Madam Chairman, as Canada's Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House this evening to discuss Canada's fisheries. Indeed, there are a number of fishery issues of great importance to Canadian communities. I would like to touch on a few of them today.
I would like to begin, if I may, with the helpful support my department received last week concerning the federal budget. I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. Minister of Finance, for developing this budget which combines continued fiscal prudence with a mixture of strategic expenditures that will make an important contribution to Canada's economic and social prosperity.
My department received a number of pieces of good news in the budget. Take the Canadian Coast Guard for instance. I am sure all members of the House recognize the important role played by the Canadian Coast Guard, a key Canadian institution and an important and highly respected cornerstone of my department.
Last week's budget also recognized this important role and announced that the Canadian Coast Guard would be receiving $94.6 million over two years. This funding will be invested in the Canadian Coast Guard's fleet and shore based infrastructure and will help the Coast Guard plan for the recapitalization of its fleet and shore based infrastructure.
As a result of the budget, we are planning our activities based on a permanent infusion of $47.3 million annually. This is in addition to January's announcement that $37.5 million would be invested in my department for marine security. This funding will allow the Canadian Coast Guard to implement an automatic identification system, with the long range vessel identification and tracking capability.
It will allow our conservation and protection program to expand its surveillance program, which means more air patrols on both coasts, inside and outside Canada's 200 mile limit.
Last week's budget also provided $12 million over two years to be invested in a soon-to-be-announced programming initiative, which will enhance the ability of the aboriginal communities to participate in the decision-making and management process for Canada's fisheries and other areas related to DFO's mandate.
Over the next five years, we are planning our activities based on a permanent annual infusion of funds. The Government of Canada is also allocating $33 million over two years to implement the Species at Risk Act. DFO will be working with other departments on the distribution of this funding, which is in addition to the $180 million announced in the 2000 budget.
As this initiative moves forward, my department will be expected to play an important role. As you know, the budget announcement also asked all departments to contribute to a federal goal of reallocating a total of $1 billion from existing programs starting this fiscal year.
My department is committed to doing its share and has undertaken a comprehensive departmental assessment and alignment project, in coordination with Treasury Board Secretariat, to help us establish program priorities and necessary realignments to contribute to this government-wide goal. Indeed, last week's budget will go a long way towards helping us serve Canadians in future.
I would like to turn now to a few specific issues that have been raised here in the House recently and that I am sure hon. members of the opposition would like addressed.
Perhaps the best example right now is the situation we are facing with certain Atlantic cod stocks, particularly northern cod, and the stocks of the northern and southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. I know how important these stocks are to coastal communities throughout Atlantic Canada, in particular to Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec.
While I am still waiting for the scientific advice to come in before I make a final decision next month, I think it is fair to say that the situation so far is not very promising. Research shows that these stocks have not recovered since the moratoria of the 1990s. While we have drastically reduced catch levels, these stocks have not responded and remain at very low levels.
When I announced the management plan last spring, I made it clear that if we did not see any more positive signs in the health of these stocks, some difficult decisions would have to be made.
However, before a decision is taken next month, we need to put together the best possible information on these stocks. That is why my officials are currently working hard to gather and analyze all information.
In fact, last week I met with the Atlantic fisheries minister to discuss an economic analysis that was undertaken by my department and our provincial counterparts to determine the extent of communities' dependence on this resource.
Indeed, while the number of fishers who still rely on cod is a fraction of what it used to be, we need to remember that any decision will have a direct impact on their livelihoods and their communities. While the number of jobs might not be what they once were for those people, they are the most important jobs in the world.
DFO scientists, as well as scientists and technical experts from industry and other organizations and countries, are currently involved in a peer review of all available scientific information.
The formal stock status reports will be made available next week at which time the FRCC will commence its consultations with the goal of having its report to me by March 21. This may sound like a long process but it is essential that we gather the most detailed information possible before making a final decision.
As minister, my responsibility on this issue is clear: to conserve Canada's fisheries and ensure that future generations are able to benefit from them. That, above all else, will guide my decision.
In addition, I am working closely with a number of colleagues on this issue to ensure that we have examined all the options at our disposal in preparation for whatever the final decision must be.
Snow crabs are another issue of concern. As you know, crab has been one of the engines of prosperity for the Atlantic fishery over the last several years.
In fact, snow crab landings in Atlantic Canada were valued at nearly $400 million in 2001. But there are now serious concerns about snow crab in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence. People who know crab know that these stocks are naturally variable and cyclical. Snow crab populations have periods of abundance, followed by periods of decline.
With this in mind, DFO has been monitoring the status of these stocks for several years. As anticipated, there appears to be a decline in the commercial biomass for these stocks, due to poor recruitment and early maturation.
There is a real likelihood that some crab quotas will need to be reduced in certain areas. My department is now working closely with industry to examine ways to minimize the impacts to fishers who rely on snow crab. Stakeholders must be prepared to accept greater sharing of the resource.
As I indicated, snow crab is very valuable to the industry. Wise and prudent management is needed so that we can rebuild certain crab stocks for the future and protect these stocks for future generations.
On the west coast there are also some emerging issues. One example is the sockeye salmon which is currently the subject of a comprehensive review. I expect to receiving the steering committee's report shortly and I will be considering its recommendations in the time ahead.
Examples like these remind us of the importance of working toward a self-reliant, stable and, above all, conservation based fishery. They also remind us of the importance of working together to make it happen.
Clearly Canada's fisheries are facing a number of challenges in the times ahead. However, as we work together to find ways to deal with these challenges, we cannot lose sight of the fact that there are a number of success stories in the fishery as well.
For instance, last year Canada's fish and seafood exports reached a new record value of $4.2 billion, and all indications are that we are headed for another record this year. In fact, Canada is the fifth largest exporter of fish and seafood products in the world, with leading companies in value added production, marketing, harvesting, and the world's best fishers and plant workers.
That is why I can say with confidence that, despite a number of key challenges in the fishery, we are on the right track. I remain committed to working with people throughout the industry to meet these challenges and to keep Canada's fisheries strong and sustainable in the years ahead.