Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill S-3. As has been clearly stated, this is a very important issue. It is one issue of many dealing with the ocean's ecosystem and issues of conservation and stock management that needs to be seriously considered.
It has been suggested that the bill is a piece of housekeeping legislation in that it is meant to help ratify the port state measures agreement that was signed at the UN back in 2010. It would have to be ratified by 25 nations before it would come into effect.
One would think that Canada, with the longest coastline of any country in the world and with important fisheries on all our coasts, including the Arctic, would show some leadership on this issue and would underline the problem by bringing it forward with some urgency and some import.
However, the government introduced the bill through the Senate. Many of us have suggested that introducing legislation through the Senate is like introducing it through the back door. It indicates that the government thinks it is something that should be dealt with but that is clearly not wholly important. It is not something the government wants bogging down its agenda.
The bill was dealt with in March 2013 by the Senate It passed third reading in March and was ready to come here, but then the Conservative government, in its wisdom, decided to prorogue the House in the fall, which meant that legislation died on the order paper. It had to go back through the Senate again. It had been Bill S-13 and had to be reintroduced in the Senate as Bill S-3. Now here we are in September 2014, and the bill has not even passed second reading. Undoubtedly it will, later on this afternoon, but it appears to me as a legislator that the government is not taking this issue seriously enough.
In the whole question of illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing, it has been estimated that tens of billions of dollars in economic value are being lost as a result of the practice of nations around the world taking and selling fish and thus undermining regulated markets. It is something that has been going on for centuries.
There is no doubt that the IUU fishery does threaten ocean ecosystems and sustainable fisheries. It violates conservation and management measures, such as quotas and bycatch limits. It is important to recognize that, and there is an attempt internationally to try to control how the signatory countries, the fishing countries, go about fishing these stocks.
We have a lot of science in this country, although if the Conservative government gets re-elected, there may not be any left. However, there is lots of work being done around the world in terms of monitoring the patterns and health of fish stocks to determine the levels at which the individual fisheries should be prosecuted so that the fishery is sustainable.
If we allow millions of tonnes of fish that are subject to those conservation measures to be taken out of the water without any control, then it defeats the purpose. As was suggested by my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl, there is some question as to the efficacy of those conservation management measures to control how nations prosecute the fishery.
Nonetheless, here in this country commercial wild capture fisheries, aquaculture, and fish and seafood processing contribute upward of $5.4 billion in total GDP and 71,000 equivalent full-time employment positions to the country's economy. It is a big deal, and we must do our utmost to work on this issue.
New Democrats have indicated their support for the measures provided in Bill S-3 because they are part of an international agreement and because we think Canada should be a player in establishing the rules and regulations on the international stage on something as important as the fishery. Some of us would like the Government of Canada to take a much more aggressive role so that we would be much more involved and much more heavily engaged in taking a leadership role on this issue.
My colleague from Northwest Territories talked about the problem with the Arctic doughnut, and that is a real problem. That area is unregulated by international agreements, and some foreign nations are beginning to go into that area and fish at will. They are setting up historical fishing patterns that will have an impact when there is some kind of international agreement that affects that particular area. Canada has not played a role there and, I suggest, will suffer as a result.
I will talk for a few moments about the port state measures agreement, the international agreement to which Canada is a signatory and which Bill S-3, once passed, will cement. It states:
The Agreement aims to prevent illegally caught fish from entering international markets through ports. Under the terms of the treaty, foreign vessels will provide advance notice and request permission for port entry, countries will conduct regular inspections in accordance with universal minimum standards, offending vessels will be denied use of port or certain port services and information sharing networks will be created.
It is the first global treaty focused specifically on the problem of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. I missed the comment from the parliamentary secretary earlier, but I understand there may be up to a dozen nations that have signed on. However, it is important to understand that 25 nations must sign on and ratify it through legislation, as we have, in order for it to come into effect.
Bill S-3 provides regulatory power in relation to authorizing foreign fishing vessels ordered to port by their flag state to enter Canadian waters to verify compliance with law or conservation and management measures of fisheries as an organization. The bill expands the definition of “fishing vessel”, which we have heard, to include any vessels used in the transshipping of fish or marine plants that have not been previously handled. The bill expands the current definition of “fish” from shellfish, crustaceans, and marine animals to include any part or derivative of them.
We are going to talk more about some of those issues in committee because, on this side, we have some issue with the process and with what authority our Canadian officials would have to carry out those inspections. It appears they would need to get a court order, a warrant, in order to be able to move in to inspect the contents of a ship, a plane, a warehouse, or whatever. Any vehicle or structure used in the trans-shipment of fish or fish products is allowed, but the question is how that will happen. What are the provisions and the authorities that would be allowed? We need to understand that aspect better.
There is another part to that. The bill adds a number of new provisions under which a justice may hear applications for a search warrant, a warrant authorizing a protection officer to seize something, or a forfeiture order. We will want to seek some clarification of that. We will do that at committee.
On this side of the House, we have seen the commitment from the Leader of the Opposition. As a result of his experience on environmental issues, he understands how important ocean health and the ecosystem of our oceans is in terms of how the fishery is conducted and what it means to the overall health of our planet and our environment. As members on this side have intervened in this debate, we have heard them raise concerns about the government's commitment on issues such as conservation, habitat management, and questions of science.
As an example, when I look at the added responsibilities of Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers under Bill S-3, I wonder how they are going to be able to carry them out, given the cuts to their staff over the past three years under this government. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been cut out of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We have seen a reduction in the number of vessels available to the department and to officers to carry out surveillance and to apprehend, and we have seen a reduction in the ability of our coastal agencies and our navy to be able to help out. The ability of the Coast Guard to intervene is certainly in question as a result of the damaging cuts the government has made.
Likewise, we question the government's commitment to ecosystems, to fisheries management, and to measures to enforce those issues.
We have seen cuts to the inspection staff. We have seen cuts to the rules with respect to legislation and regulations governing what can appropriately be conducted on a lake, a river, or the ocean and we have seen the impact it will have on the fishery and the ecosystem. What the government has done over the past three years will have a detrimental impact on our ability to maintain a sustainable fishery on all our coasts. It will affect these fisheries and it will affect the ability of the people who prosecute these fisheries to do so in a safe and healthy way. It will affect the ability to ensure that families and communities are able to prosper, not only now but well into the future. That is what the whole idea of a sustainable fishery is.
We heard members talk about what happened last spring with northern shrimp. The government weighed in on the side of the corporate fishery, in particular on the side of the big factory trawlers, against the small fishery, the coastal and community fisheries. The result has been, and will be, the loss of hundreds of jobs, not only for the small boat fishery but also in the processing that goes along with this in a number of communities throughout northern Newfoundland and the south coast of Labrador.
That is why some of us are asking questions and raising concerns about the government's commitment with respect to the fishery and ensuring that we have a sustainable fishery. We need to do everything in our power, not only within our purview but within the areas where Canada and the Canadian government have an impact, to protect the environment and ensure the fisheries and those oceans are healthy and we have a sustainable fishery. The government needs to actively participate in a leadership capacity in those international bodies that set regulations, conservation and other management measures, such as quotas and bycatch limits. It needs to ensure that not only are we managing the fishery properly within Canada, but that internationally we are doing everything we can to ensure fishing is sustainable so we do lose that as a result of overfishing, bad management and driving species out of existence. That is happening far too often already. We need to a better job with this.
Let me reiterate a couple of points about Bill S-3. I am disappointed with the way the government introduced these provisions. This was an international agreement signed by Canada in 2010. We are now in 2014 still dealing with the legislation. Why is that? That is because government first introduced the bill not through the House of Commons, not through the front door, but through the back door. It came in through the Senate. The Senate dealt with it in the spring of 2013. That bill ended up dying on the table because the government prorogued the House in the fall of 2013. This does not give us a sense that the government understands the urgency of this problem and will move quickly to deal with the issue.
The whole question of the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishery is a serious problem. Canada needs to be at the forefront of measures like this to ensure this agreement is ratified by at least 25 nations and that we get the job done. Then the government will need to put the resources forward to ensure we can properly enforce the agreement and do everything we can within the powers of our country and of Canadians to ensure we do our part to stop the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.