Mr. Speaker, this is a day that the citizens of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country have been working toward and waiting for. Bill C-68 is an act to amend the Fisheries Act and other acts in consequence. The consultation effort itself has strengthened engagement with Canadians, enhanced transparency in fisheries activities, and improved the health of fish and fish habitat, and we are just getting started.
This new legislation and our debate will go a long way to help restore and strengthen the public trust so badly damaged by the previous government with regard to the Fisheries Act. In 2016, our government initiated a consultation process that engaged thousands of Canadians. Citizens expressed grave concern about lost protections. They spoke out about the importance of science and academic freedom. Indigenous peoples offered voices of experience, traditional knowledge, and ways of working together that we have been missing. Commercial fishers said they wanted to be included in decision-making.
The amendments we are debating today fundamentally recognize that decisions must be guided by the principles of sustainability, by the precautionary principle, and by an ecosystem management approach. This provides hope to many British Columbians for whom Roderick Haig-Brown, named in Campbell River this summer as a person of national significance to Canada, is a source of inspiration, a guide, and a mentor. He wrote:
The salmon runs are, in truth, the wealth of the Pacific Ocean brought readily back to the hand and use of man. For his part, man has used them and abused them, injured and restored them. He knows enough to multiply them even beyond their original abundance—and he is threatening them with total destruction.
Haig-Brown wrote this in 1959, almost 60 years ago. I take his words very seriously.
Fundamental to a robust Fisheries Act, important amendments include protection for all fish and fish habitats, at last, restoring the previous prohibition against harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat, known as HADD. These protections were taken as immutable, and yet they were stricken from the legislation in an act of callous disregard by the previous government. l am very grateful to the many who fought for this to be put back into the Fisheries Act.
Other important amendments include that indigenous traditional knowledge would inform decisions that impact habitat. The legislation would strengthen the role of indigenous peoples in project reviews, monitoring, and policy development, and will honour traditional knowledge. It would put short-term measures in place to respond to threats to fish that may suddenly arise. It would restore a prohibition against causing the death of fish by means other than fishing. It would provide full transparency for projects, including a public registry of projects.
The legislation promotes restoration of degraded habitat and the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks, and strengthens the long-term protection of marine refuges. The bill clarifies and updates enforcement powers to address emerging fisheries issues and to align current provisions in other legislation.
Bill C-68 demonstrates that our government is proactive in protecting wild salmon stocks and the diversity of fish and fish habitat in Canada. It is vital that we support and pass this legislation. We need every aspect of Bill C-68 badly. We also need to look ahead and be visionary by drafting a separate but related national aquaculture act. A national aquaculture act would facilitate a regional approach to aquaculture and should include how we can transition away from open net pens to closed containment salmon aquaculture on the west coast of Canada.
In collaboration with indigenous peoples, the Government of British Columbia, hundreds of stewardship groups, and industry, a national aquaculture act would provide a way to ensure an increasingly profitable and productive aquaculture industry.
On behalf of many on the west coast, I am here to represent the view that it is time to transition British Columbia's open net pen salmon aquaculture industry to closed containment. Momentum is gathering globally and close to home to develop a profitable, productive aquaculture system and sector through closed containment.
In Washington state, a bill has just passed through the state Senate to phase out open net salmon aquaculture by 2025. As licences expire, they are not being renewed. If an operation is in violation of the lease, it is shut down. Senator Kevin Ranker introduced the bill. I spoke with him, and he said he had never seen anything like the support that came together from all 29 treaty tribes in the state, commercial fishers, and recreational fishers. Senator Ranker's constituency is the same as many of ours in British Columbia because it encompasses, in Senator Ranker's words, the magical, majestic Salish Sea.
From a business perspective, the global open net pen salmon aquaculture industry is operating in an increasingly unpredictable environment. The biological costs to control sea lice and viruses are rising. The industry is not able to control stock losses or escapes. Licenses are very difficult if not impossible to secure. Public support for the status quo is attenuating and capital is being actively invested in closed containment facilities globally. Governments are paying attention.
From an environmental perspective, there is evidence that sea lice and viruses are transferred from farmed fish to wild salmon stocks. Norway has put a moratorium on open net farms due to the sea lice problem. Add to that the recent complete net pen collapse in Washington state and it is obvious that we simply cannot stand by and allow these threats to wild salmon and wild salmon habitats to continue.
From a trade perspective, British Columbia and Canada should also not concede our strong role in the industry, our knowledge, and our brand to the first movers who know that the status quo will simply not allow for the growth of the sector and who are gaining market advantage over us to research, innovation, and investment.
Canada is a trusted global leader in high value, safe, secure, sustainable food and we have the potential to develop our agri-food sector, particularly in light of recent trade agreements and supercluster announcements. Through technology and innovation in the sector, Canada can bring more high-quality farmed salmon to global markets, create jobs, and strengthen the economy.
Social innovation presents the potential for industry and first nations to be enterprise partners. Transitioning to closed containment is a way for nation-to-nation collaboration in pursuit of business opportunity, trade, and a healthy aquatic environment. In just two and a half years, our government has made it clear through our actions that we are committed to strengthening engagement and transparency and to rebuilding trust with Canadians.
Last year, the government invested $1.4 billion in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, in their base budgets, as a result of a program integrity review that revealed the magnitude and devastation of the Harper government cuts. This is in addition to our historic $1.5 billion investment in the oceans protection plan to further protect the marine environment from coast to coast to coast. As the minister has stated, to preserve, protect, and help restore our environment, we need a Fisheries Act that Canadians can trust. We must continue to build a relationship based on respect for the protection of our shared environment.
I would like to thank Canadian citizens for their ongoing commitment to volunteering, studying the science, advocating, and leading. The people of West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country have certainly played a major role in the proposed Fisheries Act legislation we are considering today and that will continue no doubt. I am very grateful for their wisdom, spirit, and tenacity in getting us to today.
Our government is taking great strides to protect fish and fish habitat and the environment. I ask my colleagues in the House to please join me in supporting these important amendments and in passing Bill C-68 and then let us take the next step toward a national aquaculture act.