Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues for giving me the confidence to give this speech.
This is an important matter. The Report on the Snow Crab Industry in the Atlantic Provinces and in Quebec is a subject close to my heart.
When I was a miner, my first responsibility as union representative was to travel to the Acadian Peninsula and begin working in the fishing industry to represent the men and women of that industry. Although fishing is seasonal in nature, it was what most people did for a living. At that time, the fishery was in good shape in the Atlantic provinces and in Quebec. People worked up to 35 weeks a year. In the Atlantic provinces, 35 weeks of fishing is a big deal.
I remember that in 1988, the crab stock collapsed. At the time, the quota for crab fishermen was about 30,000 tonnes per year, but because of the collapse, the quota dropped to 7,000 tonnes per year. It was a crisis. I remember that at the time global quotas were introduced, meaning a period during which all fishermen could fish as much as possible.
Some positive steps were taken. For instance, individual quotas were introduced. At the time, each fisher had a quota. Introducing individual quotas helped put an end to overfishing. No one can deny that overfishing was a problem.
Ghost traps were even used in crab fishing. Any hon. members with an interest in the history of that time will learn that fishers put traps in the sea and left them there. Fishers were entitled to a certain number of traps, which were called “ghost traps”. Fishing continued even through the winter. It was year round. If the fishers took the traps out of the sea, they risked getting caught, so they left them in the water. When the traps stayed there over the winter, that was ghost fishing. The crabs entered the traps and could not get out. During the period when fishing was not allowed, the crabs died or ate each other. Then the traps would fill up again.
The individual quotas eradicated the ghost fishing problem. I remember at the time that Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued a directive whereby the fishermen could recover the traps without being arrested, regardless of who those traps belonged to. The fishermen cleaned up the ocean and the bay and it was the best thing that could have happened. Then the quota of the crab biomass increased to a level at which people could make a good living from the crab industry.
After some time, quotas were shared. Indeed, it is contradictory. The traditional fishermen say that it is up to them; that they have worked hard; that they have made sacrifices; that they worked when they were entitled to only 7,000 metric tonnes; and that they went through tough times. Now that they have been assured that the stock is coming back, the fishermen believe it should be theirs alone.
There are communities where people are living in poverty and where the fishery is not doing so well. For example, the cod and groundfish fishery is now closed in Atlantic Canada. At home, in the Acadian Peninsula and in the Gaspé, it is closed. There was quota sharing between the coastal fishermen and the aboriginals. Now, the aboriginal peoples have access to the fishery, which is important.
As my colleagues know, a report was prepared and I was asked to study it. I would like to congratulate our colleagues who visited the regions. It was important to the people. The member for Westminster—Coquit—