Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, presented on Wednesday, October 19, 2011, be concurred in.
I will be splitting my time.
The first report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans deals with the snow crab industry in the Atlantic provinces and in Quebec. Snow crab is one of the most important species of crab in eastern Canada. It is harvested by fishermen from Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, particularly off the east coast of Newfoundland and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Snow crab is also one of the most valuable fisheries in eastern Canada. In 2008, the landed value of snow crab for the entire Atlantic region was $356 million, second only to lobster that is valued at around $600 million, and well ahead of shrimp that is valued at $258 million.
In 2010, the former minister of fisheries and oceans announced a drastic 63% cut in the snow crab quota. At the time, the minister said this was necessary to deal with the depleting stocks and to ensure long-term conservation. This sudden cut caused fishermen on the east coast a great deal of financial difficulty and raised many questions about fisheries management at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I will speak more to that later.
On April 28, 2010, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans decided to conduct a study on the snow crab industry in Atlantic Canada. We met with scientists and officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We held several hearings in Grande-Rivière, Quebec; Deer Lake, Newfoundland and Labrador; Sydney, Nova Scotia; and Moncton, New Brunswick. The committee also visited two snow crab processing facilities in Quebec and in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia.
This was a thorough study. Through our study, we were able to hear concerns about the management of snow crab in general, as well as very specific concerns. It provided an excellent opportunity for our committee to really get an idea of the issues facing coastal communities.
As noted in the report:
Common issues include the management of the snow crab fishery, and more specifically, DFO's fisheries management decision-making process, the use of available scientific advice, and the timing and the manner of communicating these decisions. In fact, many of the comments we heard could apply to many other fisheries on all coasts of Canada. In all regions, we also heard concerns about harvesting capacity, the need for some form of rationalization, and the current conditions for welcoming new and younger entrants into the fishery.
As well, it was also noted in the report:
Other issues were specific to individual regions. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the committee heard concerns about the price received by fishermen for their catch and how the price is set. A number of comments were made about the relationship between the harvesting and processing sectors, and the level of vertical integration in the fishery. Some witnesses pointed out that alternative models for the industry existed. In Cape Breton our hearings were mostly focused on resource sharing arrangements among traditional and Aboriginal fleets, and core company quota holders. We heard divergent views on ministerial decisions made with respect to these sharing arrangements. Sharing arrangements were also an important topic of discussion at hearings in Moncton.
After our hearings were complete, we spent a great deal of time discussing our final report. The committee provided a report that includes 11 recommendations and I have the report here. It presented the report to the federal government that the committee felt would improve the management of snow crab.
One recommendation that I strongly agree with is recommendation 2, which reads:
That all of Fisheries and Oceans Canada's future fisheries management decisions be based on the precautionary approach when a formal decision-making framework exists, and that in the absence of such a framework, decisions be based on the elementary principle of precaution.
Because of the apparent fisheries management issues in 2009 and 2010, many of the witnesses called for an inquiry on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. For example, the report reads:
Acccording to Mr. Daniel Desbois who represents traditional crab fishermen in CFA 12, DFO's management practices “raise a great many questions as to whether the resource is being managed in the public interest and in a manner that is consistent with new departmental policies and the principles laid out in the Fisheries Act and the Oceans Act”.
During our study, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans really had the chance to learn about the hardships faced by the fishing community where appropriate management does not occur, particularly on the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was interesting because the officials at DFO said that because snow crab was cyclical, it should be predictable when the stocks would be low and stated that they “[didn't] think taxpayers should take care of subsidizing the fishery over the low part of the cycle when there are going to be good profits ahead and they have had good profits in the past”.
However, this is why it is so important to go to coastal communities to hear their concerns, where we heard a different story. Many fishermen said that they could not afford a low-income year because they faced so many financial obligations. We heard about deckhands and plant workers who would not qualify for employment insurance. We also had the opportunity to hear about the financial strains that many communities in the Gaspé already face with plant closures, downturns in tourism, moratoria and lay-offs. We also heard from first nations communities in the region where the results of the cutting of the quota had a severe impact on their economy and their society.
The overall message that we provided to the government in our report is summed up well in our conclusion. I just want to take some time to read this because it really says it well and it is important. It reads:
The Committee believes that the TAC [total allowable catch] reduction in 2010 would likely have been smaller than 63% if the Minister had accepted the advice of her department to reduce the TAC in 2009 instead of maintaining it at the 2008 level. In retrospect, the 2009 decision was considered by some not to be a prudent one with respect to the sustainability of the fishery. Therefore, the Committee wholeheartedly welcomes the application of the precautionary approach to this fishery. That said, the impacts of the 2010 decision, and more broadly of DFO's management of the snow crab resource in recent years, on fishermen, the industry, and communities were far from being negligible. Even though the biology of the snow crab is well known, and a decline in the harvestable resource was expected, it is important to find a better way to prepare for and mitigate the impact of the ups and downs of this cyclical resource on all stakeholders.
While these recommendations that we suggested will not fix the damage that was done to the fishermen and their coastal communities, we believe that this report and the recommendations included in it will help provide guidance to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as the minister in future.
On a personal note, I very much enjoyed the trip to the east coast. I found it extremely informative. I was able to talk first hand with fishermen who were affected and who had been working hard for their communities to make a living, not only with respect to snow crab but many other species in which they were involved. However, snow crab was in the report that we looked at and—