Mr. Speaker, I move that the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, presented on Wednesday, May 6, be concurred in.
Today I will be sharing my time with my hon. friend from New Brunswick and the member of Parliament for Saint John.
I am pleased to rise here today to support the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on Canada's seal hunt.
One of the main concerns provoking the debate in Europe and the movement to ban seal products has to do with considerations related to the well-being of the animals. Our government has committed to applying the strictest standards in this area. That is why we are seeking the best scientific advice, and adapting our regulations and licensing criteria based on that advice.
This year was no exception. I am grateful for the opportunity to describe the measures we have taken this year to improve hunting methods, monitoring and oversight. Regulating the seal hunt is a very complex activity undertaken in an ever-changing marine environment in which human safety and the well-being of the animals must be taken into consideration.
It is important at this point in time just to talk a little bit about the motion which actually came out of committee. It is important on the wording. It states:
The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans fully endorses the harp seal hunt, it approves of current regulated killing methods, approves that the harvesting of harp seals is fully acceptable and that the Canadian harp seal hunt is humane, responsible and sustainable and should continue for generations to come and the Committee strongly condemns the ban of Canadian seal products by the European Union.
I also want to say how pleased I am for the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to have passed this motion unanimously, by recorded vote.
What is important also to understand is that to enhance the safeness and humaneness of the harvest, our government recently amended the marine mammal regulations and licence conditions that govern the hunt. Changes were made in consultation with sealers, veterinarians, provincial and territorial representatives and others, and they were quickly put in place before the 2009 harp seal hunt. The regulations now reflect the latest scientific advice and enable us to continue adopting sophisticated technology, which will increase our capacity to monitor sealing activities.
The purpose of the regulations has not changed. The regulations continue to spell out the proper tools and methods required for a humane kill. Changes have been implemented, however, in a number of key areas, including definitions to improve clarity, prohibitions against unacceptable behaviour and new requirements regarding the broadly supported three step process: striking, checking for unconsciousness and bleeding. Getting these changes in place in advance of the 2009 harp seal hunt was a significant accomplishment and reflects the goodwill and cooperation of all those involved.
The department has also worked with sealers to develop conditions of licence that work in tandem with the new regulations. Successfully finalizing the licence conditions well ahead of this year's hunt is further evidence of sealers' willingness to work among themselves and with officials in establishing these detailed rules.
The industry has evolved over the past several hundred years or since the early 1700s when the first organized occurrence of an annual hunt was actually documented. This hunt has been going on for well over 500 years and in documented cases of our first nations people well before that, so our people, our fishers and our seal hunters have had to evolve.
Education and training is an important aspect of a professional workforce, especially one that is formally adopting a new set of practices. Training centres reinforce a two year apprenticeship process, whereby new entrants are licensed as apprentice seal harvesters. As apprentice sealers, they must be accompanied by a professional sealer during the course of their apprenticeship. There is significant support among industry representatives for further education and skills development through a training and certification process focused on humane killing. Discussions with stakeholders to create a joint strategy for training and certification are ongoing.
Commitments are in place and efforts are under way at the regional and provincial levels to develop and pilot enhanced training tools and to ensure this work remains part of a broadly supported strategy.
Significant efforts have been made and will continue to be made to ensure that the new rules are clearly understood by sealers throughout Atlantic Canada.
The department has worked with the Atlantic provinces, the Fur Institute of Canada, the Canadian Sealers Association, veterinarians and others to design and deliver information workshops. These have been extremely well received by all stakeholders. They gave departmental officials a chance to engage sealers and others in a dialogue about implementing the new rules.
The government believes in collaboration, and high collaboration was the key to preparing for the 2009 seal hunt. I want to share just a few examples of the collaboration that took place before the 2009 hunt.
DFO and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade partnered to ensure a focused and effective strategy to counter the threat of trade restrictions.
Hundreds of meetings have been organized by representatives and ministers with member state ministers, members of the European Parliament and commission officials.
The Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Quebec Provincial Police are collaborating with Fisheries and Oceans enforcement staff to monitor compliance and to enforce regulations.
Government representatives, veterinarians and seal hunters have been working together to develop new regulations.
The Fur Institute of Canada provided its expertise and helped bring sealing leadership together through its seals and sealing network.
Finally, the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, with support from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, developed a process for further training and eventual certification. The hard work and goodwill demonstrated by participating organizations reflect this shared commitment to a well-managed and professional hunt.
As important as regulations are, it is also important to note that DFO also carries out effective monitoring, control and surveillance programs in Atlantic Canada, including some of the enhanced program operations that were implemented in 2009. We continually make improvements to our monitoring program to ensure compliance with regulations, which results in a humane and sustainable hunt. These actions help dispel the notion the seal hunt is impossible to regulate and manage effectively.
Canada's enforcement of the sealing regulations is thorough and comprehensive. Fully trained professional fisheries officers, designated under Canada's Fisheries Act, closely monitor all commercial and recreational fisheries in Canada, including the seal hunt. Fisheries officers conduct monitoring operations of the seal hunt, using a variety of platforms, including aerial surveillance; vessel monitoring systems, also known as satellite tracking; at-sea patrols and inspections; dock-side landing site patrols and inspections; and inspections of buyer processor sites and facilities. The integration of these different tools and methods enables a well-balanced monitoring and enforcement program.
The Canadian Coast Guard is an integral partner in supporting seal hunt monitoring operations through the use of a dedicated icebreaking vessel from which many of the on-site monitoring activities are coordinated and deployed.
As part of Canada's ongoing initiatives to enhance program delivery, DFO has made several modifications to its strategies for 2009 seal hunt monitoring activities. For this year's hunt, monitoring operations were enhanced by deploying additional shipboard fisheries officers on the dedicated icebreaker. The helicopter surveillance capability was also augmented this year, with the leasing of a private long-range helicopter and remote surveillance technologies; that is, a powerful high-resolution video camera.
To enhance the data, we developed a report to augment the standard inspection data. It contains more observations, including more detailed information on the humane aspect of this harvest.
In conclusion, the Government of Canada is mobilizing considerable resources to ensure that the seal hunt remains sustainable and humane.
The Canadian seal industry is supported by a professional workforce committed to upholding a high standard with regard to animal welfare.
We invited the world to watch the 2009 hunt, and this year's hunt has demonstrated Canada's leadership among sealing nations.
We support an industry that is humane and sustainable, a harvest that reflects the best interests of all fishers, a harvest that has officially gone on for over 300 years, a harvest that is so critical to our small rural communities and our Inuit people.
We strongly condemn the ban of Canadian seal products by the European Union.