Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise tonight and talk a bit more about the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' policy on owner-operator fleet separation.
My colleague, the member for St. John's East, was on his feet a moment ago raising some of the concerns that we have about where the government is going. He referred to the report that the minister put out which talked about modernizing the fishery and asking for people to provide input.
Part of the concern that folks in the industry where I come from had with this is that there was no mention whatsoever in the report about the owner-operator fleet separation policy. The report was silent in fact. Some people were taken aback by this. It was only after some of the sectors began talking with one another that they recognized what seemed to be going on. They forced the government to extend its consultation period by at least another week so that they would have the opportunity to provide some comments. People in the industry have said to me that they want the government to back off making any decision on the owner-operator fleet separation policy until there has been some clear consultation on the policy itself before it moves forward.
I want to say a couple of things about why I believe this policy is so important.
The inshore fishery, dominated by the owner-operator fleet separation policy, is the largest and most productive sector in the fish harvesting industry in this country. As it has moved over the past 20 years from a predominantly groundfish base to a more shellfish base and higher landing values, the inshore fishery has become by far the most valuable and the most successful fishery in this country.
The fishery supports over 1,000 communities throughout Atlantic Canada and Quebec. Many of us on this side of the House and people throughout that region are concerned that this move to get rid of the policy will result, as it did on the west coast, in greater concentration not only in ownership but also in control of the fishery and the people who work on those vessels. We are concerned that it will be concentrated in larger centres and in the hands of people who have absolutely no connection with the fishery in terms of harvesting methods, in terms of conservation and in terms of how the industry moves forward from here on in. That is the issue.
Would the parliamentary secretary not agree that the department has to back off and engage in an open and transparent dialogue with the industry before it moves further in this direction to change the owner-operator fleet separation policy?