Madam Speaker, I will pick up where I left off last time, about a month ago. My colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl has proposed a very worthwhile bill. My colleagues in the Conservative Party have said that the collapse of the ocean fishery has already been studied and the federal government has already done all it can to restore the fish stocks that have collapsed. If that is really the case, the cod and other fish stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence would not be in danger or have almost completely collapsed. We know that the groundfish stocks, such as cod and ocean perch, are already considered to have collapsed. Their recovery prospects in the medium term are fairly poor, at best.
The cod population in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is at its lowest level in 61 years of monitoring and is still declining. The mature cod population from 2008 to 2010 is estimated to be, on average, 37% of the average level observed from the mid-1990s to the end of that decade, and 10% of the average level in the mid-1980s.
Since 2009, there has been no cod fishery in the region because of a third moratorium imposed on catching cod in the southern gulf.
How can we rectify the huge mistakes that caused this catastrophe? We have to start with an inquiry, as the bill proposes. That will give us the scientific, ecological, economic and social information we need in order to rectify our mistakes, to undo the ineffective and often destructive fisheries management policies that the federal government has imposed on fishers.
An inquiry would allow us to understand the big picture, the economic, social, political, and scientific aspects of the fisheries collapse, which is without a doubt the biggest catastrophe that Atlantic Canada has ever faced.
We do know some of the causes of the fisheries collapse: overfishing, caused by a lack of essential scientific information needed to understand the true health of the fish species in the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystems; overfishing, caused by weak international laws that allow fishers from other countries to decimate fish stocks with impunity; climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and rampant urbanization, which has led to changes in water temperature and water acidification; and many other forms of human intervention that have damaged the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystems.
When settlers first came to the coast 500 years ago, cod was so plentiful that sailors could scoop them up into their ships with buckets. The cod fishery is one of the mainstays of the economy of the Maritimes, including the Gaspé Peninsula and the Madeleine Islands, and it was one of the main reasons for settlement.
As recently as the 1940s, cod fishers were landing between 300,000 and 600,000 tonnes of cod per year. Then in the 1990s, the federal government banned cod fishing in response to the collapse of the cod fishery. By 1993, all Canadian cod fishing was banned. Today, in 2011, no real solution to the devastation of the cod fishery has been either proposed or implemented.
In the Gaspé and the Madeleine Islands, the loss of the cod fishery has been devastating. Not only were cod and other groundfish the mainstay of the economy in the region, cod was also a cornerstone of Gaspé culture, as exemplified by the tradition of cod curing, so famous to the region that it became known as the Gaspé cure.
The Gaspé Cure is the result of a drying method that is made possible by the climate on the coast of the Baie des Chaleurs, a dry, windy climate that provides ideal conditions for sun-drying cod.
Today, the Gaspé Cured company continues this century-old tradition that has been passed down over the years. The company has established a major processing plant in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Gaspé, one of the places in the Gaspé where fishing is most active.
According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, cod fishing has been the backbone of the Quebec fisheries, in both the Gaspé Peninsula and the Magdalen Islands. As a result, the community had become heavily dependent on these resources. However, the moratorium and the decline in total allowable catch have affected it severely.
In 1985, there were nearly 1,700 groundfish licences in Quebec, and more than 3,300 fishers and fisher's helpers were engaged in the cod fishery. At that time, the total cod landed values were in the order of $18 million. In 2002, there were fewer than 1,000 groundfish licences. In total, for all of Quebec, the number of active cod fishers and fisher's helpers was estimated at 1 150 in 2002 for landings of a total value of only $3 million.
Nearly half of those fishers are found in the Gaspé Peninsula. The sustainability of many coastal communities that depend on fishing is under threat at present.
This way of life in my riding is threatened in large part because of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' rules and regulations. Thanks to the department's questionable conservation policies, and thanks to its foot-dragging when it comes to taking real action on overfishing, the fisheries of the east coast have been mismanaged almost to the point of annihilation.
The minister said no to an inquiry into the state of the fish stocks in Newfoundland, even though federal management of the fisheries has clearly been a failure. An inquiry into the reasons for this failure is long overdue.
The minister's refusal to allow the inquiry has an impact beyond the borders of Newfoundland. This mismanagement that destroyed the Newfoundland fisheries has either destroyed or severely damaged many of the fisheries in my constituency also. When an Atlantic fishery collapses, it does not affect only one province; it impacts all of the regions that are part of the species' habitat.
The commission of inquiry called for by Bill C-308 would provide Canadians with a rare but crucial resource needed to rebuild the east coast fishery: clear and accurate information based on the experience of independent scientific experts, fishers and other stakeholders who rely on the Atlantic fisheries.
I urge the government to recognize the national importance of the Atlantic fisheries and pass the bill. I also urge the government to recognize the importance of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence to all Canadians.
By passing Bill C-308, the government will finally open the door to creating a sustainable Atlantic fishing economy throughout Atlantic Canada.