Madam Speaker, as you are probably aware, last fall we had the lowest return of the Fraser River sockeye in recorded history. This is the largest salmon-bearing stream in the world. We had low returns in Clayoquot, in the Skeena, in the Kennedy. Last year in the Kennedy, we did not have a single returning spawning fish. This is a salmon-bearing area that produced 200,000 fish just decades ago.
It is clear that there is a salmon emergency taking place in British Columbia. A crisis is taking place in British Columbia.
We have been raising issues related to the catastrophic decline of salmon in our region and the impact it is having. We have been calling on the government for investments in restoration, in habitat protection, in climate adaptation investments, and we see the government dragging its feet.
In 2019, our commercial fleet was only able to harvest 3.5 million pounds of salmon compared to almost 37 million pounds in 2016. The year 2019 was the lowest year since 1951, when we harvested 200 million pounds.
As I have said, we are seeing a catastrophic decline in the number of salmon. The government has dragged its feet when it comes to dealing with open-cage salmon farms. We have had a terrible year. We had the highest infestation of sea lice. We have seen disease escalate and the transfer of PRV and infected fish into open-net fish farms. We have had a massive die-off of 200,000 fish, and the industry just blew it off as natural causes, and then we just had an escape of 20,000 Atlantic salmon, a foreign species, into Pacific waters over the holiday season.
I want to read a quote from B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen in the Cohen Commission report. He said:
...the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon from salmon farms is serious and irreversible. Disease transfer occurs between wild and farmed fish, and I am satisfied that salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to exacerbate endemic diseases that could have a negative impact on Fraser River sockeye.
We know this is happening. The government made a commitment to move to closed containment by 2025, and now we are hearing it is backtracking. It is saying it will only have a plan by 2025. I hope the parliamentary secretary will be able to answer those concerns.
The United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union and Unifor are calling for immediate action by the government. They are asking for extended payments equalling maximum EI benefits to fishers, shore workers and tendermen who do not qualify for EI, and to extend the coverage period from August 2019 to June 2020.
We have written a letter to the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion and have had no reply. She is a B.C. minister. We are hoping she will act soon, that she will refund the salmon licence fees paid for the 2019 season, make moorage in small craft harbours free for salmon vessels, make forgivable loans of up to $10,000 available to vessel owners for repairs and maintenance, and implement the report that the fisheries and oceans committee unanimously supported on sharing risks and benefits.
We are calling on the government to come up with an emergency aid package, a record amount of investment in restoration, enhancement and adaptation funds. We need the government to do this immediately. People are losing their boats. They are losing their homes. Cupboards are empty. The ecosystem will crash if we do not save our wild salmon.
Will the Liberal government be the government on watch as our wild salmon goes the way of the Atlantic cod?