Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-308, Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding Act. I want to acknowledge my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl for his tireless advocacy for the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries and the people who depend on them.
In July 1992, John Crosbie, the then federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans, called for a moratorium and closed down the northern cod fishery. The cod fishing moratorium was supposed to last two years. We are approaching the 20th anniversary and there is still no rebuilding plan in place.
Newfoundland and Labrador commercial groundfish fisheries have seen little if any recovery since the early 1990s. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador had fished their waters for cod for over 500 years. It was said by British fishing captains in the 1600s, that the cod “was so thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them”.
The cod fishery was the backbone of Newfoundland and Labrador and the closure cost 39,000 people their jobs. It devastated coastal communities, which have yet to recover. This was the largest layoff in Canadian history. Approximately 80,000 people have left Newfoundland and Labrador since the cod fishery collapse.
The East Coast Report, an interim report tabled in the House of Commons by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in 1998, helped to frame the social and economic implications of the collapse of groundfish in Newfoundland and Labrador. Many people who appeared before the committee explained the devastating financial effect of the collapse on their personal lives. In communities across the province, it was clear the way of life that existed for hundreds of years was being lost.
In the same report, witnesses indicated that fishermen in coastal communities had very little confidence in the ability of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to manage the fishery. There were complaints that DFO policy-makers in Ottawa had no grasp on local issues. Further, there were concerns about enforcement, science and foreign fishing. I reference this report and the testimony because several years later we still have not addressed these concerns.
There have been studies on the collapse of the fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador over the years. There have been several recommendations made. One of the last reports produced by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was entitled “Northern Cod: A Failure of Canadian Fisheries Management”. The report stated:
Concluding that overfishing was the cause of the collapse of the northern cod stock should not surprise anyone. Others who have studied this issue have come to the same conclusion. However, the Committee felt that it was necessary to travel to Newfoundland and Labrador to fully understand the factors that allowed the “world's greatest fish stock” to be grossly overfished for so many years. In our view, the major factor was clearly mismanagement.
It also concluded that the failure of the northern cod to re-establish itself was a lack of vision and long-term planning.
Nothing has been done with this report. These recommendations have yet to be acted on. There has been very little real analysis as to what has been successful and what has not.
The Conservative government likes to talk about streamlining and modernization, implying that fisheries should be run like a business, but successful businesses create plans with vision, goals and targets. Successful businesses understand the importance of innovation and research. None of this is happening.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans recently stated that “the fishery is broken”. However, rather than implementing the recommendations from the 1998 report and the 2005 report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, the government is moving backward and making cuts to the department, including science and enforcement. Instead of putting forward a concrete plan to rebuild the fisheries, the government is determined to move forward with its reckless cuts.
We need to take a serious look at the future of Canada's fisheries and our many coastal communities and their local economies. This bill provides a real opportunity to take a fundamental look at the direction of Canada's fisheries and how we might rebuild our once great fishery.
Hans Rollman, a Newfoundland columnist for The Independent, wrote:
In short, this is not just an inquiry to lay blame for some long-over historical event. This inquiry is about our future. If it does not happen, we will be unprepared, uneducated, and unable to meet the demands and challenges our future world and economy...
It could examine DFO enforcement programs and determine whether they are truly underfunded or ill-equipped to deal with current problems or future problems, like our changing ocean ecosystems. The inquiry could examine the environmental impacts of fishing technologies, the distribution of inshore and offshore quotas, the quota allocation system and allowable catches or limits. It could inform the minister and the department what type or scale of fisheries we would need or how we would move forward to a truly community-based fishery based on co-operative management. It could help us learn how to prevent future collapses or deal with unprecedented changes to our oceans, whether it is climate change, acidification, overfishing, pollution or habitat loss.
All of this could be achieved by doing a serious examination of the greatest fisheries collapse in Canadian history. We owe it to future generations to act now. That is why this bill must pass. Canadians deserve an inquiry that will pose real solutions and rebuild what has been lost. As the bill states:
—the fisheries are a renewable resource which can, with revitalized conservation and management practices, be rebuilt for the benefit of present and future generations and contribute towards the economic growth of rural Newfoundland and Labrador and all of Canada;...
I urge all members of the House to support Bill C-308.