Climate change and oil economics threaten Canadian fisheries industry

In its July 2019 report, the Expert Panel on Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Potential identified fisheries as one of the top “domains” at risk from  climate change between 2020 to 2040 in Canada.  The experts recognized the complexity of the issue, stating: “the economic, social, and cultural context varies across Canada’s fisheries, and the choice of adaptation measures should be informed by the local situation …. Adaptation can be particularly challenging for communities that rely heavily on a single fishery, and can have widespread economic and social consequences…. A combination of approaches, including catch quotas, community management, regulations on fishing gear, ocean zoning, and economic incentives, can help manage and restore marine fisheries and ecosystems.”

ocean law developmentsOcean Law Developments in Canada 2015-2019  , published at the end of August, summarizes the significant legal progress that has been made in four relevant areas of regulation: ocean governance, protection, marine protection, and marine spills . Improvements noted in the report: the G7 Ocean Plastics Charter; Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean; the Coastal First Nations Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement; creation of eight new Marine Protected Areas; Bill C-55,which amended the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act; the new Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, passed in June 2019; orders issued under the Species at Risk Act to protect the critical habitat of orcas, Right whales, bottlenose whales, belugas, leatherback turtles, abalone and seals; a series of measures to protect orcas on the West Coast, and rolling fisheries closures and seasonal speed restrictions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to reduce industrial pressure on North Atlantic Right whales;  new Fisheries Act, which among other things, includes prohibitions on habitat alteration, damage and destruction (HADD). The report was published by SeaBlue Canada , an alliance of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Oceans North, West Coast Environmental Law, and WWF-Canada, dedicated to protection of the oceans.

Will these changes be sufficient for the scale of the problems faced by Canadian fisheries industry?  While general reaction to the legislative changes has been favourable, as reviewed in this May article from the National Observer, many problems remain.

Fish or Oil for Newfoundland?

offshore oil rigOn September 5, CBC News reported on a press conference from Atlantic Canada, with the headline: “FFAW vows to stop oil and gas exploration in crab fishing area”.  The Fish, Food and Allied Workers union ( FFAW), a division of Unifor,  claims that oil interests were again put ahead of the interests of the fishery,  when the regulator, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board , opened bids by  oil companies for offshore areas in August.  The union is demanding that the bidding process be halted, claiming that it was not consulted, even though the call threatens prime fishing areas on which their livelihoods depend.  In November 2018 FFAW also protested when the C-NLOPB approved five successful bids by the oil and gas industry which, in two cases, allowed oil and gas exploration in marine refuge areas where fishing activity was restricted.

In August, the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), which represents independent inland fishers, supported a call for an independent authority to oversee the environment in the province’s offshore oil and gas industry.  In spite of the C-NLOPB statement   that “Offshore safety and environmental protection are paramount in all Board decisions. “, the Sea Harvesters concern  seems understandable, given the recent history of oil spills from the Hibernia offshore oil platform in August, just days after it had resumed production following a spill in mid-July, and after the largest oil spill in Newfoundland’s history in November 2018.  The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters have also protested the damage done by the seismic testing related to oil exploration, as described by iPolitics in “Seismic testing concerns ignored in oil ‘obsessed’ NFLD and Labrador: union”   in April 2018.

West Coast salmon fishery and First Nations communities face “the worst commercial fishery in 50 years”

On the West Coast, the State of Canadian Pacific Salmon 2019: Responses to changing climate was published by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, summarizing a 2018 workshop of scientists which discussed the impacts of marine heatwaves, changes to marine food webs, warmer freshwater conditions, more extreme rain and drought, and various human activities. It concludes that “No single factor can explain all of the recent observed patterns in salmon abundances. Along with ecosystem changes, fisheries, hatcheries, disease, and contaminants can also affect salmon.”  On September 6, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced $15 million in additional annual funding to support wild Pacific salmon research and management, but meanwhile, 2019 has been reported as the worst commercial fishing season in 50 years, in  “Advocates sound alarm on unfolding disaster in B.C. salmon fishing industry” (CBC, Sept. 9)  and  the Globe and Mail published  “Labour and First Nations groups call for federal disaster relief for West Coast Fishery” (Sept. 9)  which states:  “As well as wanting immediate relief for struggling workers, the groups called on the federal government to develop a long-term strategy to conserve wild salmon in the face of climate change, which they described as a dire and growing threat to the species.”

Some of the “other factors” at play in the salmon crisis in 2019:  a massive obstruction of the Fraser River, caused by a rockslide ; sea lice infestation from farmed salmon (see “Sea Lice Plagues Return and Threat to Wild Salmon Increases” in The Tyee (June 11);  and shipping dangers, described in “Fraser River Chinook jeopardized by shipping terminal’s expansion” (July 29  ) in the National Observer.

Are there lessons for Newfoundland in a Just Transition strategy for the U.K. Offshore oil industry?

sea-change-cover-212x300Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction was released on May 15 by Oil Change International, in partnership with Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland.  The press release summary is here . The report examines the offshore oil and gas industry in the U.K., with special attention to the transition for workers and communities currently dependent on oil  – making it highly relevant to Canadians, especially Newfoundlanders.   Sea Change argues that  with the right transition policies, clean industries could create more than three jobs for every North Sea oil job at risk, which can enable an “equivalent job guarantee” for every oil worker.

The report contrasts two pathways available for the U.K. and Scotland to stay within Paris climate limits:   1. Deferred collapse, in which the countries “continue to pursue maximum extraction by subsidising companies and encouraging them to shed workers, until worsening climate impacts force rapid action to cut emissions globally; the UK oil industry collapses, pushing many workers out of work in a short space of time.” Or  2. Managed transition: in which countries “stop approving and licensing new oil and gas projects, begin a phase-out of extraction and a Just Transition for workers and communities, negotiated with trade unions and local leaders, and in line with climate change goals, while building quality jobs in a clean energy economy.”

To achieve the clearly superior “managed transition” pathway, the report recommends that the U.K. and Scottish Governments:

  • Stop issuing licenses and permits for new oil and gas exploration and development, and revoke undeveloped licenses;
  • Rapidly phase out all subsidies for oil and gas extraction, including tax breaks, and redirect them to fund a Just Transition;
  • Enable rapid building of the clean energy industry through fiscal and policy support to at least the extent they have provided to the oil industry, including inward investment in affected regions and communities;
  • Open formal consultations with trade unions to develop and implement a Just Transition strategy for oil-dependent regions and communities.

offshore oil rigOffshore Oil and Gas in Newfoundland: In Newfoundland, the importance of the offshore oil industry is evidenced by the fact that a  snap election was called shortly after the province reached agreement with the federal government on royalty payments on April 1.  The two governments announced agreement on  a “renewed Atlantic Accord”  – including the “Hibernia Dividend Backed Annuity”, valued at $2.5 billion for the province, according to a CBC report . This is new money that comes from Ottawa’s 8.5 per cent stake in the Hibernia offshore project, and will be paid out in annual installments over 38 years. According to the Q1 2019 Company Benefits Report ,   Hibernia operations employ 1,458 workers, of which 90.8% are Newfoundlanders.

The federal and provincial governments are also closely intertwined in a new consultation process which was launched for the Regional Assessment of Offshore Oil and Gas Exploratory Drilling East of Newfoundland and Labrador  in April, along with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. The provincial Minister is quoted in the federal press release:  “Our government is committed to working collaboratively with our federal partners to ensure responsible development of our oil and gas industry. The Regional Assessment is an important step towards exempting routine, low impact activities, such as exploration wells, where potential impacts and standard mitigations are well known, from federal assessment. This is another step we are taking to achieve the vision we set out in Advance 2030 to benefit all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”

The Advance 2030 document, released in 2018, is subtitled:  A Plan for growth in the  Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industry, and is based on the government’s commitment “to resource development as a key economic driver and to positioning the industry for continued growth.”   In releasing the Advance 2030 report, the government announced some long-term targets, including the direct employment of at least 7,500 people in operations, drilling of over 100 new exploration wells by 2030, and doubling oil production by 2030.  That same Liberal government was returned to power as a minority government on May 16, and compiles news of oil and gas development  here .

 

Newfoundland and Labrador announces its “lax tax” on carbon

offshore oil rigA “ Made-in-Newfoundland and Labrador Approach to Carbon Pricing” was announced and  described in a press release on October 23 , with a carbon tax rate of $20 tonne starting on January 1, 2019.  The details are many, as published here . Exemptions are granted for consumers (e.g. for home heating fuel) , and for industry – specifically “for agriculture, fishing, forestry, offshore and mineral exploration, and methane gases from venting and fugitive emissions in the oil and gas sector.”  These exemptions make sense in light of the province’s Oil and Gas  growth strategy announced in February 2018,  Advance 2030 , which aims for 100 new exploration wells to be drilled by 2030.

Despite the weakness of the provincial plan, it has been accepted by the federal government – thus, Newfoundland will avoid the stricter regime which would have been imposed by the federal backstop plan in 2019.  For a brief overview: “Why the lax tax? Finance minister says Muskrat burden played role in carbon pricing” (CBC) . In depth analysis appears in  “Newfoundland’s carbon tax gives ‘free pass’ to offshore oil industry” in The Narwhal.   (Nov. 9)

Oil workers in Newfoundland training for wind and solar energy jobs

Iron and Earth, the worker-led group which helps oil and gas industry workers transition to clean energy jobs, announced  a Memorandum of Understanding with Beothuk wind-farm-311837_1280Energy   in mid-July 2016.  Beothuk, headquartered in St. John’s, Newfoundland, is proposing to build six offshore wind farms in Atlantic Canada with a combined capacity of  4000+ MW of energy, and estimates that it will create 10 jobs for each MW produced. The MOU is not available online, but is reported to encourage apprenticeships and retraining in wind energy.

On August 8, the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of Iron and Earth began to crowdfund  for a demonstration greenhouse project: to build a greenhouse incorporating solar and one other site-specific technology (micro-hydro, wind or geothermal) to power, heat and light a greenhouse year-round.  Concurrently, the project will demonstrate a solution to food security issues by powering LED grow lights even in the winter months, and will offer a solar energy course to  increase the region’s renewable energy skill set. Iron and Earth states that Newfoundland has no training programs for renewable energy, and a goal of this project is to retrain oil and gas workers. Bullfrog Power, the leading Canadian green energy provider, has pledged to  match any donations made to the  Greenhouse crowdfunder until the goal is reached; click here for details or to donate.

Fisheries in the News: Collaboration is Moving Newfoundland’s Cod Fishery to Sustainability

The Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) on the southern Newfoundland shore announced on March 13th that it has entered full assessment against the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries.

After the collapse of the cod fishery in the 1990’s, this is an historic milestone, and according to World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF) President David Miller: “It demonstrates that good management and collaboration can lead to the recovery of cod populations – and that struggling fisheries can once again thrive, not only in Atlantic Canada but across the world”. The recovery of the fishery is indeed the result of extensive collaboration and co-operation- led by Icewater Seafoods Inc. and Ocean Choice International, partnering with WWF (formerly World Wildlife Federation) to manage the FIP, with additional financial support from the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Resources Legacy Fund, and High Liner. The Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are also cited as key supporters.

Read the press release at WWF at: http://www.wwf.ca/newsroom/?14901/Newfoundland-cod-fishery-announces-milestone-sustainability-assessment. Read about the FFAW Stewardship Program at: http://www.ffaw.nf.ca/?Content=Science_Research/Fisheries_Stewardship_Program, and an overview of the WWF Conservation Program in Atlantic Canada at: http://www.wwf.ca/conservation/oceans/atlantic_canada/.