Mr. Chair, I rise today to bring light to a situation that is unfolding in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
As all hon. members are aware, the Canadian snow crab fishery represents an important part of the livelihood of many families in the Atlantic region and Quebec. Today we find ourselves here to address a crisis for people who depend on this industry. We are also here to address an injustice that has been precipitated against those very fishers, workers and first nations.
It has become clear that the minister has had the opportunity to avoid the situation, but she did not act. Now so many people will suffer due to this inaction. I will speak more to that in a moment.
First I would like to talk a little bit about the snow crab fishery as a whole, the immediate crisis and some of the amazing people who participate in it.
Earlier this year, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced a 63% cut to the total allowable catch of snow crab in the Saint Lawrence region. The impact of this decision will have an effect on the economy of the entire region. In straightforward terms, we are talking about an overall reduction in quota from 20,400 tons, the level it was in 2009, to 7,700 tons for the 2010 season. That is a very deep cut to a large sector of the economy.
This will have an enormous impact on the fishers, some of whom have fished snow crab all their lives. Some families' yearly incomes rely heavily on the fishery. What are we to tell them about this situation, that we are sorry? When they cannot afford to pay their bills, what are they to do? All this because someone in Ottawa made a mistake. I do not think this is good enough.
It is not only the fishers who will be affected by this massive slash to the quota. This year less crab will be processed and the fish plant workers who rely on snow crab will be negatively affected. For example, in New Brunswick roughly 1,500 fish plant workers were employed in snow crab processing last year, according to the 2009 registry on fish plant workers. Another 250 to 300 did occasional work.
Last year, fish plant workers had about nine weeks of work processing crab in the spring and a few more weeks in the summer. This year they will only get about three weeks of work in the spring. That means last year most of them banked more than 200 hours and this year they will be lucky to bank 85.
For the riding of my hon. colleague, the member for Acadie—Bathurst, this will deal a significant blow to the local economies and leave many families with little or nothing to fall back on.
Then there are the first nations who only gained access to the fishery in 1999 and hold communal licences. A communal licence represents the entire community, and for first nations fishers it is not a private enterprise. They take profits generated and use them to support programs, which are underfunded by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
They use this money to enhance their education student allowances and to support cultural and language programs. It is used to create employment in the community for people who otherwise would not have an income over the winter. This reduction punishes them as well.
What we are talking about here is entire communities built around the fishery all across the Atlantic region and Quebec, which will be significantly impacted by the reduction.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says it had to take desperate measures. How did it get to this, where such drastic reductions had to come all at once? Where was the minister last year or the year before or before that?
What do we say to those communities that are now faced with this desperate situation? These communities will suffer greatly because of drastic measures that could and should have been avoided. Could this possibly come at a worse time, just when we are climbing out of the most significant economic downturn in nearly 100 years?
I would like to take a few moments to tell this House about an alternative management structure that the DFO had previously implemented in a neighbouring area, area 19.
Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Basil MacLean, president of Area 19 Crab Fishermen's Association. Mr. MacLean got in touch with me because he was concerned about the situation that area 12 fishers find themselves in, and he wanted to discuss why the situation was different and why he did not believe that the TAC reduction should be imposed on him or fishers in his area, area 19.
Mr. MacLean and the area 19 fishers believe that their crab stock is in good shape. He says that they do not face the same problem of depletion in their area, as is the case in area 12. The reason they say this is that they have been directly involved in the management of the fishery in conjunction with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Unlike area 12, area 19 has an integrated fisheries management plan and has had one since 2001. Fishers from this region have been much more involved in determining the management of the fishery.
The DFO website explains that integrated fisheries management seeks to introduce “a more structured, systematic and inclusive approach to fisheries management” where:
...resource users and DFO work together to develop clear, measurable, long-term fisheries management objectives for a fishery. On a more technical level [it] provides a framework to quantify fisheries management objectives as well as risk analysis processes that result in the development of specific management strategies designed to achieve specific objectives. DFO sectors including (science, resource management and enforcement) play key roles and interact with the fishing industry as part of the...process.
It is clear that the fishers of area 19 are much more involved in the everyday conduct and management of that fishery. By direct involvement in the creation of long-term, measurable objectives for their fisheries, the fishers come into direct contact with the science, resource management and enforcement arms of DFO, allowing them to have a much better sense of the state of their fishery.
This means that decisions being made in Ottawa are being made in consultation with people on the ground. When they were told by DFO scientists that their biomass had dropped last year, the fishers came together and decided what to do. In line with that precautionary approach, they chose to take less than the recommendation, to voluntarily bring down their TAC, in order to cushion them against the shock they knew was coming this year.
What is more, in 2004, when a crisis arose in the fishery and for conservation reasons the department prematurely closed the fishery, it was supported by the Area 19 Snow Crab Fishermen's Association, even though the fishery was closed before several fishers could begin fishing. Recognizing that this was not fair, it was mutually agreed that actions should be taken to change how sharing took place in order to ensure that this circumstance would not occur again in future seasons.
They created a new co-management agreement. At a special meeting on April 24, 2005, the Area 19 Snow Crab Fishermen's Association passed a motion to request that DFO provide regular access to all temporary access fishers under a revised co-management arrangement. This process was supported by the majority of 73 temporary and 111 permanent fishers.
DFO received representation from the Area 19 Snow Crab Fishermen's Association, identifying the need for revisions to the existing co-management agreement to reflect permanent access for the 73 temporary allocation holders. DFO then carried out a process of negotiations with the Area 19 Snow Crab Fishermen's Association. This process resulted in points of agreement that received ministerial approval in 2005 and provide the guiding principles for amendments to the multi-year integrated fisheries management plan.
One can see that when a problem arose in the fishery, one that might have divided the traditional fishers and the new-licence fishers, because the fishers themselves were accustomed to dealing with the fishery and because they were completely involved, they solved it themselves. The co-management strategy gave these fishers recourse to manage not only their crab stock, but also their individual fishing rights.
As my time is running short, I would just like to conclude by thanking Ms. Nellie Barker Stevens, coordinator of the Eastern Shore Fishermen's Protective Association, for all her support and counsel through this process. I would also like to thank Basil MacLean, the president of the Area 19 Snow Crab Fishermen's Association, for taking the time to share his insights with me and provide his feedback.