Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, colleagues.
I would first like to thank you for inviting me today to discuss my new portfolio and my priorities as Minister.
Fisheries has been an issue of high priority for me since I was first elected. In the Gaspé and the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, this is not the livelihood of thousands of workers, it is also a major economic engine for my region, a rural region surrounded by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the St. Lawrence River and Chaleur Bay.
Before beginning, I want to take a moment to thank the men and women who get up early every morning and risk their lives on the water to feed their families, stimulate the Canadian economy and exercise their right to fish in accordance with their traditions, under the treaties. Fishing is much more than a simple economic exercise. Fishers contribute to our national cultural fabric in a profoundly meaningful way, and I salute them for that. I also want to thank Fisheries and Oceans personnel for all the work they do in this regard.
I would now like to discuss my priorities as Minister.
First, I want to ensure that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the DFO, listens more attentively to our coastal communities and makes a greater effort to understand their situation when it comes time to make decisions relating to fisheries management, investment in crucial infrastructure like small craft ports, and other important issues that call for involvement by the Department.
Obviously, I am not telling you that we will always end up with decisions on which everyone agrees, but we will try to consult these communities more often, and those decisions will be made in a way that gives the sector concerned time to prepare and adapt, if necessary.
This all applies both to fishers and to processors, and to environmental groups, indigenous communities, sailors and scientists. Our coastal communities want to be part of the solution. They are our eyes and ears on the ground. I have made it clear to the people in my office and in DFO that they are to assign renewed importance to this priority.
It is important to talk about science. With the fact of climate change and the resulting heating of the oceans, we are going to be swimming in uncharted waters over the next few years. It is now more important than ever to collect the best scientific data in order to make the most informed decisions possible.
Mr. Chair, my third and fourth priorities relate to growing the blue economy and following through on critical steps on reconciliation between Canada and the indigenous peoples who have called Canada home from time immemorial.
I believe that fisheries are, first and foremost, a sector that generates economic development and creates jobs.
Canada has the longest coastline in the world. A unique opportunity is open to us, by taking measures such as:
transitioning away from open-net salmon pens; encouraging new methods of aquaculture while saving the Pacific salmon from further risk; and encouraging international partners to open their doors to Canadian seal products, so fish stocks are protected from predation and indigenous communities can lead the way on this potentially game-changing industry.
Canada must invest in innovative technology and infrastructure in both the fish harvesting and the processing industries, to guarantee that we continue to be a world leader and to be competitive for generations to come.
I also want to reiterate my sincere commitment to working closely with indigenous partners and First Nations communities in a spirit of reconciliation. This important work will sometimes take time and will undoubtedly involve numerous difficult and highly emotional conversations, but I can assure you that I will always be there to listen to indigenous voices and guide my department in the right direction through this difficult but important process.
As a final point, Mr. Chair, I want to say that I am pleased to be working with all of you on the studies and important work you are currently doing or will be carrying out in the future.
I particularly look forward to reading your report on the seal and pinniped study once it has been tabled in the House. This is a topic of interest to me. I'm looking forward to seeing the conclusions and recommendations of your report, so we can move forward on this economically undertapped resource.
Mr. Chair, I will turn the floor back over to you. I am now ready to answer my colleagues' questions.