Madam Chair, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, our fisheries critic, the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte. This is an important issue, and I know that he has pressed hard to make this debate possible this evening to allow this issue to be brought to the fore.
There was a great deal of excitement in the House today. I know that people back home and most Canadians are sort of glued to the television right now as Montreal has come up on a 4-0 lead right now.
There are a lot of Habs fans back in my riding of Cape Breton—Canso. There are a number of Pittsburgh fans there as well, Sidney Crosby being a Nova Scotia boy, Marc-André Fleury being a former Cape Breton Screaming Eagle, a great major junior hockey team. Unfortunately he has not had a great night. He has had a tough night at the office tonight.
As much interest as there is in the hockey game, I know that people from Tor Bay to Glace Bay and from Margaree Harbour up to Cheticamp will be checking in and watching this debate unfold this evening. There is a great deal of concern and a great deal of anxiety in these communities because the livelihood of so many families is inextricably linked to the fishery.
With what has gone on in the past number of years, they have been very concerned for a number of years. I guess this is the year that the chickens come to roost as far as the situation in the southern gulf is concerned, and certainly not just with crab but also with lobster. There is a great deal of concern.
We have to put a real face on this. We have to look at the lives that this impacts.
I got a call today from someone in Cheticamp. The plant workers in Cheticamp were notified today that things are not looking good up there. They are looking at 80 job layoffs in the next number of days just because the resource is not there. That is starting to hit home now.
If they are not able to get work this year, they are going to look at going somewhere else to try to find employment. That is what they have to do to feed their families. What happens as a result is that should the plant fire up again and get a little more resource to process, the plant will be handcuffed because it will not have the workers. The workers will vacate. The workers will leave the community, and that group of workers will be lost. That is devastating.
It is close to home for me. I am married to a Hopkins. The Hopkins name is known in Cape Breton and in Newfoundland. It is a family-owned fish processing business in Cow Head, Newfoundland. My father-in-law runs the second-generation family business. They have been in the fishery since the 1940s. They have grown up in the fishery.
He said he is more nervous this year. He is frightened this year about the way the prices will impact the season. Certainly last year in the lobster fishery back home, lobster started out at about $4.25 a pound. Down in Southwest Nova right now lobster is running at about $3.25 a pound. That is money right off the top. That is money out of a household that is trying to feed a family and pay the bills.
There are three things I want to talk about in this debate. The government has said this is all about science. There has been good science all along. The signs have been there, but they have been ignored. They have been neglected. That is what is of concern. This is not just about this year. This is about going forward. This is about the long-term survival of the fishing industry. That is what is concerning us.
The lobster and the crab are so inextricably linked. If things are not so good in the crab industry, the fishermen have the lobster and they are able to generate some additional revenue. If the lobster is down a little, some crab share allows them the opportunity to keep the enterprise moving and to pay the bills.
In the lobster industry all the LFAs in the gulf have talked about a 10 point plan. It was an aggressive conservation plan where each of the LFAs were able to look at a number of conservation measures. They were able to take whatever measures would suit them best. It was not a one-size-fits-all. They were able to pick from the number of measures and put them together. Each measure was assigned an amount. If their plans totalled 10 points, they were granted the ability to fish that season.
All indications from the lobster groups was that they wanted to make this mandatory. The direction the officials of DFO was that they wanted to make this mandatory. They wanted the LFAs to all enter in. They had to sign on for a 10 point plan in order to proceed in the upcoming season.
Last year the minister had an opportunity to embark on those conservation measures and she stepped back from that. She made it voluntary and left it up to the individual LFAs.
Some had been ahead of the curve. Some had entered into these measures, thinking that this was coming and it was going to be mandatory. They thought they would get a jump on it. Now they are left holding the bag. They are being penalized now because they have moved already on their own for the right reasons, thinking it would become mandatory. However, it has not and it will not be mandatory this coming year. That was a mistake. It was a total ignorance of the science.
I talked about area 19 and the fishermen. I have talked about the measures they have embarked on in the last number of years. The minister should have been taking lessons from those snow crab fishermen. They have done a spring survey, which has the most accurate results. They have been doing this since 2004. They went far beyond on their softshell protocol, very robust. They have put in additional measures as far as observer coverage in the zone. They have undertaken these measures on their own.
The minister could have been taking a lead from this fisheries group. Every time I talk to DFO officials, they make reference to the group of fishermen in area 19 and that co-management plan. They hold that up as the template. They say that this is how a fishery should be run because the guys are committed. They believe in the sharing of the resource. They have allowed other entrants into their area. They have been very proactive in those measures and they have been proactive with conservation measures as well.
The minister should have been watching this. This is how one goes about one's business. The science has been there over the last number of years and she has ignored it. There could have been gradual reductions over the last number of years, but instead the hammer came down this year. The impact on the markets could have been managed over the last number of years.
The other issue I want to speak about is the management agreement in area 23. It was an agreement that was signed off in 2005. It was very clearcut. My colleague, our fisheries critic, has mentioned it already. This agreement was in place. It was accepted by the fishers in this area and that was cast aside.
A new licence was issued. Tim Rhyno won the lottery, as far as picking up a licence in that area. Meanwhile 650 new entrants into that fishery who expected to become equal partners in that fishery have now been ignored. The fifty-fifty sharing agreement once the tonnage has reached 9,700 tonnes has been ignored. That agreement has been torn up and cast aside
If this debate does nothing else tonight, I hope it puts the government on notice that things are not good in the east coast fishery. There are troubled times ahead.