Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time this afternoon with the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.
This morning the fisheries committee met and we heard from various fisher people in Atlantic Canada and some of their concerns with the TAGS policy. They are concerns which we hope we can hear in the committee on fisheries and oceans.
In the weeks ahead under the capable leadership of our chairperson, we will try to hear the reports from Atlantic Canada and the concerns with the fishery, and hopefully provide some solutions to what their concerns might be.
I come from a community in which the fishery is very important. In fact, the community has approximately 10 small fishing wharves and approximately 400 boats that are out on the water during the fishing seasons. There are three fish plants relying on the resources from the sea.
I think we in Atlantic Canada appreciate the fact that the sea is a great resource for all of us. We go out with our boats, we get our gear, our nets together and of course, hopefully we will have a successful fishing season.
For those involved with the groundfish, especially cod, the last 10 years have not been good. In fact the past five years when they were not able to fish in most areas has been a tremendous blight on the economy in Atlantic Canada. I am glad that the House has taken a day to look at these problems of the Atlantic fishery, and also to discuss some of the problems on the west coast.
This year we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the landing of Cabot's ship on the shores of Newfoundland. For at least 500 years, in fact before 1497, the Grand Banks and those waters off the coast of Newfoundland were looked on as a tremendous resource for fish, that great protein source that our people have. For almost 500 years we have had a successful fishery.
I think all of us in this House recognize that in the last 30 or 40 years our fishing techniques, our new methods and all those ships that are coming from offshore to visit our waters have put a tremendous drain on that great fishery.
In terms of our own area, the Miramichi, which I mentioned before, we have had to look at difficult situations in terms of our own fisheries. In fact, if we look at the last decade, most of the fishermen on the Miramichi who hold groundfish licences have not been able to fish groundfish.
None of them have participated in the TAGS program because, as fishermen, they saw the decline of the cod stocks in the last generation as a reason why they should not be out fishing that resource. They have waited for a return of the cod fishery and they have waited in vain because right now, we still do not see prospects of the cod returning to Miramichi Bay.
We have seen in terms of our Atlantic salmon that, since the 1970s, the Atlantic salmon has no longer been a commercial fishery. In fact, the several hundred fishermen who had that as part of their licences in the early 1960s and into the 1970s, have had to give up those licences.
Many of them sold them back to the government. In any case, the Atlantic salmon fishery has declined to the stage where today it is only a recreational fishery and then only in terms of a limited catch that can be kept by any recreational fisherman.
In fact this year the recreational fishery in the Miramichi is allowed approximately eight tags. Among those eight tags, they are only allowed to keep the smaller fish which are referred to as grilse, which are less than 26 inches in length.
We heard across the House the problems of the hatcheries. I think I would be remiss if I did not point out that I was a bit disappointed to find that this year DFO has closed all the hatcheries in Atlantic Canada.
In my own case of the Miramichi, we had the oldest fish hatchery in Canada trying to promote and enhance the Atlantic salmon. That hatchery, which existed since before Confederation is a historical site in terms of our sites and monuments. It is sometimes called the oldest hatchery in North America and was turned over this month to a local group that is attempting now to run it on a limited budget. DFO should be criticized for having closed the Atlantic salmon hatcheries.
In terms of our lobster fishery we have to look at the concept of gear. Most of our lobster fishermen, for example, had 350 traps they could put in the water. Historically they were traps made of wood approximately three feet in length. Putting out 350 traps has been changed now to the concept of putting out steel traps which are four feet in length. Many lobster fishermen are concerned what effect a change in gear will have on that fishery, the main source for fishermen on Miramichi Bay.
We also have to think about what fish really are. They are a resource. They travel across the great oceans of this continent. They are available not only to Canadian fishermen but to many other fishermen who visit our waters and fish sometimes within the 200 mile limit with the permission of our country and often times outside the 200 mile limit.
We think of the Americans, our neighbours. We think of the French fleet that sometimes fish off the shores of St. Pierre and Michelon. We think of the Spaniards and other members of the European Union who fish off our shores. In other words, they have tremendous pressure on the Atlantic fishery.
The minister and his officials have worked hard through such organizations as NASCO and NAFO to try to make international arrangements by which our fishing resources could be enhanced and conserved for future generations. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of External Affairs have to look at concepts and agreements among the various nations of the world.
We think of the tremendous tuna resource we have today. It is worth as much as $30 a pound to some of our Atlantic fishermen. Those tuna are being chased not only by our Atlantic fishery but by other nations of the world, especially Japan.
I hope the minister will look at some of the communications problems of his department. If we look at politicians in the House today, some criticize us for what has happened to the fishery. Others will criticize our scientists. Some criticize the very management of DFO. We have to recognize that there has to be better communications.
For a good period of time we have heard concerns about seals and how they are affecting cod stocks off the coast of Atlantic Canada. A tremendous report produced by our science division indicated that the seals were not a major source of difficulty in terms of how many cod stocks they were eating. The report went on to say that seals were caught and dissected and their stomach contents indicated they had eaten very few cod.
I showed that report to some fishermen in the area of Hardwicke. After reading the report an elderly fisherman said to me “When there is no codfish for fishermen, how could there be codfish for the seals?”
Sometimes we look at science but science has to be measured against the people who are out there fishing, the people with experience, the people who know what their jobs are all about.
Today we hear of the many changes happening within DFO. We hear that fees are being charged. We hear there are observers out there and that various methods are being used. We commend the department for some of those steps it has taken.
In any case, as a member from Atlantic Canada I want to say that it is very complex. We cannot point fingers but we have to look at the fact that this resource has tremendous pressure on it. We cannot really blame those who are here today or those who were here before us. Many people have relied on that source of income. Certainly many fishing people, especially in Newfoundland, relied on TAGS and are concerned. We have to be concerned that the human needs of every person in this great country of ours are met.
From the west coast we have the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway. I am sure she will take some time to talk about the west coast fishery, but in terms of the east coast I hope we as parliamentarians can work together to offer some vision and some possible solution to a very complex and difficult problem.