Mr. Chair, congratulations on your new appointment.
I would like to thank Parliament and all of the political parties for agreeing to have this discussion this evening. It seems that these discussions can sometimes cause friction. We are all here to serve our constituents and our communities, and to think about what we can do for the people of our communities.
I began to take an interest in the fisheries in 1988, when the government reduced crab quotas to 7,000 metric tonnes. At that time, the government said it had no choice, because otherwise we risked losing the industry altogether.
Before I forget, I would like to tell the minister that there is a bit of a contradiction between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and fishers. Last year, fishers said that quotas must not be reduced because there was enough crab in the ocean. So an agreement was reached between the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and fishers. The minister agreed not to reduce quotas. That is what I heard. However, she said that if the biomass decreased, she would have no choice but to reduce quotas by twice as much, and fishers would pay the price.
I do not want to give any disinformation, but I hope everyone understands what I am saying.
I hope the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will listen to the suggestion I am about to make, and this is not the first time I have suggested it. Fishers are the ones who spend time on the water. DFO officials are saying that the biomass has decreased.
We should turn to those with experience. I am not saying the others have no experience, even though it sounds that way. People with experience should be taking samples from the ocean together with the scientists. The scientists should get out of their offices. Some will say that they do not stay in their offices, but the fishers tell us the samples are not being taken properly. The minister knows that because I have already talked to her about this at various meetings. Fishers from the cod fishery and from the crab fishery all agree. They think the scientists are not taking the right approach but the scientists are saying they are doing things properly.
Why not put these people on the same boat to see what is going on in the ocean? That is one of my proposals. I did not come up with that idea; the fishers did.
The minister must know that this was proposed during a meeting last year. The same thing was proposed to the former Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. He was from Newfoundland and he agreed with this idea, but it seems we have been unable to convince the current minister.
There are currently 130 crab fishers in the Atlantic. There are 85 in my riding alone. In my riding, most people finish on Friday. Those who do not finish on Friday have decided to prolong their fishing time.
I may be wrong, but fishers have told me that they have made a catch but not kept it. One fisher with a quota of 18,000 pounds caught 15,000 pounds his first day out, but left 3,000 pounds at sea in order to get his lines and traps. He made those catches during the same weekend. That will end on Friday.
In 1988, when the government made cuts to crab fishing quotas, there were federal programs.
Yes, the minister was correct when she said that this was transferred to the provinces in 1996, but it was done all across Canada.
Why, when Ontario's auto industry was struggling, did I never hear the government say that the province was responsible for the workers, and that it would not get involved? I never heard the federal government, the Conservative government, say that Ontario would have to take care of its own auto industry. I never heard that. So why, now, when this is going on in the Atlantic provinces, are the provinces responsible for employees?
Regardless of our political affiliation, we members of Parliament are the ones who answer the phone and hear people crying. They ask us what they will do come Monday. We are the ones who answer those calls. We are the ones who answer when they tell us that they do not have the required number of hours of employment and are not entitled to employment insurance. What kind of program does the government have?
When I went to see the minister, I asked her what she was going to do for the workers? She told me that she did not look after that and that it was the responsibility of the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. I asked the Minister of Human Resources that question. She did not answer. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans responded.
The New Brunswick labour minister has wanted to meet with the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development of Canada, a Conservative minister, for one year. She has refused. Finally, it seems that there will be a meeting.
I would please ask the Conservative federal members and the New Brunswick Liberals to stop their political fighting and to look after the people who are destitute and the families who call us to ask what will happen to them.
If, last year, the government told them that they were giving them a break and that they could fish as much as they wanted, and then this year it told them they were going to make cuts of 63%, it must assume its responsibilities. I am not accusing the minister. If the minister wants to make cuts of 63% and says that we have to save the fishery, I agree. But we must look after the people, the fishers, the fish plants, the plant workers and the communities. We cannot just wash our hands of this.
This was not the situation in the Mulroney era alone. When they closed the cod fishery, programs were put in place. After that, we had problems with the lobster fishery, for example. To quickly return to the crab fishery, it is not just the quotas that have been cut. People used to be paid $4 per pound and that has dropped to $1.75 or $2 per pound. Therefore, quotas have been cut, prices have dropped and these people are suffering. It is expensive to operate these industries.
The same thing applies to the lobster industry. Fishers were paid $6 to $7 per pound. Those working on the lobster boats said they could survive at $4. Now $60 million has been allocated to the lobster fishery and $15 million has gone to the fishers. There is a problem with the formula when only half the money has been distributed.
Fishers from Miscou are calling me and telling me they have not made enough money to pay their expenses. When they ask the people at Fisheries and Oceans Canada for a review, they refuse. They have made their decision and that is that. What am I supposed to say to Mr. Ward from Miscou when he tells me he applied under the program created by the department, but he does not qualify? He fished from May until late June, but he does not qualify. He did not make any money because of the costs. About $45 million has gone to the industry, but not to the fishers.
The same is true of shrimp fishers. They are not getting any money. What am I supposed to tell these people?
I do not want to lay blame, but what is the federal government prepared to do? If it wants to protect the resource, that is its responsibility, but it has to make sure it has the right data from scientists and fishers. This has to be cleared up once and for all. Then everyone will be happy. We have to know what the data are. Then we have to figure out what to do about the problem.
What do we do about this problem? We have to work together. The federal and provincial governments have to work together. How can we help all the communities that depend on the fishery? In Ontario, they did not lay blame and say it was the province's problem. They dealt with it. I say we are going to deal with it because there are other crises in the region.