Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin this debate on Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act.
Like other responsible coastal nations around the world, Canada is concerned about the economic and environmental impact of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. In fact, we have a moral and legal obligation to help stop these illegitimate practices. Today, with the amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act as outlined here in Bill S-3, we have the opportunity to act.
With the existing Coastal Fisheries Protection Act and regulations, Canada already has a robust control regime for foreign fishing vessels.
In recent years, the international community has been working diligently to strengthen tools to prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and activities that support that practice. Improving controls over foreign fishing vessels in port through global standards is one of several important tools to accomplish this goal. I am proud to say that Canada has played an important role in this development.
For that reason, I am proud to lend my support to the proposed legislation before the House.
Before we examine the bill, some background might help to put the proposed amendments into a larger context, which I think members might find helpful, and underscore why they are so important.
For decades, the international community has developed laws and standards to protect the earth's vast marine resources. More than 30 years ago, for example, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea confirmed that states have responsibilities for conservation.
Then, several years later, the United Nations fish stocks agreement of 1995 emphasized the role and responsibility of states in conserving fish stocks. This was also a very welcome measure.
Unfortunately, the practice of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing has become big business. A study produced by the United Kingdom in 2008, for example, suggested that illegal fishing was costing the world economy up to $23 billion annually, representing between 11% and 19% of total reported catch worldwide.
How does illegal fishing hurt the global economy? Fishing vessels that do not follow rules and regulations minimize their operating costs. They then sell fish at a cheaper price than legitimate fish harvesters, distorting prices and markets along the value chain.
While Canada diligently monitors and regulates fishing, we are not immune to the economic impact of illegal activities. Let us consider for a moment that we export up to 85% of our fish and sea products. In 2012, the last year for which the statistics are available, these exports were worth about $4.1 billion. This is an impressive figure, but it could be higher if markets were not distorted by illegal and unregulated catch.
Let me give a real-life example. On the west coast of Canada off British Columbia, the sea urchin fishery has been in place since about the 1950s. It started to grow significantly in the 1980s. Sea urchin was caught and urchin roe was sold to the Japanese market. It is a delicacy there, although I am not sure I understand why.
By 2002 this fishery was thriving. There were 70 boats and $25 million in exports. However, almost right at that time, an illegal and unregulated fishery began around the Kuril Islands, an archipelago stretching from northern Japan to the southeast coast of Russia. This fishery was mainly operated by organized crime based in eastern Europe.
In 2003, for example, in just one day, the illegal fishery dumped the equivalent of B.C.'s entire annual green sea urchin quota onto the market. It was about 200 tons. In just one week, they dumped B.C.'s entire annual red sea urchin quota, about 4,500 tonnes, onto the market. The price fell, and B.C.'s export market to Japan all but collapsed. In British Columbia, this affected real people with families to care for and mortgages to pay.
Illegal fish harvesters do more than wreak havoc on the economy. Their practices harm efforts to protect ecosystems and habitat. Why? It is because they operate for short-term profit not long-term sustainability.
In 2009, the international community approved the port state measures agreement, technically known as the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. It was negotiated through the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which promised real and cost-effective solutions to the problem of illegal fishing. The agreement requires port state measures for controlling the access of foreign fishing vessels to the ports of coastal nations like Canada. Improving these rules globally is considered a cost-effective way to fight illegal fishing.
I might just say here that obviously the problem has two sides to it. Fishing vessels fly flags of the states from which they come. They have an obligation, as we do in Canada, to make sure those vessels follow the rules; but they also offload in ports, not necessarily their own, and it is these measures we are talking about.
Rest assured that Canada already has strong rules when it comes to foreign fishing vessels, but this would strengthen our point of entry checks on incoming fish and fish products. The port state measures agreement establishes minimum standards for states to deal with foreign fishing vessels implicated in illegal fishing activity.
Canada signed the agreement in 2010, indicating our intention to ratify it. However, before we ratify it, we must shore up some gaps in our own domestic legislation related to monitoring, enforcement and information sharing. That is what Bill S-3 is seeking to do. Once approved, the proposed amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act would allow us to meet our international obligations as a responsible member of the international community and to enhance the integrity of legitimate fish harvesting activities in Canada.
With this context, allow me to review and provide some additional detail on the proposed amendments, which can be loosely grouped into three broad categories. The first concerns enhancing and fine tuning controls over foreign fishing vessels that are seeking to access our ports. Under the current act, fishing vessels must apply for a licence to enter Canadian fisheries waters and to access our ports, at least 30 days before they arrive. Under the proposed amendment, the minister could allow a foreign vessel that has been directed by its flag state to enter a Canadian port even if it has not applied for a port licence, to the extent that the vessel has been ordered to port by its flag state for enforcement purposes.
In this case, Canada would issue a specific permit for the sole purpose of inspection and enforcement. While the port state measures agreement generally promotes refusal of entry to fishing vessels that have engaged in illegal fishing, there might be situations where the flag state—that is to say the country responsible for the fishing vessel—might want Canada's assistance to conduct an inspection and to gather evidence of a violation.
It is not enough to direct vessels suspected of illegal fishing into our ports. We must then arm Canadian fisheries protection officers with greater powers to enforce the amended Coastal Fisheries Protection Act and the regulations. These amendments would thus increase the powers of Canadian fisheries officers to inspect a suspected foreign fishing vessel in port and to search for and seize illegal catch when that vessel is directed to port under the new permit regime. This would strengthen current prohibitions regarding the import of fish or marine plants that have been taken, harvested, processed, transported, distributed or sold in contravention of international law. I stress that officers would have to have reasonable grounds to believe the vessel had been engaged in illegal fishing activities for the exercise of these powers.
The second set of amendments involves information sharing. Without accurate intelligence about the activities of illegal fish harvesters, Canada's fisheries protection officers are at a tremendous disadvantage. If we do not have better information about the potential for illegal operations, illegal fish harvesters will quite literally leave authorities in their wake.
To meet the requirements of the port state measures agreement, the amendments provide clarity on the authority to share information. The amendments cover both the type of information and with whom it can be shared.
First, the amendments clearly outline that the minister has legal authority to share information regarding the following: the inspection of the foreign vessel; refusal of entry to port to a foreign vessel; a change in decision regarding such a refusal; enforcement action taken; or the outcome of any proceeding relating to a decision on port access. For example, we could access the results of any enforcement activity or the outcome of a legal proceeding. Knowing that a vessel has been involved in numerous offences also raises a red flag for our fisheries protection officers and would lead to a refusal of port access.
Second, the amendments clarify that the minister can share this information with the flag state of the vessel, relevant coastal states, regional fisheries, management organizations, states in whose fisheries waters the illegal fishing may have occurred, the state of nationality of the owner of the vessel, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and other relevant international organizations. It is a very broad power. For example, if France refused entry to a foreign fishing vessel and then shared the name of the vessel with us, our protection officers would be on the alert if that vessel tried to enter port in Canada.
Third, amendments to the act clarify that the minister may report, to other state parties, actions that Canada has taken with respect to Canadian vessels that have engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing or fishing-related activities in support of such fishing. In addition, the proposed amendments would enable Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency to share with each other relevant information related to the importation of fish, fish products and marine plants. That is an important initiative.
Having information is one thing, and being able to act on it is quite another. That is why the third major category of amendments concerns prohibitions and offences and enforcement powers, providing an expansion of the powers of fisheries protection officers.
Currently, fisheries officers can only investigate seaports and wharves for illegal catch, but since illegal catch does not always come to port in fishing vessels, one of the important innovations in the agreement is to target illegally harvested living marine resources and products, including marine plants, that enter not only on a fishing vessel but in a shipping container on a large ship. The bill would therefore prohibit the importation of fish, marine plants and products that have been taken, harvested, processed, transported, distributed or sold in contravention of international law—to use the language of the bill—in order to foreclose this additional avenue of illicit access to our market. The negotiators of the agreement wanted to ensure that strong actions taken against fishing vessels would not be circumvented by the use of other vessels to transport or transship the catch to ports. These amendments would enable Canada to exercise appropriate border controls to close the front door when necessary, so to speak.
With these amendments, Canada is once again assuming a leadership role in the fight against illegal fishing, by taking this concept a step further. These amendments take the measures in the agreement aimed at container vessels to the next level, as Canada is entitled to do. They would enable fisheries protection officers to inspect any place, including containers, warehouses, storage areas and vehicles at all ports of entry, including airports and beyond—effectively, wherever such products may be found. This power would enable fisheries protection officers to support and enhance the work of CBSA customs agents. At the same time, fisheries protection officers would have the power to enter and search these places with a warrant and, if circumstances demanded, without a warrant, working in conjunction with customs officials as required.
These amendments would allow fisheries officers to seize illegal, unreported and unregulated caught fish, fish products and marine plants aboard the vessel or in any other place believed to be obtained by or used in the commission of an offence under the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act. However, further deterrence is necessary when dealing with illegal fish harvesters whose main concern is monetary profits. If it is shown that foreign vessels have been engaged in or have supported illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing, substantial fines can be imposed: on summary conviction, a fine of up to $100,000; upon conviction on indictment, a fine of up to $500,000; and on a second conviction, double these fines.
Moreover, if a court finds the person guilty of an offence under the act, the court could order the person to pay an additional fine equal to the estimated benefit they expected to gain from committing the offence. This structure would present a significant deterrent to this very serious crime and would demonstrate to illegal fish harvesters that Canada is serious about putting an end to their illegal endeavours.
In addition to these broad categories, the amendments also cover several changes in definitions required by the port state measures agreement. For example, the amended definition of “fishing vessel” could include any vessel used in transshipping fish or marine plants, but it would exclude vessels equipped to transship that are not involved in supporting fishing activity at sea, such as vessels transporting general merchandise.
The proposed amendments would also redefine the term “fish” itself. In keeping with the port state measures agreement, “fish” would come to mean a species of living marine resources, whether processed or not. The amendments would also add a definition of “marine plant”, because marine plants are also living marine resources.
The port state measures agreement outlines cost-effective and practical solutions to the problem of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. Bill S-3 would strengthen Canada's Coastal Fisheries Protection Act and enable Canada to exercise enhanced port controls and importation measures consistent with, and in fact even stronger than, the minimum standards established in the port state measures agreement. These amendments would once again demonstrate Canada's leading role in the international fight against illegal fishing. These amendments are a step forward in that fight. These robust measures would limit the quantities of illegal fish that enter our market and other markets around the world where Canadian fish harvesters sell their products. Canada's fish harvesters stand to benefit from a more level playing field.
To date, 11 members of the Food and Agriculture Organization have become parties to the agreement. We need to maintain the momentum so that the 25 parties required for the agreement to enter into force will be achieved sooner rather than later. Today, by supporting Bill S-3, the House has an opportunity to move Canada one step closer to ratification, one step closer to helping protect the livelihoods of legitimate fish harvesters, one step closer to effective conservation and management of living marine resources and protection of the fragile ecosystems that support their existence.
I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting Bill S-3. We can do no less.