Madam Chair, I stand today to talk about the importance of the shellfish industries on our east coast and to discuss some of the challenges we face in these important fisheries. My hope is this evening's take note debate can be a valuable and constructive discussion of those serious issues.
I can tell hon. members that I have a very deep understanding of the importance of these fisheries to our communities, because my own hometown, like many others, relies heavily on shellfish. For better or for worse, I am never very far from talk about shellfish. I have also devoted a great deal of my time as fisheries minister to working on many levels to address some of the difficulties facing these vital industries.
To first put this in perspective, shellfish fisheries make up 85% of the total value of all landings in Atlantic Canada. In 2009 this represented $1.4 billion flowing into communities across five provinces, providing thousands of employment opportunities in fishing and processing sectors.
The largest of the shellfish fisheries is of course lobster. There are 41 lobster fishing areas on the east coast and most of the harvest occurs close to shore, usually within 15 kilometres. There is also an offshore fishery that harvests in the deep basins and outer banks off southwestern Nova Scotia, about 90 kilometres from shore. The harvesting sector is made up of approximately 10,000 licensed harvesters, with each participant restricted to fishing in a specific lobster fishing area, which is generally next to the participant's home port.
The lobster fishery has one of the longest histories of fisheries regulations in Canada. Many of the management measures in place today date back over a century. The inshore lobster fishery is managed by effort control. This means limits are set on the number of licences, length of fishing seasons and number of fishing days and traps. Conservation measures involving minimum size limits and the production of egg-bearing females are used. Lobster fishing seasons are designated for each area and they are staggered to protect summer moults. Output control, such as total allowable catch, is used for the offshore fishery. This fishery is open year round and its total allowable catch has remained unchanged since it was established.
Lobster is Canada's most valuable seafood export and our primary export market is the United States. However, more than 59 countries from all corners of the globe enjoy lobster harvested in Canadian waters. Given the industry is highly reliant on foreign markets, it was greatly affected by last year's global economic downturn. I am proud to say that our government was there to help our lobster fishermen during these difficult times. We invested $10 million last year in marketing support for the industry, $8.5 million in short-term support and an additional $50 million in long-term support, designed to restructure the fishery for future sustainability.
The second most valuable shellfish is crab, specifically snow crab. Canada is the world's largest producer of snow crab, accounting for about two-thirds of the global supply. In 2009 almost 80% of all snow crab exports from Canada went to the United States. China and Japan are also major markets.
There are 32 crab fishing areas in Canada spanning four geographic regions: the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence, the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, east and southwest Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. There are just over 4,000 licence holders across these regions. The annual crab harvest is managed on the basis of total allowable catches that are established through the development of an integrated fisheries management plan for each of the four geographic areas. Licence holders are allocated a specific tonnage of crab and a maximum number of traps.
Snow crab stocks are naturally variable and cyclical. Regardless of fishing activity, crab populations have periods of abundance followed by periods of decline.
As most here will know, our snow crab fishery in the southern gulf is currently at the bottom of its natural cycle and, for conservation purposes, reductions in the total allowable catch needed to be made this year. This is never an easy decision for a fisheries minister to make, but it was necessary to ensure the stock remains healthy into the future.
I have also instructed my department to provide as much flexibility as possible this year to help reduce costs to harvesters by allowing them to combine their operations for the season.
My department's science has advised that the outlook for this stock in 2012 is positive if we use caution in the meantime. Therefore, I remain hopeful this stock will continue to play an important role for the Atlantic Canadian economy in the future.
The species that has experienced the biggest growth in the past decade, particularly off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, is the shrimp fishery. East coast shrimp was also the first Canadian fishery to attain eco-certification by the Marine Stewardship Council as being sustainable. We are very proud of this development because eco-certification will be both an important challenge and an opportunity for our fisheries in the future.
Canada is the world's largest supplier of cold water shrimp. The cooked and peeled product, also known as shell-off, is a very valuable export for Canada. It is marketed primarily to Denmark, Japan, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom, with major markets also in the United States and Europe. Offshore frozen at sea products are sold primarily to Russian and Asian markets. Combined, the export value for shrimp in 2009 was almost $330 million.
The final fishery that contributes significantly to the overall value of landings in shellfish is scallop. Although scallops are found in adjacent waters in most provinces, the most important fishery takes place offshore, although still within Canada's 200 mile limit. The offshore scallop fishery is managed through the use of geographical zones ranging from St. Pierre Bank off Newfoundland to Georges Bank off southwest Nova Scotia. The primary markets for sea scallops are the United States and several members of the European Union, with an export value of close to $100 million.
I am also pleased to announce that on March 25, 2010 the eastern Canada offshore sea scallop fishery received Marine Stewardship Council certification. This is the first scallop fishery in North America to receive this eco-certification and put this fishery on very solid ground to compete in the international market. Access to international markets is essential to Canada's fish and seafood industry, as 85% of its production is exported.
In 2010 the European Union introduced a new regulation which requires exporting countries to provide catch certificates attesting that marine fish and seafood products are legally harvested. That is why the government provided $7.2 million over two years in budget 2010 to support the DFO Catch Certification Office. This office will certify that Canadian seafood exports are legally harvested, ensuring that the Canadian fish and seafood industry maintains access to our second largest export destination.
From this brief description of these fisheries, I am sure members can appreciate the important role they play in communities on our eastern shores.
As I have briefly outlined, these industries are highly valuable, yet face challenges brought about by international market fluctuations, changing market demands, and natural changes in biomass cycles.
I look forward to tonight's debate and to a healthy and frank discussion on these important industries.