Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the previous speaker and all speakers tonight on this most important issue.
One of the most important things that I heard from the hon. member who just sat down was that this is not a partisan issue. That sentiment has been echoed around the Chamber. Yet we have heard that this particular issue of overfishing and the plight of the east coast, and to a large extent the west coast of Canada, that our fishermen are currently experiencing has been with us for literally a generation.
The problem of overfishing has paralyzed and crippled many communities throughout the country. If we collectively in this Chamber were going to do something about it, now is the time to do so. Otherwise we are all just a bunch of fictitious Don Quixotes who are somehow tilting after windmills. We are talking and putting forward some great rhetoric and some great ideas but we must actually do something about it.
The person who is most capable and charged with doing something about it is the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and I would say his second in command in this particular issue has to be the Minister for International Trade, the softwood lumber man. However, we heard a lot of discussion about how we do it and what we should be doing but to date the government has not been able to deliver.
The incident that brought us to this point today, much in part due to the efforts of the hon. member for St. John's West, was the issue with the Russian trawler, the Olga , polluting Canadian waters. That was the offence that led to its capture, yet we know now it was actually in the process of once again raping our natural resource and taking tonnes of mature breeding cod from Canadian waters. Now we can talk about putting the blocks to the Faroese and talk tough.
We have seen instances in the past where we did the same things. Mr. Tobin did a wonderful job exploiting his virtues as minister of fisheries. For what? Here we are five, six years later facing the same problem.
We know that there were 26 reported incidents in the past year. This is just the tangible figure of those who were apprehended. The reality is it is probably double that. While the Olga was arrested for pollution there was another ship that turned tail and ran. Suffice it to say that ship was engaging in the same activity.
It will be interesting to see what happens as a result. Is the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the government up to the task of actually doing something about it?
I, like previous speakers, commend the members of the fisheries committee who have undertaken a very indepth study of the issue. My colleague from Cumberland--Colchester mentioned this as well, that most importantly they have allowed the stakeholders to have a forum, to come forward and speak with knowledge, experience and tangible proof and evidence of what has been happening. The members of the committee are to be commended. Yet it will all be for naught unless something happens, unless the federal government is prepared to make a strong intervention.
What should that intervention be? One route to follow is obvious. It is the same route that we pursued with softwood lumber in previous disputes that we were engaged in. The potato wart was another incident where through neglect, inaction, and a lily-hearted response we waited at the peril of those who make a living from the land with potatoes. With respect to the fisheries we have waited at great cost to that industry.
One of the issues that was brought to my attention that is most interesting in a legal sense deals with illegal fishing on the continental shelf.
My colleagues, particularly from Newfoundland, would know that on the continental shelf there is jurisdiction that goes beyond the 200 mile limit, that extends to the seabed and what is found directly on the seabed. I am talking in particular about sedentary species such as clams, crabs, scallops and other species such as sea urchins.
If trawlers dragging steel doors and apparatus that rip, tear and take these species off the ocean floor are illegally fishing and if Canada has jurisdiction over that property, why can we not launch an action in international court? Why can we not go to the United Nations as we have in the past and make a legal challenge on what is taking place? Why can the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade not launch that particular aggressive action?
My friend from New Brunswick spoke of Canada's need to flex its muscles, exert its control over its proprietary interest and take them on at the UN. This is what has to happen. If we want enforcement we have to be prepared to act. If we want to see something some change, we have to be prepared to take a stance. We cannot continue this lily-livered approach with respect to overfishing. That is one area in which there is a need and a direct call. An alarm bell is going off for the government to respond.
I want to turn my attention to an issue that is of great concern to myself and many in Nova Scotia and many around the country. What is taking place in the historic fishing town of Canso is not a local issue. Canso is in peril. The scenario that is playing out now in the village of Canso is indicative and a perfect example of what has happened in Burgeo and Trepassey and many communities on the east coast.
It is a time for action but it is also a time for compassion from the government. It is a time for understanding for the human impact of what is happening in a town like Canso. There is a breakfast program to feed hungry children because their parents do not have work in the local plant. The only restaurant in town has closed like many businesses before it. If there is going to be a response that demonstrates that compassion, it will have to include other departments. It will not be solved simply by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans allotting quota, be it quota for redfish, shrimp, crab, or opening seasons early or extending seasons. There has to be some action.
To date there has been little forthcoming even to give people something to which they can cling. There is a timeline that is looming. I would suggest there is a very real timeline when the school year ends. Parents will then have to make the decision as to whether they will relocate their families and look elsewhere for work. The sad reality of that scenario playing out is many of these families are already teetering on the brink of bankruptcy or beyond. They do not have the financial means even to relocate their families. They will be totally reliant on social welfare.
There is not, short of losing one's health, a more demeaning place to find oneself in this life, being totally reliant on the government and on the goodwill of taxpayers to survive. That is not where people in Atlantic Canada want to be. It is not where the people of Canso want to be. My friend from Musquodoboit Valley knows that.
There are people in Guysborough county who are in just as dire straits as the people of Newfoundland. Outport Newfoundland has the same scenario that has been playing out now for over a decade, a decade that has seen out migration of gigantic proportions that have left towns literally desolate with abandoned houses, schools closed and hospitals packed up.
This a very real emergency. I along with other members commend you, Mr. Speaker, and respect you for recognizing that and giving the nation an opportunity to rivet its attention upon this very real problem
There will have to be a compromise for towns like Canso that would involve programs under ACOA or programs under HRDC that would allow for an attempt to bring some other form of industry to the area, whether it be call centres or some other form of industrial development. However that should not be a compromise that involves one or the other. That is not to say that because of these other approaches, we should abandon attempts to revitalize the fishery.
That is not what the people of Canso want. This is a town that is coming up on its 400th anniversary of fishing from that location. To find a solution, these other departments may be part of that but this is not to say that we should abandon or in any way denigrate the efforts to revitalize the fishery.
In the town of Canso there is a very famous songwriter who has immortalized some of the plight of people in Atlantic Canada, not just Canso, because it is certainly not particular to only Canso. Stan Rogers immortalized in song much of the sentiment that people feel. One song in particular, Make and Break Harbour , and I am not going to sign a rendition of it, does in fact lament the trials and tribulations of people in Guysborough county. One line speaks about “foreign trawlers go by with long seeing eyes taking all where we seldom take any”.
That type of feeling has been there for a generation. It is not the long suffering people of Canso, or Mulgrave, or Trepassey or other Atlantic villages that are taking that quota and taking that resource from the sea to such an extent where plants are closing and where people are out of work. It is foreign trawlers.
The most recent example was the Russians or the Faroese. However the Spanish, the French, the Portuguese and other countries, Iceland and Greenland, are still coming into our waters and taking that resource. It is simply unacceptable. The knowledge is there. It is as if we have seen the crime and yet we have chosen not to react, not to lay a charge, not to go forward and bring these people to justice.
It absolutely flouts our sense of what is right and wrong. When something is happening and we choose to do nothing we are complicit. We are a part of the problem.
Here in this historic Chamber, in this debate, as in times previous, we have to go beyond the rhetoric. We have to go beyond simply talking about it. It will take a concerted effort on the part of many departments, but in particular the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of Foreign Affairs, to send that message.
One of the most telling statistics that we heard was that there were enough fish caught that were under moratorium, fish that were not to be taken from the ocean, to provide thousands of jobs to Atlantic Canada, enough to keep a plant like the Seafreez plant in Canso running seven days a week, 365 days a year. Instead we have seen that town slip to the point where its very existence is in question and is in peril.
The mayor of the town, Frank Fraser, is calling upon all political leaders in the province of Nova Scotia and federal departments to come to Canso to offer solutions and to take part in efforts to find some way to turn things around.
When it comes to looking for solutions, this where again sadly the minister of fisheries has let down the town of Canso. When Canso requested an opportunity to go into 30 for redfish and take quota from that zone, there were other options on the table and those were not assessed or certainly not responded to in the letter that it received.
They were left with this feeling of being completely blanked and completely ignored. At a town meeting just a week ago, the very able representative of the Canso Trawlermen's Association, Pat Fougere, addressed a crowd of over 300 in a small fire hall and he spoke of this problem. In specific reference to the financial value of the fishery in Atlantic Canada, he stated “People seem to forget that the seafood industry is worth more now than ever with respect to the Nova Scotia economy. Last year the value of exported seafood in our province was worth more than $1 billion”.
We can look to natural gas, we can look to the movie industry and all sorts of new and exciting ventures that are taking place in our province of Nova Scotia, but the fishery if managed properly, if controlled and if there was a concerted effort, we would ensure that we could continue to take our fair share from the ocean. We would ensure that those who are overfishing are rebutted and refuted in their efforts to continue to rape this natural resource. Because it is the overutilization of species by foreigners, not by Canadians, that has led to these dire straits, this moratorium and this risk of complete extinction of some species. It is not Canadian fishers.
My colleague opposite, the previous speaker, mentioned that Canadians have to partake actively in the preservation of the fishery. They have to take part in all efforts to ensure that overfishing is not continued, but it is not Canadian fishers who are doing this. We want to be able to create new Canadian exports from the available stocks. We want to ensure that there is an equal distribution of quota among provinces.
Sadly, one of the things that we have seen occur is that the poorest provinces in Canada are pitted against one another. We have Newfoundland and Labrador taking issue with quota being allocated to Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island. We have New Brunswick fighting with Nova Scotia. This is what gets the government off the proverbial hook. By not having a concentrated effort, by not having all of the parties, the stakeholders and those interested in preserving the fishery ensuring its survival, the divide and conquer sentiment creeps in.
We are not always looking for an increase in quota, but rather a piece of the quota. Sometimes it is not harvested. What is the long term plan that is coming from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans? It does not seem to be clear. It does not seem to be clearly enunciated, that is for certain. Is it acceptable that foreign fleets are continually taking 80% or more of the total allowable catch of species like redfish? It is totally unacceptable. It is unacceptable that foreign trawlers are allowed to come into the waters and sail away with that fish, often to process it in other countries when it could be processed in our country.
There are other areas that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans could look to: developmental slope crab, for example, and looking at other species, experimental species that currently trawlermen and fishermen like those from the town of Canso are currently harvesting. Is there a long term plan? Is there an effort to ensure that the fishery will survive? There are many who are questioning that.
We have the northern shrimp quota. We know that there is a huge biomass and the total allowable catch will be greater than 110,000 metric tonnes. That is 242 million pounds of shrimp. Other provinces have been given an allocation of this northern shrimp. It is Canso's turn. It is fine for Nova Scotia to get their oar in the water.
The historic attachment of Canso and the fact that this fishery in which Canso has always played a part is being denied. Recognizing Canso's history, recognizing its historical attachment to that fishery, I would suggest that it is indicative. It is absolutely necessary that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, led by a Nova Scotia minister for the first time in 80 years, step up and make strong decisions on the part of his community and his department.
It is foolhardy and shortsighted if we do not step up now. The reality is that this dispute has been setting in. We have seen tensions between native fishers and non-native fishers. We have seen instances where foreign trawlers may very well in some cases have come under attack.
It is an opportunity for us to act. I hope the minister has the message. I hope he realizes he has the support of all members. We will be waiting with bated breath to see what the outcome will be.