Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to follow my colleague, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, our fisheries critic on the bill.
I want to commend the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl for bringing forth this private member's bill. It was an extremely important reason of why he ran for Parliament. It was also part of our party's platform in the last election. We called for an inquiry into the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery to talk about a recovery plan.
The story of the collapse of the Newfoundland fishery can be pretty simply told. I want to tell the House about a book which outlines some of the major problems. It is called Distant Water by an American individual named William Warner. He wrote the book in 1983. In the book he talks about the three things that came together that caused the initial devastation of one of the world's, if not the world's, most significant source of protein.
We have to remember that this fishery, which has been going on for 500 years, fed Europe through many centuries. The fishery was not a local fishery. It was a distant water fishery from Portugal, Spain, the Basque country and England. It sustained Europe throughout many centuries and was one of the most significant protein sources in the entire world.
In the fifties and early sixties, three things came together. First, believe it or not, there was a surplus of tankers, so shipyards that made big tankers were suddenly not very busy. Second, flash freezing techniques and plate freezers were invented. Third, the Germans developed a mechanical filleting machine.
The British started developing a distant water fishery from York, followed by East Germans and Russians. Pretty soon there was a huge distant water fleet coming from Spain, Portugal, East Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and even as far east as Asia. This fishery was so efficient and enormously successful that by 1968, and that is the peak year others have mentioned, 800,000 tonnes of cod fish were taken from the north Atlantic.
The subtitle of the book Distant Water is “The Fate of the North Atlantic Fishermen”.
By 1992 the catch rate was way down because the fishery could not sustain it. It is estimated that the biomass of fish that was there could actually sustain 400,000 tonnes per year on an ongoing basis. That is the amount of biomass that was lost not only to Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada but to the world in terms of a food source.
One of the previous speakers talked about 12 tonnes, but I think he meant 12,000 tonnes of cod being caught in the last year. The annual catch is closer to 20,000 tonnes, but that is 20,000 out of a potential 400,000 tonnes.
The question has to be asked, where is the recovery plan? We have a recovery plan for the pine marten and for the British Columbia marmot. Where is the recovery plan for the cod stock that sustained Europe for centuries and Newfoundland fishermen for 500 years? About 40,000 people lost their jobs and their livelihood in 1992 as a result of the cod moratorium. With the recovery potential of 400,000 tonnes and we are up to 12,000 now, there is a long way to go.
The story of how the fishery collapsed is fairly easily told.
What is important about the bill is actually subclause 5(d), which is asking, pertaining to the terms of reference, to develop recommendations for rebuilding and improving the future sustainability of the fish stock including, as required, changes to the policies, procedures, et cetera, and talks about management of boundaries and all of the things my colleague, the fisheries critic, just so eloquently disclosed.
That is all we need. We need a recovery plan. We need some objective, evidence-based report. We had it from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in 2005, talking about fisheries management. The impetus is there.
There needs to be some evidence-based approach. Let us examine the things that the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor talked about in terms of the fact that there seems to be recovery in some places. We need to hear from scientists. We need to do a proper job.
It is not good enough for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, as he did here in the House and elsewhere, to say the fishery is broken. We do not say the fishery is broken and then walk away from it, and leave it to private enterprise or private industry. If we have this devastation and this loss of a critical food resource for Canada and the world, we have to do something about it. We do not cut back on science if science is needed to answer the questions.
We have more than a responsibility for the people and fishers of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have a moral responsibility as a country to attempt, if it is possible, to regenerate this fish stock for the sake of helping to feed the world and support the people of rural Newfoundland who have lived for generations and centuries on this resource.
The predecessor to the riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, which used to be called St. John's West, is my neighbouring riding. That was the riding that was held by John Crosbie when he was fisheries minister and the moratorium was brought in, in 1992, so it is very fitting that the current member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl is bringing this forth 20 years later, saying, “Where is the plan to recover the stocks”? Twenty years later, we are at 5% of what we were 20 years ago.
Now the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, the successor to Mr. Crosbie, is here telling the Conservatives again, “Where is your plan? Don't just say the fishery is broken, say the fishery has a problem”. There has been a failure to adopt a rebuilding plan. We want to have an inquiry to talk about that, just as we did in British Columbia. The Cohen commission is doing it in British Columbia.
One of the members opposite asked, why would we repeat that on the east coast? There is nobody from Newfoundland to B.C. going to talk about salmon in the Fraser River. We want to talk about cod fish in Newfoundland and Labrador and we want someone to do the same kind of study as is being done in British Columbia, with regard to the value of that fishery and the sustainability of the cod stocks.
The member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl said that we have oil right now and it has been very good for our economy. It has been very good for the provincial government's coffers. It has been very good for the federal government's coffers, better for the federal government's coffers, frankly, than it has been for the Newfoundland government's coffers. Any study will show that the benefits to the federal government are greater than the province. That may have changed slightly in recent years, but that is not a forever resource.
What we need to do is examine not why the cod has diminished because overfishing is the issue. Who did it and when is not necessarily what we need to get into. We need to get into how it is going to come back.
I will just leave the House with the fact that the fundamental problem with the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery is the lack of fish. That seems pretty basic. The way to answer that problem is not to say that the fishery is broken. It is to say that we need a recovery plan for the species, for the stock, and for the sustainability of Newfoundland and Labrador culture and way of life. It is to provide, as we should, the restoration of a prime source of protein, of food, for Canada and the rest of the world.