Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today. I would like to say that it is very nice to see the hon. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans back and in good health after his accident.
As we speak, we are seeing an unprecedented situation. Never before in the history of mankind have we seen our fish stocks being decimated in such a rapid fashion. Not only have we seen them decimated, indeed they are becoming extinct. From the east coast of Canada to South Africa and to the west coast of Africa to southeast Asia we are seeing fish stocks all over the world damaged and destroyed by overfishing, habitat destruction and pollution.
Internationally, as the minister said in his speech, we have in front of us an enormous challenge. How do we provide fish and fish species not only for our families to enjoy but for future generations? From a morale perspective, how do we ensure that these creatures, which have been on the earth longer than people, continue to exist in the future? Therein lies the challenge.
To articulate the problem will take a long time, but we must start. We have seen the raping and pillaging of our fish stocks all over the world in an unprecedented fashion. International communities and governments have been unable to put together a framework with teeth to address this situation. That is what this bill was supposed to do. That is what the international agreement was for. Unfortunately, while this bill goes part of the way, it does not have teeth to properly address this issue.
We are seeing fish stocks diminishing and becoming extinct all over the world. This is a serious problem for all of us. We are also seeing radionuclide cancer causing agents, teratogenic agents, being increased through the food chain. We are finding them not only in small fish but also in larger fish and indeed large mammals. If we look at the beluga whale population in the eastern part of Canada, we see an unprecedented amount of cancer causing agents within their body masses. If we look to the north and see the aboriginal people who live there and consume a large amount of fish in their diet, we see an unprecedented amount of these cancer causing teratogenic agents.
Not many people are talking about this, as I know the member from the other side who is from the north will articulate, but the tragic manifestation of that is that we have found in their populations an unprecedented number of babies born with birth defects, people suffering from cancers at levels that we have not seen in other populations, and numbers which are a silent tragedy not only within our own country but in other countries that share the north.
Earlier this week there were representatives from Russia here, many of whom were from parts of northern Russia such as Siberia and Irkutsk. Their aboriginal communities are suffering from unprecedented levels of these cancer causing agents. Their people are suffering from these cancers and birth defects. It is a silent tragedy and is a direct result of the pollution that has been dumped in the oceans of the world, affecting all of us.
We see pillaging by large boats that are going around the world laying nets even in spite of international laws. These groups show a wilful disregard for the fish stocks that exist today. They will do whatever it takes to pillage and take whatever they want.
One of the challenges of Bill C-27 and one of the challenges of the UNCLOS was to put teeth into a document that will be able to address these pirates of the high seas. In no uncertain terms they will have penalties applied to them so that they cannot continue to engage in the rape of our oceans which affects all of us.
Destruction of the habitat is also occurring not only within the oceans but also on land. In my province of British Columbia we have a hodge-podge situation. The province is responsible for part of the environment and the feds for the other. There is very little co-ordination. As a result deforestation is taking place to the edge of the rivers, which is destroying crucial and critical salmon habitat.
Our response should be to create a system working with the provinces to ensure that it does not happen. We also have a situation on private lands where individuals have the ability to engage in, and do engage in, the wilful destruction of habitat on those lands, often high up in the river system. This has a profound and damaging effect on the entire river system, destroying habitat that is crucial for salmon species in particular to be able to breed. This serious situation has occurred for a long time and the minister has been unable or unwilling to address it.
The private sector would be very interested in working with the government to provide an equitable solution to ensure that the habit is protected and that the interest in personal land is respected. They are not mutually exclusive principles. We can have personal ownership and still have the ability to protect the land and the resources. When an individual's actions has a profound and damaging effect on the entire ecosystem, it should not be allowed but is going on right now.
It is one of the most important things that has led to the destruction of the salmon fishery on the west coast. It is not necessarily overfishing, which has had a profound effect, but it is the damage of the habit. The desecration of habitat is the single most profound factor in the destruction and decimation of our salmon species.
That is clearly within the purview of the federal government and the provincial government. My colleague, the critic for fisheries from Saanich—Gulf Islands, and my other colleague from Delta, both of whom have worked very hard to provide constructive solutions to the minister, need to be listened to. Their solutions need to be employed. The minister needs to work with his provincial counterparts to make this a reality.
There are things that can be done. Let us look at how fishermen are suffering. Right now the government has made promises and these promises have been broken. I will give the House some examples of what it has been doing.
I have a letter from a constituent which was written to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It articulates very clearly how the transitional job fund that has been put forth by the minister and promised by the minister is simply not doing its job. It reads in part as follows:
Despite the announcement made by the minister on June 19, 1998, very little has been resolved for displaced fisheries workers. Of the $100 million promised for licence buyback measures, only $23.4 million is accounted for.
A letter from the minister dated March 9, 1999, sent to me by my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands, states that of the $100 million for habitat protection laid out and promised by the minister only $6.5 million has actually been paid out. Some 6.5% of the total amount of money designated for the critical reclamation of habitat has been paid out.
The final $200 million as promised aid according to the minister's letter is only being paid out at $41.7 million or 20.8% of the money. The rest, nearly 80%, has not been paid out. This means that since the minister promised the money to be forthcoming to fisherman and their communities over nine months ago, less than 18% of the promised moneys has been paid out to fishermen, their families and their communities. These people are suffering. They are in his province. They are in my province. They need help. They do not want handouts but they certainly want to get back to work.
Many of the projects that are being put forth and funded by the transitional job fund are not very useful for ensuring that the people working in the fishing community will have another long term sustainable job to go to, not a short term make work project by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
There are solutions, some of which I will articulate. These solutions would fulfil what we all want to see. We want to see the rejuvenation of fish and their habitat in a long term sustainable fashion.
One of the things for which we have been pushing for years is fish farming. Many years ago Canada was a leader in fish farming. What happened was that Chile and Norway usurped us and now are world leaders in fish farming. Norway in particular does it right.
We need to look at the example of Norway to see what it did right. Within fish farming lie jobs that people currently in the fishing communities who are unable to work at their traditional roles can go into instead of trying to make fishermen information technology specialists and computer specialist with an eight week course when they are in their forties and fifties and have over 20 years of experience fishing. As they say, it ain't going to happen.
We can train them and put them into jobs that may not be exactly what they have done before but would certainly be congruent with what they have traditionally done. To train them or to ask them to map rivers and streams that have been mapped a dozen times before is clearly an expensive make work project. Why not give them the skills to do the work within fish farming, which could create a lot of jobs.
In my riding we have proposed for years a hatchery on the Sooke River. This hatchery in a community with over a 20% unemployment rate could create over $90 million in spinoff benefits and hundreds of jobs. In the community of Sooke 200 or 300 jobs would have a profound, dramatic and positive impact on people's lives. They would be working in something close to the land. Both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities would be provided a mesh or a linkage between them, which would do a lot for developing peace and harmony between communities that are fighting over a diminishing resource. We must look at that.
Another example is Iceland which has done a remarkable job of saving its fish. It has a long term sustainable fishing industry. When Iceland representatives approached Canada some years ago they came with open hands and said that they would work with us to rebuild our fishery on the east coast. What did they get? Indifference and a cold shoulder from a country that has been a leader in the fishing industry.
We as a country, particularly our east coast, desperately needed help. We desperately needed a plan to revise, revamp and rejuvenate the economy but got absolutely nothing. Now we see the payoff for that neglect. We see communities on the east coast suffering and relying more and more on government handouts and less and less on the ability to provide for themselves.
That has not only damaging effects on them as individuals but profound and damaging effects on their economy and communities. The social fabric of the communities on the east coast has been torn apart as it is being torn apart on the west coast.
There are solutions. I am not for a moment advocating what has taken place in southeast Asia which has engaged in fish farming that has been absolutely destructive to its environment. We do not need to adopt that, but we need to open our eyes and look at countries around the world which have done an excellent job of saving their fish and providing a long term sustainable fishery.
I will go back to Iceland for a second. It tries to focus on getting the maximum value per fish. As a result it has managed to ensure that each fish caught, particularly in a sports fishing capacity, generates an awful lot of money. I believe it is $80 to $100 per fish.
In the difficult times of today with the difficult decisions that have to be made what I will say is politically incorrect but in my view needs to be discussed. Less reliance has to be put on purse seiners, on those large fishing vessels that vacuum the ocean.
The minister wants to buy back. The process he is engaged in, the so-called Mifflin plan, will centralize fishing in a very small number of hands. Those hands will be the big boats. The argument they will put forth is that by having fewer boats fewer fish will be caught. That is not true and the reason is that the technology of today will merely expand to fit the boats. These boats can catch much more than they do. They just need the opportunity to do it.
The Mifflin plan is destroying and taking away the fishery from small individual operators and putting it into the hands of large fishing boats, many of which are owned by the large fishing corporations and packing groups. Does that do much for employment? No. Does it do much for increasing value added fish products? No, it does not. We should be striving for maximum value and maximum employment in a sustainable fashion for the fishing industry in Canada. That is not what the government's plan is doing and that is not what is happening now.
It can be done. The government has heard from from my colleagues from Saanich—Gulf Islands and from Delta—South Richmond constructive, effective and pragmatic solutions to deal with the problem. All we have had is basically a blind eye. I will give the minister credit. He had a lot of courage this year in closing down some fisheries and in the process saving some species. For that he ought to be congratulated.
If we are to protect our fish, which came to light a few years ago, enforcement is critical. DFO enforcement officers are beside themselves. They try to enforce the laws but people higher up in DFO have meddled in their affairs and prevented them from doing that. As a result the best enforcement officers, if they have been doing their jobs, have in fact been marginalized and those who have played the party game in the bureaucracy have advanced.
The DFO bureaucracy has been pulling the teeth of the enforcement officers preventing them from enforcing the law, which is a complete outrage. Strong enforcement of our present laws and the respect of the minister, deputy minister and the people high up in the echelon are needed so that the enforcement officers will be supported and protected in doing their jobs.
The scientists in DFO have to be supported and encouraged because whatever plans we have must be based on good science. Over the last few years in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and with this Liberal government politics has overridden good science.
A case in point is the cod fishery on the east coast. A couple of years ago cod stocks were shown to be increasing a bit. What did the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans do? The minister said he would open it up for a limited cod fishery in spite of the fact that the scientists had said we were having an increase in our cod but to do nothing and let it ride a bit so the numbers could increase. For purely political reasons prior to the last election the then minister opened up the fishery. He destroyed the ability of the cod fishery to sufficiently expand and have a long term sustainable fishery.
It speaks of a problem the scientists have been having in DFO for a long time. In spite of their hard work and diligence, in spite of their tenacity in finding the best solutions possible, the mucky-mucks on top and the politicos kept their answers and solutions under wrap. They forced the scientists not to say anything and rapped them on the knuckles when they did. That is idiotic.
Those studies are funded by the taxpayer. The taxpayer has a right to know what they are. As a result I would submit to the minister that all scientific studies done by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans be made public. All interested parties could then look at them and know what is going on on the ocean floor. Everybody would know the number of fish there, the projected fish stocks, what we need to do to save them and what we might be able to do in terms of fishing them sustainably. These are things we have to determine.
The number of fish that are going to be pulled out have to be based on sustainable quotas and the quotas have to be based on good hard science. They cannot be based on politics. Politics has killed our fishery historically.
We have enormous challenges ahead of us not only within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans but also in the policies we enact domestically and internationally. The minister's speech indicates that he is very interested in this issue. I know he is very interested in stopping the habitat destruction, the pollution and the other elements of overfishing that have gone into destroying not only our fish stocks but the fish stocks of many others.
Polluters in our country and around the world are continuing to dump damaging toxic carcinogenic materials into our oceans. This has long term and profound effects not only on fish but also on mammals. The minister must work with the Minister of the Environment to implement tough laws, laws which have teeth, to penalize those individuals who are wilfully polluting our oceans, rivers and streams. At the present time many polluters at best get a rap on the knuckles and at worst nothing. Because of short staffing in both the Department of the Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans these things are simply not enforced.
With respect to Bill C-27 and the UN convention on the law of the sea, one of our great challenges on both the east and west coasts is the foreign fishing vessels which come into our waters, pillage our fish and then escape outside the 200 mile zone. Unless some rigid specifications are met, our interdiction officers cannot apprehend these boats once they get outside the 200 mile zone. That should not happen.
Pirates of the sea should not have anywhere to escape to if they are pillaging the oceans. Oceans have no boundaries. There are no lines indicating “this is ours and that is yours”. The pollution and damage that takes place in the oceans affects all of us. We can no longer turn a blind eye and let it continue.
In closing, I implore the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to work with the Minister of the Environment and the provincial ministers to develop constructive plans, as he has heard here from across party lines, to address pollution, habitat destruction and overfishing. Without those, we will not have a fishery in the ocean and species will become extinct. All species will suffer. Not only will it be the fish in the sea that suffer, but we will suffer as well.