Mr. Speaker, thank you for the ruling. I want to start off by stating publicly that I want to thank the member across for his presentation. I also want to take the opportunity to thank all members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for the excellent work they did on this particular issue over the past winter.
As I think everyone probably is aware, certainly everyone in British Columbia is aware and everyone who has any interest or involvement in fisheries across Canada is aware, the 2004 salmon harvest on the Fraser River was disastrous. The catches were down dramatically from what was expected and it was just a bad year.
The trouble is that when a situation like this arises, it is a very complex situation, which I will get into a little further into my remarks, but there is no one simple answer. However there are those in British Columbia and those in this House who think there is one simple answer, that if we put these people in jail or do this or do that, everything will happen and the sun will shine and these problems will never occur again.
I should point out that this is not the first time this has happened in the Fraser River. We have had problems, and I do not know the exact years, but over the last 15 years it is my understanding that on at least three occasions there have been disastrous catches in the Fraser River. If we look at it, there will be a bad year and then there will be three reasonably good years, so it is really not a situation where we can blame one particular factor.
We cannot say that it was all illegal or unauthorized harvesting because these people who are doing these activities do not behave in this way. They are not going to go and do a whole bunch of illegal, unauthorized harvesting this year and not the next year, then pick it up in three years and then leave it for three years. That is not the way the situation works.
The point I want to make is that there is no simple solution.
Because it is a very important industry in British Columbia, people start pointing fingers at everyone else. They do not point the finger at themselves. They say that it is another group of fishermen up or down the river who were involved in illegal fishing. Some people blame high water temperatures. Some people blame environmental concerns. Some people blame the quality of the water in the river. Some people blame the monitoring or the methodology used for counting the fish. There is a whole hodgepodge out there. Again, this is a very complex issue with no simple solution.
I want to stress how important the fishing industry is to the province of Prince Edward Island. Basically we can divide the stakeholders into three groups. We have the commercial salmon industry, made up of the commercial, non-aboriginal fishers, commercial aboriginal fishers who basically fish under management restrictions imposed by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. We also have the recreational fishers, an industry that is tremendously important for all of British Columbia. We then have the aboriginal fishers who fish under the food, social and ceremonial purposes licence, mainly located above the bridge at Mission.
I should also point out that we are not dealing with one aboriginal group. I stand to be corrected, but I believe I am correct in saying that we have 97 different bands above Mission that have the right to fish salmon for food, social and ceremonial purposes. If we were dealing with one aboriginal band, the issue would become much less complex, but one can visualize the complexity of this situation.
As I pointed out before, the catch was extremely disappointing in last year's run of the Fraser River and this quickly became the number one management concern in Canada for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
However, the minister, in some way and through some mechanism, needed to find out the exact facts of the situation in order to find out what caused the extremely low run of salmon. He immediately established a commission to do a post-harvest review and the person he appointed to chair that commission was Mr. Justice Brian Williams.
Judge Williams is a former retired chief justice of the province of British Columbia. I recall that when I was a practising lawyer back about 15 years ago now, Mr. Justice Williams, then Brian Williams, was the president of the Canadian Bar Association, that organization representing all lawyers across Canada. Therefore he comes to the commission with a lot of credentials and a very distinguished career, both practising law and in the judiciary.
Although I congratulate the members of the committee, I was very disappointed and disturbed by the attack that the members across took against Mr. Justice Williams. However, as the member across pointed out, Mr. Justice Williams did what we expected him to do. He basically ignored the comments emanating from this House. He appointed an excellent panel, he did great work and he wrote a good report. For that, I want to publicly thank him and all members of the panel that he chaired. They certainly did a great job.
Also, because of the seriousness of the issue, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans felt, like the minister, that this was the number one management concern in fisheries in Canada at this point in time. We in the committee, who are the masters of our own destiny, decided that we would spend a good portion of the winter months, over the last six months, doing our own report as to the problems experienced in the Fraser River salmon run during the 2004 season.
We started this report and in the early part of December of last year six or seven members of the committee spent three days holding hearings in downtown Vancouver. We heard from a lot of the stakeholders involved in the salmon industry, the aboriginal groups, the Pacific Salmon Foundation and many of the recreational fishers associations. We heard from members from the auditor general of British Columbia, officials from the Auditor General of Canada and a whole host of other stakeholders who gave very good testimony and good evidence on this issue.
However, the more we heard and the more documents that were presented to the committee, the more we realized that this was not a simple solution. It did not lead to a clear answer and it was a very complicated and difficult issue.
We presented our report back in March. It is my belief, as has already been stated here in the House by the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, that this was a good report and I associate myself with those comments.
At the same time, about two weeks after the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans wrote its report, Mr. Justice Williams wrote his panel's report which made more recommendations than our report. I believe his report had 47 recommendations while our committee report had 11, 12 or 13 separate recommendations. However I believe our recommendations were much more focused and pointed because we had less of them.
I have read both reports and it is certainly striking, the similarity of the recommendations and findings as between the Williams report and SCOFO report. What I want to do in my remarks is deal with both reports together. Although Mr. Williams, I believe, heard from more witnesses and perhaps had more access to documents and more time than us, both reports, I believe, did a really good job and both reports are, in my opinion, good reports that make excellent recommendations.
We can divide the problem into three or four separate areas. I will mention the first area that is dealt with both in the Williams report and in the SCOFO report and I would classify it as environmental. As we heard from the experts who testified in Vancouver and some of the experts who testified here in Ottawa, salmon do not survive in warm water. The warmer the water gets, the more difficulty they have in returning to the spawning grounds. The bottom line is that if the water reaches a certain point, the salmon basically die. It is as simple as that.
However, there are management methods to deal with this problem. The warmer the water gets, the salmon may not die, but they certainly have much more difficulty in getting to the spawning grounds of the Fraser River. In that regard, there is a connection between the water temperature and the management of the run.
It has been our recommendation that if the water become a certain temperature, DFO ought to shut down the fisheries to all groups of fishers. The salmon that are operating in warm water are having enough difficulty getting up the river without trying to get through nets and other obstacles in the way.
That is one of the issues that presented itself both to the Williams committee and to our committee. We also heard the evidence from the people who studied this very carefully. They stated that the water temperature last summer was extremely warm in the Fraser River and was one of the major causes of the disappointing results in last year's salmon run.
I would like to go off topic a little for a minute to talk about an issue that has been mentioned by several of the experts and has been mentioned also in the House. I am just concluding on the whole environmental issue. I want to talk about global warming.
I believe that what we are seeing in the Fraser River is, to a certain extent, the result of global warming. It seems to be getting worse as we go on. I am not talking from year to year. If we look at the results of water temperatures for over the last 50 years, I believe this may be the so-called canary in the coal mine syndrome. It is something to which we, in Parliament, may want to pay particular attention. Global warming is not, as I have heard some other members describe it, a figment of someone's imagination.
The second issue, and I am not able to quantify what is the most important issue or what issue caused the most problems, is the illegal or unauthorized fishing in the Fraser River during last summer's run. If anyone suggests that there was no illegal fishing or unauthorized fishing, then those individuals do not know what they are talking about. We have heard very clear, convincing, and cogent testimony from a number of witnesses who gave vivid testimony as to unauthorized or illegal fishing, both by the aboriginal bands above Mission and perhaps to a lesser extent, the commercial fishers below Mission.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has our recommendations and the recommendations from the Williams report on this issue. It is a very serious issue and an issue that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the officials within his department will have to deal with much more vigilantly this year and in the years to come.
Again, it is easier for me to say that in the House of Commons. It is much more difficult to do it. I do not want to understate how difficult it is on the Fraser River. We have heard testimony on the way the Fraser River is set up. In some areas it is like a canyon. It is difficult to access by vehicle and some helicopter surveillance is done during the season.
As I stated before, we are not dealing with one aboriginal band. That would make it much more simple and much less complex. We are dealing with 97 different aboriginal bands and some, the evidence is clear, were partaking in illegal and unauthorized fishing on the Fraser River. Some were not. Again, this is something that will have to be addressed this year.
Monitoring is another issue. The recommendations that were set out and now reported in the Williams report dealt with monitoring of the catch that is harvested by the various stakeholders. The department must get a better handle on the exact number of salmon that are being caught on the river, but it also must improve the methodology used to count the fish.
The way the fish are counted has been a perennial problem. There have always been allegations that the counter that is located at the Mission bridge, which is done by a seismic counter, does not actually count the fish but gives an estimate of the fish going by. I cannot confirm or deny the allegation that the count is in some respects inaccurate.
There has also been evidence given that sometimes the salmon will go by the counter and because of the water temperature or whatever reasons they will swim back into an ebb pool and then come back through the counter again. If that happens then the fish are counted twice. That is another issue that is set out in both these reports.
Basically, both reports make many parallel recommendations. We want better monitoring, more enforcement, and better methodologies used in counting the fish. We want better management of the fishery and better relationships between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the various stakeholders on the Fraser River, specifically some of the aboriginal bands.
I was extremely pleased that the minister did respond to our report. He responded quickly and decisively yesterday before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
I do not have a lot of time left, but I will highlight some of the response. There has been $5.2 million allocated for additional enforcement, science and monitoring on the Fraser River. There will be more science on the difficulties in the Fraser River vis-à-vis water temperature. There will be more monitoring of the catch by all stakeholders. The department will give consideration to the purchase and installation of a better system of counting the fish, but it did not state clearly that it will do that this year.
Perhaps most importantly, officials will try to develop better relationships, and there has been some very clear evidence that the relationships between the department and some of the stakeholders have improved. All sides will certainly continue to work on that. Also, there have been some announced organizational changes within the department dealing with the whole area of protection and enforcement.
I want to congratulate the minister. He did the right thing by making it the number one management concern. He and his department officials have spent a great deal of time over the last winter dealing with this issue. I was pleased with the nature and the depth, and the comprehensiveness of the response made yesterday to both our report and the Williams report.
However, the proof will be in the pudding. According to the member for Delta—Richmond East, who I should point out knows much more about these issues than I do, being a former fisher himself, the fish are in the river now and hopefully as we look forward to the 2005 season we will have better environmental conditions this summer.
Hopefully, with the new enhanced and improved enforcement that is on the river, there will be better control over any illegal or unauthorized fishing and hopefully, this year we will not see a repeat of last year's problems. However, I should reword that. The minister or anyone in the House has no control over issues like the warmth of the water in the Fraser River, but hopefully, it will be more conducive to a successful salmon run this year.
I want to again congratulate the committee and the minister. This is the way the House should work and I invite questions.