Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds Act

An Act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds


Clifford Small  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Defeated, as of June 15, 2022

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-251.


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment requires the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to develop a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, an excellent resource from the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


June 15, 2022 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-251, An Act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:30 p.m.
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Clifford Small Conservative Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

moved that Bill C-251, An Act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, Canada's coastal regions are facing an ecological disaster. As such, I stand today for the second reading of my bill, Bill C-251, an act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds.

Pinnipeds are a group of marine animals that include seals, sea lions and walruses. The focus of the bill is to address the harmful effects of seal and sea lion predation on the biodiversity of our oceans.

Historically, Canada has had the most productive oceans in the world, as it should, having the longest coastline in the world. However, since the eighties, the productivity of our oceans has been drastically reduced, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in our blue economy and the loss of traditional ways of life for our first nation communities. Currently Norway, a fellow North Atlantic country, has a blue economy worth three times more than that of Canada, with a coastline that is 2.5 times shorter than Canada’s. Thus, Norway’s ocean is nearly eight times more productive than Canada’s oceans.

Since the eighties, Canadian fisheries have undertaken vast conservation measures to improve the health of our fish stocks. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the moratorium on northern cod off Newfoundland and Labrador. There has been a commercial moratorium on Atlantic salmon for the same amount of time, and we have recently seen the closure of the mackerel fishery and the spring gulf herring fishery in Atlantic Canada.

Capelin quotas are currently less than 10% of their historic highs. In Labrador, the snow crab quota has been cut by 80% since 2000. In British Columbia, salmon quotas are down 80% since 2014. This year the Pacific herring fishery has been completely closed. These are a few examples of the conservation measures that have been taken over the last 30 years, but to no avail.

Iceland had a capelin moratorium in 2019 and 2020, and their conservation measures have worked. This year, they have set a capelin quota of almost 900,000 tonnes. Canada once had a 250,000-tonne capelin fishery, but it has steadily declined to only 22,000 tonnes this past year. Norway, Russia and Iceland currently have a million-tonne cod fishery, but Canada’s northern cod cannot recover after a 30-year moratorium.

Cod and many other species rely on capelin as a main food source, and DFO estimates that 7.6 million harp seals consume 1.8 million tonnes of capelin. Now, if folks cannot envision 1.8 million tonnes, they can try envisioning four billion pounds. In addition to the destruction of our capelin stocks, seals have turned their attention to the Atlantic salmon. Anglers in my province have observed seals in salmon rivers such as the Humber River and the Northwest Gander River, as far as 50 kilometres upstream from the ocean.

Local seal harvesters off the coast of Labrador have counted as many as 150 female crabs in the stomach of one seal. At an average survival rate for those crab eggs, that one seal, in a short period of time, destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of adult crab, should they have survived to maturity. Seals have even been observed eating lobster in Nova Scotia and south and western Newfoundland, but they told the server to hold the garlic butter.

Rivers have been closed to salmon fishing, and the cod quota has been slashed in fishing area 3Ps on the south coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The common denominator is predation by grey seals, which have had a population explosion that puts their numbers at five times historic levels.

In Atlantic Canada, the population of all combined species of seals in 1970 was approximately two million. Today, it is over 10 million. These massive herds of seals consume the entire commercial catch in just 15 days. That means they consume 24 times the annual commercial catch in Atlantic Canada every year.

On Canada's Pacific coast, pinniped populations are more than 10 times higher than they were in 1970. Fifty per cent of salmon smolts entering the ocean from B.C.’s rivers are consumed by pinnipeds. They also consume millions of returning adults.

Sea lions in rivers consume 40 pounds of salmon per day. They even wait near a narrow passage at the north end of Vancouver Island to take about two million Fraser River sockeye as they form schools on their annual migration. Pinnipeds even compete with resident killer whales as they forage on salmon and herring.

Massive conservation measures have been made in B.C. fisheries in a similar fashion to those measures taken in Atlantic Canada, but with no results. When Norway and Iceland take conservation measures, they get results. We share the same ocean, so why do we not get the same results? It is very simple. It is because these countries manage their pinniped populations, and those populations have remained stable over the last 30 years.

Many factors contribute to the decline of fish stocks. However, we can only control two. Number one is the amount of fish harvesters take out of the ocean. Number two is the number of pinnipeds that prey on those fish stocks.

Bill C-251 would require the creation of a framework for the conservation of fish stocks by pinniped management. By managing our pinniped populations, we can restore balance in our marine ecosystems. At the same time, we can help restore livelihoods that were lost in first nation and northern communities.

With the vast decline in, and in some jurisdictions the end of, commercial pinniped harvesting, the negative effect was twofold. The 2009 EU decision to ban non-indigenous commercial pinniped products removed the checks and balance in the predator-prey relations in our oceans. It also had the unintended consequence of destroying markets for Inuit hunters.

Pinnipeds are currently harvested in the U.S.A., Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Namibia and Russia. The framework of this bill calls for a yearly census on all species of pinnipeds to ensure the conservation of pinniped populations and that these populations remain viable.

This framework calls for a study of how other countries in the northern hemisphere maintain their pinniped populations at successful and viable levels that do not infringe on the productivity of their oceans. We need to learn from these countries. This framework shall address trade barriers and work to remove them because these barriers are the root cause of our ecological imbalance and the destruction of the livelihoods of the first nations communities that depend on harvesting pinnipeds.

We have the products developed for trade, and I am not necessarily referring to fur. There is a massive demand for healthy omega-3 oil produced from pinnipeds, both for medicinal purposes and as food supplements. My good friend, the doctor from Cumberland—Colchester, knows all about this wonderful topic.

Why is seal oil better for us than other omega-3 oils? Number one, seal oil naturally contains 24% omega-3 without concentration. Number two, seal oil is extremely high in DPA, which is not found in fish oil. In fact, the only other source of DPA is breast milk. Number three, the fatty acids in seal oil are nearly identical to human fatty acids, and are, therefore, much more readily absorbed than those from cold-water fish or plant sources. A shelf-stable, nutrient-rich protein powder has even been developed, and the iron it contains is many times more readily absorbed by the body than iron from any other source.

Products such as these, derived from full utilization of harvested pinnipeds, have enormous potential to help Canada fulfill its role in feeding the approximately 800 million starving people on Earth.

Through consultations with industry stakeholders and first nations communities, I have found tremendous support for this bill and a great desire to have a pinniped management protocol that works side by side with other aspects of fisheries management.

I thank the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society, which has developed a seal management plan that was proposed to DFO that currently has over 700,000 supporters, including 115 first nations groups, the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia, the B.C. Wildlife Federation and UFAWU-Unifor.

I thank the many industry stakeholders that encouraged me to move this bill forward on their behalf. I thank Chief Mi'sel Joe of the Conne River Mi’kmaq Tribal Nation for his support.

I also thank Bob Hardy of the Atlantic Seal Science Task Team, my colleague, the MP for South Shore—St. Margarets, Senator David Wells, the Library of Parliament and my dedicated staff for helping me to put this bill together.

Bill C-251 calls for the government to table a yearly progress report for the framework it develops. My bill, if passed, would provide a long-term conservation opportunity to sustainably rebuild the valuable, renewable, green resource that is our fishery. At the same time, we would rebuild a renewable industry in the harvesting, processing and trade of pinniped products, and would provide both conservation and economic opportunities to first nations and coastal communities.

Mankind has allowed an imbalance to occur in our ecosystem that has resulted from pinniped overpopulation, and it is time to bring an end to this ecological disaster.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:40 p.m.
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Cape Breton—Canso Nova Scotia


Mike Kelloway LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure working with the member opposite on the fisheries committee, and I enjoy our conversations outside of committee.

The bill calls for a yearly census to be conducted on pinnipeds. Would the member agree that the increased spending this bill requires for conducting that census would be important?

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:40 p.m.
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Clifford Small Conservative Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Madam Speaker, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has had a massive increase in its budget since 2015. All we need is a simple diversion of funds taken out of the regular science budget that it has right now.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:40 p.m.
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Sylvie Bérubé Bloc Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame for his great speech and his bill.

You spoke about ecological imbalance and the repercussions for indigenous communities. There is still much to do with respect to acceptable population levels by species.

Do you think that retaining the criterion of historical levels would result in a drastic reduction in populations?

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:45 p.m.
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The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I would like to remind the member to address her comments through the Chair and not directly to the member.

The hon. member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:45 p.m.
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Clifford Small Conservative Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Madam Speaker, I am not exactly sure what my hon. colleague means, but I think she is asking me how we are going to look at historical data to create the framework moving forward.

What I mean is that we would look back at where historical populations of pinnipeds were, and establish acceptable levels of where they should be so that our fish stocks could recover and get back to the levels they were at before the explosion in the population of pinnipeds. In the eighties, we started making conservation measures at the same time as there was an end to the commercial harvesting of pinnipeds. That was this. It caused the collapse of our fish stocks.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:45 p.m.
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Lisa Marie Barron NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his speech. I appreciate being part of the fisheries and oceans committee alongside him.

I want to ask a question. The bill speaks at length about the management of pinnipeds, and I am wondering if the member could expand on what he means by management. In particular, maybe he could play that out a bit more. What would that look like? Also, what would happen with the pinnipeds that are being managed?

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:45 p.m.
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Clifford Small Conservative Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Vancouver Island, who is originally from my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think that is why she cares so much about the management of pinnipeds. It is a traditional thing that runs through her veins.

What I mean by the management of pinnipeds is that not only do we set quotas, but we support the harvesting of pinnipeds. We can also make sure to support the marketing of the products we obtain from full utilization, and endeavour to get access to the world markets that we so desperately need. The world needs our products. That management also helps in the conservation of fish stocks. When we bring pinniped populations down, their prey populations go up.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:45 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to be able to talk about issues that are important no matter where one lives in Canada. In fact, from coast to coast to coast, as well as inland, our fishing industry is of critical importance. We can talk about Lake Winnipeg, the north, Atlantic Canada and the Pacific, where we have relatively healthy industries that are of critical importance to all Canadians, not just to those who fish our oceans or our inland lakes.

The member made reference to one of our chamber colleagues about how, being from Newfoundland and Labrador, it is kind of in the blood. I think of the member for Labrador, whom I have come to know over many years, and her position on the issue of seals. I can very much appreciate the sensitivity with respect to what is taking place.

The member made some specific references to numbers, numbers we should all be concerned about. I will give him that. When we talk about the number of seals out there today, it is a significant number. He often made reference to pinnipeds, such as seals and walruses, which consume vast quantities of fish.

I am pleased the member has brought forward the debate in the form of a piece of legislation, because it reflects a lot of the discussions I have personally had with the member for Labrador, but also with other members, in particular from our Atlantic caucus. We are all concerned, some maybe a bit more than others. That is something I have witnessed first-hand. I can assure the member that I have always been somewhat envious of the members of the Atlantic caucus when they get their teeth into an issue, and I know this is an important issue for them. However, this is not just an issue for Atlantic Canada. That is why I started off talking about what is taking place not only in the Atlantic Ocean. We also need to be concerned about the Pacific Ocean, the Arctic and our inland lakes.

We have the DFO management group, which in essence puts into place measures to try to provide a level of comfort to people that we are on the right track. I can appreciate that there will always be some members who will say that we should be moving more in a particular direction. What this bill is attempting to achieve is some form of a more detailed management system that would ultimately provide additional assurances. The government itself, in recognizing the special situation that is taking place in Atlantic Canada, brought together the Atlantic seal task team. It is not a task force; it is a team of individuals, but one could ultimately call it a task force of sorts. However, at the end of the day it is a group of individuals that includes people who are fishing our seas.

I think it is really important that as politicians we all have an opinion on it. I can sit across the way and talk to my friend who introduced the bill. It appears he has some fairly solid arguments, and I respect that. Having said that, I think we also need to factor in, much like when we went through the coronavirus, that we have science that needs to be taken into consideration and controversial issues that have to be overcome.

I look at the seal population and the damage that industry has caused as a direct result of, what I would call, unfair practices by a number of people to make it sound as if there is no role for a seal industry. I would like to believe that there is a healthy future for our seal industry here in Canada.

When we take a look at fishing stock issues, we need to focus a great deal of attention on the issue of science. We need to listen to the people who get paid to do the job they are doing and listen for the advice they might have to offer.

When we talk about the industry, as a whole, it is significant. We are talking about billions of dollars of seafood. It is probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of $8 billion to $10 billion, depending on the year. Yes, the United States is the primary country we export our products to from our oceans and inland lakes, but it is not the only one.

Members might be surprised, and I know this from past discussions and debates, that there are many countries around the world we export to. It is not just the United States. The products that are pulled from Canada's oceans are well recognized. I believe there was a time when there was an idea to fly fresh lobster from either Nova Scotia or New Brunswick directly to France because the demand for fresh Canadian lobster was so high.

There is a very real market. We are talking about literally hundreds to thousands of direct and indirect jobs. I suspect we will see during debate of the member's piece of legislation many contributions that will hopefully allow for us to have an informed vote when the time comes. We will have to wait and see whether it ultimately passes.

The member is fortunate in the sense that he is in the first draw, which allows the member to ensure the legislation will, in fact, be voted on. There might be an opportunity to see it go to committee. We will have to wait and see. One of the things I do know is that there are members in all political parties who are taking a look at the issue of pinnipeds populations, because it is not just seals, as we can factor in walruses and so forth. They are having this huge impact.

I can appreciate that the impact is probably the most significant in Atlantic Canada. I do not want people to lose sight of the fact that one does not have to be from Atlantic Canada to care about the industry. I would like to see the advancement, as I said earlier, of a seal industry. I think we can improve our seal industry here in Canada. It might be colleagues of mine who will wear a seal tie. In fact, I do not have perfect eyesight, but the member opposite might be wearing a seal tie because it seems to have that gloss to it.

There are many products out there. I think there is a potential demand, but we have to work with the different partners and stakeholders, whether they are indigenous people, environmentalists or industry reps. We need to make smart decisions on this industry. It is worth billions and involves thousands of both direct and indirect jobs.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 5:55 p.m.
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Caroline Desbiens Bloc Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, I will not keep anyone in the dark. The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-251, an act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds. That said, it all depends on the content and the application of that content.

The interaction between fishing activities and various species of pinnipeds has been an issue for many years, particularly in the St. Lawrence estuary. As early as 1985, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had detailed studies on the losses suffered by fishermen who came into contact with seals, particularly in terms of damaged nets and partially consumed fish in those nets.

I am feeling emotional this afternoon because of my experience as a daughter of the river, an islander, coming from a line of sailors and sport fishermen. My ancestors were so rich with invaluable knowledge of the land. How proud my father would be to hear me defending his river and all the life it contains.

Back in the early 1980s, my father was already talking to me about his fear of seeing cod disappear, primarily as a result of seal overpopulation. In the absence of predators, these poor animals grew too large in number, and hunger drove them to gorge on several species in the St. Lawrence River and in the gulf. What is more, my partner scuba dives in the St. Lawrence, and on several occasions, he has seen countless cod with their guts torn out.

My father used to say that he would not see cod disappear completely in his lifetime, but that the next generation probably would. He said we would be the ones to see the St. Lawrence without cod. What a surprise it was to him when, 25 years later, he realized there was no longer any cod in the river.

Cod is a succulent fish and has had pride of place on our tables throughout Quebec's history. I really want to make the urgency of the situation clear today. We must implement finely tuned measures that are consistent with overarching ecological principles, and we must do it as soon as possible. Underpinning these principles is a notion we must embrace if humanity is to survive its own ignorance of nature's priorities: equilibrium.

Here on earth, there is a simple but powerful system that keeps everything in equilibrium. That system is called the food chain, and at its core is the concept of predator and prey. When that equilibrium is upset, everything becomes dysfunctional. That's what we are seeing with the overpopulation of pinnipeds. However, much of what has happened is also due to human ambition, which is driving the planet to its doom.

Back home, we coexist with nature. We do not try to conquer or disrupt it. We know that nature rests on a delicate balance, as do we. The fish plants back home certainly are not pocketing billions of dollars from economic development, but people in the industry make a good living, and living in harmony with nature is the only way to survive in the long term. People in the industry know that.

I am certainly not indifferent to the death of an animal. I have four cats and a dog, and my nine chickens all have names. I do not enjoy watching a cougar catch an antelope to feed its young, but that is nature. No hunt is a happy one, but it is a necessary part of maintaining ecological balance, which we rely on, and we know that our own equilibrium is directly connected to the equilibrium of wildlife resources. This has been true since the beginning of time.

That said, all the scarcity problems among marine species are not just due to pinniped overpopulation, which is why it is so important to use science to understand the different factors currently having an impact on biological balance in the marine ecosystem. That is why we must move forward with this bill, which we hope will show us a better way to manage marine biodiversity.

Let us come back to Bill C-251. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans must act to promote conservation and the protection of marine ecosystems. Based on what I have read, I have no doubt that pinniped populations have a significant impact on fish stocks. However, we cannot focus on just this one variable to understand the dynamics affecting fish stocks.

For that reason, when we study the bill I would like to ensure that the strategy to be deployed by the minister takes into account both human and natural factors that affect the ecosystem. It is 2022: We must consider the environmental impact. A good policy must manage the impact of both human activity and climate change on nature and, in turn, the impact of natural disruptions on human activity.

The study and analysis of the impact of pinniped populations on fish stocks must not distract from the deleterious and devastating impact of overfishing, and in particular industrial fishing methods that are responsible for a true catastrophe on a global scale, specifically the overfishing and drastic reduction of fish stocks. Approximately 33% of global fish stocks are totally overexploited, and that increases to 66% for reserves that are fully exploited. If we continue at this rate, overfishing will deplete the oceans by 2048, pinnipeds or no pinnipeds.

In other words, we have to do something to protect fish stocks and to control the pinniped population, but in so doing we must ensure that we do not punish nature for a human error.

Let us take some of the measures set out in this legislation.

The bill should require the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to constantly update its studies on the interactions between pinniped and the fish populations. The department already has expertise in and knowledge of the impact of the pinniped population on fish stocks. We must ensure that the new framework created by Bill C‑251 allows for this knowledge to be mobilized so that we can act effectively.

To that end, a pinniped census may be a tool, but the scientific component of the framework should not focus exclusively on a census. In fact, could we look into the need for such a census? How is that better than using methods that estimate the size of populations?

With regard to acceptable population levels for different species, it is important to pay close attention to the criteria used. Using historical levels as a criterion would suggest that population levels have drastically decreased. Does it makes sense to compare our populations to those of other countries when the ecosystems are different? Does it makes sense to use the same framework for all pinnipeds? Should the approach not vary for different species of pinnipeds?

There are many issues to consider, and a lot of questions come to mind. What does it actually mean to remove barriers to trade in seal products? What are those barriers? Are there examples of projects that promote the manufacture and sale of seal products? There are so many questions surrounding this bill.

The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, on which I serve as vice-chair, will be undertaking a study on the management of pinnipeds beginning in a few weeks. Several issues need to be carefully examined. Our study of Bill C-251 will have to take into account the recommendations made by the committee, which will do everything it can to meet with experts, coastal populations, people on the ground, and even officials from other countries such as Norway, Iceland and Finland. The committee plans to visit those countries next fall, in order to look at what has and what has not worked on the other side of the Atlantic.

I will continue to be attentive and proactive. I will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the committee can give the public all the facts and provide a just and objective report to the government, based on the values that will allow for the survival of the marine world in all its splendour.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 6:05 p.m.
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Lisa Marie Barron NDP Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for bringing forward this bill today. It is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-251. I know that the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame cares deeply about this issue and many others. As someone who was born in Newfoundland and now lives proudly in Nanaimo—Ladysmith on Vancouver Island, I can say Canada's coastal communities and marine ecosystems are a true passion of mine. As the country with the longest coastline in the world, we are particularly interconnected to our oceans. The way in which we treat our oceans and the marine environments impacts all Canadians.

This bill recognizes a really important part of the current state of many of our fisheries. On all of our coasts, our fisheries and marine ecosystems are facing an emergency. Cod populations have struggled to recover in the Atlantic for decades since the 1992 moratorium. Just last year, the government announced closures of 60% of the salmon fisheries on the west coast. Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have failed to implement sustainable recovery plans for depleted fish populations. Workers who rely on our fisheries are worried about their futures, and Canadians across the country are scared that we have squandered our incredible natural resources beyond the point of recovery.

In many coastal communities, there are concerns about the role of pinnipeds with respect to fish populations. This bill proposes to take steps to address gaps in the scientific literature around pinniped populations across Canada and their role in marine ecosystems. It is abundantly clear that across Canada's marine ecosystems, we failed to invest in data and monitoring efforts. I believe that this legislation could help to highlight the shortfalls of data around pinniped populations in Canada. Across the board, we must continue to invest in this kind of monitoring, especially as we are increasingly seeing more fish populations struggling.

The bill also calls upon the federal government to provide stronger supports for indigenous and remote communities that have relied on the commercial seal harvest. New Democrats have long supported a seal harvest that supports the rights of the first nations, Inuit and other groups to engage in traditional and commercial seal harvesting. It is one that is sustainable, with zero tolerance for any inhumane practices.

In many cases, pinnipeds have been used as a convenient scapegoat by politicians when their promises of fish stock recoveries have failed. Brian Tobin, just as one example, a former minister of fisheries and oceans, remarked in 1995 that the cod moratorium needed to be extended due to predation by harp seals, conveniently deflecting away from decades of fisheries mismanagement by Liberal and Conservative governments in Ottawa. We need to do better, and that starts by recognizing that human causes are the key drivers of the state of our fish populations today.

This issue does not have a simple fix. A 2018 report from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans highlighted the testimony of DFO research scientist John Brattey. He underscored the scientific consensus around the decline of northern cod, saying that in this case, pinniped predation was not found to be a significant driver of northern cod in the period between 1985 and 2007. This is a trend that has not changed.

He also highlighted that capelin availability and fishing efforts were far more important in driving the northern cod population, and that climate change, poor management and the inability to protect our marine ecosystems were the root causes of our challenges. To that end, it is extremely worrying to see that, since 2015, capelin stocks have declined by an estimated 70% in this region. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that will solve this crisis, and the federal government has consistently failed to act on the issues we know are driving fish declines.

Our solutions need to recognize that the only way we can address this crisis is by taking bold action that recognizes the complexities of our marine ecosystems. Most pinnipeds are described as opportunistic feeders, which means that as specific fish stocks decline, pinnipeds will look for other food supplies that are in greater abundance. When we look at managing only one part of our ecosystem, such as that of pinnipeds, we struggle to imagine a prosperous and abundant ecosystem. We often imagine the bare minimum needed to keep specific populations going for just another few years. After decades of decline, it is understandable that we cannot imagine a more sustainable future at this point, but that is exactly what we need to do in order to leave a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Single-species management policies ignore the interconnection within our ecosystem and often see our oceans' value exclusively as what can be extracted from them. We see pinnipeds as a problem because they get in the way of our ability to take more fish out of the ocean. Managing pinnipeds to reduce fish mortality does not take into account the species that rely on pinnipeds, like transient killer whales. Along the west coast, we have only recently started to see the recovery of this incredible population, and the science has clearly stated that it is in large part due to the recovery of pinniped populations. I think most Canadians would agree that targeting specific species without considering the entire ecosystem could end in irreversible consequences.

One of the other concerns we have is that this legislation calls for management regardless of the availability of the market to support a sustainable hunt. As we have seen in Newfoundland and Labrador, the commercial seal harvest now represents no more than 1% of the labour force and an increasingly small percentage of the province's GDP. Moreover, the bill's language on establishing acceptable levels based on biomass and historical levels is far too vague, and I do not think we could reasonably be able to determine a scientific consensus on what that would mean in practical terms.

One of my biggest concerns in this legislation is around the proposal to promote the use of an antipredator device to protect infrastructure and fish populations. In recent years, Canada has taken steps to ensure that we are moving to more humane solutions. Importantly, we have seen international partners like the United States set out policies that they will not allow imports of seafood in areas where marine mammals are being harmed by fisheries. The possibility that this legislation might threaten our seafood exports to our largest foreign market is deeply troubling.

As I conclude my thoughts, one area that is incredibly vital to put front and centre in these discussions is the importance of seal harvesting for many indigenous communities, especially Inuit communities. While many Canadians remember the heated debates through the 1970s, 1980s and beyond on seal harvesting in Newfoundland and Labrador and the international media spotlight that this received, Inuits have been one of the largest participants in a sustainable seal harvest in Canada. However, their story and experience have been largely ignored. While not targeting Inuits directly, international campaigns against sealing have had an enormous impact on Inuits' ability to support their families and earn a livelihood.

It was an absolute pleasure to recently watch filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril's documentary Angry Inuk. The film really centres the story of this international debate on Inuit culture, traditions and livelihoods. It highlights the economic and social costs that resulted from Inuits no longer being able to access markets for seal products. As seal product bans were put in place, Inuit communities suffered. Inuits are still living with decisions made without consideration of the impacts on them to this day, and the impacts are felt through long-term food insecurity and some of the highest suicide rates in the country, to name just two. The film also underscores the beauty of the traditions around seal harvesting and the community that these activities foster. As we work forward through reconciliation, we need to recognize the immense cost that colonialism has had on indigenous communities and ensure that indigenous people reclaim their traditions.

Once again, I would like to applaud the member for raising an important issue with this private member's bill. This is an important issue across the country. I know that if we work together across party lines, we can help build stronger marine ecosystems where all species are prospering and where traditional seal harvesting is done sustainably and supports indigenous communities. There is much work to be done, and I look forward to working with the member across the way as we move forward.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 6:15 p.m.
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Rick Perkins Conservative South Shore—St. Margarets, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join this discussion and listen to the thoughtful remarks of my colleagues from the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. I am also pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-251, an act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds.

I would first like to thank and congratulate my friend from Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame for his hard work on this important issue and for this innovative bill. Like him, I come from a riding that depends on the Atlantic Ocean for the local fishing economy, and I have many constituents who are concerned about the damage pinnipeds are having on our marine ecosystems.

The science is clear: Pinniped overpopulation is having a severe impact on fish and other marine life populations from coast to coast. I hear from fishermen at every wharf I go to along South Shore that they are worried about how this overpopulation is impacting the stocks of many species that they fish commercially. This includes, but is not limited to, mackerel, halibut, shrimp, crab, capelin, Atlantic and Pacific salmon and even lobster. Pinnipeds are devouring them all.

There is also scientific evidence that suggests that plummeting cod stock populations off of Newfoundland in the 1990s, which led to the cod moratorium, was due to an overabundance in the seal population, as well as Spanish and Portuguese overfishing. I sat in as a staffer on the ad hoc committee on the fishery in those years during those decisions.

Additionally, many residents on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts have seen pinnipeds deep into rivers like never before. Rivers are not a natural habitat for them. They are chasing the food that would otherwise be abundant in the ocean, but the animals are adapting to the diminishing food stocks in the oceans they have been consuming and trying to find their source of protein and fat elsewhere.

Every day it seems like another fishing industry is faced with perilous quota reductions and warnings from DFO that, if overfishing continues, more moratoriums and fishing closures will happen. The Liberals are intent on leaving all the fish in the ocean in order to feed pinnipeds and reduce economic activity. These gloomy warnings cause stress for families that depend on the economic benefit that commercial fishing provides.

Countless studies have shown that pinniped overpopulation is contributing to reduced stocks and an imbalance in the ocean and in our biodiversity. For example, there were 2.7 million seals at the start of the cod collapse, the cod moratorium, in 1992. Now, 10 million seals in Atlantic Canada consume the weight of the entire Atlantic commercial catch every 15 days. On top of that, seals in Atlantic Canada annually eat 97% of what is taken out of the ocean.

Harvesters, indigenous groups, coastal communities and scientists are desperate for updated population estimates for pinnipeds. It is reported that seal populations are at their highest levels in a century, and these populations simply continue to grow. In order to address this problem, we need to know just how bad it is and ensure that DFO comes up with a plan to deal with it, which they have not done for 30 years.

Let me repeat, the purpose of the bill before us is not to prescribe a solution. Rather, it is to compel the government to produce an annual census of pinnipeds in Canadian waters and use science to implement a management plan. We have a duty to ensure that the Minister of Fisheries and DFO are working in the interest of commercial fisheries and fishermen to protect the sustainability of our oceans. All parties agree on this. That is why there has been unanimous consent at the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to study this issue in both this Parliament and the last.

Supporting Bill C-251 is common sense, and coastal MPs from every party in the House have recognized that a pinniped census is required to ensure that DFO is doing its job to protect the biodiversity of our oceans. If there is not all-party support, I would be curious to hear the rationale from members as to why they are prepared to let our oceans face these catastrophic outcomes.

The bill calls for a federal framework to be tabled in the House of Commons within one year and annually after that to provide a yearly pinniped census and a management plan to tackle the problem. We need to know what we are facing.

I have heard hon. members talk about and question costs, which is always a consideration in the House for the government. DFO does biomass studies every year in the $2-billion increase it has added to its budget since 2015. We do annual biomass studies of many species, but not enough. Why would we not do biomass studies of the largest predator of our commercial stock? We have not done that ever in the history of our country. This framework calls on that.

The goal is to promote conservation and protection of marine ecosystems. At the end of the day, I think this is a principle that all members can agree upon. We cannot allow an ecological disaster to take place in our oceans simply because the actions required to stop it may not be politically popular. We cannot turn a blind eye to the carnage and suffering that will take place if pinnipeds run out of things to eat. It is a fact. They will starve within 10 to 20 years.

The situation is putting our entire biodiversity at risk. DFO has estimated that if something is not done about the grey seal population off the coast of Nova Scotia, the entire Nova Scotia fishery will disappear within 10 to 20 years. Membertou First Nation in Cape Breton is taking an innovative approach to this problem, which is having a severe impact on the first nation's ability to fish and maintain its livelihood. The band has been piloting a grey seal harvest. It is calling on the government to allow a full commercial harvest of grey seals. The band is teaching its community members how to humanely harvest pinnipeds.

Over the past few years, a small number of seals were harvested by Membertou, with flippers and loins processed by a Maritime seal company. Most of a pinniped can be harvested. Over eight countries in the world are harvesting pinnipeds now, and up to 100% of them is being used for things, as my colleague mentioned, from protein powders, to omega-3 and food sources for Canadians and other people around the world.

We should look to the experiences and ingenuity of first nations on how this issue can be dealt with. After all, it was our first nations who were first harvesting seals. We should expand and broaden our knowledge of their uses, such as meat and fur. We have seen how regulated and careful management of pinnipeds can be successful.

For example, Norway has managed its seal populations to a successful equilibrium, and Iceland has ensured its thriving fishing economy is not damaged by the overpopulation of pinnipeds. These two progressive, democratic states have found ways to protect the sustainability of the North Atlantic by keeping an eye on pinniped populations and continuing to be strong exporters of this seafood product.

This is an important number. Russia and Norway catch more Atlantic cod than the entire Canadian fishery, yet that species was in decline at the same level in 1992 as it was in Canada. We did a moratorium. They managed pinnipeds. There is no reason why we cannot continue to have our leadership on the world stage, as we do in so many areas, when it comes to the humane and sustainable fishery of pinnipeds for generations of Canadians to come.

In fact, we need to do this for our coastal communities to ensure the biodiversity of the ocean is returned to its natural state and we can continue to reap the benefits with a robust commercial fishery and a sustainable diversity of our oceans in the years to come.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 6:25 p.m.
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Cambridge Ontario


Bryan May LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to be here today to discuss this private member's bill, Bill C-251, an act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds. I share the desire of the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame to support fish stock conservation efforts and, in doing so, the livelihood of commercial fish harvesters and communities from coast to coast to coast.

Like the hon. member, this government sees sustaining healthy and productive aquatic ecosystems as a priority. We are also acutely aware of the need to support fish stock conservation efforts and, in so doing, the livelihoods that depend on wise management of our fisheries, oceans and ocean resources.

Accordingly, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss Bill C-251.

Pinnipeds are a group of marine mammals that includes seals, sea lions and walruses. Our government's current approach to pinniped management focuses on a sustainable, well-regulated seal harvest that supports Canada's indigenous, rural, coastal and remote populations. This approach is informed by the best available scientific evidence. Accordingly, management of the harvest is designed to provide economic opportunity to harvesters within a sound scientific framework. There are currently more seals available for harvest under the management approach than are taken by the harvesters, many times more, in fact. This is a gap that we believe we must close.

Turning to Bill C-251, however, I note the bill is primarily targeted at seals, which some commercial fish harvesters view as the cause of slow recovery for some key fish stocks. The bill would require the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to develop a framework that includes, among other things, measures to regulate management and control of pinniped populations to establish acceptable levels for pinniped species, address impacts caused by pinniped populations, encourage the use of anti-predator mechanisms and promote year-round controls on pinnipeds.

I respect the desire to protect fish stocks that lies behind Bill C-251 and I recognize the significance of the fish and seafood sector to our economy. In 2021, Canada exported 8.7 billion dollars' worth of fish and seafood to 119 countries around the world, and $6.2 billion of that, over 70%, was to the United States.

Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2022 / 6:30 p.m.
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The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the bill is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The hon. member will have six minutes and 55 seconds the next time this matter is before the House.

The House resumed from April 28 consideration of the motion that C-251, An Act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds, be read the second time and referred to a committee.