Mr. Chairman, it is indeed a great honour on behalf of my constituents of Labrador and on behalf of all Canadians, particularly on behalf of constituents in Atlantic Canada, to speak to this debate tonight.
I hail from a small community of 600 people called L'Anse-au-Loup. It is located down around the straits of Labrador. My dad was a fisher and I grew up on a fishing boat. He bought seals for about 25 or 30 years. The last time I actively fished for cod was in 1981.
Through my 52 years, I have experienced a lot of change in the fishery. I, the member for St. John's West and other members in the House remember the days when we did not have to get a licence to fish. I remember the freedom of the fishery. I remember the freedom of getting a salmon in the fall when it was freezing up. I remember the freedom of catching caplin and everything else. I have seen that freedom evaporate as time has moved on.
That evaporation of freedom has caused me grief and passion. My affectionate views have caused me to speak here tonight. The concerns that I have expressed for the last six years, while a member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, have also caused me to speak here tonight.
I am no longer a member of that committee, not because I do not feel the same about fish as I did last year, but because I felt it was a cycle and wondered sometimes where it was going. I am just as much concerned about it now. I moved on to a different committee. However I commend the chair and committee members for continuing to do the job.
I want to talk about seals as well tonight. In the month of May I can see seals passing by my house in L'Anse-au-Loup going north. They do not return until January. Right now those seals do not leave the Strait de Belle Isle.
My brother-in-law, Pat Cabot, actively campaigned to save the cod fishery back in the late seventies and eighties with a committee called the Newfoundland and Labrador Fixed Gear Fishermen's Association. Certain members here would know about what I am talking. My brother-in-law was a great sealer and a great fisherman. He was also a great advocate for saving the cod.
Nobody listened to him. Nobody in places that should have listened to him back in the eighties listened to him. Instead they continued to do what they did. Scientists would recommend a certain tonnage and politicians would double that tonnage. Those were the kind of decisions taken in the fishery. As a result, we saw a collapse of the fishery back in the late eighties and early nineties. There is a reinvention of that wheel as we speak and that is part of the debate here tonight.
There will never be another cod fishery unless we take stock of the real issues at hand. I want to be very clear. This has nothing to do with me being partisan. This simply has to do with how I feel as an elected representative and as a person from that small community of L'Anse-au-Loup. Growing up in Labrador, going up and down the coast and knowing Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada as I do, I feel quite strongly that 300,000 seals a year will not solve our problem. We need a comprehensive plan that will take us far beyond the economics of seals to solve this problem.
I compliment the former minister of fisheries for doing a small cull on the west coast in a certain river. Culls may not be the answer. It may sound like an ugly word, and it is, but something has to be done to bring the seals into balance so that continuing economic development of the seals will create a balance and cod, herring, caplin as well as various other fish along the Atlantic coast can replenish. As an elected member, I will not stand and support closing the cod in the Gulf of St. Lawrence unless I see a very comprehensive plan for rebuilding that cod stock.
Unless there is a comprehensive plan, I want our fishers to continue to fish in some kind of limited fishing, with a hook and line or whatever the case may be.
I want to carry my case a little further to bycatches. All nets do damage and we cannot get away from that, whether they are nets of fixed gear, which is why we suggest a hook and line in the cod fishery as compared to fixed gear, or whether it be dragger nets which we saw for 40 or 50 years that I believe helped deplete the various stocks of the Atlantic. Now we are into the shrimp trawls and nets.
I think we can take a much better look at some of the things we are doing. For instance, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence we have a major shrimp fishery. The fishery starts in the first week of April. I have been told by the fishers who fish there that there is a huge caplin bycatch in the first two to four weeks. I do not agree with that.
Caplin is such a fundamental fish to the development of cod and many other species, seals included. We need to save those caplin. We need to grow them. They are very important fish. If we start catching it in huge numbers and tonnage in bycatches of other fisheries, it is a destruction to the resource. That is not what conservation is in the way that I think.
I want to talk about the shrimp industry and shrimp in general. There is supposed to be a lot of shrimp, some small, according to some fishers, some larger, depending on where one is too. Most of the fishing of shrimp is in the north at Cape Chidley, on the cape of Labrador, all the way up along the northeast coast of Newfoundland, up to what we call area 7 and the 3L area, up along as far as St. John's and off. Up through the Gulf of St. Lawrence there is a shrimp fishery, and it is growing. It is great to know that the shrimp industry is developing but in my view, it is not without its damages too.
Off Labrador in what we call the Hawke channel of Charlottetown-Labrador, a congregation of about 350-400 boats is taking little tiny turbot that escape the Nordmore grate which is in the shrimp nets. I have heard fishers say they catch as much as a tub or two per haul of those little tiny turbot. That is a massive destruction and we should be doing something about it. In addition, it is cod spawning grounds.
All we are asking is that DFO put in restricted zones bigger than the current 20x20 to save the crab, to save those other breeding fish. There is a lot of space elsewhere to catch shrimp. I do not think I am being unreasonable and fishermen agree. They are saying that to me every day. When I plead and ask the minister and the DFO officials to be cognizant of that, the answer is very simple: Science has not quite figured it out yet.
The truth is we do not have any science in the north. The further north we go, the greater the activity is in terms of fishing and there is the least amount of science because there is the least amount of people and the least amount of pressure. I am part of the least amount of people, folks, and I am part of the greatest amount of pressure and I am a part of the least amount of science.
I ask all Canadians, those listening tonight and those here in the chamber, to work with me to create some balance so that we have the same kind of resources working for us collectively. If we need further funds to give more balance to the science for that particular need, let us support it and let us get on with it.
All that is not being said without some good things. I want to reiterate some of the things I have heard tonight as well.
In terms of vessel replacement and where we are going, I think it is a great idea. I want to compliment the minister for moving on that. I want to say that going from permits and 34-11s and below to licensing is a great move in the right direction. Making the move to have flexibility on seals, even though it has not gone far enough, is a move in the right direction.
I would ask the department to work with us in some of the ways that I have suggested to further assist the fishers in making the right decision.
I want to make a final point. There are two types of people in the shrimp fishery, those in need and those in greed. I would ask the department to be more cognizant of those in need than those in greed. Those are my closing comments.