on wheels. The municipal inspector said, and I don’t remember which way it was, but the provincial inspector of that, one of the two inspectors - there was a municipal and a provincial inspector - said that was stationary and needed a brick-and-mortar outhouse, even though there were numerous outhouses nearby that were like the mobile type. The inspector said it didn’t have to have that. Anyway, the inspector that called for more work won the debate and they did install, right next to a mobile food trailer on their farm market, a brick-and-mortar outhouse with a handwashing station in it.
The point is - this is sort of going to red tape - they had a situation where they had a municipal and provincial inspector saying two different things, and they had to deal with it. It ended up costing them in the order of $15,000 to $20,000 to sort that out. I’m just wondering if your department would commit to trying to deal with some of these issues where there’s overlapping jurisdiction for red tape reduction. I could certainly give you the example. It’s all done. It’s all water under the bridge now, but I’m just wondering if you would commit to that.
MR. COLWELL: Any time we can make it easier for business to operate in the Province of Nova Scotia, we definitely want to do that, but we also have to make sure we maintain our food safety and our requirements for that. We don’t want to see anyone getting ill in the province. We don’t want to see a slip in the quality of process.
I know we have had many discussions with individuals who wanted to do things their way. Sometimes it was good. Sometimes it wasn’t. That sort of gets mixed up with public opinion rather than the reality of what we have to do for food safety. If you have any cases like that or anyone in your caucus has cases like that, if you bring it to my attention, we will definitely look at them. We want to see the industry, and we also want to see farm gate sales improve over time. We’re working with the Department of Environment around this issue, and we will continue to do that.
I prefer to see, too, if there are particular cases because that usually highlights a problem, if indeed everybody is following the rules and/or the rules are too stringent or not stringent enough, whatever the case may be. At the end of the day, we have to report to the general public.
MR. LOHR: I know we’re very, very close in this Legislature to having a carbon tax, I guess it’s called cap-and-trade legislation. I’m wondering if you will comment on what impact you think that will have on agriculture in our province, if any - whatever. If it does have an impact, what does your department intend to do about that?
MR. COLWELL: The very straight answer is that agriculture is exempt under the cap-and-trade program and won’t be affected by the carbon tax.
MR. LOHR: I know that we generate electricity in the province with coal-fired electricity. Farms are big consumers of electricity, can be. I’m just wondering, will that mean that the added cost of the electricity from cap and trade would not be passed on to the farm community?
MR. COLWELL: I think these are questions better asked of Environment because they’re the ones who are really going to be looking after this file. We know that we’re going to be exempt. Past that, at this point, we don’t know. So, I would suggest that when the estimates go to Environment to ask the questions.
MR. LOHR: Certainly, we will be happy to ask Environment that question. However, your first comment, Mr. Minister, was that it would not affect agriculture. I believe I heard you say agriculture would be exempt. I guess I would like to ask what the nature of that exemption would be.
MR. COLWELL: Again, this is negotiations going on with the federal government right at the moment. I would suggest you should talk to Environment about this when they come up and go from there.
What I do know is that Nova Scotia is way ahead of the country on energy efficiency, energy process. That’s going to help us a lot with the carbon tax. Also under the new program, we have been going forward to a replacement cap. We are going to have a lot of energy efficiency upgrades possible for the farming industry that will help move them on the way.
With or without carbon tax on electricity, which I definitely hope there isn’t, but again that is under negotiation - I can’t comment on that - we’ll help them get more efficient regardless. I think that is going to be important for us, to make sure we fully utilize that.
MR. LOHR: Are there any details that you can give me on the exemption to agriculture that you just mentioned?
MR. COLWELL: I really think those are questions - I know those are questions you have to ask Environment and the individuals negotiating this at the time. We are working with those departments until we get further down the road and see what it is. We definitely do not want to see any burden on agriculture. We will be making sure we do everything so that doesn’t happen.
We have a staff person in Efficiency Nova Scotia who represents the interests of agriculture at the present time. We will keep that individual there. With programs we have, we should be able put the program together to make them more efficient than they are today.
I know there are some issues. We have been working with Nova Scotia Power on three-phase power to get to some of the dairy farms some of the processing. We are still working on that process. They have been receptive.
First, they were not receptive to that. I proposed to them that we look at the possibility of leasing the lines instead of having to put the cash upfront. A lease is an opportunity to write it off every month instead so you don’t have to capitalize, and it doesn’t effect your ability to borrow money or your credit rating or anything.
There are all kinds of things we have been looking at to try to help the industry, and we are going to continue to do that. Hopefully under this new cap program and feed programs we have, we will get some things in consultation with the industry to see where we can really help them save energy.
My goal at the end of the day - we talked about it yesterday, and I know it is yours as well - is, we want the farms to make money. If they can make money and do well, the province will do well. If they don’t make money, then they won’t be around. It’s that simple. Anything we can do to make them more energy efficient would be a real bonus as far as I am concerned.
We’ll see how the cap goes on the rest of it. It looks like there won’t be very much effect on agriculture at this point. Again, we have to wait and see what kind of negotiations are finished with the federal government.
MR. LOHR: I know that there are many farms looking for three-phase power, and I appreciate hearing your comments on three-phase power and appreciate your work on that.
I do appreciate the fact that you have a commitment to have agriculture exempt on the added cost of electricity. I guess I want to ask about the added cost of farm fuels. As you know, diesel fuel is a pretty important ingredient in a farm operation. It is true our tractors become more efficient over time slowly, but there is probably not that much opportunity in a very short run to make those tractors more efficient. Can you comment on the impact cap and trade will have on the price of diesel fuel for farmers?
MR. COLWELL: Again, these are questions that you should ask the Department of Environment when they work on this file. I am hoping that it will have no effect on them at all. That’s what I’m hoping. But again, you’ll have to ask them. This is still a new topic. I hope that the exemption includes diesel fuel, because it would be a big impact on farming.
MR. LOHR: I’m sure the minister knows that the carbon tax in British Columbia was seen to have an incredibly huge effect on agriculture. The greenhouse industry moved south into Washington State because of that, I believe - some of it anyway - and the added cost to fuels. I mean, the fuel costs incurred on a farm, or even for anybody in rural Nova Scotia, are mostly not discretionary. You have to drive where you have to drive. You have to operate that tractor. You have to heat what you have to heat. There’s not really much discretionary spending there.
I know that you’re right that there can be increases in efficiency in our buildings through Efficiency Nova Scotia, but I’m wondering if you’ll comment on if we see those same effects. I know you’ve said there will be an exemption for agriculture. I appreciate that.
Will your department deal with that if there are effects of a carbon tax cap and trade to agriculture in rural Nova Scotia?
MR. COLWELL: Again, anything around the carbon tax, you’re really going to have to ask the Department of Environment. They are the ones who are working on this, and past being exempt, I don’t know exactly what that’s going to work out to be.
I just want to remind you also at the present time there is no motor vehicle or motor - I forget the proper name for it, but no tax on fuel for farms. That was eliminated a long time ago, as it should be. That will help the situation, and it always has helped the situation, but anything around carbon tax, you’re going to have to ask the Department of Environment.
MR. LOHR: Okay. I guess I would like to ask about farming in Cape Breton. I know that at one time, prior to your time and my time, Cape Breton had a very significant carrot-production industry. The Margaree Valley was farmed very extensively at one time. What is the minister’s plan to see farming improve and come back and continue to grow in Cape Breton?
MR. COLWELL: I wonder if we could close the windows behind us. It’s very difficult to hear with the traffic going by. Could I ask you to repeat that question?
MR. LOHR: Sorry. We both have the same problem. I’m having trouble hearing you too.
I guess the question is, I know that at one time there was a significant amount of farming in Cape Breton, and there is still some, but it’s not near what it was in the past. What does the minister see the department doing to increase farm production in Cape Breton?
MR. COLWELL: Farm production in Cape Breton was quite unique. A lot of it was that at one time people had fished and farmed to make a living. Fortunately, the fishing industry has been very lucrative for the fishermen who used to farm, and they’ve basically stopped that.
There’s one winery in Cape Breton that’s been there for a number of years - well, the winery wasn’t, but the vineyard was - and that’s exciting. We’ve proven that we can grow grapes in Cape Breton, which is a great place to do things. We have opportunities there to move this forward and - I’m just going to look at these notes here.
We have business development officers and staff in Cape Breton full time - I have visited that office - a very capable staff who really care about the industry there. I think there’s a great deal of opportunity in Cape Breton for farming, and there’s more interest in it. It all goes back to our original discussion about being able to make money on a farm. If you can make money on a farm, people will farm again. If they can’t make money, they’re definitely not going to do it. It’s nice to have a nice lifestyle and do all the other things that some people sort of hobby and do, and that’s okay for a hobby. It’s okay for some individuals that like to sort of live off the land, but at the end of the day - and they’re very important too - you have to make money and the economic situation has to be right for that.
Cape Breton has a lot of opportunities. I think we can do a lot more in the wine industry there, which makes a product that you can sell everywhere. I met with a young man who did buy the vineyard and put a small winery up - doing very well. I think there are a lot of opportunities for that business. There are probably other opportunities as well that we’re exploring, but our staff is there and they’ve helped a lot of people and will continue to help a lot of people to move this thing.
Our CAP programs too - the new CAP programs, they can also apply those in Cape Breton. We can look at special programs for that region to encourage people to move there as well, and to expand what they’re doing.
MR. LOHR: I know that at one time the beef industry was spread fairly well around the province and it is probably still one of the industries that shows up in more areas than any other. I’m just wondering, I know the beef industry in Cape Breton was significant at one time, but I’m just wondering, what is the minister doing to improve this industry?
MR. COLWELL: We’re working a lot of things in the beef industry and have been for a long time now. One of the main things we’re doing is the Maritime beef strategy with the rest of the provinces, which I think is very important. We do have specialists at Perennia for beef that works all over the province on particular issues. Actually, two years ago, the beef industry approached me and said the program Growing Forward 2 really wanted to address any issues that they had. We had an envelope of money that we had, so I told them and the sheep producers to come back with what they wanted and what they thought themselves would grow their industry the most. The cattle industry came back with handling equipment that they need for the cattle. We funded that two years in a row. This year we probably won’t fund that again because there are probably some other things they want to do.
We really struck a new way of doing business and more consultation with the businesses. I remember when I met in Truro with them, they said - they didn’t believe us, to start with, that we were actually going to listen to them when they came back with the program. So, we did that. It did work well. We’ll continue to do that. We did the same with the sheep industry. It’s an industry that I think we don’t utilize enough - sheep in the province - because it can make some money at that and it can start pretty small. It’s a great opportunity.
Beef is a little bit more expensive to get into and you have to have a lot more land than you would typically have for sheep, but both are very important commodities for us. The fact that they have to ship from Cape Breton Island for processing for CFIA all the way to P.E.I. gets really expensive. We’re looking at the possibility of having some - not CFIA approved, of course, at this point, because nobody seems to be interested, and I don’t blame them, because of economic issues - some provincially-inspected facilities there so they can get their product processed right there and put it in the local market.
MR. LOHR: I know there are some, Mr. Minister, who would say that the mandate letter that you have from the Premier, which puts particular emphasis on one or two sectors, has left out some of these other sectors such as the beef industry. I know I have heard that criticism of that letter, that it’s too focused on the wine industry, which certainly has been successful. I’m not saying that. I’m just wondering if you would comment on that. Do you feel that your department has become too focused on several areas and doesn’t address these other areas adequately?
MR. COLWELL: Not at all. We actually operate on a multi-focused approach to all the things that we do. The beef industry is extremely important for us. The sheep industry and any of the other commodity groups are important. We have to have that complete mix, and we have to make investments in all of those industries to make sure they’re profitable and improve technology and productivity as we move forward.
We spend a lot of time talking about the wine industry, and that’s an emerging industry. But we spend more time actually on the other commodities than we do on that. We set up a couple of different commodity groups to work directly with them.
We did more consultation with the industries, and I think this has been done for a very long time. We set up a working group with the blueberry industry. We set up a couple of other ones as well that I work with directly to get feedback. Those are under way.
We’re working to make sure that any possibility we can find to help grow Nova Scotia’s economy, we want to be involved in it. If anyone there has an idea, we want to explore it. We want to make sure it will work and help them with it.
We have been very proactive with all the industries. You will find that as we move forward.
MR. LOHR: Madam Chairman, I would like to switch to the member for Cumberland North right now.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Smith-McCrossin.
MS. ELIZABETH SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Thank you. I apologize if I ask any questions that Mr. Lohr did. In looking through the budget for Agriculture - there’s probably a very simple answer - I was just curious about the reason for the significant cut in the Agriculture budget.
MR. COLWELL: We did cover that yesterday, but I will give you the abbreviated answer. There wasn’t really a cut. It was a transfer of responsibility - not responsibility, of funding. We were funding the Agricultural College in Truro. That funding has been transferred to the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, where it should be, because they deal with all the universities. That was what that was and nothing else.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: It’s difficult from just looking at the estimates to see the actual breakdown of money and where it’s allocated. I was just curious, are there any specific dollars that are going directly to increasing the percentage of food supply for Nova Scotians? For example, in my maiden speech, I had quoted the Federation of Agriculture’s numbers. We’re importing 87 per cent of our food supply for Nova Scotian families. Are there any dollars that are allocated directly to changing that? If so, what is the specific plan and percentage that we’re trying to reach?
MR. COLWELL: We talked about that a bit yesterday, and it’s actually 83 per cent. We import roughly 83 per cent now, not 85 per cent. We’re moving to eliminating imports. We want to eliminate imports, period, for two reasons: food security, which is critical to our province, and also for economic benefit because every time we can eliminate an import, that puts economic benefit in the province when we can produce the product here.
I used some numbers that I know from years ago when I was doing export work. If you eliminate an import, it’s a 7-to-1 ratio. Every $1 that you don’t import has a $7 economic impact on the province and on the country. We’re very anxious to do that.
Unfortunately, we can’t grow some products year-round. That’s unfortunate, but we have some pretty active greenhouses now. I think we’re pretty well self-sufficient on certain types of cucumbers and tomatoes year-round. Other than that, when we get outside of chicken, beef, milk, and those things, we still have to import quite a few items.
We have been working very closely with Sobeys and some of the other retail chains. They have the same vision. They want to buy everything they possibly can. Since we have been working with them on the great work they’re doing - I want to give them credit for the work they’re doing, Sobeys in particular. When I was first briefed by them about three years ago, they were buying $45 million worth of local produce in Atlantic Canada. We represented $25 million of that. We met with them last week and they’re now buying $46 million in Nova Scotia. It has almost doubled in the last three years. That’s a very positive step.
What that has done - not only did they buy that much locally, but $16 million was exported out of the province. That goes towards doubling our goal of our exports in 10 years - by 2024 or something like that. We didn’t know about Sobeys exporting it because they bought it locally, and the export is not recorded anywhere through Stats Canada. Without Sobeys’ $16 million, we were 80-plus per cent to meeting our goal in three years. With the $16 million added on, we’re probably about 90 per cent there already just in three years, so we’re making significant progress.
Some of the efficiencies that have been gained on the farms through science and development have really helped us. We have to look at different ways to hold things. In other words, if we weren’t exporting all our apples, and a lot of our apples we are, we could be self-sufficient in apples. One commodity after another is getting more efficient.
We have to do several things. Number one, we have to be cost-effective in growing our produce. That means we have to make farms more efficient, and we have programs to do that. We’re working with them, and the industry is really stepping up.
In some cases, we probably won’t be able to do it, but we also have to learn how to hold products through the year so we can sell them as needed. Apples are a prime example. There are the high-value apples like honey crisp. You can pick a honey crisp apple off a tree, and it has to be refrigerated for a length of time, I believe it’s 10 days, before the full flavour of the apple can be realized. When you take that apple after the 10 days and taste it, and you take one out of storage, you can’t tell the difference. There’s a lot of science to that. There’s a cost and expense to that.
Slowly we’re getting enough supply - our promised supply, continuous supply. When you look at these numbers, no consideration in the food supply has been given to the fishing industry. That has all just been agricultural products. When we take the fishing industry in there, we’re probably up around the 20 per cent goal already. That’s still a food supply, but it’s never counted.
We want to get well above that. I would like to see it to the point where we know that we have enough food to supply Nova Scotia year-round and be secure in that. You never know what’s going to happen. South of the border is a pretty scary situation now, and you never know what’s going to happen in the world.
I share your goal. I listened very carefully to your speech. It might not appear that way, but I did. I’ve been here too long. I can listen and do other things at the same time. It’s very important that we do that. If you have any ideas in that regard, I would like to hear them.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would just like to say that there’s about 14 minutes left, and we would like to leave five minutes for your closing comments, Mr. Minister.
MS. SMITH-MCCROSSIN: Due to the shortage of time, maybe I’ll ask a few questions, and you can answer what you have time for. Thank you for your answer.
I am looking to see if the department has a specific goal. I think when you have a specific target, you can make a plan to reach that target. I would love to have Cumberland County and Cumberland North included in that goal.
We have a huge resource of geothermal energy in Springhill. The temperature of our geothermal is much higher, and there’s much more efficiency than normal geothermal. There’s huge potential for a greenhouse industry right there, which would help you reach your goal.
I know some countries try to reach a goal of 50 per cent. I’m not sure if that’s what we’re trying to attain here in Nova Scotia, but I think it would be important to set a specific goal. I would love to see Cumberland County involved in that.
As you are aware, we have a huge supply of unused farmland in Cumberland. There are several reasons that have led to that. The BSE crisis, we have lost a lot of dairy farmers in Cumberland. The hog industry fell. There are several reasons. We held a meeting last Spring and had 65 farmers attend who all showed a huge interest and desire to be part of creating a plan. There’s a lot of energy there. We also, in Cumberland, have quite a few new small organic farmers. There has been a resurgence there. Most of them have moved from Ontario or out West, and they’re very interested in growing that industry.
Obviously, blueberries are a huge concern up in Cumberland, and I know your department has done some work on that. I also realize it’s a commodity, and it’s a global market, but anything we can do. There’s a deficit. Sometimes, we’re exporting a lot - I know we export a lot of blueberries - but local people can’t actually buy them in the stores. There’s a need there to look at our supply chain. I’m wondering, is the department working on that?
The last point that I’ll get in is, when I look at your numbers, I think what it says is that you have 93.4 funded full-time staff through the department. I would love to see some employees from the Department of Agriculture in Cumberland County. We have a huge agricultural resource there, but we don’t have any employees for the department. I think we all know that when people have a job to do, they tend to do more work in the physical area where they’re working. I know about three years ago one person was responsible for three counties including Cumberland. In a period of two or three years, he had been to Cumberland once.
I feel like the area is not being serviced like it could be by the Department of Agriculture. I feel like if there were some Department of Agriculture staff physically working out of Cumberland, that would help meet the needs and help our farmers take advantage of some of your great programs, because I know the department has a lot of great programs to offer. We even have some physical space that I don’t think would cost the department any extra money. I know at the Maritime Beef Test Station and Nappan Experimental Farm, there’s some physical office space already there.
Those were some of my points and questions to the minister.
MR. COLWELL: Would you give me a warning when I have less than a minute left?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have nine minutes now.
MR. COLWELL: You brought up several very good points. Blueberries - I totally agree. We’re working on a program now to put wild blueberries into grocery stores so you can buy them year-round. The model that was in place in the past was about shipping bulk blueberries out of the province. That is under way, and it’s going to take us a while to get in place. We have talked to Sobeys about this, and we’ll talk to other retail chains. They’re very excited about it, and they want to get involved. That’s a good start.
Greenhouses in your area - we would love to put greenhouses up there, absolutely love to. Evidently, a few years ago, there was a request to use those facilities there and geothermal energy, and the community said no. If you want to work on that with me, I’ll gladly do that. I think it’s one of the solutions. We have some connections. Actually, this week we met with some individuals who are very interested in greenhouse technology. We’ll make an investment in Nova Scotia. But again, they approached it before, and I don’t know if the municipal council turned it down or the community or what, but they weren’t interested. That was before my time, so I would have to check that out. If you pursue that and let me know, I would be only too glad to work on that.
As far as a staff member in your area, we have a lot of staff available. Any time we have anything needed in that area, we have actually three staff available who work in that area steadily, on any of the programs. I guarantee you - and this is no exaggeration - there’s not one farmer in your area who hasn’t accessed programs. That’s one thing they do very, very well, and we’re glad they do because it does help them.
We’re going to readjust the programs a little bit more, which may be more helpful to your farms there. You basically have mostly big industrial farms.
We’re happy about the new organic ones as well. Since I have been minister we have put organic legislation in place. It mirrors New Brunswick’s so we have a consistent thing. We want to do more around organic farming. I think that’s more of a lifestyle than it is really anything huge at this point.
Now it could be a huge farm. We do have one winery in Nova Scotia, Lightfoot and Wolfville, which actually grows organic grapes and makes wine from those grapes, so it’s organic based. We have been talking to the organic industry about this. They want us to look at some more regulations, maybe some more programs that we can help them with. We’re very willing to do that. I think that’s very important. There’s more interest in organic products than there ever has been. There’s a debate whether they’re better or not, but that’s not our business. That’s their business, and we will definitely work with them.
It’s exciting, the work that we have seen so far. We’re moving towards a goal - 20 per cent was the goal set prior. If we add the fish in, we’re probably already past it. I don’t think that’s high enough. I think that we really need to look at ways we can produce more and more product.
We can’t be producing the same product all the time. If we did put more greenhouses up, it can’t be to grow more tomatoes unless we have an export market for them because the market won’t take them. We have to look at other things.
There were some developments in greenhouse operations, indoor ones, that have worked. Perennia worked on those. I don’t know how that’s going to work out in the long run, but at least it’s a move in the right direction. We can look at those.
We’re looking at a lot of different things. We have a goal to double the exports. We already talked about that, but we’re well on the way for that. That sets a cash base down also for companies to then look at other products that they can grow and put in Nova Scotia.
One of the companies started growing kale in Nova Scotia on their own. They were sending broccoli, I believe it was, to the Carolinas by the trailer truckload in season. They approached them to grow kale, and we had never grown kale in the province before. They grew it with technology that they developed here in Nova Scotia. They get four times the production that they could ever get in the Carolinas. So, we have very good farmers. I think I am going to wrap this up - how much time do I left?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have less than five minutes.
MR. COLWELL: We’ve done a lot of really positive things around growing the industry and working with the industry. I have been after the industry to make money. I want them to make money. I told the story about the first speech I ever made in the federation and that was topic of it. If you talk to your farmers today, they’re talking about making money. We need to help them do that. We need to put programs in place. We have a whole new fleet of programs that we’re working on now to help them make money. Sometimes directly making money isn’t obvious. We’ve done programs in the past about manure storage, that saves them money, so in other words, it goes to their bottom line.
We also put a bulk fuel tank storage facility so they don’t have to run around getting fuel, they can do it on the farm and save some energy costs. We’ve put some energy cost-saving programs in place. We talked earlier about working with Nova Scotia Power on three-phase power, which is a big problem for a lot of farms. Once they get to a certain size, energy costs go right through the roof.
There are so many projects that we worked on with the industry over the last three years. I talked earlier about the programs we put together for the beef and lamb industry. I sat down with the industry just over two years ago and asked them, what do you want? They said, what do you mean what do we want? No one has ever asked us before. So, I asked them and they came back with suggestions, and we followed through with the programs, exactly what they were looking for. We’re going to do that more and more, because who knows better what they need than the industry themselves?
As we move forward in agriculture, we have a great opportunity here for young people to get into it. We were looking at the numbers the other day and most of the industry is over 55 - there’s a large group of them now up to 55 average age. One thing that was quite interesting was, I think 1.9 per cent are very young people, and that grew 1 per cent last year, so it shows that we are starting to get a trend of change.
There’s a lot of interest in farming, and we are getting interest too. I know when the Dutch came in, I believe it was back in the 1950s, the program was a huge economic benefit for the province. I think we have to look outside the borders again for some young people who can’t buy farms in the Netherlands, or wherever the case may be, who are really good at farming, and we can get them to come and maybe do a similar program again, to take some of these farms over, or start new ones. That will help our food supply. There are so many things we have to look at and do. We’re doing a really multi-faceted approach on all the different things, and we have to make sure that we get all those things working, and working well.
Just in closing, I have never been so impressed with what I see from the farming industry. They’re professional, they’re hard-working, and they’re innovative. I can tell you, put our industry up against anybody and you see the things they’ve done and accomplished. It is unbelievable, just unbelievable. Today’s farms in Nova Scotia use high tech, it is not with your little tractor anymore running around the backyard. It’s got some pretty sophisticated equipment ideas and approaches, and it’s really something. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E1 stand?
Resolution E1 stands.
We will take a short recess while we change to Fisheries and Aquaculture.
[12:01 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[12:07 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call this meeting of the Subcommittee on Supply to order.
Resolution E10 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $15,062,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: The honourable Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
HON. KEITH COLWELL: I will start by having my staff introduce themselves.
[The staff introduced themselves.]
MR. COLWELL: First of all, it’s exciting to be Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister in the Province of Nova Scotia. We have effectively met the Ivany goal in the fishing industry of $1.8 billion plus of exports in the province in just three years. We’re very excited about that.
We have gone from Nova Scotia being, I believe, third in exports in the country to number one for the last two years. It’s a position we’re going to maintain and grow upon. I think the economic opportunities in the fishing industry are way beyond anything we have seen in the past. I truly believe that we can go well beyond the $1.8 billion in exports by adding value to the existing fish we catch and other products. We’re looking at new markets all over the world for products, added value, and higher value for those products. It’s working.
I’m very pleased that the Premier and my Cabinet colleagues have seen fit to increase our budget this year to $15 million, the highest in history ever for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and it’s really making a difference. It’s allowing our staff to move forward with some very innovative ideas they have, really approaching a new way of doing business in Nova Scotia in the industry.
For years and years, there were a lot of very good companies in Nova Scotia, and there still are. Those companies are getting stronger and more innovative, and indeed, starting to challenge us to make sure we put programs together that help them grow the economy. We desperately need to grow the economy. In every Throne Speech we have had, both the Departments of Agriculture and Fisheries and Aquaculture have been highlighted as key economic drivers of the Province of Nova Scotia.
Indeed, I want to thank my staff, my colleagues, caucus, and Cabinet for supporting the growth in those industries and the financial response they have had to that by giving us more funds to do the work that we need to do. It’s exciting to be in Nova Scotia in the industry. We have 7,400 kilometres of coastline. That coastline has everything in it from crabs to seaweed.
I’m almost positive I have found a market for some jellyfish. In Nova Scotia, we never think about eating jellyfish, but people in the world eat jellyfish. I was at a meeting not long ago, and I mentioned we had jellyfish, and I think the guy thought he had won the lottery. That was my counterpart in another country. He thought he had won the lottery. He said, you have jellyfish? I said, yes, we have jellyfish. We need jellyfish; we will provide you with the technology to catch them - that was his exact response. We will provide you with the technology to dry them, package them, and store them. When can we start working with you?
That was the whole conversation. It was unbelievable. That’s a new product for us. It will be, I would assume, pretty well a 100 per cent export as we move forward, but maybe not. I’ve eaten them myself, and in the form they were in, they were actually very good, something I would eat again and order at a restaurant or learn how to cook. I would eat it as well. There’s unbelievable opportunities, and we’re looking at underutilized species now in the province to see what value we can add to them and get those in place.
We have worked very closely with the new federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and we’re very pleased with the response we’re getting from DFO. For a long time - and I was minister in 1998 and 1999 - it was very difficult to get any kind of commitment from federal Fisheries and Oceans. It’s still not easy today, but it’s a new working relationship we have with them, and they have been very responsive. Indeed, we have managed in the federal-provincial-territorial meetings to make some serious ground, ground that we never made before. They are listening to us, and they are working with us. It’s a pleasure to see that happen.
When we look at our fisheries, traditionally, it has been harvest, filet a fish, and ship it to Boston. That was usually the routine. The U.S. is our biggest customer, with just under $1.1 billion that we ship into the New England and U.S. markets every year. When I became minister, we were under that amount, as we were in all the markets we were in. The U.S. was our biggest market. The next biggest market was Europe, and the third market was Asia. Since that time, our number-one customer is still the U.S. Our number-two customer is now Asia and growing exponentially.
I read a report the other day that Clearwater has received a 500 per cent increase in the sale of the offshore clams that they harvest by packaging them and putting them online. It’s unbelievable, the new markets. Not only does it bring in a new market, but the price that they’re paying for them now is way higher than anything we have seen before. These markets are exciting, they’re new, and we have to make sure we provide top-quality, on time, in the quantity that’s needed, on a regular basis.
We’re doing a lot of work in Europe and Asia around marketing farming products too. Our problem with the farming industry has been that we can’t supply the product continuously in enough supply. But in the fishing industry, we do have the supply. We have the holding capabilities so that we can supply almost everything we have year-round, until such time as we get bought out of all of our supplies.
I remember going to one trade show. A local company was making a deal to sell a container load of a frozen shellfish product that wasn’t lobster. Talking to the manager of the company, he said, we’re going to make a deal for the year to sell container loads of this product. I said, are you going to make sure you get a good price for this, over and above what you would normally get? You have some risks here. He said, yes, I’ve got the price a lot higher than normal. I’m going to fix a price for the term of the year. I said, no, don’t do that. If you do that and your raw material costs go up, you’re going to be in trouble. You’re going to lose money. We can’t have you losing money. I said, your customer will probably accept it - I was guessing, I didn’t know. I said, just ask them and try to work with them. Lo and behold, he asked them, and they said not a problem. We will take the first one on a fixed price, and we will negotiate the price from then on for every container.
What that did was put a small Nova Scotian company on the map. Now they ship into this market on a continuous basis with very positive profit margins, ones they had not been able to see before. They have markets lined up for each for years to come. It is very positive, and the price is flexible. If the price of the raw materials goes up, they can put the price up, and in turn they can reduce the price if they have to for the customer. Those are just two examples of what is happening.
I talked to one of the aquaculture companies. They don’t just sell Nova Scotia products, but they do sell a lot of Nova Scotia products. Their sales in some of these areas have gone from $75 million to $750 million. Just think about that - from $75 million to $750 million in two years. The market is there. The opportunities are there.
Our challenge in the province is to make sure we enhance quality, that we get consistent quality. We add value by packaging, making special cuts of products, making special products. We have companies that are doing a lot of work around smoked products, products that were never on the market before. When we go to a seafood show, those companies are there, and they are selling these products. The products typically sell at a lot higher value than just selling a fillet or another part.
I visited some of the lobster processing facilities, and it sure doesn’t look like it did 10 years ago. They have some really high-tech equipment coming up with products that are selling worldwide, and extremely good quality.
The quality is beyond anything I have ever seen. That is what we need. When you buy our seafood product, it has to have the same flavour and texture as if you caught it and ate it on the boat. We are getting very close to that in a lot of our operations.
We have 178 processing companies in the province. We have about 300,000 tons of seafood landed every year. Just to give you a few stats here, we have more than 9,000 people working directly in the industry and probably triple that directly related to it. We are the number-one exporter in the country. We represent about 38 per cent of the total of seafood export in Canada now. We have come a long way in the last three years. It’s interesting to see the growth.
We have seen huge growth in the Asia market, particularly in China. When we started with China three years ago, we were a very small market at that point. In 1996, the number was around $5 million a year, and we are somewhere between $250 million and $500 million a year now, depending on how you count the numbers and see who is working at it.
Also, we are seeing so much innovation in the industry. We set up a panel on lobster that I chair with some of the representatives from the lobster industry, some of the bigger companies, and the companies that really want to see things change. I received an email yesterday from one of the executives of one of the companies. They are looking at technology that I thought I would never in my lifetime see in the fishing industry. They are looking at some computer-generated models, three-dimensional training programs on computers, and developing these programs. That’s being done here in Nova Scotia.
It is hard to believe. You think about a fish plant as being sort of an antiquated place. It’s not the case at all. Everything is being computerized, and the industry is driving this. That’s the best part. Some of these files we are working on, we are just the elements that make it happen, encourage them to do it, and help them with marketing - all these other things.
I remember, two years ago, without consultation - I stress, without consultation, and intentionally so - through Université Sainte-Anne - and we have marine biologists that are experts in lobsters in our department - we developed a lobster handling course. Now, the goal of that course - and it wasn’t the industry, it was us - was to improve the quality of the lobster - every time I say “improve,” a marine biologist corrects me - maintain the quality of the lobster from the boat, or from the water, to the customer. You can’t improve on quality, you’ve got to only maintain it. I get corrected on that, and rightfully so. We put a lobster handling course together, we funded it, Université Sainte-Anne prepared it, and we went through a pretty rocky ride with the industry. I knew we would be, but they started thinking about it.
I remember the first meeting I had, a gentleman came into our boardroom and he was sort of agitated, to put it mildly, about this training program. No one was going to tell him who he was going to train, or how he was going to train, and all this stuff. Anyway, we got through all that stuff, and there was all kinds of stuff on social media by another individual, and we had some pretty heated discussions about that, but we came to an understanding after a while. Those individuals now, the same individuals, are coming to us and saying, we need to do more of this. We need to change the course; the course doesn’t really reflect what we need in our businesses and we want to be part of it.
That’s a huge shift in attitude in the industry, and we’re so happy about that. They’re coming now with ideas about how we can improve the quality of our products. I’d better not say “improve” - maintain the quality of our products into the future. It’s exciting to see the change in the industry. They realize that, today, we’re dealing in a world market. It’s an open market now, it’s open technology, and I remember another meeting I was at,
one person started giving me a hard time about me going to the press. I pointed back at him and said, I didn’t go to the press, you did, and I responded to you. Well, he said, you can’t do that anymore. No more press, no more press. I said, why no more press? He said, well, a couple of my customers called from Asia, and they cancelled their orders because they figure we have poor-quality seafood here. I said well, next time maybe you won’t talk to the press so quickly.
I talked about this in Agriculture, with the blueberry file. I know several companies in Asia and Europe that watch our media continuously, absolutely continuously. They monitor the cost of lobsters, of blueberries, everything, and everything is in the media. They read it all, they document it all. If we make a statement about something, even in this House, or anything about the price of something, that will drop the price for Nova Scotia fishermen, for Nova Scotia farmers, and it could wipe out the industry for us. They watch it that closely. This is real, this is not maybe, this is real. I’ve talked to the companies that have done this, who are customers of ours, and they do lose the same as the gentleman - he was right, he did lose customers, because he made a statement and the industry made a statement.
I would encourage all the caucuses, and our own caucus, and everybody, not to talk about prices, or issues we have, publicly. Let’s get them fixed, look after our house and home, it’s the same as your home, there are always issues in your home, no matter what - maybe I forgot to pay the power bill or something, I’ve done that before, but my neighbours don’t know about that. That’s the way it’s got to be, because your neighbours are watching, they’re watching very, very carefully. That hurts our industry, it really does hurt our industry. We’ve got to be talking about positive things, good things that have happened. That’s something we’ve really got to work on in the province. We’ve got to educate our farmers, our fishermen, our businesses, that we keep our information here, to make sure that we can go to the marketplace and really sell products at the absolutely best price we can, and the best possible product we can provide. We had the products, we just have to get our act together on some other stuff.
We’ve done a lot of things in the department, and again, I want to thank my colleagues for this. We have invested another $0.5 million a year to continue export growth in Asia, Europe, and the United States, as some of the things we’ve done. One thing was very exciting. We learned very early on that we needed a Nova Scotia brand, so some very intelligent and exciting people in my department - and it’s fun to work with them - work for the consulting company and they came up with a brand, Nova Scotia seafood brand and it’s actually 45˚ North 63˚ West.
Now, it’s 45˚ North 63˚ West and we had a lot of discussion about this location because we wouldn’t dare put it in one end of the province or the other end of the province - or one harbour instead of another harbour - so it actually happens to be right in the centre of the province, and it just happened by chance to be one of the most historic places in North America. It’s the location where the first live news broadcast was ever done in history. It’s where the mine disaster was near Murchyville - a small, little place - and it just happened that’s where it was, so that really worked out well.
Our seafood brand - there’s going to be some pretty tight and stringent rules around who can use it. Now, the province can use it of course, but we are going to license it to companies, Nova Scotia companies, seafood companies, any company in Nova Scotia, really. It was originally for a seafood brand but we’re going to go out past that to our brand. You’re going to have to meet rigid quality requirements that we’re going to set in the province, packaging requirements, marketing requirements, the whole nine yards.
When someone sees that brand on a product, they know it’s a quality product and it’s from Nova Scotia, Canada - and our brand is Nova Scotia, Canada, not just Nova Scotia on this brand, and it’s been really well received. It’s easy to understand, and anyone who has done any boating, or divers, or pilots, or anybody that’s in any kind of navigation is pretty quick to go on the map and see what 45˚ North 63˚ West is. They may not have a clue where Nova Scotia is - and couldn’t care less - but they’ll go to 45˚ North 63˚ West and say, that’s Nova Scotia.
That’s the reason for this and it’s worked very, very well, and some of the places we’ve had to nicely say to people, you’re not allowed to use this in your country for your business because you’re not registered to do it. We have this registered in Asia as a trademark and also in Canada, the U.S., and some other areas. We’ve done this, we’ve done it properly, and I want to thank the staff who really made this happen. It took us quite a while and, as we grow exports, we really need to be identified as Nova Scotia exports.
We have a goal in our department. It’s to grow the economy. I’d say that’s my first three goals: grow the economy, grow the economy, grow the economy. By doing that, we’re adding value to things, we’re helping businesses grow, we’re helping communities grow, and the most exciting thing I do in my job is growing rural Nova Scotia.
Now, there are not many people who can say in any department that they’re saying they’re growing rural Nova Scotia. We have a wonderful place to live in rural Nova Scotia. I mean, it’s beautiful. You get up in the morning. It’s quiet. It’s pristine. The air is clean. The water is clean. We market that as well when we’re travelling and talking to people, so those are great opportunities for everything that we’re putting forward.
Another thing we did a pilot project with - and again, this time, we went to three companies in Nova Scotia - we chose three companies - to see if they’re interested. They were. We talked to Alibaba, Tmall-Alibaba about a quality marketing program for lobsters. We worked with Université Sainte-Anne, a marine biologist who is an expert in lobsters, to develop a live-lobster quality-handling standard. We developed it and we have three companies that did a pilot project to sell 300,000 lobsters online. We had very great success in the past selling online with Alibaba and they were a natural partner for this initial pilot project.
We launched the project and we shipped the lobsters into China with less than a 1 per cent mortality. Now, that was unheard of. Typically, it could be 5 per cent; in some really bad cases, you might be as high as 20 per cent, but it’s usually around 5 per cent or 10 per cent. But it’s less than 1 per cent consistently from the three companies. That was being translated right to the customer at the door.
The quality system is from the boat to the customer, no matter where the customer is in the world. That project worked well. We had to tweak a little bit for requests from some of the customers, which was good - very positive.
Now we have commitments. Companies in Nova Scotia are approaching us to use a standard, want to be qualified under the standard. I met recently with some of the companies from Asia that want to get involved in this. One company is committing $3 million U.S. to set a proper system up to our standard - just one of the companies. Other companies are coming along the same way.
We have traction on this. We are going to see more and more companies get involved. Probably someday down the road - this is not going to be imposed on them; it’s going to be voluntary - you’re going to see almost all the industry involved in a quality assurance program. This is the only quality assurance program in the world for lobster. It’s the highest standard there is in the world. We are setting the standard.
I’m tired of going to the marketplace and seeing Australia lobster, which is a crayfish really, which is a beautiful product, selling for up to $200 U.S. a pound in China, and we are selling ours for $15 or $20, so there’s some disconnect there. We have as good or better product than they have. The way the Australians and New Zealanders did this was through quality, strict quality standards, strict quality facilities, strong support and work with the industry themselves, and a great marketing plan.
It took them many years to get to that high level, and they can basically sell everything that they can catch, and it is truly a premium price. I can imagine our lobster fisherman here getting $75 a pound for a live lobster. That would change the economy here unbelievably. We are working towards raising that bar further and further.
As we do that, again, our lobster handling course, which I talked about earlier, is part of this quality program. There was reluctance. We made it mandatory for the buyers on January 1st of this year. Coming into 2018, they have to have this course. Lo and behold, when we started rolling the courses out, most of the people who took it were lobster fishermen. The processers were saying lobster fishermen aren’t interested in quality. That shows that maybe the fishermen are a little bit ahead of where the processors think they are.
It’s really starting to catch on. They’re starting to realize that if you are going to sell something, it’s quality. The comparison I used is if you go into a store to buy a steak, and the steak is nice and red and has some marbling in it, and that is the kind of steak you like, you’ll buy that one. Beside it, if it’s a dark colour, maybe like this table, it may be just as good a steak, but you won’t buy this one. You will buy the nice bright red one that’s packaged right. You think you’re getting the best quality you can possibly get, and you will pay $22 a pound for that.
We need to have the same standard for lobster. We had a problem for a little while with barnacles on the lobster shell. They were rejecting them because they were not good quality. Actually, they are the best-quality lobster you can get, so we have to do some market education. It’s all a very complex and moving target all the time.
But it’s target that we have been very successful at. We are going to become more successful as we move forward in the future. We can see a lot of excitement in the industry from people who are in this area, working in the area.
We’re going to be spending more money this year creating export acceleration programs to get companies that are interested ready to export. It is quite a complex issue. When you first start, it appears to be complex, but it is pretty straightforward. I personally exported a lot of things myself, years ago. We need to really move the industry forward and utilize a lot of opportunities.
There’s another project I want to talk about. This one is the inland fisheries. Our inland fisheries don’t get lot of press or a lot of recognition for the work they do. We stock hundreds of lakes in the province every year with trout. They do work around invasive species and all kinds of things.
One project I really want to talk about was when I became minister - I’m an avid sports fisherman and I used to salmon fish. I learned that there was a river in Sheet Harbour that I remember as a child, going down there and seeing the salmon jump in the still waters that have not jumped there for years, haven’t seen them there in years. I learned that the Nova Scotia Salmon Association had been working on the river and they had a lime doser in the river trying to bring the pH up.
One of the first meetings I had was a meeting with a director from agriculture and a director from fisheries and we were looking at lime projects for the farming industry which we subsidized the freight on as one of our programs to get the lime to the farm. I asked the fisheries - and they’d never talked to each other about this topic, just because it never came up. I said to the fisheries department, in areas where they’re farming, do you have any problem with pH in the water? They said no, because they’re liming the land and I said, well, it makes sense then we should be liming the land and doing that. So, I changed the subsidy on the freight from 75 per cent to 90 per cent on lime for the farming industry so they would make sure that they get the best possible price they could on the lime and maybe use more of it, which then helps their agriculture but it also helps the fishing industry so it’s a win-win. It’s one of those situations that’s a win-win.
Then I got hold of the Nova Scotia Salmon Association and I said, I’m willing to put the same subsidy on the freight for lime because they were fund-raising and buying the lime and they were going to continue to do that, and they said they couldn’t believe that somebody actually called and asked to offer to help us. They’ve been raising money every year and trying to get this river back in production - the salmon - and it’s really a pilot project that they had. I did that and that really meant that they could buy more lime and do other things on this particular river.
Then we talked to them some more, got to know them a lot better, and we’ve been working in aquaculture - and they were sort of anti-aquaculture, some of them. We started talking about aquaculture - salmon farming - and I stressed to them that we want a vibrant sport fishing industry as well. Salmon fishermen will pay $2,000 to $5,000 a day to hook a salmon, and even if they don’t hook a salmon, they don’t care, they will come into the community. Now, again, this is all rural Nova Scotia where these rivers are.
If we could get our rivers back in production like they were - this used to be some of the best salmon fishing in the world here in Nova Scotia, but all the acid rain and everything we have coming up from New England and Quebec and Ontario and landing on Nova Scotia, has actually destroyed some of our rivers. This particular river, the West River in Sheet Harbour, was so depleted, so acid that the aluminum was actually starting to come out of the soil. It was that bad.
They had a doser - the doser is a big machine that automatically checks the pH in the water and puts lime in the water. The problem is, as the water flows away, the lime is gone, the pH changes again, and it’s never-ending, you never win. Then I approached the Department of Natural Resources, Minister Churchill at the time, and said, why don’t we use the helicopters from the Department of Natural Resources and lime the land around the river - I said we had done some research on it - to bring the pH up? Well, of course, there was a big argument with him - not really, it was actually a great conversation with him, and he said, why aren’t we doing it now? That was the response we got. He said, let’s get our staff together and see what we can do. That was the beginning of the conversation.
The first meeting I had with the chief helicopter pilot from DNR was, really, we should see if somebody commercially can do it. We’re not geared up to do it and this sort of stuff. I talked to the minister again and he was insistent that we do this, as I was. I can tell you today that I was up when we launched the program last year and in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere, the helicopter was there and there was a big pile of lime and a tractor to load this special piece of equipment that we had bought to lime the river - not the river, not the water at all, but the land. There was an argument between the pilots who was going to fly the mission that day. They came up with a schedule that they all do it. They have a small repair shop, they did repair work on the equipment we had, they were planning how they were going to do the next year’s liming - real excitement.
I can tell you that Natural Resources, under Minister Hines at that time, by the time we got this done, was excited, and they’ve added so much to this project. It’s unbelievable to see the two departments work together so closely - the Nova Scotia Salmon Association and the Atlantic Salmon Federation, all working together. This story is so important.
Anyway, they limed it last year, they bought some equipment from New Zealand, I believe, special equipment to use a helicopter to lime with and it worked okay - not quite as rugged as it should have been, so they’ve made some modifications. We’ve since bought a second one so we don’t have any downtime, we’re liming. Meantime the Department of Natural Resources had new helicopters that take three times the payload so we can do a lot more a lot faster. We were liming, when you look at the science that we had to lime - four tons an acre of lime to make a difference on the land. Now, that has made a big difference in the river - not only the river, but the land area we limed will now let the forest grow better, and it’s a prime forest area so it’s a win-win situation again. So, this has been done.
Through Perennia, we hired a specialist, the scientist now is a Ph.D. and he took his master’s degree and his Ph.D. thesis on this river, to put the river in place. Through Perennia, last year he raised another $3 million on top of that for this project alone. Northern Pulp always gets a bad rap on everything, but the area of the river they are working on, Northern Pulp has the rights to cut the woodland around there and has had for years. They mentioned to the supervisor of the day that we need a road put in so we can land the helicopter and everything. They never thought any more of that and cripes, I’m back the next day, the road was in, a big landing spot was done, a spot to set up all the trailers. The supervisor came along and said, if there’s anything else you need, just call us and we’ll come in and do anything you want, all free of charge. That wasn’t counting the $3 million.
We talked to Nova Scotia Power, they got involved. Everyone we’ve approached has gotten involved in this project. At the end of the day the counts on the river are up in the salmon fry. A friend of mine who I know in the area down there says it’s the first time in 25 years he has seen salmon jumping in front of his place, and they’re jumping there now. This was putting this river back in production that was not there.
I stress again, this is a $2,000 to $5,000 a day hobby for some people, that they’ll gladly come and pay to fish on the river, plus they’ll stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and maybe even buy land in Nova Scotia, who knows? But it’s a great opportunity for economic development in the area, and at the same time we’re improving our habitat. Once we improve this and get this river back to where it was, which is not going to be far away, we’re going to repeat that model over and over.
To make the story even more interesting, we’ve started talking to Parks Canada, and Parks Canada New Brunswick came up with a project around salmon rehabilitation. They got Cooke Aquaculture to let them use one of the leases to grow the wild salmon in a pen, to a size that they can actually spawn, take them out of the pen, put them in the river, let them spawn in the river, and then let them go. The return rate is eight times higher than putting the small salmon in and the recovery rate was incredibly high.
We worked in partnership with Parks Canada to move this technology into Nova Scotia so eventually we will work on that river with a growing operation for the wild salmon, strictly for the wild salmon in that area, and release them in the river. The marine biologist we have says that if we release them a little bit differently than Parks Canada did, we should get an even bigger result, a better result.
This is sort of a long story that I’ve been telling you, but this is so critically important. We’re helping the economy, we’re helping the environment, we’re helping the fishery, and we’re helping the community.
All these things, one project, a small investment from us, in comparison to what the benefits are going to be - it’s one of those stories we don’t talk about enough, we don’t see enough, everybody working together. Even the community, in the area, I know we had some problems with some people who did some poaching. The community looked after it, I’ll put it that way. There is no more problem.
There’s always negative talk about the Mi’kmaq and some fishing activities. One of the Mi’kmaq members, they have the rights to catch come ceremonial food-purpose fish on that river, and always have had. One of the people in the community, one of the leaders in the community, they went and got all the tags that were available for the salmon in that river and destroyed every one of them. Think about that, on their own - because they want the salmon to come back in that river.
That’s the kind of co-operation we’re getting. It’s one of these things we hope to replicate across the province over time, and see wild salmon come back to Nova Scotia. I can remember hearing as a child about Ted Williams, who was probably one of the best baseball players in history. He used to come and fish on this river, and many more people will when the time goes on.
Those are the sorts of things we’re doing in the department, and I want to commend our staff for the innovation and the hard work that they do, and the dedication in getting these things done. Without their undying support, these things could never happen.
I want to talk about aquaculture. When I came to the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Aquaculture file was sort of in a real big mess, and that’s being polite - it was a total disaster. There was lack of public trust, there were no really good regulations in place, and there wasn’t a good Act in place. There was no plan, there was basically nothing. It was a real disaster, to put it mildly. A lot of people were writing in to us about everything under the sun, complaining about everything, and I didn’t blame them, quite frankly.
We set about looking at the regulations. I knew we had to build public trust and we had to change how we were doing business. Aquaculture has a huge economic development opportunity in the province - huge. Anyone who doesn’t like the thought of eating an aquaculture seafood product, there’s not anybody in this whole province who hasn’t eaten one, some. There’s nobody - 55 per cent, and it’s edging up closer to 60 per cent now of all fish consumed in the world today is aquaculture.
If you’ve eaten shrimp in this province, you’ve eaten aquaculture fish - shrimp, guaranteed. If you’ve eaten tilapia, you have eaten aquaculture fish; if you’ve eaten salmon, you’ve eaten aquaculture fish; if you’re eating steelhead, you’ve eaten aquaculture fish - the list goes on and on. People have no idea - so people who are anti-aquaculture are not really realizing what’s going on in the world.
Anyway, we started out looking to see what we could do with this file. But we knew it’s a huge economic opportunity for the province. Environmentally, it’s really a sound thing to do if it’s done right. But it has to be done right, so we looked at building a new aquaculture Act. I talked to the Premier about it and he was very supportive. I said we’re going to need funding to do this. We’re going to need funding to do research. We’re going to need funding to make sure we do this right. We had a lot of research and development - a lot of myths out there that could be real and they could be myths.
I made a commitment to do some research on, for instance, interaction of lobsters with a salmon farm and again, we got one of the universities to put a program together on that. From what I can understand from the aquaculture industry, the only trouble with lobsters around a finfish farm is the lobstermen’s gear getting tangled up trying to catch the lobster out from underneath the pen. People who aren’t in the industry raised concerns.
We’re doing a study right now that was peer reviewed before the study was put in place by a committee that I structured and made - actually, the dean of the Agricultural College has a great deal of experience in aquaculture in Scotland, where he came from - as chairman of that committee and we appointed scientists from almost every university in the province to sit on that committee, a science advisory committee. They look at everything we’re doing in research and development, all these things, and give us their opinion on whether it’s being done right. If it’s not being done right, we’ll change and make sure we do it right.
We put a program together to do that to dispel or prove that these myths were right or wrong. If they are right and people who have been making these claims all these years, if they’re right, that’s what we’re going to do. If they’re wrong, we’re going to tell them they’re wrong and we’re going to make sure that we run our business in Nova Scotia based on science, not by myth or by Internet scientists, so that’s got to be very, very clear.
We started this process and it was a long, hard road. We were getting so many complaints at the department about everything under the sun. We looked to put a new Act through - and I want to thank the two Opposition Parties, we had unanimous consent of the House when the aquaculture Act went through. I believe they both realized that there’s huge economic value to this and we also need the food supply in the world. The United Nations indicated that we’re not going to have enough food to feed the middle class in about 20 years’ time, and that was about five years ago, that the middle class by that time in Asia, at least 65 per cent of the middle class would be in Asia.
The lowest cost and highest value of protein is finfish, that has been proven over and over again, omega-3 oils, plus the food conversion on a trout or a salmon farm is almost one to one now. For cattle, it’s eight to one - if you’re going to grow beef you’ve got to consume eight pounds of food, or whatever kind of food you feed them, grain or grass or whatever it is, or hay, for one pound of beef. Consistently the industry - the salmon growing and trout growing industry is getting very close to one to one food ratio. They are actually between 1.01 pounds of food fed to a salmon or a trout, to 1.2 pounds maximum - 1.2 pounds is not acceptable anymore in the industry - for each pound of fish that they grow. It’s almost complete conversion. It’s the most efficient that there is.
Even chicken, the next closest one, they are about 2.5 pounds per pound of chicken, so when you look at the opportunity for growth, that’s one area, plus the oyster industry. We’ll talk about that later. But in the salmon, particularly, and the trout - huge markets, can’t fill the markets today, and because of the health value of the fish, the omega-3s and the possibility of sustainable, long-term food supply, it will be there for a long time.
So, here we were, a big problem - we inherited it - and we had to find a solution. We put the legislation together, put in legislation with all-Party support, which we were very happy about, so now we had to do the regulations.
I was a bit criticized about our Act: we didn’t have it tough enough or enough information in it. I’m glad we did it the way we did because, otherwise, we would have been back in the Legislature probably about five times by now making minor changes that we’d have to make. I’ve got a very, very great staff in the Aquaculture division, as I have in all our divisions. So, they started working on developing the standards. We looked at the standards all over the world. Who is successful at growing fish? Who is successful at shellfish? Who had the best standards in the world?
One of the best places in the world, believe it or not, is in Maine. They have a process there in place, so we went to Maine. We talked to the people, the regulators. I talked to my counterpart in Maine substantially about this and found out some of the problems they had, some of the issues that they had that they wished they would have done it differently, some of the things they were very happy how it worked. So, we talked to them. We looked at New Zealand and Australia. We looked at Chile and B.C. - all over the world. We sat down and got all this information together and said each area has one, some things that work better than other areas.
Our staff were working away at this and finally, one day, they come to me, and I’m busy doing all kinds of stuff working in agriculture, of course, all the time, as well as other things, and they said we need to sit down and go through these regulations. I said okay, no problem, but I said I can’t give you a full day, and they said what about if we come in on Sunday, Sunday morning early? I said okay. I’ll come in on Sunday, no problem, and they only asked me one question: what time do you want us to be there on Sunday - no question about how long we were going to be here or anything like that. So, we spent all day Sunday. We went in, I think it was eight o’clock in the morning that we started. We didn’t stop all day. I think we finished at six o’clock, and Monday morning when I came in, everybody was back at work on Monday - everybody - and before we left on Sunday, they said can you come next Sunday? So, next Sunday, we went in and we worked on the regulations again.
We did that several times, and over the time we wrote some regulations, we would discuss them back and forth, what we could do. We could then compare it with the other areas, the best practices that we could find, with the environment in mind, with the accountability in mind, with the public trust in mind, all those things, and also, how are we going to police this and make sure we have a solid set of rules that the industry knew? That’s one thing the industry wanted is a solid set of rules that they could use and they knew they weren’t going to change on them every week. With all those things in place, we came up with a set of regulations which I feel are probably some of the best in world today, and that’s without exaggeration.
It was interesting, I went to Australia - New Zealand, actually, and met with my counterpart in New Zealand and we were talking about their regulations. They’ve got some very good regulations, a very successful industry, and I told him some of those things we did - we learned some stuff from them, which we always do - and he said you’re way ahead of us on the regulations and accountability and the environmental conditions that you’ve built into your systems and stuff; he said we want to learn more. Anybody in the world that we’ve talked to or where staff have gone, it’s the same answer. Now they’ve got things that are way ahead of us and we’re lagging behind in some areas. We learn something every time we have those conversations and we build it stronger, and we’ve made some adjustments during that time.
Now we have a regime that really does work. We’ve really got to concentrate on the environment, especially in finfish farms, and then we hear that people - I’ll get into shellfish, I have a story about shellfish. It’s unbelievable but anyway. So, we’re ready now. We announced in Norway a few weeks ago that we’re going to take applications now for salmon farming in Nova Scotia. That will be the first time that that’s happened in Nova Scotia in a long time. We’re open for work on trout and all the shellfish for about a year now. So, we’re there. There’s quite a process you have to go through to get a lease in Nova Scotia now but it’s well laid out, it’s concise, and it’s in place. We’ll see how we make out at attracting some companies to come to Nova Scotia, or existing companies to grow here.
There was a lot of concern over time about enforcement; we actually had no tool when we first looked at this file. If somebody was blatantly doing something really bad, I couldn’t even take their licence away or their lease away. I can do that today - now there has to be good grounds for it, but we can do it today.
One of the other things we did - we had 200-some leases out in the province over the years and 145 of those weren’t in use, so we put a policy in place, “use it or lose it,” because that’s a valuable resource for the province that’s not being used. We put that in place. We’ve had two appeals on that and we’re in the process of taking all 145 leases back, every one of them.
Now, some of those will be taken out of use because they should never have been let out to start with. They don’t meet environmental requirements we have now, and the other ones will be reviewed. We’re going to make sure that the conditions in the water are right. We’ll do some research in those areas, and then we’ll offer them out for somebody to come. Again, the same rules will apply to that. There will be reviews of the sites to make sure they’re adequate for meeting all our new requirements, and we hope to attract some new business to the province on that and a lot of people are interested. So, that’s in place.
We’ve introduced something called the Environmental Farm Plan for all the farms in the province now in aquaculture, and that’s very clearly laid out. The Department of Environment now has, under our regulations, some really powerful tools for enforcement if somebody is not doing what they’re supposed to.
We’re building right now and we’ve put a committee together also - and these committees will be in place and these committees don’t exist anywhere else in the world - a committee to look at escaped fish because that’s always an issue. It’s a big issue for the industry because they can’t afford to lose this fish and it’s a big industry issue for us if they’re salmon. We don’t want those salmon in the rivers where there’s wild salmon.
I appointed one of the most avid salmon fishermen in the province, who is probably not very friendly towards aquaculture, as chairman of that board to look at how we’re going to account for escaped salmon in the area, and how we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen and they’re very close, from what I understand, to coming back with a recommendation - and the recommendation we’re going to follow.
I’m going to leave that organization in place in the future to review anything else new that comes along or if we - hopefully you never have a major escape - but if we have an escape, so then we can review that and maybe tweak a regulation so it doesn’t happen again. And there are all kinds of rules already in place on the structure of the cages and of the netting and stuff like that that were never there before, so we’ve really gone a long way.
The other thing I did is I appointed an advisory committee for myself around this, around salmon farming and aquaculture, but more for salmon farming but aquaculture in general. The Ecology Action Centre sits on that advisory group and we just recently made arrangements with the World Wildlife Federation - a representative is going to be there on our advisory board too. Municipalities are on the board; we have scientists on the board; we have all the possible interest groups; and the co-chairman of the committee, with myself, is Chief Terrance Paul of the Mi’kmaq First Nation who is responsible for sustainable development of the fishing industry with the Mi’kmaq. So, we’re very excited about that and a lot of very good information and collaboration has come out of that.
We have done our homework and now, as we move forward with investments to Nova Scotia by industry in aquaculture, we’re excited about it.
Something came across my desk the other day I just simply could not believe. Someone had sent in to us asking to do an environmental assessment on an oyster farm. I simply couldn’t believe it. If you’ve got a polluted harbour, you want to put an oyster farm in the polluted harbour to clean it up, but that’s the mentality and the lack of information, the lack of education that people have about these things.
There’s a documentary film I saw one day on television, in the U.S. where they actually have this huge grow operation for oysters and they’re dumping hundreds of thousands of them a year in the mouth of the river to clean up the river and the harbour. They’re not there for the purpose of eating them, they want to clean up the harbour and that’s what they’re doing. So, I’m trying to get hold of that. My staff may already have it. It’s something that everybody should see. They’re spending millions and millions of dollars on this so it shows.
That’s the mentality we’re seeing, that people read something on the Internet and it’s not accurate, and they don’t do any other research to find if it’s accurate or not and then they spread that disinformation around. And it’s unfortunate; we don’t want to see that hurt Nova Scotia’s industry.
I can tell you, our oyster industry now is small, but it’s growing. We have one farm in particular - I was just checking where they sell their oysters because I wanted to make sure I was right - one oyster farm in Nova Scotia that has been expanding and expanding to use up all their space. They sell only to restaurants and they sell out all the time- sold out all the time. They just cannot get enough supply, their quality is that good. I’ve tasted oysters at many, many places, and I love oysters and we probably have the best-flavoured oysters in the world, and that’s no exaggeration. That’s because of our water conditions and everything else; we’re very lucky here. Anyone who likes oysters, if you can find one that is better than ours, I want to know about it because I want to try them. It shows you where we can go with this and the things we can do.
One good way to get into aquaculture is to get an oyster farm. A lot of leases we took back were oyster farms and they are going to be available for someone to get into. It’s something you can get into with not a huge investment. It’s still quite substantial, but if you’re going to put a trout farm or a salmon farm you’re looking at hundreds of millions of dollars of investment. One of these farms for oysters, it is hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment and it’s a long-term investment, but it’s really good.
I could talk all day here about the exciting things that are happening in our Fisheries Department and our Aquaculture Division and our inland fishery, but I’m sure there are lots of questions that you’d like to ask and maybe we’ll get down to asking some questions.
I’ve probably used up an hour by now - how much time do I have, Madam Chairman?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Your time is up. While we do this, I understand you are very passionate and you were while I was here.
We will do the PC caucus first and we’re going to start with Ms. Masland.
MS. KIM MASLAND: This is my first time being in a committee, so I look forward to this.
I’m really happy to hear you say that this Aquaculture file was a big mess because it was a big mess and the lack of public trust has been a serious issue in our province, and I’d like to point out a couple situations that are specific in my constituency. One is in Jordan Bay, operated by Cooke Aquaculture.
In 2015, all salmon that was on that site, the net pens were encased by ice, and then in 2017 all the salmon at that same specific site were trucked away in dump trucks. The reason for the death of those salmon was never explained to the residents and the fishermen who live in that area. However, they felt that ISA could have been the leading possibility. In both cases, the decomposed salmon slipped through the net pens and much of that mush laid - and still lies - on the ocean floor beneath the cages with the feces and excess of food and other contaminants.
My question is - and I’m new to this - what are the requirements of transparency to the people who live in those areas, especially if we want to look at rebuilding public trust?
MR. COLWELL: You bring up a good point. Actually, what happened to those salmon was not ISA. We tested them for ISA. One thing I didn’t talk about in the introduction, so much has happened in the department since I’ve become minister - one of the first meetings I had with a fish vet, Roland Cusack, who is actually thought to be the most knowledgeable fish vet in the world today, and we’re very lucky to have him, he came to me and said we need to improve our lab for incidents like you’re talking about - we need more test equipment; we need to do a lot more.
He had been trying to get that done for years. That day, and on the spot, I told him, let’s put the costs together, let’s move forward with it - and we did. Lucky we did, because it took two years to get it all done. Two years by the time we got the equipment in, modified the building - it’s really complicated. This lab is not your regular lab. It’s all biosecurity in it. It’s a small place and it’s absolutely - it’s like something you see in a science fiction movie - let’s put it that way. We have great fish veterinarians there.
We did check the fish for ISA. We do that on a regular basis for any kind of disease that’s done. Our department does that and we spot check any vet work that has been done there. It was not ISA; it was a phenomenon called “super chill.” There was actually a press release put out on March 6, 2017, indicating there was no disease - that was made public. All the things we did are all on the website. You can go on our website and if there is any reported disease or anything it’s there - everything that’s done is on our website now. That’s new policy we have and that’s all part of our new regulations.
It’s called super chill. If the company would have stayed away with their boats when the water was chilled the way it was, the fish would have stayed in the bottom of the pen and never died. They also should have harvested the fish earlier because that’s a phenomenon that happens in that harbour, and they know that. They also are trying to meet market demands - that’s their problem, not ours - to make sure they continually supply their customers with top-quality fish.
These fish they lost were a significant loss to the company - I mean, millions and millions of dollars. They didn’t want the fish to die, I guarantee you. Of anyone in the whole world, they’re the last people who want the fish to die.
Now I believe they have monitoring equipment to watch the temperature on those sites all the time. In 2017, when they died, this time they should have had them out of the water a month earlier. We told them that as well. Anyway, we’re working with them so this doesn’t happen again. The monitoring is in place - will be in place - and we don’t want any kind of incident like that in the future.
There’s nothing hidden here; there are no dead fish on the bottom of the harbour anymore. The normal crustaceans move in and clean that up pretty quickly. It’s a free food supply for lobsters and crab and everything else. That’s gone. It’s not a problem; that’s not a problem.
The other thing is there’s a community liaison committee down there. Did you ever meet with them since you’ve been MLA? You should meet with them. They’re nothing to do with us; it’s between the company and the community. You should really sit down and meet with them.
If you have any concerns or they have any concerns, make sure they contact us directly. We’re the regulator of this. We approve the sites; we’re the regulators; we do inspections. But the enforcers are Department of Environment - they will take the evidence we give them and they would follow through and do the enforcements.
The community liaison committee is there if it’s working properly, and they’re formed by the company, that’s an arrangement between the community liaison committee and the company, and that’s up to the company to do that. If there’s breakdown in that, we need to know so we can put some pressure on the company - and we will put pressure on the company, no fear of that.
We want people to understand where this is. This is a great opportunity for Nova Scotia, but if you have companies that aren’t co-operating, it doesn’t help us, it doesn’t help the community, and it doesn’t help the whole industry.
It was unfortunate; that should not happen again, but again it’s a private company, Monitoring, if it does happen again, there are going to be some pretty serious repercussions for them.
MS. MASLAND: I have just one final question. A $16 million loan was given by the previous government to Cooke Aquaculture to build a processing plant to process aquaculture products in Shelburne County. Sadly, that did not happen. I’m just wondering if you can give me an update on whether that loan has been recalled. I think the member for Lunenburg West has said that that loan will be recalled from that aquaculture processing company.
MR. COLWELL: That was a loan arranged with NSBI, or grant, or whatever you want to call it. A lot of that has been repaid, but I don’t know, it’s not our department. I would suggest you talk to them directly and see. But there won’t be any more of that activity happening.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We will continue with the PC caucus - Mr. Lohr.
MR. JOHN LOHR: I guess, Mr. Minister, I would like to thank you for your remarks. It’s interesting to hear all the many things happening.
I do want to pick up where I left off in agriculture, on Perennia. I’m hoping that you’re not going to tell me that the Agriculture Minister is responsible for Perennia, and you’re not going to answer, which I think is in fact the case.
I’m wondering, what do you see as the future role for Perennia in Fisheries and Aquaculture and where do you see that heading?
MR. COLWELL: Perennia offers an exciting opportunity for the fishing industry, as it does for the agriculture industry. It has been very successful, as you’re well aware, with a lot of the development opportunities they have.
I’ll give you one example - Pomme d’Or, which is a competitor for Baileys Irish Cream. It was a co-operative agreement between Grand Pré Winery and Perennia. Grand Pré Winery had the idea - they wanted to make a liqueur that had apple and cream and some wine in it to make a product. They worked and developed that. I think Perennia is still bottling some of the product for them until they get enough volume that they can put a bottling line in place.
That’s a true success story, where they go from industry through to a finished product. If you have not tried Pomme d’Or, you have to try it. It is incredible. It is going to give Bailey’s Irish Cream a really hard time. It’s that good.
I remember my wife going to Saltscapes, all excited - she’d tried it at Saltscapes and she’s not really someone that likes a liqueur - she would never drink Bailey’s Irish Cream - and she said, you’ve got to try this. She bought a bottle there - she bought two bottles, actually, one to give to her sister who loves Bailey’s Irish Cream, and she said you’ve got to try it. I said, well, I tried it at Perennia Innovation Centre two years ago. She said, oh, I figured that I would finally get something ahead of you. But she bought it and she shares with her guests when they come in the house. It’s a beautiful product.
That’s the kind of example of products and there’s many more. It was obvious that Perennia is a development agency that can take that kind of an idea through to a finished product, and a lot of other ones that we have.
A couple of things I did as minister - I’m sole shareholder of Perennia, and I was the board’s chief executive officer and everything. What I did is, if Perennia is going to move forward - and we want Perennia to move forward, we want them to do more and more of this type of development in agriculture, fisheries, wherever it is. I thought it would be better if we appointed a board from industry, so I appointed a board. The chairman is from agriculture and the vice-chairman is from fisheries. We’ve got some very, very, very influential people on that board. Ray Ivany sits on the board - he’s taken a leave now because he’s doing some travelling. We have the president and CEO of Comeau’s Sea Foods Ltd. We have a Clearwater vice-president on there. We have some of the top farmers in the province on there, representing all sections of farming, and jointly, they have been tasked with helping us grow Perennia.
We are excited about what they can do. They are still mostly doing agriculture things and the fishing industry guys are giving me a hard time about that, but that’s okay. They’re going to continue to do and expand what they do in agriculture. I think that’s critical as we try to get to more things, like some of the packaging we were talking about, will be developed at Perennia for blueberries, that we can get on the shelves and properly sell in grocery stores. We also want them to work in the fishing industry and develop new products that go there. I think it’s a natural mix, and one thing I found as minister being responsible for two departments, it’s a really good match because there’s expertise in agriculture that fisheries can use, and there’s expertise in fisheries that agriculture can use, and we both win.
It’s the same thing in Perennia, and I think over the next several years you’re going to see the benefit of this happening. We have not funded Perennia, per se, for fisheries but we do projects with them. We’ll get funded projects. They’ll get funding from the industries and more and more work with the industry to do projects.
That’s sort of a different approach than we took in agriculture. Agriculture funding is still the same as it was in Perennia, and will continue on for a long, long time to come - or at least as long as I’m minister and our government is here.
It’s a great organization, great people. You know personally what a fantastic place they are from some of the products your wife has worked with them to develop, and many more products, so we’re not going to let up on agriculture whatsoever. I’d like to see their realm there even go further. They’re doing the testing for this complex virus in the strawberry industry very successfully. That has been such a success story, and Perennia is part of that. I’ve got a lot of respect for them.
We hired a viticulturist, which is actually agriculture - it took us two years to find him - who works out of Perennia, works with Perennia, is a Perennia employee, to work on our wine file, and that’s funded through our Vineyard Development and Expansion program. Actually, we have put more money into Perennia for agriculture, so it’s a good combination. The scientists work very closely together, and one of our marine biologists who works in aquaculture is working now with Perennia. The gentleman I talked about on our sports fishing side, with the salmon restoration, works in Perennia. We funded those separately and in Perennia. Perennia is growing and we want it to grow more.
I think it’s a great tool, as you know - you know first-hand how fantastic it is - and we want that expertise to grow. We really want them to be the bridge between university hypothetical research and some research that has commercial activities and the end product and the businesses in between, so we can help Nova Scotia’s economy grow by developing value-added products.
So, that’s what it’s about. The fishing industry is primed for that right now, and with the Atlantic Fisheries Fund we have now, we have opportunities to do even more things. Anything we do in the fishery is not going to negatively affect the aquaculture work we’re doing in any way. If anything, it’s going to highlight it, because it’s going to give them more resources to work with.
MR. LOHR: Well, yes. I’ll certainly say that I do have a very high regard for Perennia. You are correct.
I guess what I would like to know is, when I look at the budget, just to go to the numbers, where does Perennia show up in the estimates for Fisheries and Aquaculture? When I look at last year’s disbursements from the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, I see that Perennia shows up as having received $1.7 million. Where does that show up in the actual budget here? What line says Perennia? Maybe I’m missing it, but I don’t see the name Perennia in the actual budget in the Estimates and Supplementary Detail.
MR. COLWELL: Actually, it’s on Page 12.2. It’s under Departmental Expenses by Object, and it’s under Grants and Contributions.
I’ll give you a bit more breakdown of Perennia. We have $770,000 that has been added in that number there to create the Centre for Marine Applied Research that nobody knows about yet, but it’s there, that’s what’s coming; $450,000 to develop an automated lobster-grading solution.
MR. LOHR: Pardon me? Say that again?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Can you repeat that, minister? Can you repeat those numbers, please?
MR. COLWELL: Yes. Did you hear the first one?
MR. LOHR: Yes.
MR. COLWELL: The second one is $450,000 to develop an automated lobster- grading solution.
The next one is $298,000 for the Chinese lobster-quality initiative. Actually, that’s not correct - it’s the lobster-quality initiative that I talked about earlier. It’s not Chinese. It’s globally.
Another one we talked about at length, the West River rehabilitation project, $230,000 to support that. We also transferred one of our managers from our commercial fisheries department to Perennia to work there, to work on the fish side. That isn’t shown in these numbers.
MR. LOHR: The $770,000, $450,000, $298,000, and $230,000 are all sort of in the Perennia envelope, is what you’re telling me, plus one person?
MR. COLWELL: That’s right, but more than one person - one other person that’s not shown in this funding.
MR. LOHR: Just to clarify, the West River is the river in Sheet Harbour that you were referring to?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, the salmon rehabilitation one.
MR. LOHR: I wasn’t planning to ask about this, but tell me a little bit about the automated lobster-grading plant project.
MR. COLWELL: This is all part of the ongoing lobster-quality initiative that we’re working on. There is some technology available, which we have not been able to get yet.
We had a tentative agreement with one of the local companies. They’ve come up with equipment that tells you the weight, male or female. It tells you basically the meat content in the lobster, which is critical, and a whole bunch of other parameters. That’s in a prototype stage. It does work. We are working with them to take it to an actual working model.
This piece of equipment would typically - when it’s finished - be on a boat, so when you land a lobster you can sort it by weight, male/female, all kinds of things you can check on the lobster, absolutely instantly. Then sort them at sea, bring them in. Maybe a more sophisticated part of that equipment would be in the plant to go through, so we know we’re getting lobsters that are the highest possible quality for a live market, and sort the ones out that aren’t right at the front end. It’s going to revolutionize the industry.
MR. LOHR: I presume that is some sort of duplicate of an airport scanner that we would put our bags through. I know that technology is going into the food industry very rapidly.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Centre for Marine Applied Research? You say you haven’t - I realize you said you hadn’t announced it yet, but what can you tell us about that?
MR. COLWELL: The majority of that funding is for marine research we’re going to do around aquaculture. That’s a Ph.D. marine biologist, and that’s where most of all that money is going to be. We’ve taken that out of an existing fund and put that into Perennia.
We wanted to keep it separate from our department so when the research is done it has credibility - it’s not just us doing it. It’s Perennia doing it, sort of independent from the department.
MR. LOHR: While we’re on lobster - and I appreciate that information. I think that sounds very exciting - the automated lobster project. I know there are a couple of issues in lobster at the moment, and I’m just wondering what role or what comment you have on the current issue down in southwest Nova Scotia on the Aboriginal fisheries and what is going on there.
MR. COLWELL: Unfortunately, I can’t comment on that. That is something that DFO is working on and I can’t comment on it at this point, because it’s an enforcement issue, and probably will be a court case.
MR. LOHR: Another issue I know is the possibility that some licences will be revoked, because apparently some fishers have sold their licences, but sort of sold them to - it’s not apparent and DFO has said that they would. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. COLWELL: That’s all part of the owner-operator policy that successive governments have supported - your Party, the NDP, and ourselves. I don’t know how that’s all going to end up, but again, it’s strictly a DFO issue. It’s going to be interesting when it’s all done, I’ll put it that way. I know there are some controlling agreements and stuff in place. I don’t know any details on any of those, but I know they’re in place. That’s going to be interesting when it all shakes out, but again, that’s a DFO issue that we support - the owner-operator - but past that, I don’t know what DFO is going to do.
MR. LOHR: I know that a couple of years ago there was an effort to have the Maritimes work together on lobster. I appreciate what you’ve done on branding. I think that’s very interesting. Do you see that branding Nova Scotia is superseding working together as the Maritimes?
MR. COLWELL: Well, our brand is Nova Scotia, Canada. We really work with a Canadian brand because that’s incredible. People really have no idea where Nova Scotia is. The Canadian brand is well respected all over the world - being quality and safe. So, our brand actually says - you’ll see the logo, it looks like a diver’s symbol - it’s a square with a line through the centre of it. It says - and actually we’ll get you one of the items that shows you what it’s like. It says - I can’t remember the exact words.
I think the exact words on it are “pure Nova Scotia, Canada” and that’s right underneath these things and that’s - we do that because we want to differentiate our seafood from anywhere else in the world but we also want to maintain - and make sure we maintain - the Canadian brand and we work very closely with the federal government on that. The other provinces have - Prince Edward Island has their own brand, and New Brunswick doesn’t yet, but I’m sure they will. Again, we are number one in the world in lobsters, and we export something like 95 per cent, or 94 per cent of all the total lobsters that are exported in the world. So, Nova Scotia is the lobster industry in Canada. The other provinces have some, but no comparison to what we have.
The exact wording on it is - now that I can see it here - it’s the logo brand, and says “Nova Scotia” underneath in sort of really light letters, “seafood pure,” and then a maple leaf of Canada on it. I can get my staff to show you if you’d like to see it.
MR. LOHR: I can see it right here.
MR. COLWELL: I don’t know if you can see from there or not.
MR. LOHR: I’ve seen it, yes. Okay. I know another - and I realize a lot of this is federal - but I wonder what you could tell me - I know we have a marine protected area now in northern Nova Scotia in the ocean - I’m wondering if you could tell me what role your department had in the establishment or the consultation on that marine protected area.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you. Well, if you would have seen the first map that DFO gave us of marine protected areas, we might as well have closed our fishery down and left.
MR. LOHR: Could you repeat that?
MR. COLWELL: If you would have seen the original map that we were given by DFO of potential marine protected areas off Nova Scotia, we might as well have shut the province down. It was almost everywhere. We have over 30,000 square kilometres already - marine protected - before they started this new goal they had, and we’re all for protecting the marine environment for obvious reasons. I mean, our livelihood comes from a lot of it, and we need to do that for all kinds of other reasons as well. We’ve done way beyond our share, and we made that very clear to the federal government that we were way beyond our share of marine protected areas and, since then, they’ve put in some more areas off Nova Scotia, which we agreed with. Now they’re looking at other areas in the far north, and off of Newfoundland, and other provinces.
We had more marine protected areas off Nova Scotia when this all started than all the rest of the country combined and then some. They had areas with the prime fishing areas in the province marked off. It wasn’t a good story. So, I made very strong representation, as did my staff, to the federal government, and the federal-provincial meetings, and the federal minister saw the wisdom of not completely shutting Nova Scotia’s industries down. They’re looking at other areas and the exact words that they told us the last time: “everybody has to do their fair share.” We’ve got no concern with that at all.
Some of the marine protected areas will work very well and some areas, I think they’re looking at, you can still do traditional harvesting, but you can’t do other activities there and that’s fine. In areas, we can do traditional harvesting, there will be some rules around how you do that. I wouldn’t want to see a dragger have to go through a marine protected area to catch codfish but if you just hook-and-line, it doesn’t disturb anything. It doesn’t destroy anything. So, each area is a bit different.
We very, very loudly complained to the federal government about what was there and they’ve listened. They are going to probably put some more marine protected areas we may or may not like, but again, it’s nice to see that they’re looking at other parts of the country. It doesn’t just need to be off in the saltwater, either. It can be some of the Great Lakes and other places as well. It’s all marine areas. So, they’re looking at a lot of different areas now. If it had stayed the way it was, we would have been in big trouble.
MR. LOHR: Your department took the lead on trying to establish where the marine protected areas would be in this province?
MR. COLWELL: Actually, for more detailed information on this, you really have to ask the Department of Energy when they come up with their estimates, because they’re the lead on this. We did send a letter, which we will make available to the committee, from myself, Minister Miller from Environment, Minister Hines from Natural Resources, and Mr. Samson from Energy, prior to the last election, outlining our concerns around that. We will make that letter available probably the first of the week to the committee, so everyone can see what it was.
MR. LOHR: I just heard you say the Department of Energy had the lead on the marine protected area issue.
MR. COLWELL: Yes, they’re the lead department on it.
MR. LOHR: I have heard that, and I guess what I have heard from fishers is that, in some cases, they believe that this was done in favour of potential oil and gas reserves off Nova Scotia instead of fisheries. They have an issue with the Department of Energy being the lead department in deciding where the MPAs would go. I know that’s probably beyond the scope of your department, but what would you say on that as the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture?
MR. COLWELL: We have been fully engaged in this process with Energy. We have no objection whatsoever to the Department of Energy being the lead on this file. They have as much interest in this as we do. It has been a very co-operative effort. We meet with DFO as well on a regular basis on this, and we keep Energy informed of our meetings. It’s co-operative between the four departments.
MR. LOHR: I would like to switch topics a little bit. I know that in the last couple of years, you have done a significant amount of travel with the department, and I think you have alluded to that already. If I look at the travel, I think this was ministerial travel, for 2016, it was $14,000 and some, and in 2017, it was $27,000 and some. Do you want to comment on that ministerial travel and the expenses there?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, I do travel extensively, and some days I wish I wasn’t travelling. I do travel extensively. That’s one reason that we’re getting the results we’re getting, because we’re working heavily in Asia. You have to build relationships. We found that out very quickly. I have been very successful at doing that. We’re working on some major projects right now. If someone would have asked me a year ago even if we could have done something as large as this, I would have said, not possible.
The travel is not good from a personal standpoint because I don’t get to spend much time at home, and I spend a lot of time out of the department. But it has really paid off. It’s really paying off. I can’t give you any details of any of the deals we haven’t done yet, but we’re way above a few million dollars in potential investment in Nova Scotia - way above that.
I can give you one example. This is for the agriculture industry. The first trip I went to China was a federal minister, Agricultural Ministers event and unfortunately, due to things they had to do in Ottawa, he couldn’t go and I was the only minister who showed up, which was really to Nova Scotia’s advantage.
You’ve probably heard of the product Just Juice, blueberry juice.
MR. LOHR: I just can’t quite catch what you’re saying. What’s the word again?
MR. COLWELL: Just Juice - it’s a name on blueberry juice. It’s a bottled blueberry juice and that’s the name of it. It’s made here in Nova Scotia.
I really didn’t know how important relationships were. We were in China and the gentleman from Nova Scotia who developed that product was one of our local farmers here. He came over to me and said, can you come over and say hello to my potential customer and chat with him for a minute?
The gentleman from Nova Scotia is fluent in Mandarin and English, and the gentleman he was talking to could only speak Mandarin, and I can’t speak a word of Mandarin. He translated a minute-and-a-half, two-minute conversation, exchanged business cards and took a picture, and I never thought any more of it. Away I went.
I’m still not understanding how important these relationships are at this point. I didn’t think anything of it. Three days later Scott Hosking, who works on our market development in our department came to me and he said, I just talked to the gentleman who has Just Juice, he’s all excited because I went over and said hello to his customer - nothing to do with me, just because of the position I have, as minister. The gentleman had confidence in his company, because it was just a brand-new product in Asia at that time, in China, the first time they showed it, to buy a sample. A sample is a container-load.
I never thought really any more about that and moving fast forward, the Premier goes over to China and meets again with the owner of Just Juice and their potential customer. It turns out, I found out when I was there originally, before the Premier met with him, this gentleman is the distributor for all of China for Perrier water, so he has connections in China, this Chinese gentleman, that no one else has.
Then it was back again with the Premier and we went to the official signing of the deal between this distributor and the network all across China and the juice. We’re going to cut the ribbon, so we’re at this event - it is quite an interesting story - and they hire professional models for this. If you go to a real high-end wedding in Nova Scotia, all the chairs were draped, it was unbelievable the event they put on, the signing of this final agreement.
They had this huge ice sculpture up - it would be as long as where the chair is there, across, almost waist-high, this huge ice sculpture. We got up on the stage and we’re going to cut the ribbon now. We’re all given a bottle of juice and there was a trough with a slope on it and you poured the juice in it and it made the whole ice sculpture blue. This ice sculpture had to cost $20,000 to do - it was huge - and all this was intricately carved and beautifully done. One of the comments of the people at the thing, I hope they’re not going to waste that juice.
That gives you an idea, that one conversation I had, and gave that one Nova Scotia company basically an introduction - the product sells itself, but to give them the faith that the person would say okay, that’s somebody we want to deal with. That’s what these trips are about and they are paying off big time.
They signed an agreement, now they’re looking at more products. They’ve come out with a product now that’s made by - they’ve come out with a honey. This juice is not cheap in the stores, so you would never be able to sell it for the price you’re getting in China. They came out with a honey product now in a jar about the size of that cup, but a little bit lower. It sells for $50 U.S. a bottle in China. It’s supposedly from bees that only feed on blueberry flowers, and that’s what puts up the value of this. That’s the next product that’s introduced through the same distributor.
This whole one transaction, one day, two minutes of conversation, is going to be a multi-million-dollar deal for years to come in China. That’s why these trips pay off. If you check my expenses, you’ll see nothing on there except per diems, air travel, and hotel bills - nothing else. Every time I travel, it costs me money, and that’s fine - that’s part of the job.
It’s really exciting. One of the things we’ve done - one of the reasons we’ve got our exports so solid is, when we started in China with seafood exports in particular - and we’re really working on agriculture products too. We’ve taken the numbers right through the roof on export sales and they’re growing all the time - introducing the companies, the companies are getting used to working together with the companies there. It all takes that same transaction.
Over and over again, that’s what companies want to do. They need the credibility of government in Asia, where government controls everything. That gives credibility because the Chinese Government or the Vietnamese Government or the Korean Government says, that’s something we should do - that’s what the people do - so we need that credibility. Without that connection, we can’t do what we’re doing in China.
Europe is not quite that much, but it’s still a connection that they know our lobster quality program that we’re doing, people want that credibility that the government is involved in it, but they want to do business-to-business. We’re just a catalyst that makes it work. Quite frankly, I’d rather be home a lot more than I am - and that’s no exaggeration.
MR. LOHR: I have dealt with other cultures - not China, but I don’t disagree with you on the credibility of government in China. I understand what you’re saying.
My question is about the seafood expo in China - in southeast Asia. Seafood Expo Asia - how many times have you been to the show, and how many different companies have you brought to that show?
MR. COLWELL: I believe it was 12 companies at that show. Actually, Nova Scotia - all these shows now really led the way for Canadian companies. We typically have twice as many as any other province. Nova Scotia is setting the standard in marketing in Asia. It’s really good to see, and we’re also starting to market Nova Scotia wine, Nova Scotia spirits, and other agricultural products - blueberries. Blueberries are probably going to be the place where we can develop the markets the most with long-term relationships.
The companies in Asia want long-term relationships - both personally with people and also with the companies and the products - they get a good product and a steady supply. I just wish we had some agricultural products that we could send a container-load a week.
I talked before in agriculture discussions we had earlier. There are so many things that we could sell, but we don’t have enough quantity. You can’t imagine what the market is like until you go there. There is just no way possible you can imagine. There are so many people. The sidewalks are as wide as this room, it’s full of people - I mean full. It’s just unbelievable. There’s a lot of wealth in Asia now, a lot of wealth, 65 per cent according to the United Nations of the middle class is going to be an Asian in the next 15 years, and it’s already headed that way. You see, it’s unbelievable.
MR. LOHR: I know quality is really important to the Asians, the Chinese. The China live lobster quality project, I know you announced that in February of this year with three companies and I know that’s a pilot project. Has that expanded to any more companies?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, we are actually - they’re Nova Scotia companies. The three companies are still participating in this and we’re going to - now that the pilot project is over, we’ve made it available to any Nova Scotia company that’s interested in the quality assurance system. The last trip I did in China, we met with three of the major distributors in China. They’re all committed to implementing the complete quality assurance system. They want it, as I said earlier in my opening remarks, they want some tweaks to it to make it better for them, which we will do. Actually, they’re good, they’re paperwork tweaks that we committed to do and we will do, and it actually will help us all over the world because this quality program is not just for Asia.
As I said earlier, one of the companies is going to spend $3 million U.S. to install a system to our standard. That’s the kind of commitment we’ve got in China. One other company there is almost - they have to do some better documentation because they have a Nova Scotia-designed-and-built lobster holding facility. They just have to do better documentation. They’ve committed to doing that, and the other company we met with is fully committed and they are going to make investments as well. So, this has been a real success story.
Before we see the long-term benefits from it, I’d say we’re going to be a couple of years out by the time they get these facilities built. What’s happened in China is the government has mandated a lot better food-safety standards. Safety standards need quality assurance systems, so our timing is perfect. As we roll this out and we get the industries here involved - we’ve got a lot of interest, and we refused to do anyone besides these three companies until we get the pilot done. They’re done now. We have two companies that were really, really after us to do this for them and we’re going to put them in place, and we’ve got four others that want to talk to our marine biologist and say, okay, what do we need to do? Where are we - a sort of unofficial audit of where they’re at. They’re interested in moving forward too. Over time, this is going to be voluntary for the companies, but I think it will be mandatory that everybody has to have this quality system in place.
It’s going to make a huge economic impact on Nova Scotia - huge - and over time, probably hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re talking hundreds of millions but it’s going to take time to get it in place, and again, it’s going to be voluntary. There’s going to be training, there’s going to be education with the businesses. The businesses that are already doing export business elsewhere are very interested because they know it’s another standard they can get to. That means their competition from New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island or Maine is virtually not going to be existing anymore. So, we’re leading the world in this right now.
MR. LOHR: What I think I heard you say was the Chinese companies were adopting your quality standards and implementing them. Is that what I heard you say, like, taking these standards and building to them, plus Nova Scotia companies are interested in being involved? Both?
MR. COLWELL: Yes, both, and the Chinese companies are very, very interested and these companies are huge companies. I mean, one of them is probably five times as big as Clearwater, maybe bigger; one of the others would be twice as big as Clearwater; and the other one would be about Clearwater size and growing - maybe even bigger than that again. One company is putting in 5,000 retail stores in the next five years and they’re going to feature Nova Scotia seafood, at least some of Nova Scotia seafood there.
It’s exciting to see this happen, and as we build these long-term relationships, we’re going to see more and more economic benefit for the province. Our only way we can grow our economy in the province is displacing imports, as we talked about a lot before, which we are really working on.
We have to export to bring that cash into the province. And again, I said this before, its all in rural Nova Scotia where the population is leaving, now someone can go back in the rural area, buy a nice home, or build it, stay there and get a permanent long-term job and bring rural Nova Scotia back to life again.
That is the most exciting part of these things. All the rest helps all, but rural Nova Scotia is really suffering and we need these traditional industries to bring them back to life again.
MR. LOHR: The China story, is it mainly lobster or is there any aquaculture component to the companies that have been going to China?
MR. COLWELL: The aquaculture part is Cooke Aquaculture, which I talked about before. It is not just products from Nova Scotia they sell. They have taken themselves from $75 million to $750 million in a year. They are not even scratching the surface, the market is that big.
But you have to consistently deliver high-quality products and the consistency and quality go hand in hand - if you don’t have one, the other one does you no good.
It is there I know. Clearwater has done a great job in China, they opened up markets; they have top-quality products. A lot of our smaller exporters in lobsters, there are companies in Minister Churchill’s area and they are a lot bigger than Clearwater in lobster. Those companies are getting a lot of interest there now and have started to open the markets up there as well.
As they come online and provide the high-quality products they have we are going to expand our markets even more. We are just talking about China, but they used to be our second biggest trading partner in fish and seafood and agriculture products, they are number two behind the U.S.; Europe used to be number two, but now they are number three in Europe. With this new trade agreement that we have, the value of seafood exports will increase because it will eliminate the tariffs almost immediately - that’s 12 per cent on lobster alone and a lot of the other seafoods, so we are opening up and working on those other markets.
It is a new market that we are looking for, sort of renewing old markets in Europe, and they are very excited about it, too, because free trade with us across both ways will be positive. The only area we are a bit concerned about with Europe, with a free trade agreement, is cheese. And we are not big producers of cheese in the province but that is the only one that, really, we have any vulnerability on.
MR. LOHR: I know we have talked a lot about China, and you have mentioned CETA, I would like to ask, what plans does your department have to try to encourage seafood sales in Europe?
MR. COLWELL: We have a long-standing relationship in Europe, company relationships putting seafood products there and the free trade agreement is going to be a game changer there - literally a game changer. Again, the quality system we are developing now is for lobsters, but that seafood quality program we will probably put it right across the whole industry over time.
If you look at what has happened in Iceland with the codfish - I don’t know if you are familiar with that or not - they cut their catches by 30 per cent intentionally. They passed a federal law that you’re not allowed to dump anything at sea, or on land. Typically, we would get $7.50 for a fillet out of an average-sized codfish.
The Icelanders get the same, except they have developed the holding capacity for the fillets just by changing their Styrofoam boxes. They hold the fillets in three to four days longer with the exact same quality that comes off the boat - just simple change. They also make leather out of cod skins, they make jackets, purses, all kinds of things. They’ve extracted an enzyme out of the backbone of the codfish, worth $1,600 an ounce. They’ve taken the cod skin and made bandages with it, and puts it on a cut, if you had a cut and stitches or an operation and put it over the cut, it never comes off, it just dissolves, and the healing time is cut by about 40 per cent on a cut.
The U.S. military is actually giving a big contract to them to develop it for the military, it’s that effective. Basically, to make a long story short, a codfish in Nova Scotia is worth about $7 to $10, fillets, that’s all we get out of it, and maybe we dry some heads, and we sell some of the rest to the mink industry, so we probably get $10 out of a codfish, $12 is really pushing it - $45 dollars in Iceland.
An organization, Matís, which we have an MOU in place with Perennia, the same as Perennia, has worked and helped make that happen, and that’s where we need to go with our industry. If we could take our products and do that sort of multiplier on two or three different products in Nova Scotia, we could easily take our seafood products, exports, without catching one more fish to $3 billion a year. What an economic impact that would be for the province.
That would be value-added, high-end products that we can sell. We have no trouble selling it. The problem is we have got to get them; they’ve got to be quality. Other things we’re doing too, in Brussels, in the U.K., in November they are doing a seafood and wine pairing. We do that now all the time. As we talked about earlier with our wine, our wine is some of the best in the world now. We’re tying that in with the seafood, so it’s a whole package we’re putting together and it’s really starting to resonate because we see chefs now specifying Nova Scotia products in the big restaurants.
One of the hotels I stayed in, the last trip I was in China, the master chef met us at the door - he was a Canadian actually, but he was born in France, a Canadian citizen, and had been living in China for the last 10 years. He has 150 chefs working for him and he told us about all the seafood products he buys, Nova Scotia seafood products. We see that more and more.
The marketing isn’t just to the consumers, to the restaurants, it’s to retail chains. It’s a totally different world, it really is. If someone would have told me what it was like, I would have never believed them, three or four years ago. It’s an eye-opener. They really want to deal with Canada - they really, really want to buy products from Canada.
I know one of the gentlemen coming to see us, and he was on the way from the International Halifax Airport, in to see us here, on the way in, in the car that we were in, the guy says, I’m in paradise. He was in the middle of the woods. When we think about the middle of the woods there’s nothing to see, but he was in paradise. Almost no traffic, no people, nice clean air, you can see the sky, the sun - and some of these cities on the worst foggy day I’ve ever seen here, that’s a normal day and it’s 30 degrees and just unbelievable smog, and the . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. The time has elapsed for the PC Party. We will turn it over to the NDP caucus.
MS. LISA ROBERTS: Thank you. I’d like to take us back to aquaculture and the Doelle-Lahey Report. Once you received the report by Meinhard Doelle and Bill Lahey, following their review, can you take me through the process of how your department engaged that report?
MR. COLWELL: Actually, we don’t refer it to the Doelle-Lahey Report anymore. It’s an independent report, it belongs to the Province of Nova Scotia, not to Doelle-Lahey, so we will never talk about that. If you want to talk about the report, it’s the Independent Report on Aquaculture. I want to set that very clear.
That was a very good report, excellent report. I would say that probably 95 per cent or 98 per cent of what was in that report, we’ve put into regulations.
Now, it may not appear that way for some of the things, the way we’ve done them. Some of the things in the report simply could not be done. They could not be done; they couldn’t be enforced. We had to be very innovative. The key things we do - we want to make sure we protect our environment. A lot of the report was about that. We wanted to make sure that there was a clear set of rules. There’s a lot about that. We wanted to make sure there was lots of transparency. There was a lot about that that we’ve adopted.
That report isn’t the end-all, do-all. There are some people in the province who think that independent report is the only thing that really matters. But that’s only part of it.
As I said earlier, we looked all over the world to see what the best practices were. We implemented a lot of those as well. When you look at where we’re at, and you look at that independent report, we’re pretty close to where they were. In some cases, we’re way beyond what they recommended.
I think we’ve struck a good balance. We really need the public trust, and that’s one thing we worked on very hard. A whole approval process, or whole enforcement process, which, again, was sort of alluded to in some of the independent report, but with no real way to do it. We had to find a way to do this stuff.
We’re very happy with where we landed on this. I think you’ll find that most of - I know the people I appointed on the advisory panel are not necessarily supporters of aquaculture, by any stretch of the imagination. That was intentional. I wanted to hear from people who didn’t necessarily agree with aquaculture. We’ve gotten some very positive feedback from them. These aren’t open to the public, of course, but it’s been very positive feedback and really good comments and suggestions, and we’ve followed through with those as well. We’ve gone beyond where they originally set.
Bruce Hancock, here with me, is my Director of Aquaculture. He just pointed out that the report talked about outcomes, indicating flexibility in how we get there. Those are things for which we’ve got the outcomes pretty nailed down, or what we need for the outcomes. We had to have some flexibility to get there so that we can actually get it into regulations and an Act that can be enforced and can make long-term sense.
MS. ROBERTS: Maybe just so I understand a little bit better, if I can narrow in on one of the recommendations that I don’t see in the regulations - one of the core recommendations - that’s the word from the executive summary of the report - “. . . is the creation of a classification system under which coastal areas would be rated as Green, Yellow or Red based on their relative suitability for fin-fish aquaculture.”
I don’t believe that that is reflected in the regulations as they were developed. Can you speak to me about why not?
MR. COLWELL: We don’t have that Red-Yellow-Green rating, but we are doing tests in areas right now to determined whether they’re suitable for aquaculture or not. First, we have to check the marine environment to make sure it can handle whatever type of aquaculture we might be interested in in that area. We also have an independent panel appointed. They haven’t had their first hearing yet. They’ve been going through training.
An independent clerk who will work with that panel - that panel consists of three people. One is a retired lawyer with extensive experience in litigation who worked for one of the top law firms in the province. The other one is a businessman who is an avid salmon fisherman - so he’s on the opposite end of approving any sites - and the other one is a marine biologist with extensive knowledge of the aquaculture industry, all shellfish, finfish - and a long history of not being - let’s put it this way - not necessarily in favour of or against aquaculture, the same as the chairman of the committee, really, no comments anywhere on aquaculture, whether it’s a good thing, bad thing. I have no idea where - except for the gentleman who is a businessman. I know he’s a sports fisherman, because I read his resume.
This is really a group of three independent people. They will conduct hearings and hear the public input. It’s all a process that when you look - we looked at that Red, Green, and Yellow thing - we will be basically classifying some areas, whether they’re suitable from the scientific standpoint of salmon, trout, shellfish, whatever it may be. There are other things that the review panel will look at based on what evidence that comes forward by expert witnesses - and I stress expert witnesses, not Internet experts - and the immediate community around there, their views on it as well.
We’ve probably captured it and then probably gone beyond that, when you really look at it. When you read the independent report and it said the different coloured zones, it didn’t really go into a lot of detail around it, but a balance we have here that I think will make everybody happy at the end of the day.
I stress again, when you start making regulations, it’s easy to sit back in your armchair and look on the Internet and get all kinds of information, some accurate and some not, that you should do this and do that. When you really have to make the regulations an Act, you’ve got to look at, number one, can you enforce it; number two, does it make any sense; and, number three, is it legal? A lot of that stuff we proposed and wanted to put in the regulations that might have made them a little bit better, when we went to the legal people, they said you can’t do it.
It’s a balance between all those things we had to get, and I think we’ve come to - if you go through our regulations and go through them in detail, and you read the independent report - we’re pretty darn close. We’re probably closer than anyone else in the world.
MS. ROBERTS: In some of your introductory comments, you commented, I believe, that you are at a point now to start taking applications for salmon farming in Nova Scotia. Will that application process be - like, in terms of geography, of where a farm might apply for it, is it up to the proponent to say, we want to set up a farm in X bay or harbour, and then you’ll look at whether it’s suitable? Or is suitability being set and determined and then opening up for applications from proponents?
MR. COLWELL: There are two ways we can do this. Either we can go as a department - it’s in our regulations. I would suggest you read it in detail and go on our website.
There’s two ways we can do it. We can go into an area that we think might be suitable for some type of aquaculture, and then we can do water samples, check what the water quality is. We check and see what the temperature gradients are over time in that area, see what the flow rates through the area are, all kinds of different scientific things.
That’s why we put the position at Perennia Innovation Centre, the marine biologist we put there to do that research. It’s independent from our department, because we are the regulators, and then we could classify that area as suitable for some type of aquaculture or we could classify it as not suitable, and that would mean that that would never be an aquaculture site.
Then we could actually go through the whole public hearing process exactly the same as a proponent would, the department could do that and come up and say okay, this site is approved for this much area and this area is approved for 20 acres of oyster farm development, and if it’s all approved, away we go.
Then we go to an RFP process to see who is interested in that piece of real estate, because really that’s what it is, almost like a land farm. It’s the same as farming land, except it’s in the ocean - different problems and less problems in some cases than farming on land. Then it would go up and see who is interested in it and they would have to follow all the rules and do everything else that’s in the regulations.
The other way they can do it is if you come and say okay, you want to put an aquaculture site of a particular kind in place and were interested in this area, then you have to come and get from me, as minister - and this is the only place I’m involved in the process - an option to pursue that site for six months. They could go out and they could look at the site and say okay, and if we’ve done some studies in the area we’d make that information available to them - again, it would be scientific stuff - water temperatures, flow rates, all that kind of stuff, how it is exposed to the ocean, whatever, all the scientific stuff that we would have. They would then be responsible themselves to verify that information, do more information, and then start talking to the community. There are requirements for public consultation in our regulations; they would have to go through that whole process.
If they decided that maybe they didn’t have enough information, they come back to me and they get another six-month extension on that. It protects a company that’s going to make a substantial investment to see if it’s worthwhile in this spot and if they need an extension, they would get it. At the end of the day they may decide well, it’s not the place to do it, for all kinds of reasons. Whatever reasons they have, that would be fine. They would have to inform us what those reasons are.
If they decide they want to pursue, then I would give them the right to move forward. That’s the last thing I do with it. Then it goes through the whole process. They have to put a plan together, they have to go to the community again, have public consultation in the immediate community around it. Then they would have to go to the three-person independent panel, make a presentation to them - direct community members, not people from all over the world - come in and made a presentation and anyone who is an expert in the field, in that direct field and has the credentials to back it up, could make a scientific presentation or a technical presentation.
At the end of that process the independent panel would make a yes or no ruling, or they may make a ruling that is yes, with terms on it. Maybe they would have to do - I don’t know what they would put on as terms. It could be that maybe they have to do more consultation in the community and come back to the committee or something. It could be whatever they decide is appropriate.
Then if it is approved it has to go through a whole process. Our department then would look at a licence, a lease agreement with them, and then they still have to make all requirements in our Act and our regulations all have to be followed to the letter before they would be up and going in place.
The whole process is not a short process; it’s not designed to be short. It’s designed to make sure we get credibility and accountability. We don’t want to see a facility put in place, any place in the province, whether shellfish or finfish or whatever - it could be seaweed - that is going to fail. We don’t want it to fail, but at the same time, we want to protect the environment.
All this is being taken into consideration. It’s a huge change from where we were five years ago. Five years ago, it was a disaster. That’s the only way to put it - a total and complete and absolute disaster.
MS. ROBERTS: The independent report called for a reduction in ministerial discretion, as it existed previously, in order to build that trust and confidence. I know that the Ecology Action Centre has argued that the new regulations seem to add to the discretionary power, so I’m trying to reconcile that with what you just said. I don’t have the whole regulations here, but the Ecology Action Centre refers to Section 5 of the regulations, which states that “The Minister may entertain an unsolicited proposal for an option to lease in a manner determined by the Minister.” Can you respond to this argument that ministerial discretion has actually increased?
MR. COLWELL: It’s clear the Ecology Action Centre hasn’t read all the regulations to see how it all works, very clear. There’s less discretion now. At one time, I could issue a lease. Five years ago, I could have issued a lease with no public consultation, no scientific research, nothing - just make an agreement with a proponent to put a site anywhere. I could give permission at that time to put one in Halifax Harbour, and there was not a thing anybody could do about it.
The process now, as I described to you already, I have already described some of this. Someone can come with an unsolicited proposal. That’s what I have been talking about. They can come in and say, okay, we want to put an aquaculture site - it could be anything. It’s the same, no matter what it is. They can come, but when they come to me, we have policies around that, which you won’t see in there.
Number one, I want to know if they have the financial ability to do it. If they don’t have the financial ability, we don’t want to talk to them - no more fly-by-night people, no more people looking for money for nothing. That was brought here by the Progressive Conservative Party. There was $25 million given to a company that was not a fly-by-night company, but $25 million that should never have been given to them. They don’t need the money. They’re a $1.4 billion corporation. We look at financial viability.
We look at their request from the standpoint of the scientific information. Is this an area that does make sense? If they’re going to grow trout for instance, in a wide-open area, two kilometres offshore, it’s never going to survive, unless they have some unique technology that would allow that to happen. We wouldn’t approve that. There’s a whole list of criteria it would have to go through.
Then they would only get an option to look at the site. Then if they come back with a really good proposal and say okay, it looks like a good site, it looks like it will work, both environmentally and economically, and we have consulted with the community and that looks like it’s going to work, and there’s good support in the wharves nearby, that we can access to get it into the water and out of the water - all of these things. If they come back, then we would give them permission to move forward towards a lease and licence.
I’m completely out of it at that point, completely. Then it goes to the licensing department. They would review with a whole panel, and put a whole package of information together for the independent panel. They would share that information with the independent panel. They may have more information they need before it ever goes to a hearing. They get all that information to them, and then sit down and approve or not approve it, whatever the case may be, or approve it with amendments to it.
That decision is final. The only way that decision can be appealed is through the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
MS. ROBERTS: An overarching recommendation of the independent report was for the province to focus on low-impact, high-value aquaculture. How is this reflected in the new regulations? Just because I’m trying to wrap my head around it myself - I like oysters. You talked about oysters. Would oysters be the epitome of low-impact, high-value, or have I got that wrong?
MR. COLWELL: Oysters are probably a good example of that. They’re low-impact, low-value. Salmon, for instance, are extremely high value - more impact. So, it’s a balance. Trout is about the same as salmon.
But again, the impact depends on densities and all kinds of variables. The variables are covered under the environmental farm plan, that they have to be registered. There are minimum requirements that we have in that environmental plan. It really takes us to a completely, whole different level, a higher level than was ever imagined in that independent report.
We want economic growth but we do not want economic growth at any cost whatsoever to the environment. I talk to so many people about aquaculture and they say the harbour is polluted with E. coli and fecal coliform. That’s a big, big problem, a huge problem. It makes people sick, it closes beaches, all kinds of stuff.
Now what do you think? What’s the first thought that come to mind - I’m going to ask a question here - what product or what activity in aquaculture would cause that problem?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Would you like to reply, Ms. Roberts?
MS. ROBERTS: I don’t think, no. Does the minister want to reply to his own question?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Does the minister want to answer?
MR. COLWELL: The answer is none, because there is no E. coli or fecal coliform from trout or salmon or any fish. That doesn’t exit, it only comes from humans - humans and farm animals and all the other things. The biggest culprit we have is septic systems, sewage treatment systems, these sorts of things. People all the time are saying it is going to poison all the environment underneath the cages. It has none of those problems that are really health-serious. There are some other issues there, but not to that extent. Those are some of the misbeliefs that are out there when people are talking about the impact of salmon or trout farming.
Oysters are great, we’ve got some great oysters in Nova Scotia. If you like oysters, you’ve tasted Nova Scotia ones and they - we can’t grow enough of them. I’ve tasted oysters from almost all over the world and there’s nothing that compares to it, and I love oysters too.
In 2010, we had $720,000 worth of oyster sales, we’re up to over $2 million now in dollar value. We think we’re going to be able to get up to $20 million, $30 million. It’s going to take some time. There’s one big farm that’s just getting geared up now and they’re just starting to sell some of their product. It gets in full production, we’ll double what we’ve got now. I’ve just been told and didn’t realize that it’s actually the biggest oyster farm in Atlantic Canada, that’s on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, quietly working away. It’s really a great opportunity for us but we’ve got to do it right, we’ve got to look after the environment as we do it.
MS. ROBERTS: Can I get you to comment on the economic development that you see, comparing different possible aquaculture developments, applications that may be coming in, looking through that economic development lens of employment? I know I’ve heard concerns where there are existing finfish aquaculture sites that there aren’t a lot of spinoff effects, that the boats aren’t maintained in the local harbour, that the waged work is very low-paid, et cetera, so some frustration that there’s activity happening that doesn’t have the payoff for the local community.
MR. COLWELL: Every type of aquaculture has a different economic impact. Oysters probably have the lowest economic impact but it’s still significant - oysters and shellfish. Typically, an operation - it would depend on how big it is - would have anywhere from two or three people up to several dozen. It depends on what they do with the oysters, how they pack them, if they add any value to them. But the thing is, oysters are year-round. It’s permanent employment. They would be some very well-paid jobs, and there are some jobs that would be - I don’t know any that aren’t paying well above minimum wage to start, in these facilities.
If you’re talking about trout, it’s a bit more employment. It depends how they do it. Trout and salmon - salmon is the biggest economic impact of all. Typically, a salmon farm, to be economically viable, would need a feed mill, which is several million dollars to build, and it would employ pretty well-paid people, because it’s highly technical. When they build one of these, it’s there for the long term.
It would also include a processing facility that would work year-round, and again, it’s highly trained, highly skilled people, because they want to get the maximum result out of the product they put through.
It would also include a hatchery. Hatcheries today are high tech. I was recently in Norway and saw a hatchery that supplies a couple of different farms there, and if you went there and looked at the outside, you would never know there were fish inside. It’s a beautiful building, a beautiful paved parking lot - you walk inside, and the place is immaculate. It has to be, because we have to make sure the biosecurity is there. That facility is a multi-million dollar investment that will be there forever.
On the site, the average pay on the aquaculture operational side of it - never mind the other ones we just talked about - is $35,000 per year, and permanent long-term jobs, usually with all the benefits, because they want to get top-notch people. This is high-tech business now. This is not somebody taking a scoop and throwing some feed on the salmon. A feed barge is anywhere from $3 million to $10 million or $12 million. It’s all computerized. I was sitting on one of them. It looks like a boat, but it’s actually a barge.
You sit in the control room there, and you see on Star Trek, with the captain sitting in his seat? Well, that’s what it looks like, with a whole array of computer screens watching everything on-site all the time - monitoring temperatures, all kinds of stuff. They’re watching all the time. They live on board the barge, and they change the crew out every week or two weeks, depending on what the company does. Those people are highly paid. Their full job is to make sure that they get the absolute best feeding efficiency they can from the product they put in the water. That’s what I was talking about, the feed conversion. They’re getting very close to 1.01 pounds of feed for every pound of fish, and that doesn’t happen by accident.
The crews who do that don’t last if that conversion goes below that. They don’t keep that crew. They’d get someone new. They’re very, very well paid and very well looked after. They work around the clock, 365 days of the year. The investment in one of these farms, if a local community could get one of these farms by a reputable company - and I really mean a reputable company - there are lots of them in the world that would really be integrated in the community. We’re talking anywhere from a $200 million to a $500 million or $600 million investment, long term. They typically want to know what kind of offsets they have to pay.
The community helps the municipality do some things, to be involved in the community; they’ll probably do upgrades to the infrastructure of the wharves that the fishermen need to use, and work with the fishermen in the community. This is a new - it’s not like it was even 10 years ago in the industry.
There are still some bad people in the community - not in the community, but in the world - who do aquaculture, and we won’t let them do business in Nova Scotia, I can tell you right now. We want to really deal with people who are quality, who have the resources to do things right, who have the expertise. It doesn’t matter if they’re building a small oyster operation or it’s a multi-million dollar finfish operation of some type or other - or they’re doing seaweeds - we’ve got to make sure it’s done right because we want to make sure with global warming and all the effects on the environment, we don’t want any negative impact on our environment. That’s key for us as well.
We’re very, very passionate about this whole thing because we desperately need economic growth, but we can’t do any of it at the expense of the environment - it’s that simple.
MS. ROBERTS: Can I have a time check on how many minutes I have?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have about nine minutes left, allotted today, and there will be 10 minutes when we reconvene on Monday.
MS. ROBERTS: Can I quickly switch over to the lobster handling course? I’m not clear if both lobster buyers and lobster fishers take that course. Yes. How many lobster buyers have taken the course?
MR. COLWELL: We don’t have a breakdown at the moment; we can get that. Initially, when the program started we had about 250 done at that time and 70 per cent of them were lobster fishermen. Right now, we have a total of - either have the course already or signed up to take the course, 800 so far. We only have 280 buyers in the province. I can never remember if it’s 100 and something or 280, but it’s 280 - so 800 people signed up.
Actually, I would encourage any MLA who wants to take this, we’ll provide the course free of charge. I think it’s something you should take - everyone should take. It’s mandatory if you work for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, including myself and the deputy and everybody in the department - even our secretarial staff it is mandatory, they have to take the course.
It’s pretty interesting when you do take the course and see. I never knew that lobsters would bleed - and when they bleed they die. It’s clear blood. That’s just one minor thing in the whole thing. It has been a good course.
The industry first was opposed to it because I didn’t consult. I explained it earlier that I didn’t consult intentionally because I wanted to get the industry’s attention - and I sure did. Now they’re buying into it and the second last meeting I had, the same people who were so adversely against this have come back and said that we need the young people trained. We were discussing ideas how they’re going to do it. Now, remember the qualifier here - these people were bitterly opposed to this course six months ago. They came up with a conclusion that if the industry themselves put a very expensive ATV up - four-wheeler - that they would supply and from all the young people who took the course they’d do a draw and give it to them - from being against the course, that’s where we’ve come.
We have total buy-in now, and it’s to the point that they’re pushing us to add a second level to the course and add all kinds of different items that they want in the course that are more practical. This was really a scientific, biological course. They want a practical course - what happens if you do this on the wharf, what happens if you do this, what happens if you do that? - so they can have the people that are actually having lobsters, the next level of the course, to have that included. That’s where we’ve come in a year. It has been pretty exciting.
MS. ROBERTS: Has anyone not had their licence renewed as a result of not taking the course?
MR. COLWELL: We’ll find out the first of January. I guarantee you, if they don’t take the course, they’re not going to have their licence.
MS. ROBERTS: Scientists have said that a key reason for the high mortality rate last year was a late moult, which means lobster shells had less time to harden before the southwestern fishing season got under way. Are there concerns that a similar situation could take place this year?
MR. COLWELL: The scientists are right; the moult is a big problem for us. But those lobsters that are moulting have to be handled with extreme care - you can actually kill a lobster just by picking it up.
That’s why the lobster handling course, to try to make people aware of these things, I would encourage you to take this course; it’s not a very long course. We could arrange it for all the MLAs. I encourage my colleagues to take it as well. They would find it very useful.
If you handle that lobster that’s in moult properly, they have to be processed. Americans sell them, and they shouldn’t. They have to handle them very, very carefully in the whole process. That’s why we’re going to the quality holding and the quality handling, all those things, so we can get more money out of these lobsters. We’re probably losing, minimum, $100 million a year - that’s no exaggeration.
MS. ROBERTS: I’m going to switch gears again because I have a few more minutes than I initially thought. I want to talk about clam digging, specifically the role of the province versus the role of DFO in leasing beaches for clam digging. Could you explain what the provincial role is in the clam industry?
MR. COLWELL: That’s a complicated question. The answer is even more complicated. In two minutes, I’m not going to be able to explain.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have more than that. I gave the wrong time; you have 12 minutes.
MR. COLWELL: That’s still not enough time. (Laughter)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Try it, minister.
MR. COLWELL: We will start. The clam industry in the province is a multi- million dollar industry. I’ve had a long connection with it; not directly - I dug clams for myself when I was a lot younger.
I used to represent Chezzetcook, and the Chezzetcook area has some of the best clam flats in the world. I worked with the clam diggers and the processors there. They were quite an independent group to say the least, a lot of hard-working people. That industry in that area is worth a lot of money, and you would never know it. You never see it; you never hear about it.
Some of the problem has been that Health Canada, if I remember right (Interruption) It’s Environment Canada, not Health Canada. They used to do testing on the water around it. Again, the culprits are the septic systems, the sewage treatments, and the animals, and that includes geese and ducks and everything. They cause the problem in the water, the contamination. What they did is they stopped doing testing and closed down a lot of the very productive beaches. DFO closed them down on the recommendation from Environment Canada. That’s the responsibility of DFO and Environment Canada.
The solution to this is - we have been talking to the processors and some of the people in the industry - that these should be aquaculture sites. There’s a lot of discussion around how these clam beds could be enhanced, better production. There’s some discussion that if you turn the sand over to soften it up the clams will grow a lot faster. There’s not so much pressure on the clams - all kinds of things like that.
We’re looking at that as another aquaculture opportunity. How that will be structured, I’m not sure at this point. It would have to include the harvesters, who are all licensed, and the processing facility. There are some leases now - we currently have 12 leases and we have five actual processors in the province.
Right now - and I can’t get into all the details because we don’t have a couple of hours, but the bottom line is it’s a great area that we can do a lot more in, and the processors are interested, and the clam diggers would improve their income. They dig clams 12 months of the year if they can get an area that’s open or if they depurate the clams - the depuration system is very expensive. Not only is it expensive but it is expensive to operate not from the power standpoint, but from the lab - you have to set a lab up as well - so we’re doing a review of the depuration system cost and everything very shortly.
We’ll start that review and then we’re going to see how we can work with the industry, either to get some of the beaches opened for digging or look at some kind of system for depuration and sampling. It is very complicated; it’s very, very complicated. It’s an industry we can grow. It’s an industry that makes a lot of really good employment for local people in the local area, and the demand is through the roof. We can’t get enough clams and that’s just locally. Now, the restaurants will take every clam they can get. So, that’s sort of a real short part of it. I don’t know if it makes any sense or not but . . .
MS. ROBERTS: On an annual basis, when a beach is opened or a beach is closed, is that the call of DFO or is that the call of the province?
MR. COLWELL: That would be the call of Environment Canada, and DFO enforces it. And they’re not doing testing anymore, so basically all the beaches are just plain closed that could be opened.
MS. ROBERTS: I think I’ll take you up on the couple-of-hours version of the answer at another opportunity. DFO recently announced the creation of a new marine-protected area on the Eastern Shore that it says will not impact the fishing industry - what’s your view on that announcement?
MR. COLWELL: It has not been announced, this site yet. It’s just one of the candidate areas and they’re in the first stage of reviewing it. We’re concerned that area is - I’ll back up a little bit. The fishermen in that area that lobster fish in that area, the typical income in that area for many, many years was between $15,000 and $30,000 a year, gross income for a fisherman lobster fishing and that was when everyone else was making $25 million a year fishing lobster. So, they decided themselves that we’re going to put some lobster conservation measures in place and they started v-notching females on the tail. In other words, you’re not allowed to buy or sell a v-notched female so the females will reproduce.
They started catching the big females, the really big lobsters that the fishermen would typically sell everywhere else and they’d take them to a holding facility and hold them during the whole season. If they catch one, they take it in so it’s not stressed again by getting caught again. They put it in the holding facility and that means the fishermen have lost money on that lobster because he’s not selling it and the holding facility costs them money to keep it there. At the end of the season, they take and replace that lobster as close as they can to where they caught it at the end of the season and they’ve done several other things, all by the community, themselves, all the fishermen, themselves.
As a result of that now - and their catches are typically lower than anywhere else - as a result of that, the average income for a fisherman in that area now is between $150,000 and $25 million a year. A big change, and they catch only hard-shell lobsters - none of these soft-shell ones, none of the moult problems that we see in southwest Nova Scotia. Those lobsters are really prize lobsters. They have no trouble selling them all, but they’ve really stepped up to the plate. The whole community got involved, all the industry and I can tell you they were some of the hardest guys to convince of anything in the whole province - even harder than some of the guys in southwest Nova Scotia. They came to the conclusion themselves that they were tired of not making a good living.
We’re seeing the same thing in other areas, that some of the fishermen are doing that - mostly in the northern end of the province or the eastern end. It’s pretty exciting. We’ve done quite a lot of work with the industry. In one area, they were told that their lobsters don’t travel well, so they got two sizes of lobsters in Prince Edward Island and in Northumberland Strait: canners - little tiny things that they should not even be catching - and market-size ones. The market-size ones are what the rest of the province catches.
They were selling their market-size lobsters, which usually sell anywhere from an average price of $5 to $13 a pound in that area. I remember the fishermen telling me - one of the co-op members in this thing - and I said, this can’t be true. It sounds like you’re getting ripped off on price.
Anyway, part of a pilot project - to get involved in the pilot project - and come to find out that their lobsters travel as well as anyone else’s, absolutely as well as anyone else’s. Now they’re getting the $5 to $13 a pound, whatever the going price is, and they’ve got all hard-shell lobsters - again, the ones that we really want to sell on the live market.
There are a lot of positive things happening in the industry. The better educated that the fishermen and the buyers and the processors get, the better off our industry is going to be. That’s why the quality programs, that’s why the lobster handling program, and anything else we can do like that. We’ve got to look at enhancements of holding lobsters on boats and all kinds of things we have to do.
This is big business. We’ve got to treat it like big business and make sure the industry puts the resources behind it and that we assist them with research and development work to do all that. That’s sort of a complicated answer.
MS. ROBERTS: I’m wondering about the connection between that and - I guess a proposed marine protected area - I understood that differently, but how is the province engaging and creating the conditions for coastal communities to learn about marine protected areas or to be involved in that conversation?
MR. COLWELL: Well, marine protected areas are good. We need them and should have them, but if it destroys the economy in a community, it may not be the place for it - or in some cases, there’s going to be some traditional harvesting allowed. Again, we talked about that before. I wouldn’t want to see a dragger come through in a marine protected area. We’ve got to make sure that the livelihoods of communities aren’t destroyed because of a marine protected area.
MS. ROBERTS: Is it your understanding, as a marine protected area is proposed, that it would destroy the livelihood of those fishermen you were just talking about?
MR. COLWELL: We’re not sure, because it’s still under review.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. The time allotted for consideration of Subcommittee on Supply for the day has elapsed. We will resume on Monday.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 2:59 p.m.]