Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to note that I will be sharing my time today with my hon. colleague, the hard-working and principled member for beautiful Langley, British Columbia.
I rise today to also provide my support for amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act. It appears that we have the support of many other members on this critical piece of legislation. It is my hope that the opposition will not only talk the talk but walk the walk and join us in voting this bill through quickly.
As a former member of the parliamentary fisheries committee, and as the longest-serving member of the parliamentary environment committee, I understand the critical importance of defending sustainable fisheries from damaging activities.
As we are all well aware, it is difficult to estimate precisely the total catch from unlawful fishing. It is an illegal market, and estimates are therefore naturally unreliable. However, studies indicate that the global figure could be from 11 million tonnes to as much as 26 million tonnes every year. As my hon. colleague mentioned earlier, this represents a significant portion of the world's total catch.
Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is a wide-ranging problem with serious impacts on marine environments and law-abiding fish harvesters.
By illegal fishing, we mean contravention of the conservation and enforcement measures of international fisheries management organizations. Unreported fishing refers to fishing activities that have not been reported or that have been misrepresented by vessels to the relevant enforcement authority. Unregulated fishing is self-explanatory. It includes fishing activities that are not adequately regulated or controlled by any responsible flag state. Of course, from a criminal perspective, this kind of fishing operation can be highly attractive. They do not pay licence fees, taxes, or duties on these catches.
Developing countries are at particular risk of having their resources illegally exploited. Canada has built its own capacity to effectively enforce its rules, but by supporting international efforts to cut off port access for these high-seas bandits, we can help countries that are still building their critical infrastructure.
When customers around the world order fish in a restaurant or buy it in a store, they probably assume that it was legally harvested. Once illegally caught fish enter the supply chain, there are very few ways to tell how it was harvested. Therefore, these amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act will further strengthen our controls on the import of fisheries products into Canada that are suspected of being illegally harvested. This will not only help our Canadian harvesters protect their economic interests but will also assist those in other countries in the protection of their fish stocks.
Turning to the subject of port controls, it is important to note that stemming the trade in illegal catches is complicated by the fact that not every vessel needs to enter a port to land its catch. Smaller fishing vessels can offload their catches onto larger ships with refrigerated holds while still at sea. This is known as trans-shipping. It can be used by criminals and can serve to disguise the origin of illegally caught fish. Through Bill S-3, Canada will address this issue by expanding the definition of a fishing vessel to include all of these types of container ships.
Another feature of the problem of illegal harvests is that vessels operate under so-called flags of convenience. Some countries allow foreign fishing vessels to operate under their flags but then take little or no responsibility for the activities of those vessels. It is in response to this gap in flag state enforcement that other measures, such as the port state measures we are discussing today, have been proposed as a highly effective option in the fight against illegal fishing.
The issue of illegal fishing has been on the global radar for years. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations adopted the code of conduct for responsible fisheries in 1995, and that was endorsed by around 170 member states, including Canada. In 2001, the organization adopted an international plan of action to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Under this framework, member states agreed that a concerted approach by all port states was needed to make it more difficult for illegal fishing vessels to land their catches without fear of any serious repercussions. The agreement on port state measures to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a treaty that promotes this coordinated global action.
Some regional fisheries management organizations now maintain illegal fishing vessel lists containing details of vessels that have supported illegal fishing activities within that region. This name-and-shame policy is another means to make it difficult for criminal fishing vessels and their support ships to find ports in which to offload their catches. However, the amendments that would be made to the act by Bill S-3 would provide enhanced clarity for our fisheries officers to share information on those who committed illegal fishing offences with the Canadian Border Services Agency and with our international partners.
No single measure on its own will succeed in eliminating illegal fishing. All possible avenues must be explored, otherwise strong market demand and high prices, especially for the world's most sought after species, will continue to attract illegal fishing operations to the long-term detriment of the world's fish stocks. Therefore, Bill S-3 would further deter illegal operators with new powers for the court to order to significant financial penalties upon conviction.
It is clear why all of this matters to Canadians and to our fishing industry. First, as a responsible fishing nation, we need to ensure that we are part of the solution and a leader in combatting illegal fishing, which is also an important priority for our key trading and enforcement partners. Second, the aspects of illegal fishing that I have mentioned put our industry at a competitive disadvantage, and we have to do what we can to level the playing field. Third, we all have an interest in protecting the health of the world's oceans.
Bill S-3 would strengthen the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act, aligning it with the new global standards articulated in the port state measures agreement.
Of course, states are free to take more stringent measures than those outlined in the agreement, and as part of meeting our international obligations, this bill would enable us to further protect the livelihoods of law-abiding fish harvesters, not just in Canada but all around the world, by supporting global efforts to prohibit the entry of illegal fish into international markets.
The amendments to the act contained in Bill S-3 would allow Canada to ratify the port state measures agreement and to improve our already robust control measures in regard to illegal fishing and the products derived from this destructive activity.
This is a necessary, important step for Canada to take. I urge all hon. members, not just to talk about this problem but to join me in supporting these critical amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act, and vote for Bill S-3.