Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this evening's debate on overfishing in the boundary area, that is that area of Atlantic Canada which is beyond the generally recognized 200 mile limit. I would like to thank the hon. member for St. John's West for this opportunity to express our views on the fisheries situation, particularly the Atlantic sector.
I would like to draw attention to the fact that the minister has today announced the closure of our ports to the Faroe Islanders, who are accused of breaking the recognized regulations and illegally overfishing our waters and even the waters beyond them.
To clarify the situation, the Faroe Islands, with a population of 45,000, are an independent community attached to Denmark. They are one of the countries that does not respect internationally recognized rules on fisheries.
Before entering into the debate, I would like to see us address the situation in the Grand Banks and Flemish Cap, as well as within the 200 mile limit, in Atlantic Canada, as far as this resource is concerned.
The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has done a complete tour of Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec this past week. During that period, the incident of the boarding of the Russian ship to which my colleagues have referred made us aware of the situation. Representatives of the Government of Newfoundland, the people of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Quebec-- both the Gaspe and the Rimouski area—vented their frustrations to us and shared their feelings about the fisheries situation in this region. Foreign ships take advantage of the opportunity to appropriate our resource, waste it and overfish it so that it is not there for us to use and to take advantage of.
When we visited the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, owned and operated by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and mandated to audit the status of this resource, two of the institute's biologists were just releasing a study. I will offer hon. members a summary of the content of the Radio-Canada news reports for the Gaspé and Îles de la Madeleine areas.
On March 19, 2002. while the committee was in the area, the following was being broadcast:
Alarm sounded by two biologists: adult cod biomass decreasing.
According to Alain Fréchette of the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, the biomass of adult cod has decreased by 30% in the northern part of the gulf over the past year
This happened when the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was visiting the institute, at the time when a Russian vessel was arrested and at the time when other foreign vessels were taking advantage of the situation to make away with our resource.
Mr. Fréchette does not understand this decrease—
I am somewhat surprised that he does not understand this decrease.
—because the number of cod has been increasing slightly every year since 1994.
Another biologist, Ghislain Chouinard, from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, from a Department of Fisheries and Oceans institute, affirms that the situation is as dramatic in the southern gulf.
Therefore, the situation does not only exist in the north, but also in the south. Moreover:
Biomass decreased 6% this year. The drop would have reached 12% if a 6,000 tonne quota had been authorized.
We know that foreign countries are increasingly coming to fish outside of the 200 mile zone. We know that foreign countries are stealing our resources, and we have known this for years.
What was our reaction? We took the diplomatic route. What kind of results has the diplomatic route produced? Absolutely none. Not only has it produced nothing, but our resource continues to vanish. Will we continue to pursue diplomatic discussions and resist taking more forceful measures to solve the problem once and for all?
In 1995, there was a great commotion: a Spanish trawler was arrested. Now we have arrested another one. Since 1995, in seven years, what has happened? Have we solved the problem? Have we found any solutions to remedy this situation?
I have a document here that analyzes what happened in 1995, during this great commotion. I have a plethora of articles and texts that have been published since 1995. I have all kinds here and all of the titles are negative, because since 1995, we have taken the diplomatic approach, we have been content to discuss. We have placed our trust in an organization called the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization.
This is outrageous, because we provide 50% of the funds to support this organization. We are being robbed of our resource on a regular if not a daily basis in the gulf, outside the 200 mile limit, with the result that we no longer have that resource inside the 200 mile zone. We are funding a totally ineffectual organization. We are funding an organization that has absolutely no credibility. And we are funding it to the tune of 50%, because we want to act in diplomatic fashion.
We have been acting diplomatically for 20 or 30 years and the problem still persists. Are we going to act diplomatically until the resource is totally gone, until there is none left for our communities, whether it is in Newfoundland, in the other maritime provinces, in Quebec, in the Lower St. Lawrence region, particularly in Cap-Chat, where a large number of groundfish fishers are in a difficult situation? Are we going to wait until there is no resource available? Are we going to wait until everything is gone, until the resource has been completely eliminated, before taking effective action?
I want to go back to the text to which I was referring earlier, and which more or less summarizes what has been going on since 1995. That text was published in 1995, but the situation remains the same. It is from a scientist, Pol Chantraine, and it was published in Le Devoir . It summarizes what happened in 1995, following the arrest of the Estai . It reads:
In spite of the fine speeches, of the jubilation on the docks of St. John's, in Newfoundland, and of the awards given to the captains of the Canadian offshore patrol on Easter weekend—
And now we are getting close to Easter, seven years later.
—the upshot of the turbot crisis launched a few weeks ago with the arrest of the trawler Estai is hardly impressive, even if the entourage of fisheries minister Brian Tobin cannot stop congratulating itself as though they had won Canada's greatest victory since 1945.
First, Canada had to give up half of its turbot quota to the European Union in order to get an agreement. Then, under the agreement, the Spanish, the main European fishers of turbot, will still be able to take some 5,000 tonnes of this fish after April 15, 1995, which will bring the total of their catches to more than 12,000 tonnes, instead of the meagre 3,400 tonnes they were allowed by NAFO in February.
What does NAFO do? Absolutely nothing. What purpose does it serve? Absolutely none. Even after all the to-do over the arrest of the Estai , Canada was obliged to give up three times what it was allowed by NAFO earlier. And this was in a 1995 document. The situation has become worse since.
Not only has the situation grown worse but these are the observations in the material I have been able to gather following the announcement that we were going to have an emergency debate this evening. I can give titles. A Fisheries and Oceans Canada press release dated March 11, 1999, is titled as follows, “Canada Calls for World Action to Bring International Fisheries Conservation Regime into Force”.
Well yes, of course Canada is calling for it, but other countries are not interested. What they want is to help themselves to our resource and sell it on the market. Certainly, I can go and see my colleague and make whatever request I wish; he is free to say no and to continue doing whatever he wants. That is what Canada is doing: letting other countries do what they want. It is letting other countries help themselves to our resource, completely exhaust it, and we, good little sheep that we are, are saying,“We are asking you, we are begging you”. That is one of the texts.
Another press release bears the following title, “Minister of Fisheries Continues Push for Action on International Fisheries Conservation”. That was in 1999. That produced big results. Since then, the situation has grown worse. It is as simple as that.
“Foreign fishing in and outside our waters”. With regard to the nose and tail of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, another document refers to an “environmental disaster”. It was published in 1997. I could quote from a large number of documents.
Scientists have been telling us about the situation and have given us evidence. For 25 or 30 years, they have been saying that overfishing must stop and that we must better control our resource and ensure it can continue to prosper if we want to keep harvesting it.
In my capacity as a member of the Bloc Quebec, I toured with the Standing Committee on Fisheries last week, as did other members from all parties. I was rather surprised by what I heard from local communities as well as from the minister of fisheries for Newfoundland.
The minister of fisheries for Newfoundland came to tell the standing committee of the House the same thing that we, in Quebec, have been saying for years. The minister came to ask the government to allow some form of joint management, which means that each province would be involved in managing the resource and the utilization of this resource. He gave Quebec as an example. I mentioned to him that Quebec was not involved in managing the resource. Only the Government of Canada, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, has the power the manage and protect the resource.
Unfortunately, ever since this power was handed over to the federal government, the situation has been getting worse every year. What the minister of fisheries for Newfoundland is asking for is more than Quebec ever obtained in the past. He came to ask for the right to be involved not only in transforming the resource but also in managing it, to ensure better protection of that resource.
Elsewhere, in other provinces, people in local communities reminded us that they wanted to be consulted. They told us repeatedly that the consultations carried out by DFO were meaningless. Basically, the department was having consultations but not listening to anyone. In some cases, the report was even ready before the consultations had begun. That is what happened for instance for class B fishing permit holders.
What do the people from Atlantic Canada and Quebec expect from the government? They want the government to be efficient.
Of course, we can continue to use diplomacy, to negotiate with countries fishing on the Grand Banks around the 200 miles limit, off Newfoundland. We can always ask these countries to sit down with us and negotiate. However, more aggressive measures are also required.
Anyway, those who have economic interests to protect, who are currently overfishing and getting away with it, can agree to sit down and negotiate, but we know full well what the result will be. They will string us along. During the negotiations, they will keep overfishing and destroying our resources.
So, I would ask the government, with the consent of the provinces—in fact, the fisheries ministers from Atlantic Canada should be meeting in the next few days—to think about the impact resource management is having on local communities. I would ask them to think about the impact it has on communities like Cap-Chat and other communities in the Gaspé and in Newfoundland, which are in dire straits.
And I would urge the government to act now.