Tuesday, October 3, 2006






Grey Seal Conservation Society


Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services



Mr. John MacDonell (Chairman)

Hon. Ernest Fage

Hon. Barry Barnet

Mr. Patrick Dunn

Mr. Sterling Belliveau

Mr. Clarrie MacKinnon

Mr. Wayne Gaudet

Mr. Leo Glavine

Mr. Harold Theriault

[Hon. Barry Barnet was replaced by Hon. James Muir.]

[Mr. Clarrie MacKinnon was replaced by Mr. Charles Parker.]

In Attendance:

Ms. Mora Stevens

Legislative Committee Clerk

Ms. Deb Bruce, Observer



Grey Seal Conservation Society


Ms. Debbie MacKenzie, Chair


Ms. Ronda Brennan, Vice-Chair


Mr. Ian Bruce, Director


Ms. Hope Swinimer, Director


[Page 1]



1:00 P.M.


Mr. John MacDonell

MR. CHAIRMAN: We will get started. Welcome, to the Grey Seal Conservation Society. I'm glad that you were able to come on what probably seemed like fairly short notice, but we knew you were kind of prepped some time ago. You seemed like a logical group to come before us, simply because we had planned for you before the election.

Usually the way the committee works is that the presenters make their presentation and then we have a question period after that. We have two hours, so we're not going to restrict you, but if you were going to talk for two hours we wouldn't get in many questions. What I'll do right now is introduce the members of this committee, then you could introduce yourselves for the record, and then you can proceed.

[The committee members introduced themselves.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Please, introductions and then you may begin.

MS. DEBBIE MACKENZIE: I'm the Chair of the Grey Seal Conservation Society. We have here Hope Swinimer, who is one of our directors. Hope is a veterinary hospital administrator and a licensed wildlife rehabilitation provider, including marine mammals. This is Ian Bruce, another society director. Behind us is Ronda Brennan, another member and wildlife rehabilitator with credentials. And we have Deb Bruce as an observer, who is also a member of the society.



[Page 2]

MR. CHAIRMAN: If at some point, because we have Ronda down as a witness, she wants to speak, then that standing microphone would probably be the best.

MS. MACKENZIE: My speaking notes are in front of you, and I'll just take it from there. Thank you for inviting the Grey Seal Conservation Society here today to talk about seals. We recommend that the Nova Scotia Government avoid any involvement in promoting the grey seal hunt. We ask, alternatively, that the government review relevant federal law and government policy, that you ask DFO to give Nova Scotia a comprehensive report on the current status of the ocean ecosystem, along with a scientific outlook or some forecast for the ecosystem. Please ask DFO scientists, explicitly, to explain the implications of the status of the ecosystem for fisheries management, and then ask DFO's fisheries managers to start providing ecosystem-based fisheries management. Do you want me to stop?

MR. CHAIRMAN: No, I don't.

MS. MACKENZIE: Please consider taking these steps before this government lends its support to any plan to increase the commercial use of seals. The number of seals has increased over the last couple of decades, while fishing prospects have decreased. We certainly appreciate the sense of crisis and concern for the future that has been expressed by the fishing industry. Please understand that if we believed there was any possibility that removing seals might trigger an ecological shift back towards the previous heyday of the fish and the fishermen, then we would be in favour of the plan.

However, no scientific evidence suggests that will be the case, while all the available evidence actually points in the opposite direction. The crisis facing fisheries has been obvious and ongoing since the early 1990s, when we experienced the dramatic, unexpected collapse of the cod stock. There was a fair amount of grumbling at the time, in retrospect, that fisheries managers should have listened to scientists, that the cod stock managers had made a terrible, reckless mistake when they assumed they could ignore the advice of scientists in favour of giving the industry what it wanted.

So have Canadian fisheries managers learned since 1993 to heed the warnings of scientists? Did we learn anything from the cod collapse? Well, it seems that Canada did learn something, on paper at least. In 1997 Canada enacted the federal Oceans Act, which then led to government policy documents entitled Canada's Oceans Strategy and Canada's Oceans Action Plan.

The intent of these initiatives was very clear: to avoid any more reckless errors and fisheries mismanagement in the style of the cod collapse; to use science to gain a better understanding of how the ocean works, in order to protect it; and to place the goal of protecting the ecosystem above the goals of the fishing industry or the goals of any other ocean industries. In other words, Canada resolved first to do no more harm to the

[Page 3]

ocean. The ocean is legally considered to be the common heritage of all Canadians, and protecting the future options of Canadians takes precedence over the immediate wishes of any industry.

What does this have to do with the seal hunt? I am trying to bring this around to show how a seal hunt plan can only be properly approved in the context of the needs of the ecosystem overall. The Oceans Act was clear, that Canada should increase its understanding of the ocean ecosystem. DFO scientists have gone on to pursue that goal and they have made important gains in knowledge. In the past few years, significant original findings from the Maritimes have been published in top international science journals.

The crucial, unexpected finding was that sustained fishing can trigger an entire suite of cascading changes that affect a great many species besides the one that was directly targeted by the fishery. In other words, collateral damage to the food web from fishing was found to be surprisingly widespread and very significant. The removal of top ocean predators, in fact, was shown to trigger ecological shifts all the way to the base of the food web, changes that could actually lower the ability of the ecosystem to support the continued growth of fish. The news was quite bad, not only could this sort of thing potentially happen, but this very scenario had already played out here in the Maritimes. The food web on the Scotian Shelf has been seriously damaged because the fishing industry has removed so many top predators. The bulk of those were large fish.

If this knowledge was considered by resource managers concerned about the ecosystem, then the fishing industry would be permitted to remove no more top predators from the Scotian Shelf, i.e., there would be no grey seal hunt, right? Well, we know that has not been a position taken by the seal hunt managers, but why not?

Ecosystem science is now meant to be the fundamental foundation piece that is used to improve the management of the marine environment. I am quoting Page 5 of Canada's Oceans Action Plan. The change that fisheries managers are supposed to make was plainly spelled out. They are to stop using the traditional, single species management and to begin using ecosystem-based management. Whenever the managers find uncertainty, they are to make decisions that err on the side of caution, but this is not happening.

We have run into a hitch here, because the ecosystem scientists are saying that the top ocean predators are important for ecosystem health, while fisheries managers seem unable or unwilling to understand what that means. The managers are stonewalling against suggestions that they now incorporate ecosystem science into fisheries management plans. In this, the actions are too reminiscent of how fisheries managers ignored scientists 15 years ago, in the days leading up to the cod crash. What is different today is that there is much more at stake this time.

[Page 4]

Before I go on about the damage sustained by the ecosystem and why this argues against the seal hunt, I will interject a few separate issues that may prove to be practical impediments to the commercial grey seal hunt, for your information.

The first issue pertains to food safety. Because seals are mammals and not cold-blooded fish, meat-related, human health risks are a natural part of slaughtering seals and eating seals. Seals can carry various bacteria, viruses and parasites that are transmissible to people and that can make people sick. However, those human health risks have not been addressed by Canadian seal processors to date. Seals are not screened for infectious diseases that might threaten human health because seals are considered to be fish under certain Canadian laws.

For this reason, commercially marketed seals are subjected only to fish inspection rules. They are exempt from the biologically more appropriate meat inspection rules that are used for all other food animals. This exemption means that there's no veterinarian oversight of the health of the seals at any time, either before or after slaughter, and that no screening of their meat is done for mammal diseases. Calling seals fish does not alter the biological reality that seals can carry dangerous diseases that are never found in fish, and an industry that relies on fish inspection protocols to process meat is cruising for trouble.

The Nova Scotia grey seal herd has been found to be infected with brucellosis, but other disease threats are unknown because there's no program of disease surveillance or health inspection for seals in Canada. Elsewhere, seals and other marine mammals are screened routinely, whenever an opportunity arises. These animals are known to pose significant contagious disease threats to people who come into contact with them. From contact with marine mammals, including seals, people have contracted many different diseases, including brucellosis, tuberculosis, trichinosis, leptospirosis, rashes, diarrhea, pneumonia and other problems.

Rather than monitor the disease status of seals, as is done in other developed countries, Canada seems almost to be making a conscious effort not to discover or reveal any consumer health threat that might lurk in the seal herds. This approach seems obtuse, and it smacks of a theme I described earlier, of fisheries managers determined not to hear any scientific evidence that the fishing industry would rather not hear.

Secondly, the grey seal hunt could threaten the livestock farming industry, if it carries on as it has begun. It has been shown, experimentally, that the strain of brucellosis found in seals can infect cattle, that it can be transmitted within cow herds and that it can cause abortion in cattle. In other words, the seal strain of brucellosis may potentially trigger the same farmers' nightmare as the bovine strain. Nova Scotia farmers do not need a problem like that, but the recent activities of fishermen in eastern Nova Scotia could raise that spectre. Seal offal was left on beaches where seals were butchered, about

[Page 5]

800 seals, and carnivorous scavengers like rodents could possibly carry the brucellosis to farm animals. It should be further noted that leaving seal offal on beaches contravenes the fish habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act.

[1:15 p.m.]

A commercial seal hunt in Nova Scotia would need to comply with humane slaughter requirements under the marine mammal regulations. If sealers increase the number they kill, they may find themselves challenged to prove that all seals are being killed humanely. As you can imagine, the province may experience negative international publicity should animal rights protest organizations turn their focus on the Nova Scotia grey seal hunt. Finally, harbour seals are a protected species that may not be hunted, and not all fishermen can distinguish between grey seals and harbour seals. So this could be another potential trouble area.

Returning to my main point, the failing health of the ocean ecosystem, I would now like to briefly outline the pattern of ecological decline of our shores by showing a few slides. I'll start with groundfish - that's codfish - and my comment is that they're starving. That is supported by the analysis of the ecologists who work for BIO. East Scotian Shelf was subject to maybe the most detailed analysis of any piece of ocean, with massive long data sets analyzed by scientists. All of the groundfish, as a community, is now limited by a lack, a shortage of food. That's what a starving codfish looks like. You cut it open, and there's no food in the stomach. That's the stomach, the second part of the picture. Sunken in, no food in the gut.

This is a graph from DFO, again the eastern Scotian Shelf. This is showing four different species of groundfish, although pollock is only semi-groundfish. It's about 40 years of data, showing the growth rate essentially declining for every species, steadily, over time.

Closer to the shore long-term changes are evident to anybody who has been taking notes for a number of decades. What this shows here is the same rock at Peggy's Cove, two views, 55 years apart. The first view is from 1948 and the white band above the seaweed is a barnacle belt. Barnacles are plankton feeders; plankton feeding was more prosperous then. We now have the same rock, this is the very same rock. We do not have a barnacle belt. Barnacles are there but they are lower and they are in the crevices. The decline in barnacles signals the decline of the food value of the plankton, signals part of what has gone wrong. This is part of what has come out in the ecosystem status report from DFO. This is also why ultimately all the groundfish aren't growing as they did.

Animal life beyond barnacles which is also plankton-dependent is also known to be in decline; that is mussels, clams, snails, anemones. There are even very few starfish to be found now. This is mussels, this is some really tiny blue baby mussels. We see

[Page 6]

occasionally this pulse of survival of a lot of young but they don't mature. It is the mature ones that are declining - the mussels big enough to eat.

This is Irish moss and the changes in the marine plant life are very telling of the full-scale, negative change in the ecosystem. Irish moss was commercially useful to a much more significant extent than it is now. This is well-known down around Lobster Bay and area, where mossing on inside islands was profitable. Now some people who are turning back to mossing have to go way outside, or to some rough water, to find moss that is worth raking. Healthy Irish moss is actually not the colour of the moss in my photo, it is a deep purplish brown and when there is less fertilizer, it loses its pigment, like many plants do, and it becomes susceptible to breakdown from environmental stressors like light and wind and things like that.

The pattern is seen all along the shore because it is seen in Halifax County too; where you could once rake moss now you have this. This is the Irish moss, it looks as if it has been mowed. This is a place where you could, 30 years ago, rake a dark moss and now it's pale, under-fertilized and very, very stunted. This is a moss belt here, on a fairly rough granite island, in clean water, that would have been harvestable in the past. This is late summer and it's dying because it has turned white. It dies and falls off.

This is Irish moss in the Spring, April of this year actually, dying off. There is still some growth happening but it's being, like, pruned back by adverse conditions so that ultimately you have just this little bit of stuff. This is the most common rockweed on our shore and this is in a sheltered inlet where it's not fertilized as well as in the rough water. You can see red burn patches where this is also dying back.

This is an underwater shot of a shallow-granite bottom in a clean inlet. Increasingly there is nothing growing on it at all. No plant life where there should be plant life.

This is a view from my parents' kitchen. It used to be that you would only ever dare to take your boat through there. Now you can see the entire bottom, it is shallow granite that was always covered with dark kelp, rockweed, plant life. Anyway, it's cleaned off. This is not a pattern localized to one area that I'm showing; wherever I have looked in a sheltered inlet, this is what I'm finding, white rocks showing. That is similar; it shows you that the inter-tidal seaweed is familiar, it looks the same. Below the surface here are rocks that should have seaweed that don't. A closer look - again, this was taken right at low tide - the seaweed is here; below the low tide, where it's not exposed to the air, we have mostly bare rock and a little bit of fuzz.

I've been monitoring the same sites for a number of years. The sites that are clean in my recent pictures, look like this as it's leaving - a few years ago, it looked like this, which is some pale, low-pigment Irish moss and kelp and a lot of fuzz, and you come

[Page 7]

back in a couple of years and it's a clean rock. That, again, is the stressed look that appears before the disappeared look.

So I'll tell you, the groundfish, the plankton feeders and the plants are showing a pattern of decline. The plankton feeders offshore were not emphasized in DFO's ecosystem analysis as being in distress, however, they only studied offshore, from 12 miles off. They did not have good data on plankton-feeding animals, but they have better information now for two reasons. They are extending it to inshore, and we have better information about plankton feeders. The main water plankton feeder would be herring. Those of you who are acquainted with the herring fishery know that the Scotia-Fundy herring stock has the lowest biomass estimate of all time and the lowest quota they've ever been given. From what I hear, they're having trouble finding the herring this summer.

Another plankton feeder is mackerel. This is a mackerel. Mackerel is showing the same signs. I should say that groundfish and the herring, mackerel, which they call small pelagic fish, similar patterns are showing, which is less big ones, there may be a fair number of little ones, but the big ones are kind of vanishing. So we have smaller mackerel, but we still don't have adult mackerel. In the summer mackerel would always have their stomachs full. This is a cut-open stomach showing nothing at all inside, showing a green gallbladder. A green gallbladder in a fish means it hasn't eaten for a week.

The most important economic fishery is probably the lobster fishery. As you know, if you're familiar with the LFA 34, southwestern Nova Scotia, which is the big one, there has been a problem mounting in recent years of weak lobsters, dying lobsters, short-meat lobsters, low-protein lobsters. This is another trouble sign.

This is from a book called In a Perfect Ocean, written by fisheries scientist Daniel Pauley at UBC. He analyzed the trends in fisheries and ecosystems in the North Atlantic Ocean over a century. This is his graphic, showing a volumetric image of the amount of standing stock of fish per square kilometre per year. This is in 1900, the Newfoundland and Labrador food web, and this is how it has shrunken down between 1985 and 1987, when they did their comparison. So it shows that all of the levels, this would be lower down feeders, higher - trophic levels they call them, this one eats this one, that one eats that one - just a general shrinking of life as a whole.

Those images provide a glimpse of what the collateral damage looks like of broad, insidious, unexpected changes of fundamental damage to the food web that was unexpectedly triggered by removing too many top predators. Given all of this, we really should now make our peace with the top ocean predators. We should acknowledge their importance as a group in maintaining ocean health, and we should acknowledge our own role in degrading the ecosystem by fishing. At this stage of the game, all surviving ocean

[Page 8]

predators should be left alone, and this step should be taken for the sake of our top ecosystem conservation goal, preserving the integrity of the ecosystem itself.

The Canadian public is under the impression that with the Oceans Act, it formally entrusted ocean management to ecosystem science. Therefore, diagnosing the problems, prescribing the treatment, and making the prognosis, these are all jobs that are supposed to be done by relying on the knowledge of ecosystem scientists. The Canadian public has not entrusted the role of safeguarding our common heritage to the fishing industry. That is why it's inappropriate for a fishing industry association to try to call the shots now and order a seal cull. The signs and symptoms of an ailing ocean are mounting everywhere, and these signs, in combination with fisheries managers disinterested in knowing what it means, this suggests that Atlantic Canada might now be on the brink of another fisheries mismanagement disaster. However, it is our hope that this outcome can yet be averted if publicly-funded science is now used to guide the use of a public resource.

Please understand that turning a blind eye to the ecosystem and carrying on instead with old-style fisheries management, that this choice will come with a high price; degraded ocean conditions will intensify and this will be manifest in weaker, thinner fish and lobsters and an increase in a whole assortment of problems related to microbes. The list of problems is likely to include increased bacterial contamination of beaches, infections in fish, marine mammals and crustaceans, more extensive shellfish closures due to toxic algae blooms, fish kills, dead zones and mass die-offs of seabirds and marine mammals.

Could ocean ecosystem mismanagement really turn out that bad? Absolutely, yes. Our advice to the Government of Nova Scotia, ask DFO for a formal consultation with their ecosystem scientists and then ask those scientists to give the news to the province straight, what exactly do they know about the changes in the ecosystem and what do they see as the prognosis for ocean life? What recommendations to fisheries management would the ecosystem scientists make on the basis of their work? The province needs this information as soon as possible, so that realistic plans can be made for rural economies that depend on fishing.

Nova Scotia should then formally notify DFO that this province is interested in getting with the program of ecosystem conservation. You may want to consider drafting a memorandum of agreement with DFO regarding implementation of the Oceans Act, similar to what British Columbia has done in this regard. Finally, it may be that one of the most sensible proactive steps that can be taken is to invest in the development and expansion of low-impact aquaculture.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Are there any members with questions?

Mr. Belliveau.

[Page 9]

MR. STERLING BELLIVEAU: The last one, you got me, the last bullet, ". . . it may be that one of the most sensible proactive steps that can be taken is to invest in the development and expansion of low-impact aquaculture." Explain, what is low-impact aquaculture?

MS. MACKENZIE: What I mean by low impact is aquaculture that is currently being done is coming under criticism for causing ecological damage. Probably the best example is the salmon pen, salmon aquaculture, where Atlantic salmon are grown by feeding them fish meal pellets from dragger fish. That also has been claimed to cause some local damage to the bottom, below those fish pens, unless it is really well flushed, like down at Brier Island.

[1:30 p.m.]

Now, when I say low impact, there is some clever research being done in places, including actually New Brunswick, where it is marine animal aquaculture - I think they are just using mussels - but is in a closed system where they are also growing a marketable plant with the waste from the animal, more like a natural thing. There is no effluent that's full of nutrients coming off.

I think some things could be done, aquaculture, with marine fish, could be done and should be done. I think we would all like to have ocean fish stay in our diet. Did that answer your question?

MR. BELLIVEAU: Well, partly, but I would like to get a broader range of what you're talking about, that's all.

MS. MACKENZIE: Low impact is not counting on wild capture for the feed. Low impact is not dumping a polluted effluent and it's probably going to be closed-contained. It's possible.


HON. JAMES MUIR: Thank you for the presentation, it's very interesting. One of the things - and I read some background information before coming in the meeting today - it seems to me that the fundamental thing starts with the plankton and plankton is the feeder. Yet you're called the Grey Seal Conservation Society and they are what you call top predators and they have multiplied tenfold over the last number of years. I guess I see them from time to time in the summer and where I am in the summer, they don't have a whole lot of friends. Is that right, Charlie?

MR. CHARLES PARKER: No comment. (Laughter)

[Page 10]

MR. MUIR: Yes, anyway, it looks as though the ecosystem has changed somewhat. What is the answer to getting this plankton back in the system? You know, you talk about the bottom predators being - and I guess that's the cod, halibut and these other ones. What do we do about that? I guess, it seems to me that's a fundamental thing that's missing.

MS. MACKENZIE: You're correct. That is a very good question because that's the line of questioning that needs to lead to a sensible answer. What is it that increases the plankton or would give the plankton a kick? The plankton is weakened. The sea animals, themselves, recycle materials into the plankton more quickly than bacteria does. The function of the top predator - we'll talk about the seal - is to eat fish. There are a whole lot of fish that need to be eaten on a yearly and constant basis. They're worn out fish, fish that have lived out their time. They need to be eaten. So do young fish, because there are too many at the start.

What the seal does is - it's a warm-blooded incubator and, actually, as you know and as you've heard, it's got worms in its stomach. These are the most reproductive invertebrates in the sea, probably, because they're incubated. I did the math one time. A grey seal can easily create 5 million worm eggs into the sea a day. Those are plankton. That enriches the plankton. They're linked. Fish and seal invertebrates are linked in a way that's self-sustaining. The predators eating the fish whose time has come is a plankton stimulant. Does that make sense?

MR. MUIR: I'm just trying to figure out - it seems to me, what you said, is if you leave the seals alone, it's going to increase the plankton.

MS. MACKENZIE: It's one drop in the right bucket. The seals are part of the answer; they're not part of the problem.

MR. MUIR: I had trouble when I read that stuff, trying to make that connection, so thank you.

MS. MACKENZIE: Yes, it's a thing that works - it's very complex, how it works together, but it all works together. These animals were all integrated together over 25 million years ago in a thing that worked fantastically. The plankton was really rich when it was full of fish, whales, seals, walruses and birds galore. The plankton was top speed.

MR. MUIR: I have one more question, Mr. Chairman. It appears now, from the information that we read in the seal population - you indicated it's the most prolific predator in the sea right now, in terms of multiplication. What kept the seal population down before, or at least kept it in balance? I mean, that . . .

[Page 11]

MS. MACKENZIE: Well, the seal population, if you just want to look at the seals, they were heavily used, commercially. After whales, they and the walruses were targeted for blubber, right?

MR. MUIR: And seal oil and stuff like that, yes.

MS. MACKENZIE: Who knows how many. I've heard us mention there were 40 million seals in Atlantic Canada at the start. We don't know but it was a very common animal.

The reason all of us, when we were younger, didn't see many seals is because the commercial sealing had removed them. Then there was a bounty up until, I believe, 1984. We hardly ever saw a seal because there was a bounty. And there was a belief then, by fisheries managers and fishermen, that removing the predators helped the fish. The fisheries managers even thought that when they looked at a fish stock, removing all the big old ones was desirable. The big old ones are going to grow slow and when they get big, they don't pack on the cod flesh very fast. We thought that they should be pruned off. Now, of course, the big old fish were the big predators. The main bulk of this predator role was always carried by fish, even when we had 40 million seals. How many big fish were there?

What happened is, the big fish are gone. The seal was more or less a redundant player when there were a lot of big fish to go around and eat the spent herring and eat the cod that looked like my first slide, whose time has come. When you had lots of big halibut and cod and hake and sharks, all these things prowling around to eat those fish, there was less impact from taking out the seal herd, because the seal herd was virtually eliminated.

MR. MUIR: You're talking about - we used to talk about biology selection - natural selection, the predators would eat the ones which were a little weaker.

MS. MACKENZIE: Yes, that needs to happen. If the predators don't eat them, they just die of old age and lay down on the bottom. They could rot and then bacteria gets a hold, and you can start to get degraded water, degraded in the important context of losing the oxygen, and then you can get kind of a snowballing dead bottom. The worms and things will all die, all in the area. That's the kind of thing that can happen. That's why the fish have to have the predators, it keeps it clean.

MR. MUIR: I understand that, but with the diminishment of those fish, then the predators would now not just be eating the sort of weakened fish or the ones that need to be - they would be looking for anything that moved, I would think.

[Page 12]

MS. MACKENZIE: I think they're still eating the weakened fish, and I think they're finding a lot of weakened fish. Fish are weakened way earlier than they used to be weakened. Adult cod is weakened now . . .

MR. MUIR: They're a lot smaller.

MS. MACKENZIE: It used to be quite big before it got bit off and weakened. It was this big and it was in its prime and it could get away from anything.

MR. MUIR: So they could flee.

MS. MACKENZIE: Yes. On the talk of the predators, we need the seal because it's the only predator left. The increase in seals has been really easy to see and to not take note that all other animals that share the role, perform the same function, they're gone.

MR. MUIR: I was just wondering if there was a limit.

MS. MACKENZIE: When you start out on plankton, you're exactly right. I've been trying to ask DFO and the government to please turn their attention to the plankton. I was a little bothered that there was $6 million found a few years ago to study what seals eat. We all know what seals eat, they eat fish. I suggested that they find a little money to study the plankton, and they didn't.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Gaudet, Mr. Parker, and then Mr. Belliveau on for a second time. If somebody else who hasn't had a question yet puts their hand up, Mr. Belliveau, you're going to keep getting bumped down the list.

MR. WAYNE GAUDET: Thank you for your presentation. In your opening comments, you indicated that this year's herring season was probably less productive than in past years. I don't know; I'm just asking. Something that I do hear from fishermen, especially from my area, the grey seal herd population is increasing, and when an increased population keeps on growing - and I don't know what the number is today, I anticipate that will keep on growing - isn't there a danger that they're going to practically eat everything there is to be had down there?

MS. MACKENZIE: I don't think so.

MR. GAUDET: You don't think so?

MS. MACKENZIE: I don't think so, because there were always natural predators in the sea, in the Bay of Fundy, et cetera. There are less now. The coverage by predators is less, even though there are more seals. Sometimes you'll hear, well, the seal doesn't

[Page 13]

have a natural predator, so they're just going to mushroom out of control. The seal numbers will be controlled by . . .


MS. MACKENZIE: . . . food availability and disease susceptibility, microbes complete the loop. That's what takes down - the top predator ultimately does get weakened. They always did. There was never a shark bigger than the great white to eat the great white. I know it's hard - on the surface, it looks like the seals are a big problem, but you have to go and look at the shore and see that the whole system is weakened. I find that really scary. It's the ecosystem, and the plankton. Remind yourself that the seals are turning worn-out fish into plankton.

MR. GAUDET: But that's not the trend that's happening out there now. There are more seals and more seals, and less fish. That's assuming, and I don't know how many pounds of fish they would consume, that one big mammal would consume in the run of the day, so multiply by thousands, how much do they need in order to continue to live? I'm just trying to get a sense - when some fishermen do raise this, from listening to what they have to say, the seal population keeps on increasing. Isn't that going to have an impact on how many fish are going to be available to catch and be brought ashore, and processed, and create jobs, and what have you?

MS. MACKENZIE: The seal contribution has a positive impact on the whole system. If you take the seals out, let's say, will you catch more fish? Maybe very briefly. Probably the halibut won't be bitten off the longline this year. But what you'll find is that the fish are thinner and weaker even than they were before. Thinner and weaker and fewer. Fish don't exist without natural predators. They never did, for 400 million years. They need them. To the fishermen, I understand where they're coming from and why it looks like that.

What I wish would happen is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Science Branch would communicate this to the fishermen, tell them about the ecosystem, tell them about the predators, tell the fishermen what they have written. When they find a cod like that - they find it all the time in their offshore trawls, in the Gulf, in the Maritimes - you all know that - the scientists call that a deceased-like fish. Then they observe that they're probably finding deceased-like fish, because of a shortage of natural predators. That's a sign there aren't enough predators.

I wish, though, that the ecologists would be allowed to speak, would be allowed to communicate to the fishing industry, because I totally understand their frustration and the worries of fishermen. Does that help?

MR. GAUDET: Yes, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

[Page 14]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Parker.

MR. PARKER: I'm Charlie Parker, MLA for Pictou West. I was late coming in, so I didn't get a chance to introduce myself. I'm going to ask you in a minute about your organization, your society, your history and that kind of thing, but I just wanted to comment that along the Northumberland Strait where I come from the herring catch this year was probably better than ever. They had tremendous catches night after night. It was very good. I just wanted to make that comment.

I want to ask then, what is the history of the Grey Seal Conservation Society? How long have you been going? How many members do you have? Who is involved, that type of thing?

[1:45 p.m.]

MS. MACKENZIE: We've been incorporated for about two and a half years. We don't actively seek members, and we have about as many formal members registered as the Grey Seal Research and Development Society. We're not providing member services. We maintain a Web site, and we try to stimulate dialogue on the issue that we brought here today, around the ecosystem. The reason we probably put grey seal in the title was because it's kind of a timely topic, and people talk about seals. We could have put porbeagle shark, the porbeagle shark conservation society, because that, too, is a top ocean predator that's now targeted commercially, even though it has been assessed as threatened under the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

MR. PARKER: Are you a group of scientists or are you lay people, or a combination?

MS. MACKENZIE: I'm the main researcher and spokesperson. My background is in nursing. My last job was the public health nurse in Shelburne County. I was born and raised in the fishing industry, a fishing village. My father was a fisheries scientist. I'm very close to the fisheries, very concerned about the fisheries and the fish. That's where this came from.

MR. PARKER: So you have a different perspective on conservation and on fishing than many Nova Scotians, but I guess you're trying to educate the rest of us or trying to bring a new angle or a new light to the ecosystem. But you're relatively new and you're working on public relations, I guess, is part of the reason you're here today.

MS. MACKENZIE: It's raising public awareness that there are broad signs that are worrisome of change in the ocean life. If the public understood we're getting in dangerous, unprecedented territory, ecologically - the scientists will say, this is unprecedented. This is their assessment of the Scotia - it's an unprecedented situation

[Page 15]

with all the big fish missing. Unprecedented for how long? I don't know. Probably hundreds of millions of years. We're on real shaky ground. It's a crisis. The public is largely unaware that things like sea birds are going to get in trouble, and whales.

I should mention something that bothered me after a previous meeting of this committee to discuss the grey seals in the Spring. I can't remember who mentioned it but one of the MLAs mentioned going to look at an island where sea birds were breeding. It might have been Green Island in Yarmouth County. Anyway, the observation was that - whoever it was, was used to going out in the summer and seeing sea birds - puffins and whatnot - that bred on this island - went out last summer and didn't see them and was concerned, of course, that the grey seals had eliminated the birds.

In the Gulf of Maine last summer, there was a large breeding failure noted of sea birds from lack of food, lack of small pelagic fish. They need to feed their young. If they can't feed the young, they abandon the effort and leave the island. A breeding failure of sea birds isn't going to eliminate sea birds if there's one bad year or two bad years because, often, the adults can live for decades. But breeding failure of sea birds is a warning sign.

MR. PARKER: Okay. You mentioned DFO earlier as having, maybe, a mandate or a role to talk to fishermen's organizations and explain about the ecosystem. Have you or your society attempted to do that yourselves? Have you been invited ever to speak with the fishermen's group or have you actively sought to meet with them?

MS. MACKENZIE: I have made presentations to the FRCC, the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, a few times. I have been invited to speak to the - is it the Atlantic Salmon Federation? - the salmon protection group. I've concentrated my efforts on the DFO scientists, themselves, actually, because I think it's their role - and I've gone to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography to speak with a room of Ph.D. scientists about these matters, what I raised here today.

It's very disturbing, what the scientists said to me. They said, we agree, but we're not allowed to say that. They're not allowed to say that, that's the thing. They're publicly-employed, highly-experienced scientists who are being paid to do expensive research to study the ocean. When it comes to what the implications are of your work for fisheries management, they're not allowed to say it.

MR. PARKER: Interesting. One more question, Mr. Chairman. I understand the fishery industry in Norway and in Iceland is, perhaps, much healthier than here. I don't know what the relationship between the fish stocks and the amount of predators in those two countries would be, but can you shed any light on that? Are there more grey seals or less grey seals, perhaps, in those fishing countries? And why is their stock so much healthier?

[Page 16]

MS. MACKENZIE: I'm not terribly familiar, but a bit. Iceland has been a good place to grow fish for a long time. I think it's because of the geographic location, where the Gulf Stream comes over and hits this up-draft on the Iceland Shelf. It has always been a good place to grow cod. However, recently, despite the measures they have taken in Iceland, their cod stock is in decline. I don't know what their seal population is, but it's more relevant to know what the predator population is.

I can't really comment on the state of fisheries in Norway. I haven't done any research, but I've been told, informally, that it's not doing well, compared to the past. Since you mentioned Norway, I'm just going to put in one little item about Norway. Norway has a commercial seal hunt and they market seal products commercially for human consumption, and a veterinarian goes on every sealing vessel. That's not to do PR about the Canadian slaughter, that's to do food safety.

MR. PARKER: Okay, those are all my questions for now. I might have a few in the second round . . .

MR. CHAIRMAN: You may not get them, either.

MR. PARKER: You never know.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Theriault.

MR. HAROLD THERIAULT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Debbie, for coming in today and doing this presentation. I agree with you on one thing so far, that is DFO managing this fishery from Ottawa, never doing a good job and probably never will. You say you have a little background in the fishery; I have 15 generations in the fishery here in Atlantic Canada - I am 13th, my grandchildren are 15th. Hopefully that will continue on to 30th or 40th, and I believe it will.

You've got it pretty doom and gloom here on this paper, everything from stuff missing off the beaches to - I've watched the fishery all my life, and my father before him and his grandfather, my grandfather before him. I don't know where you've ever seen 40 million seals in Atlantic Canada, but that's something I've never seen or heard tell of in my lifetime, or my grandfather's lifetime or my father's lifetime. Anyway, that's pretty interesting.

I do remember seeing very small herds of seals all my life, but in these last 15 years we've seen it 10 times bigger anywhere and everywhere you want to go, that's for sure.

We've also seen in the last 15 years the only fish - we blamed it on the fishermen and the fishermen will take responsibility, we did bring it to its knees - the ground

[Page 17]

fishery. But these past three to four years, especially these past two years, you could jump in a boat and start sailing to Georges Bank 150 miles away and you might run across a fishing boat and you might not. There are no fishing boats left out there. The fishing boats can't catch their quota, they're all tied up now. So another great brainwave that DFO had with the ITQ thing. Anyway, we won't go into that.

The only fish we see surviving in the Bay of Fundy is the dogfish. There are more dogfish in the Bay of Fundy now than ever recorded in history. They are washing up on the shore, there are so many of them in the Bay of Fundy. The seals won't go around them. The seals get that bone in their nose and their mouth would be swollen shut for a week and they would starve to death - poison. They can't touch the halibut too bad. The halibut hide on the bottom and when they're on the bottom, the halibut can't be seen, the same as the flounder. The flounder is thriving. The lobster is thriving fairly good and, like you say, there has been a soft-shell problem, but we believe that has been climate change in the last couple of winters and I think we're going to see a big difference in that this winter. I may be wrong, but will be proven right in December and January, right or wrong. That's what fish are left in the Bay of Fundy.

The plankton, as you talk about it - the red feed we used to call it - we used to steam out across the Bay of Fundy just coming daylight in the morning, the sun just coming up, and look beyond your boat and the wake which should be white could be blood red from plankton across the Bay of Fundy. Tiny, shrimp-like stuff everywhere - fathoms and fathoms deep, the Bay full of it. You could sail clear to Georges Bank now before you find any of that feed that's in the water, the red feed we call it, plankton.

I don't know what has killed that, We certainly never caught any of it; we never fished for that. I don't know what happened to that, that's a good question, that's a big question. That's one you certainly should be finding out about.

The seals are a problem. Even the few halibut and flounders that are left, when the fishermen try to bring them up through 50, 60, 70 fathoms of water, on their hook from the bottom, where they were good and healthy, by the time they get to the surface the seals have them stripped, and that's a fact. They can't even fish for them anymore. We fish for the lobster, because they're in a trap and they can't get at them. But when the small lobsters are thrown back, there are seals following the boat because when the lobster goes down through the water column, it floats down through with its claws stretched out. The seal gets them in the back. They can't get them on the bottom. Once they get on the bottom, the lobster is pretty safe.

The fishermen are saying, why are we bringing these small lobster up? How are we going to stop that? They're always working around, trying to deal with these seals. When there were a few of them, we used to know how to stop them. I said, if you can't outsmart a seal, it's time to get the hell out of the fishery, as a human being. But there are

[Page 18]

so many of them. We could outsmart them when there were a few of them, we could deal with it. But now you can't outsmart them. They're outsmarting us, the fishermen, the fishing industry. Big time, Debbie.

When you live out there, it's just like a farmer in his garden, he knows where every carrot is. When you live out there on that ocean, day in, day out, all your life, you know where everything is, you know where every rock is on the bottom, you know where every piece of kelp is, you know where every speck of mud is on that bottom and what lives on it and how it works. You see it, day in, day out. How people can sit in a building, in a room, a scientist, and tell me what's out there in the ocean, I don't know how they do that, that's beyond me. But when you live it, see it, breathe it, eat it, you know it.

I want to go to Iceland for a second, to Norway. Iceland and Norway, 15 years ago, the fishery was depleted worse than ours. While it was depleted down and out like ours is, the seal herd was growing. All of a sudden, one day they started seeing seals washing up on the shore. Ninety-five per cent of the seal population in Iceland and Norway died off. I believe that. It died off. Once they did, they got a distemper in them, I'm not sure about the scientific name they used, but it's a distemper they got in them, the same as any wild animal will that overpopulates.

When the seals died off, they started seeing the fishery come back, the ground fishery, the haddock, the cod. In Norway alone, they have an over-200 ton a year fishery in the haddock and codfish right now, one of the biggest in the world. But they knew when that ground fishery started coming back, back the seals started coming, the 5 per cent that never got the disease in them. They knew they had to do something. They knew they couldn't let that seal - they had to try to hold a balance there.

[2:00 p.m.]

So the balance was - they figured out in their wisdom - to harvest those seals when they got so abundant. How they harvest them is, the veterinarians, the scientists see how many worms are coming into the fish, and once there are so many worms - there are always worms in codfish - but when you see more and more and more of an abundance, it's a sign of more seals around. So when they get so many, they bring the harvest up on the seals.

They harvest the seals in Norway and Iceland exactly the way we harvest our deer population in Nova Scotia. We hold the deer population between 46,000 and 54,000 animals, by harvesting 18 per cent to 24 per cent annually. If you didn't harvest those deer in this province, we would not grow a vegetable in this province to eat. Do you believe in the hunt, the harvest of our deer herd in Nova Scotia?

[Page 19]

MS. MACKENZIE: Yes, I don't have a problem with that. I don't think that the terrestrial ecology has been weakened like the sea has been. I don't see the hardwood tree leaves losing their colour too soon. I don't see dieback signs extending as far as the plant life lacking fertilizer. I'm not seeing that terrestrially. I think probably we've reduced the predator on the deer - there's not much here for a natural predator - and that the hunting, yes, keeps them down. I don't have a problem with that.

MR. THERIAULT: I believe we reduced the predator of the seal, too, and that's our shark. We have shark derbies in this province that, personally, I don't like. I don't like to see those sharks coming out of the water like they do. Those mako sharks and blue sharks, 8-, 10-, 12-feet long - their main food along the shoreline was baby seals, small seals. We've seen that. We've seen these sharks eat these small seals. They never go after the big ones. One of those 200-pound, 300-pound sharks is not going to tackle a 1,000-pound grey seal. No, I don't believe. There's not too much out there that will tackle a 1,000-pound grey seal, not that I know of, in these waters. But they ate enough of the young to keep that population at that 30,000 to 40,000 of them per year. That's what there was out here, for generations.

Today, this Spring, the count will be - it's over 400,000 - 450,000, because they thought 50,000 would be born this Spring, the grey seal. They're eating a minimum of 20 pounds of something a day. I'm not too sure what they eat. I won't go into that. I don't think they're eating ice cream cones or anything, it has got to be fish. We'll say 20 pounds. The scientists say they'll eat up to 40 pounds a day. So at 20 pounds a day, you're talking over 3 billion pounds of fish per year out here on this coast being eaten by the grey seals. The whole Nova Scotia fishing industry is 200 million pounds, which the fishermen can't catch.

Something is wrong out there, Debbie. Something's wrong. We've created it, and I agree with that. DFO is the mastermind of most of it. So we'll give them the most credit. But anyway . . .

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Theriault, are you . . .

MR. THERIAULT: That's good. I'm done.

MS. MACKENZIE: Thank you, Mr. Theriault. I'll try to address your points. Going right to the red feed, on the disappearance, what happened to the red feed, you're getting to the heart of the problem there. That's very alarming. The barnacles - I found scientific research on shore life from Nova Scotia in 1948 that included observations from Halls Harbour, inside the Bay of Fundy, and Meteghan, more or less at the mouth. I went to the exact locations for comparison monitoring, years in a row. The Bay of Fundy was so rich in the past. Meteghan had incredible, unusually thick barnacle belts across all the tops of the rocks, according to scientific records made in 1948. I found the

[Page 20]

same rocks, they're at Smugglers Cove, Meteghan is mostly a beach, and there are no barnacles there. I find that horrifying. Again, that shows the slowing of the system.

The comparison with the deer, I won't go any further. The seals eating longline fish, of course. Yes, there's a lot of conflict with the fishermen over that, and we need to get our priorities straight. What is important? Again, do we need these predators? I think we do. To talk about Iceland and Norway, 15 years ago, they were severely depleted, and then the seals had a distemper. Most of the European seals died at that time. Now they've got 200 million tons of ground fishery. But we don't know - it's too simplistic to suggest that this is a balance with the number of seals. Seals are not the only predators. You have to have some predators. That's just not what's running it. It's more realistic to say, does this work in balance with the abundance of the red feed? Yes, you're closer then.

When you talk about a balance, a balance in the sea comes into this argument all the time. The balance is, animal life does things to sustain and make life possible for animal life. That's how it works and it all works together. If animal life loses strength, you have microbes - bacteria is going to step right in and take over. So if all the animals are weakened, as a group, then microbes are going to start to become prominent. If this is a problem, you should let the animals, as a group, come back. Taking a predator out is not going to help.

Now I want to address something that you said very clearly, that the math has been done on the seal herd. The last estimate is 225, based on the Sable Island pup count, which showed a decline in the increase. They aren't still increasing at 13 per cent annually. The last count showed a shortfall of 20,000 pups on Sable Island; 60,000 were predicted, 41,000 were found. It's slowing up, that's the scientific evaluation of the seal herd.

Now, as far as eating their young by sharks, yes, there are no sharks to eat their young, but what may be limiting the young is starvation. I have found dead seal pups without a mark on them. Now I don't know if they're infected with brucellosis that causes weak young, I don't know if they're inexperienced, rapidly growing young seals that can't find enough to eat. That would also cause dead pups in the water. This is what's happening, the seal herd is slowing up. Don't worry, it's not going to go shooting through the roof, the numbers.

Speaking of young mammals, the young is a population control point for mammals, and whales, too. If you watch the strandings that are reported, what's showing up is recently weaned fin whale that turns out to be starving. It was nursed by an older, experienced, fully-grown whale, it finds itself weaned, it's a rapidly growing, adolescent almost whale, suddenly it has to feed itself and there are very few fish around. These kinds of animals are dying.

[Page 21]

Now, we have heard it again that there are a certain number of hundreds of thousands of seals that are going to eat 20 pounds or maybe 40 pounds of fish a day and then you do the math and you say they're eating more than the whole fishing industry is landing, as if that was significant - I'm sorry, that's not significant. They are part of what naturally runs the system. They are part of the recycling, keeping it clean and healthy, program in the sea. They eat the fish piecemeal, as they need to be eaten, and if a whole new class of herring poops out at five years of age - which is what happened - they're all going to be seal food at five. Herring used to live to 20. The tonnage that goes down the throat of the seal and back out into the plankton, there's no point in comparing that to the tonnage landed by the fishing industry. The fishing industry is not just like another predator. The other predators are part of what makes it work. Okay?

MR. THERIAULT: You talked about it being unhealthy now, you're saying it's unhealthy, that the pups are starting to die and stuff. If that herd was culled to a proper balance out there, to the proportion of food there is to take care of it, wouldn't that make for a healthier herd?

MS. MACKENZIE: I don't think we should do that. I think we should let the natural checks and balances work.

MR. THERIAULT: Why let 95 per cent of those animals - maybe 100 per cent - die off from a disease, which is going to happen? It will happen.

MS. MACKENZIE: Because they are part of what strengthened the fish in the first place. The fish are in trouble, the plankton is in trouble, the whole thing is in trouble. We very well may see around the corner the herring fishery collapse and then maybe the lobster fishery collapse. There are warning signs that haven't been seen before.

I have been told there are fishermen in Woods Harbour who have put thousands of dead lobsters in the landfill, thousands of pounds, is that right? The canneries can't keep up with the weak and dying lobsters. I've been told a boat is coming into Cape Island, lobster boats - they fill their holding crates with live lobsters, as they have for generations, they get to the wharf and one-third is dead. These are unprecedented warning signs.

MR. THERIAULT: Thank you.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Belliveau, you're the last person on my list, so I'm putting my own name on.

MR. BELLIVEAU: I have quite a list. There is an issue with soft-shell. We've talked about it, and I've asked the minister to come down to southwest Nova Scotia to

[Page 22]

address it but, anyway, that's another issue for another day. There are a number of things here. The first two paragraphs, I'm intrigued by the statements in there. First, if we understand and would believe that there was any possibility that removing the seals might trigger an economic shift back towards the previous heyday of fish and fishermen, then we'd be in favour of that. I'm intrigued by that statement.

I grew up on the Bay of Fundy, and I spent 38 years fishing at Lobster Bay. The last three or four years, the first time on record, this is the first time I've heard of a fisherman going out longline, and I think that you may not agree with that particular fishery, but it's the first time in my knowledge that fishermen have seen seals strip their halibut, which is $5 a pound. I've been fishing for 38 years, and previously been recording these last three or four years. So there's something going on there.

Your earlier statement talked about the ecological system around Nova Scotia, and I believe that we have one of the best, if not the best, in the world. I think I can give you the stats that show that, that the grow-out salmon farms in southwest Nova Scotia are one of the best grow-out sites in Atlantic Canada. I'm intrigued by that statement, because my previous colleague suggested that Norway and Iceland went through a similar collapse that we have in the ground fishery, over basically the same period of time. It's interesting to see that their fishery has rebounded.

I'm intrigued by that, because I'm sitting here saying, if we have this political will to put enhancement programs in place, then we can get this fishery back. I'm hearing you say - basically the first question I asked you, if there was, I forget, low-impact aquaculture you could actually enhance the fisheries. We know that we have one of the best grow-out sites there is. I feel that there's a problem with the predator, the seals, and the fishermen are recording this now. To me, there's something going on there.

What I'm not hearing from you is the recognition that I feel there's a problem. The Europeans basically said their seals died off and the fishery has come back. I'd like to have that question first addressed, why did theirs come back?

[2:15 p.m.]

Is it directly related to the seals dying off? If you come back here in Canada, is there something we can do to create a program and a political will to bring this fishery back? I would love to see the scenario that you're saying, that you would actually encourage the possibility of a seal harvest. I would just like for you to paint that scenario. I think I'm close on that.

MS. MACKENZIE: Your fishery can't come back while the groundfish cannot get enough to eat. It's just not possible. Regarding the . . .

[Page 23]

MR. BELLIVEAU: What are they eating in Norway and Iceland? We have to define that.

MS. MACKENZIE: I'm not an authority on Norway and Iceland, but I have read some of the science from the area. Unofficially, I've seen lists or discussions on-line with fisheries scientists for years. I know a couple of Icelandic fishery scientists through there, who assure me it's in trouble. Not just me, the whole list. The groundfish in Iceland, the cod is not doing well. Part of what I know for a fact exhibited in Iceland and Norway is biological change patterns that we've seen here in fish. Slowed growth and younger-age maturity, these are parts of the picture that has happened to our groundfish that they have too. It suggests a common theme, but they're actually geographically better situated, relative to other fishing grounds, to grow fish, just as the Bay of Fundy is geographically better than the East Scotian Shelf and it always has been.

MR. BELLIVEAU: If I could just interrupt here, how can you eliminate the idea that the statement is being made that the Bay of Fundy, because of its geographic location, is one of the best grow-out sites for salmon? It's proven. Under your scenario, you're saying that Iceland is geographically the best location in the world, then the argument or the discussion of saying southwest Nova Scotia is one of the best grow-out sites for salmon would, to me, not be possible or it would not be relevant. I'm having a problem being told that Norway and Iceland are the best in the world, yet we have the statistics showing that southwest Nova Scotia - the Bay of Fundy because of its geographical location and the tidal - is one of the best in Canada, if not the world.

MS. MACKENZIE: Okay, the best . . .

MR. BELLIVEAU: The point I'm trying to make is that if we put the programs in place, we can enhance the fisheries and get it back. That's what I'm trying to get to.

MS. MACKENZIE: The best is a relative observation. The best isn't as good as it used to be, the Bay of Fundy or Iceland. The fishery is growing slower, the barnacles are gone, the snails are gone - not gone but diminished. Everything is kind of crumbling around the edges of the full range it used to occupy. The Atlantic cod used to be all the way to northern Labrador and all the way to the southern Atlantic United States. It has left its northern regions and southern regions a long time ago. There's only a little bit left inshore, in the best, relative locations.

The Icelandic cod fishery is much diminished. Now, I'm not going to say anything about their crash 15 years ago and recovery, because I'm not aware of that. I know I have read some of the papers, some of the science papers from over there that show the same biological warning signs in individual fish as have been shown here. The last slide that I showed you, with the pyramids, that was a study that included Iceland and Norway, that was the whole North Atlantic Ocean. The whole thing has shown a decline.

[Page 24]

When you said about stripping the halibut from the longlines, I'm not going to argue, of course they would do that, they're hungry seals. I just want to say that a similar problem has occurred in the Bering Sea, where there's longline fishery there for black cod. They're finding that sperm whales are stripping their longlines. The sperm whale is actually even straightening the hooks, cleaning them all off, they go right up the line. Nobody is suggesting they kill the sperm whales for this reason.

The marine mammal predators are shifting with the times, doing things that they wouldn't have done before. Those longline fishermen, they're saying the sound of their motors is calling the whales, and they're coming and they're just cleaning off the longlines. There's probably a shortage of their natural prey.

MR. BELLIVEAU: I'll let some other colleagues have some questions.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I have a couple of other interveners after me. I want to thank you for your presentation. I have to say I'm surprised. You went where no one has gone before, I think. No one has really touched on the biology of the problem. My background is biology, so I understand the food chain. I'm really worried about the plankton. I didn't understand what you said about the seals and the worm eggs. I'm assuming you were going with, they are food stuff for this plankton level, although that doesn't address photosynthetic plankton or algae.

I'm really curious about the nutrient level, what you said about the seaweed and the barnacles, and the fact that if Mr. Theriault is right, and I almost never second guess him, if we take the number of fish that he says is being consumed by the seals compared to the catch that's landed, it would seem to me that we should have fish that have so much food that they should all be healthy. Anything that's not eaten by a seal or caught in a net or trap or whatever, should be a really super-healthy fish because their competition is gone, really.

If all these fish are being consumed and we have a good food supply, then we should have a lot of really healthy fish out there, and we don't if what you're saying is accurate, that we have fish that are starving. If we have fish that are starving, that means there's nothing for them to eat. So the question has to be - and they aren't eating seals, obviously - what is happening to the food chain? That's a very serious issue.

Looking at your questions, "Our advice to the government of Nova Scotia . . . Ask DFO for a formal consultation with their ecosystem scientists, and then ask those scientists to give the news to the province straight . . ." Well, if you met a whole room full of Ph.D.s and they said we can't tell anybody, I'm thinking if the province does ask them, they might give it to the province straight, but it might not get out of the room. So that's kind of my worry. If, in actual fact, scientists are saying this to you but they aren't saying this to us, that is a bit of a concern.

[Page 25]

The issues around the harvest of the seals, with a veterinarian, CFIA basically in the Norwegian style or whatever, that's a fairly sensible approach, food inspection, basically food security. That's what we do in our slaughterhouses, in our inspected facilities.

I tried to pursue the brucellosis thing a bit on my own and didn't - actually the information I got from CFIA, no flags were going up on them as far as incidents of anybody ever being sick, compared to cattle. I think there were something like six cases per year nationally, never been one related to a seal although we aren't consuming seal like we consume beef or anything else. So in that regard, I'm not sure that you can get much traction. I mean if the kind of health, food security officials don't - no flags are going up for them so I'm just wondering, do you have any comment or anything to add in terms of the brucellosis side?

MS. MACKENZIE: Okay, I see you have a couple of questions here. Yes, you want me to elaborate on the seal, worm egg plankton?

MR. CHAIRMAN: I don't think. I think I understand that it raises some issues for me the way you've explained it. The whole basis of the food chain is photosynthesis, so anything coming down through the chain, that energy is starting there so I understand that and I'm . . .

MS. MACKENZIE: Right, they do stimulate photosynthesis because they are in the upper water column and they are exuding ammonia, which is fertilizer. You asked a very good question, what is a nutrient level? My power point won't come back up because I have the nitrate graph from DFO on there.

This is the bottom water nitrate level. Nitrogen is the key, limiting nutrient for photosynthesis in this part of the world's oceans. It has fallen, with no explanation. They just know this doesn't look good. The nitrate was stuttering along and then around 2001, it comes down almost by half, a very slight recovery. It's down substantially, the bottom water nitrate, which is the nitrate released by bottom decomposition, that's when the winter overturn of the water column brings it back up and then it's available to the sun.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Isn't that the lack of feces, or I mean, isn't it the lack of organisms?

MS. MACKENZIE: I think it's dilution of life in general. This decrease in the nitric concentration is entirely consistent as an explanation for those seaweed changes I showed you.

Your comment that with all the fish that are being eaten, the few that live should be in good shape, you're exactly right. That's called density-dependent condition. That

[Page 26]

was a principle accepted by fisheries scientists as part of what was always the case, as far as they knew. If a particular fish population suffered some poor survival, or whatever, a few numbers, if there were only a few herring that came back, they were very fat; if there were only a few cod this year, they were fat. If there was a high survival of the young and they come in a really thick school, they're thin - density-dependent condition.

Twenty years ago the relationship started to fall apart - few fish, in poor shape. It was puzzling in 1985 and it's still puzzling, except that they now know there's just not enough food, it's unexpected but that's what it is. So you're right in that.

The brucellosis, okay, nobody wants to touch that. What can I say? The studies that I put in the binder from The Journal of Wildlife Diseases show that a serosurvey found the brucellosis in every type of marine mammal tested, whales and seals, including the commercially harvested seals in Atlantic Canada. The subsequent actions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, are hard to understand because following that, they identified this as a food threat in the Arctic. They published a guide for subsistence hunters up north on how they could screen marine mammals that they are thinking of eating, for contagious disease threats. The booklet actually was reproduced in your binder, but it comes out as a nice, colour-illustrated thing if you get the original. There are various findings wherein hunters are told, if you find this, don't even feed it to your dog.

This information wasn't given to the sealers in Atlantic Canada, which puzzles me. Also, the Food Inspection Agency has international expertise in diagnosing brucellosis in marine mammals. It's a little harder, you have to culture it for more days because it's cold-tolerant so this strain has to be watched a few more days. At CFIA we test seal tissues from Hawaii. The Hawaiian monk seal is starving and sick and facing extinction. They send samples to Canada to be diagnosed for brucellosis on Hawaiian seal.

[2:30 p.m.]

The U.S. has an import barrier against marine mammal tissue. There is a researcher in the United States who has a special permit to import marine mammal tissue from Canada. She is a brucellosis researcher. She can import whale and seal, and she does, from Canada to test for brucellosis.

DFO has a marine mammal disease specialist on their staff - they have one, based in Quebec. There is one marine mammal disease specialist employed by DFO. This hasn't led to any screening program for diseases in seals. This source has, in fact, said there should not even be any wildlife rehabilitation initiative in Atlantic Canada for marine mammals.

[Page 27]

I have the licensed wildlife rehab people here who have done seals and marine mammals, who should know, and the protocol should be, as it is in other countries, to screen for listed diseases, including brucellosis. We have DFO saying, don't do wildlife rehab, just stop it. So it's blocking any potential diagnosis of diseases in the seals. Other countries - the United States, the U.K., et cetera - deliberately screen to see, and brucellosis is high on everybody's worry list because the strain in the seals can make people sick. I showed you a paper with human neuro-brucellosis from the seal strain.

When there are strandings, rehab centres, the data is collected - what have these seals got? There is a protocol, it's done everywhere except in Canada, and we even have the expertise. It's just very strange.

The seal products - I have tried to chase this too, to have the Food Inspection Agency or Health Canada, somebody, admit that this is not adequate for this product for human consumption. It seems that the seal oil is in some kind of a limbo between - it's not food, the Food Inspection Agency says it is not food. It's going to be regulated under the Natural Health Products Directorate of Health Canada, but they haven't approved it and they haven't given it a licence number, so it is in some kind of limbo.

The seal meat question nobody will touch, other than to say that legally it's fish, that's the whole discussion. Human brucellosis in Canada is really rare. I discussed this with the provincial medical officer of health who said well, I have never seen a case, and I said well, I have never seen a case either. It's a problem in developing countries, and the food and agriculture organization has guidelines for developing countries on how to avoid it because it is a serious disease. Doctors in Canada might not know it if they fell over it, frankly. They would have to have a very high level of suspicion; it can mask as chronic fatigue and lymphoma and all kinds of things - arthritis and headaches and bellyaches, it goes on for a long time, just a chronic illness that you might not nail down what it is. Did I answer your questions?

MR. CHAIRMAN: I think you answered a couple I didn't ask, but thank you.

I have Mr. Fage and Mr. Dunn, in that order.

HON. ERNEST FAGE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for your presentation. Just a couple of quick questions. I think most of my colleagues have extensively covered many of the areas and certainly brucellosis and the discussion there and CFIA, I think there obviously needs to be some clarification and generally brucellosis that would affect human health in Canada, there are no major reports out of the north or Newfoundland and Labrador, or anywhere. It is generally associated with bison herds in western Canada, so I think you have pretty well covered that.

[Page 28]

My concern, though, is the premise of your presentation in regard to the upper predators in the Bay of Fundy and globally, oceans and their health. I tend to adhere much more to the theory and the research of climate changes, it has been very well documented. What we can do about it is the huge debate that is certainly raging in Europe and North America, primarily on the globe. When you look at issues dealing with food sources, predators reach a balance and when it's on land, coyotes, once they exhaust the food source they fall prey to themselves. That's a generally accepted principle.

Have you examined, in your discussions or thoughts, the ecosystem out of balance, and when I say that, you tend to look at what other species are in the ocean that were of lesser numbers or recessive numbers and cod stocks - or pick the species of fish or pelagic that you want - it seems amazing that snow crab has suddenly bloomed, or a crustacean that cod normally would have fed on, right? Those stock numbers have gone up, they have hit their plateau and now they are peaking back down.

Some of the research on climate change and the utilization of nutrients, the absence of them or the presence of them, is much more associated with a temperature change in the water, salinity changes, the amount of freshwater coming into the ocean from polar ice caps or natural phenomena because there is more annual rainfall, all those types of things appear to have much more direct influence on plankton and photosynthesis, or the basic building block of the food chain that appears to be in the most trouble. The large predators or large fish are the symptoms of harvesting, but the one that really concerns me is that balance, or the lack of that balance, to the entire ecosystem. It's the food source being generated. From my point of view, I think it has more to do with climate change than the simplistic case of too many seals eating too many fish.

MS. MACKENZIE: Regarding climate change, you're right, there's a lot, globally, that is sort of being explained that way, a lot of negative changes in the Tropics and even in the Pacific, the North Pacific, too. One thing that was clear in the Atlantic Canada analysis is that these trends are positively associated with prolonged fishing and not with climate change, because we haven't had global warming affect the water. In fact, in the early 1990s there was a little cold spell on the Scotian Shelf and for a little while they thought maybe it had been too cold, that maybe that has depressed the growth of the fish, but then that reversed . . .

MR. FAGE: If I could interject there, research shows that the temperatures actually are colder on the Labrador Shelf, which is a strong indicator - if you put ice cubes in a glass of water, it initially doesn't get warmer, it gets colder first. Cod, when you look at their physiology, live in a very narrow temperature band. With the temperature actually getting colder, that would indicate the theory of global warming, that the ice caps and the freshwater contained north is coming down.

[Page 29]

MS. MACKENZIE: I showed you a graph with 40 years steady decline in the growth of fish. During the 40 years, there have been some flips above and below the norm in the climate indicators. It was cold in the 1960s and then it was warmer, then it was cold in the early 1990s and then it was warmer. The system isn't really responding to that. There's something else. Like I said, the ecological analysis by the scientists showed, they concluded it was the bulk removal of the big fish - removing that from the picture triggered changes throughout. What's unique about the Atlantic Canadian insight is that this doesn't link to climate change data, and it doesn't link to pollution. The decline in nitrate is the opposite of pollution. Does that make sense?

Again, when you say a lack of balance, the balance is how you visualize the balance. There is a balance between all of the animals and all of the bacteria. That's the balance that's being lost. The animals are too thinned out. There's danger of the bacteria getting the upper hand.

The snow crab bloom, you're right, in the North Sea this was very evident as well, when there was a big decrease in the fish in the water column, when they kind of diminished, bottom dwellers had a boom. This is a shift in the energy pathway, because a lot more of the food generated at the surface doesn't go through the route that sustains fish that swim around, it falls right to the bottom. So there's actually a little more food that hits the bottom. So you get the snow crabs, you get the scallops, things like that, looking good.

The snow crab bloom and the lobster bloom, it was explained as possibly due to the loss of their predators, which was the cod that eat a lot of little lobster and crab, which sounds like a sensible explanation, but what didn't happen was the other things the cod eat, the herring didn't also bloom. I suspect that the bottom crustacean bloom was more along the lines of more energy going straight from top to bottom by sinking and less swimming around in the middle.


MR. PATRICK DUNN: Once again, thank you for your presentation, it was well received. In the early part of your presentation, the correlation, the information that you gave since has certainly covered what I was thinking. In the early stages, fewer seals, rich plankton; an abundance of seals, fewer fish and less plankton. I was going to get you to comment on that, but, again, you gave additional information after the fact.

I would like you to comment on this question. Would it be your belief that there's no negative spinoff from the rapid increase of seals over the past, say, three decades, up until recently where you suggest that it seems that there could possibly be a slight decline? I would just be looking for a comment on that.

[Page 30]

MS. MACKENZIE: No, I certainly see a negative spinoff, because what I see is all this conflict with the fishing industry. That's negative. There's this huge misunderstanding about what's going wrong and why won't the groundfish come back. I do not think there has been any negative ecological occurrence because the seals have increased. The seals have partly compensated for all the big fish being gone, they haven't completely compensated by a long shot. The predatory power is reduced despite an increase in seals. Ecologically, that's what matters, how many animals are out there that are doing this thing. Much fewer than there used to be, is the answer. Yes, humans are having trouble with all the seals.

MR. CHAIRMAN: There are no other questions by any members. I just wonder if you have a wrap-up or if you have any comments you would like to give. We have a little bit of business for the committee when we're done, so I'm trying to save a few minutes for that. So I just wondered if there's anything else you'd like to add.

MS. MACKENZIE: I guess I would just like to bring you back to my recommendation. It would be extremely helpful, I believe, if the provincial government would try to make sense of the ecosystem changes, and try to get something out of the science branch. Anybody can come here and make a pitch to you, except a professional ecologist, the oceanographers who know. That's ridiculous. I don't know if you can have them here. I don't know why you couldn't have them here. I can suggest names of scientists and questions.

[2:45 p.m.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: I have a couple of gentlemen who I think want to make a comment, and then I'd like to make a comment.

Mr. Fage, you had your hand up first.

MR. FAGE: I looked at your recommendations, and I wanted to make the comment, if the committee, as well as yourself, share concerns about DFO's recommendations, Mr. Chairman, I would suggest that on a future day we have a presentation from DFO on their eco-management plan, dealing with grey seals and certainly other issues pertaining to the management of the fishery.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I was going down that road myself. I'm curious if these would be the people you would suggest, you said you could suggest some names, would they be DFO scientists?


MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Theriault.

[Page 31]

MR. THERIAULT: I would like to make a motion that this committee put a workshop together in western Nova Scotia or southern Nova Scotia, or somewhere in Nova Scotia, bring together fishing industry, environmentalists, Department of Fisheries and Oceans science, and the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries, and get us all in one room for a day or two to hash all this out. That's my proposal, that this committee do this.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I'm not sure if we're going to have a conflict of two similar - I know what Mr. Fage is saying would seem to me that probably the people we were thinking of possibly bringing before this committee are probably the people we're going to want to involve in your forum. So, Mr. Fage.

MR. FAGE: If I might suggest, honourable colleague, certainly in my view it would be nice to have the DFO scientists, the people whose profession it is, to allow committee members to have their questions answered here, and obviously that is public record. Then it would be easier to move it, have that first and then move into a forum after that with the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. I think we would have a lot more database information presented to all concerned, before we had the conference with the fishery groups and other interested groups.


MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm told that we can probably put something together. The location might be here, rather than southwestern Nova Scotia or somewhere - the Red Room. If you want to withdraw your resolution and your motion just for the moment, I think if the committee is in agreement about having scientists from DFO speak to this issue, we can get the names from Debbie.

MS. MACKENZIE: Can I butt in at this point? Yes, when you say DFO scientists, ensure that you don't have only those who do single-stock assessments.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm not hearing you.

MS. MACKENZIE: Ensure that you don't have only the scientists who do the single-species counts and assessments. Ensure that you have the ecosystem scientists - they are different people.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I want the names from you.

MS. MACKENZIE: Yes, and then beyond that you should ask the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture management division to also contribute to your discussion.

[Page 32]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Is the committee in agreement to ask these people for the future?


MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, we'll do that and thank you very much, I appreciate it.

MS. MACKENZIE: Thank you very much.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I'd ask the members please don't leave. We have a couple of issues to deal with.

[2:49 p.m. The committee recessed.]

[2:52 p.m. The committee reconvened.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: We'll try to get members out of here by 3:00 p.m. We have to make a decision, actually, on a potential witness for our next meeting on November 14th. I think Mora has taken the number one group for the NDP and the Liberals, since it was the same, Pork Nova Scotia. I'm just wondering what the committee's view is on that.

MR. FAGE: Can I make a suggestion? Mr. Chairman, when you take the top two from each caucus, you have five choices. Let's just take those five choices and you decide what order you want them in, and let's have them in.

MR. CHAIRMAN: How is the committee with that? Obviously Pork Nova Scotia will be next, if that's okay. Then we'll just pick the rest out of the other five.

MR. FAGE: We'll do those five in that order, and you decide the order they come in.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I think the next one would probably be one we would pick from the PC caucus, since the November 14th one is from the New Democrats and the Liberals. We could either pick the winery association or the wild blueberry producers for after that.

There is a view toward the ATV Association of Nova Scotia concerning recent regulations. Mr. Theriault, was that you?

MR. THERIAULT: Yes. Mr. Chairman, I've had a request from the ATV Association of Nova Scotia. Scott MacInnis, director of Zone 1, would like to come in

[Page 33]

and do a presentation to the committee on the feelings of their members. I think they have 4,000 or 5,000 members. I said I would see what I could do for them.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess it's up to the committee. I think we're looking at about five months, one group per month, what we've kind of decided already.

MR. FAGE: If I may, Junior, if it's okay on the ATV Association, let's have him but we should have their provincial association at the same time, so we get the whole story. If there's any dichotomy between a local zone and the provincial organization, I think it would stand all the membership better if we had their provincial in along with that gentleman.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Are we to assume that if you're a member of this local organization that you're a member of the provincial? Are we going to have two completely different groups?

MR. FAGE: That's what I think we should find out, to make sure.

MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess if it turns out . . .

MR. THERIAULT: They're located here in Halifax, the ATV Association of Nova Scotia.

MR. FAGE: That's what I mean, rather than one zone, we might as well have the provincial association.

MR. THERIAULT: Scott MacInnis is just the director who brought it to my attention, but I believe it's the whole association . . .

MR. CHAIRMAN: That's for the province, you mean. Okay.

Is the committee fine with that, to add this group to our list?


MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. The Sou'West Nova Metis Council, Cape Sable Island would also like to make a presentation to the committee.

MR. BELLIVEAU: I was hand-delivered this particular letter yesterday. I haven't seen the public announcement yet, but I understand there was a court decision in their favour, or recognizing that they have some merit to their court case. I would just make the chairman aware of that. This particular organization would be anxious to make a presentation before the committee. I'm just making you aware.

[Page 34]

MR. FAGE: I'm just a little concerned, if an organization that has no status in the province, if we're going to start having groups with no standing, it makes it very difficult to run a proper agenda and keep the magnitude of issues we should be dealing with . . .

MR. CHAIRMAN: I think I understand where you're going. The legal context of standing, I'm not sure if it necessarily applies in this case, because if you consider the group that was just before us, it's a group that's self-identified, basically incorporated under the Societies Act, I believe, so I'm not sure if anyone calls himself a group, that we can . . .

MR. FAGE: My concern is this group has been before the courts, has court actions and is dealing in a negotiating position. It makes it very difficult if we're providing a forum.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, well maybe we'll hold this over until another day because it's the question that if they have been before the courts and there has been a decision, then they aren't before the courts, if the decision has been rendered. So I think we can seek some advice in this regard and come back to this for our next meeting. Are you fine with that?

Mr. Theriault, did you just have your hand up?

MR. THERIAULT: Yes, on a different matter. We just took a recommendation from Ms. MacKenzie to have a meeting here with DFO scientists. She's going to suggest a name or two. May we have a name suggested from the Nova Scotia Fish Packers Association also, to be fair?

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I didn't know we were going to be unfair.

MR. THERIAULT: Well, I mean both the Grey Seal Conservation Society and the Grey Seal Research and Development Society, too, if you want to put it in those words.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, I was more concerned about DFO. I mean, it is a federal department. I would think that we should be able to rely on what their scientists would tell us. Her point was to the ecological side of this, ecological scientists. I'm not sure, unless those people you're referring to are what we would refer to as specialists in the ecological side.

MR. THERIAULT: But she just said that she was going to recommend names.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Right, but they have to be scientists - are we going to have a problem with the scientists?

[Page 35]

MR. THERIAULT: I'm not sure.

MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Clerk): Traditionally anyone who would suggest names, that would come back to the committee so the committee can approve those names. So these were the people who were suggested and then I would send it out to committee members and that way everybody is aware.

MR. THERIAULT: Okay, that'll be fine.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, we'll do that, if you don't mind. Mr. Parker and then Mr. Fage.

MR. PARKER: A different thought - I'm not a regular member of this committee but I have been on the committee for a number of years previously. I remember, Mr. Chairman, you were going to check out the possibility of a tour to Maine on the forestry industry. Is that still on the table or is that still a possibility?

MR. CHAIRMAN: That's no longer the main tour. I did speak to the Speaker, we sent the request to the Speaker because he would have to fund it. It became a very grey area, I think, due to an impending springtime election, but I never actually received anything to indicate a decision on that, although I just had . . .

MR. PARKER: It seemed like a good initiative and maybe it's something that the committee could re-investigate. That's just my thought on it.

[3:00 p.m.]

MR. CHAIRMAN: If the committee would like me to pursue that again, I can do that.

MR. PARKER: They are doing some good things up there, I think.

MR. FAGE: I think we should have a discussion with the Internal Economy Board and the Speaker's Office.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Well, that's why we sent it to the Speaker, because he was going to make that decision and then get back to us.

MR. FAGE: That's the question we would ask first, before we plan a trip.

MR. GAUDET: I would suggest for that discussion to take place with the regular members of this committee first.

[Page 36]

MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure, okay.

MR. PARKER: I was just throwing it out as food for thought.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Mr. Fage.

MR. FAGE: Just back to the DFO witnesses. I agree with Mora that the names she would suggest would come back here for the committee, but is it possible to have a list of DFO's research scientists here in Atlantic Canada provided at the same time to us, so when we evaluate the list we might want to include one or two other ones, besides the exclusive list?

MR. CHAIRMAN: I don't see any problem with that. I don't know that I know enough about the credentials of the scientists to evaluate them, but I would be glad to take a look at a list.

MR. FAGE: It'll give us a strong idea of whether they are single-species or ecosystems, Mr. Chairman, the scientists, what their responsibilities are.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, I'll take your word for that. Thank you. Any other business for the committee?

Okay, thank you very much. I appreciate your standing in, Mr. Parker.

[The committee adjourned at 3:01 p.m.]

  (GSCS home...)