Speaking Notes for the Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, P.C., Q.C., M.P. Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to the National Indigenous Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum, Membertou, Nova Scotia, May 11, 2017



This is the third National Indigenous Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum, and also the biggest.  That shows a growing interest in your future fisheries.  Which, I would add, have strong roots in the past. Your ancestors were superb at fishing – on the thousands of rivers, on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and amidst the northern ice.

Those skills brought great success in the commercial fishery – for some.  I remember hearing from my father about a man named Jimmy Sewid, of Alert Bay, British Columbia.  Chief Sewid was a famous highliner, and an adviser to Canada on international negotiations.  Other Native fishermen made a strong mark in the modern fishery. 

Having said that, many Indigenous groups had only a weak presence.  And despite great progress in recent years, there is still a need to catch up in the commercial fishery.  I will speak about that catching up.

But I will also speak of catching up in the opposite direction.  Because I believe there are ways in which the mainstream commercial fishery can, and should, learn from Indigenous people.

First let me mention the Indigenous catching up.  Thirty years ago on the Atlantic, Membertou and other Maritime and Quebec First Nations had only a small share of commercial quotas and licences.

Here and elsewhere, court judgements helped change the picture.  The Supreme Court’s Sparrow Decision in 1990 brought new recognition to food, social, and ceremonial fisheries across the country.  Under the follow-up Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy, a lot of communities gained commercial licences. 

The biggest change for Maritime and Gaspé First Nations came with the 1999 Marshall Decision.  Suddenly there were many more boats, many more licences, and many more communal fishing enterprises.  It was the start of a voyage, and some communities ran into rough waters.

But – there was a stabilizer.  By now, those of you here from elsewhere have probably heard the term AICFI – A-I-C-F-I – which stands for Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative.  AICFI was set up after the Marshall Response Initiative, to help First Nations build their commercial-fishing enterprises.  It is co-delivered by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs.

Within AICFI there is a high degree of co-management, with lots of discussion, liaison, and sharing of knowledge.  And one initiative has drawn attention well beyond this coast.  It is known as the Business Development Team. 

The BDT is significant first for what it does.  This small corps of business and fisheries experts talks with First Nations, analyzes their commercial fishing enterprises, and advises on future plans. 

But the Business Development Team is equally significant for the way it fits into co-management.  These are not outside consultants.  They work inside a shared system. 

To form this team, the Atlantic Policy Congress and DFO linked up with the Ulnooweg Development Group, which is known for its work with Indigenous entrepreneurs and communities.  Today, when the Business Development Team works with First Nations, it is a continuing process of co-engagement, co-design, and co-delivery.  This approach, with co-management top to bottom, is widely recognized as a key to AICFI’s success.

The Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative – PICFI – began at the same time as AICFI, in partnership with the First Nations Fisheries Council.  It too uses a co-delivery model and has adopted the Business Development Team approach. 

On both coasts we see good results.  Fisheries under communal licences now generate $120 million in annual landings, and 2,800 jobs in your communities.  We’ll never find perfection in fisheries, but AICFI and PICFI have worked well. 

They did so in spite of uncertain funding, granted only a few years at a time.   What’s new is, our government is now making that funding reliable.

I am pleased to note that through our recent budget, AICFI and PICFI will get continued funding as regular, established programs.  This provides certainty that will enable better long-term planning to build your enterprises.  It will add stability for effective programming and staffing.

And here’s something even newer.  I am pleased to announce to this special audience that we are creating a Northern Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative.  NICFI, a counterpart to AICFI and PICFI, will reach through Newfoundland and Labrador, parts of Quebec, and Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, all the way to the Yukon. 

The North, we all know, faces special challenges.  Any new approaches need thinking through.  Over the coming months, DFO officials will work with northern groups to co-design and co-deliver programs to bring the right results.  

Budget 2017 also re-invested significantly in other co-management programs.  The Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy or AFS, introduced 25 years ago, had never got a budget boost till now.   We’re also providing the first funding increase for AAROM, the Aboriginal Aquatic Resource and Oceans Management Program, which was introduced in 2004.   

We are pleased to contribute to these programs, because they make their own major contribution.  Through them, more than 1,600 people are carrying out work in science and  resource management, along with enforcement by Aboriginal Fisheries Guardians.

For AAROM and AFS together, funding will rise over the next five years to $22 million a year, on-going.  This year, DFO will do a lot of consulting with you on the best way to use the increased resources.

When you add up the programs I’ve just mentioned, AICFI and all the rest, Budget 2017 provides a total of $62 million.  It will be well and carefully spent. 

For AICFI, PICFI, and NICFI in particular, we need appropriate standards and coherence across the country.  To support their delivery, we are looking to create a national body, with Indigenous leaders up front

Accompanying all this is the Aboriginal Aquaculture in Canada Initiative.  This push is another example of multiple partnerships.  There are eight agencies behind it, including DFO.  So far, about 50 Indigenous groups have begun aquaculture ventures. 

One last item about business.  I know it can be problematic to get financing for new ventures in fisheries and aquaculture.  So we are establishing a pilot project on the Atlantic, under Indigenous leadership, to make it easier to access capital.  I hope that over time we can roll out similar programs across Canada.

Everyone in this room wants a stronger Indigenous fishery – for its own sake, and because it strengthens your quest for greater self-determination.

But you, collectively, have been around a long time.  You know there’s more to fishery success than just catching more fish, with ever-bigger harvests.

That approach can lead to major trouble.  We don’t need to look very far offshore to find examples.

But I believe that Indigenous groups and individuals, by and large, have kept a strong conscience for conservation.  I believe that because I keep hearing it, from my officials and from Indigenous people themselves. 

The Assembly of First Nations says on their website, and I quote:  “Indigenous peoples are caretakers of Mother Earth . . . .  Everything is taken and used with the understanding that we take only what we need, and we must use great care and be aware of how we take and how much of it so that future generations will not be put in peril.”  They add:  “Economic activity cannot come at the expense of environmental sustainability.”  End of quotes.

That attitude gives me hope that the Indigenous commercial fishery will balance progress with stability, and demonstrate how to manage for true long-term conservation.  You can be a model.  And in that way, you can help the rest of us catch up with you.

When I became DFO and Coast Guard Minister, I was given a mandate letter – instructions from the boss.  A lot of it involves conservation.  For example, we are expanding Marine Protected Areas, to cover ten per cent of our marine and coastal areas by 2020.

Another major item is restoring protections under the Fisheries Act.   This is Canada’s main anti-pollution law – it forbids deleterious substances in the water – and our main fishery-protection law.  It was expanded 40 years ago to protect fish habitat.  That way the little eggs and larvae in lakes, rivers, and sea would have suitable spaces and nutrients around them, so as to survive and grow.

Five years ago, a different federal administration took away those habitat protections.  My orders are to put them back and incorporate modern safeguards.  We need to do that for the sake of the fish, and of the animals and humans that depend on the fish. 

In our consultations on these changes, I made a special point of asking Indigenous peoples for their views.  We engaged with more than 180 groups.   At the same time, the parliamentary committee working on the Fisheries Act called very strongly for recognition of Indigenous fishery rights, and for reconciliation and partnership in sustainability.

In other words, government is trying to listen.

Prime Minister Trudeau has instructed all Ministers that, and I quote:  “It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.”  End of quote.

To back this up, the Prime Minister in February announced a Review of Laws and Policies Related to Indigenous Peoples.  This will be carried out through a Working Group of Cabinet Ministers.  The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was a Regional Chief in British Columbia and is now Canada’s Minister of Justice, is chairing the Working Group, and I am the Vice-Chair. 

The Review of Laws and Policies is a major initiative that will bring changes.  And it will take place, to quote the Prime Minister, “in partnership with Indigenous leaders and a broad range of stakeholders, including youth.”  End of quote.

On Tuesday morning, by the way, you can hear more about the Review of Laws and Policies from Joanne Wilkinson of the Privy Council Office.

When I mention these specific efforts to co-operate and strengthen relationships, I’m getting at something broader.   Mutual respect and recognition in general is an area, like conservation, where other sectors of our society could learn lessons from Indigenous peoples.  

What I read, what I hear, and what I experience tells me that Canada’s Indigenous peoples do indeed lean towards collective decision-making, towards sharing, and towards mutual respect.  The Nunavut legislature, for example, works by consensus instead of an adversarial party system.  That’s one illustration of a widespread Indigenous attitude.

In the end, any law or policy has to work at the human level.  In that regard, and given the Indigenous respect for elders, I would like to mention my father, the Right Honourable Roméo LeBlanc. 

As Minister of Fisheries, he put in those habitat-protection laws that I mentioned earlier, along with many policies to benefit fishermen.   When he became Governor General, he was extremely proud to declare National Aboriginal Day, and to announce the creation of Nunavut as a self-governing territory.

But he kept saying that laws and policies are only part of the picture.  The First Peoples have been waiting a very long time, he would say, and partnership and reconciliation must come through what he called “attitudes of the heart.”

It is for you to judge if our government’s heart is in the right place.  But let me quote Prime Minister Trudeau once more, in his mandate letter to me.  “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.” 

As Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, I share that attitude.  I want my department to make it work, with you. 

This conference, with its themes of Diversity, Integration, and Leadership, marks a milestone along the way.  May I wish every success to the National Indigenous Fisheries and Aquaculture Forum, and I salute all of you who made it possible.

Page details

Date modified: