Madam Speaker, I will not keep anyone in the dark. The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-251, an act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds. That said, it all depends on the content and the application of that content.
The interaction between fishing activities and various species of pinnipeds has been an issue for many years, particularly in the St. Lawrence estuary. As early as 1985, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had detailed studies on the losses suffered by fishermen who came into contact with seals, particularly in terms of damaged nets and partially consumed fish in those nets.
I am feeling emotional this afternoon because of my experience as a daughter of the river, an islander, coming from a line of sailors and sport fishermen. My ancestors were so rich with invaluable knowledge of the land. How proud my father would be to hear me defending his river and all the life it contains.
Back in the early 1980s, my father was already talking to me about his fear of seeing cod disappear, primarily as a result of seal overpopulation. In the absence of predators, these poor animals grew too large in number, and hunger drove them to gorge on several species in the St. Lawrence River and in the gulf. What is more, my partner scuba dives in the St. Lawrence, and on several occasions, he has seen countless cod with their guts torn out.
My father used to say that he would not see cod disappear completely in his lifetime, but that the next generation probably would. He said we would be the ones to see the St. Lawrence without cod. What a surprise it was to him when, 25 years later, he realized there was no longer any cod in the river.
Cod is a succulent fish and has had pride of place on our tables throughout Quebec's history. I really want to make the urgency of the situation clear today. We must implement finely tuned measures that are consistent with overarching ecological principles, and we must do it as soon as possible. Underpinning these principles is a notion we must embrace if humanity is to survive its own ignorance of nature's priorities: equilibrium.
Here on earth, there is a simple but powerful system that keeps everything in equilibrium. That system is called the food chain, and at its core is the concept of predator and prey. When that equilibrium is upset, everything becomes dysfunctional. That's what we are seeing with the overpopulation of pinnipeds. However, much of what has happened is also due to human ambition, which is driving the planet to its doom.
Back home, we coexist with nature. We do not try to conquer or disrupt it. We know that nature rests on a delicate balance, as do we. The fish plants back home certainly are not pocketing billions of dollars from economic development, but people in the industry make a good living, and living in harmony with nature is the only way to survive in the long term. People in the industry know that.
I am certainly not indifferent to the death of an animal. I have four cats and a dog, and my nine chickens all have names. I do not enjoy watching a cougar catch an antelope to feed its young, but that is nature. No hunt is a happy one, but it is a necessary part of maintaining ecological balance, which we rely on, and we know that our own equilibrium is directly connected to the equilibrium of wildlife resources. This has been true since the beginning of time.
That said, all the scarcity problems among marine species are not just due to pinniped overpopulation, which is why it is so important to use science to understand the different factors currently having an impact on biological balance in the marine ecosystem. That is why we must move forward with this bill, which we hope will show us a better way to manage marine biodiversity.
Let us come back to Bill C-251. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans must act to promote conservation and the protection of marine ecosystems. Based on what I have read, I have no doubt that pinniped populations have a significant impact on fish stocks. However, we cannot focus on just this one variable to understand the dynamics affecting fish stocks.
For that reason, when we study the bill I would like to ensure that the strategy to be deployed by the minister takes into account both human and natural factors that affect the ecosystem. It is 2022: We must consider the environmental impact. A good policy must manage the impact of both human activity and climate change on nature and, in turn, the impact of natural disruptions on human activity.
The study and analysis of the impact of pinniped populations on fish stocks must not distract from the deleterious and devastating impact of overfishing, and in particular industrial fishing methods that are responsible for a true catastrophe on a global scale, specifically the overfishing and drastic reduction of fish stocks. Approximately 33% of global fish stocks are totally overexploited, and that increases to 66% for reserves that are fully exploited. If we continue at this rate, overfishing will deplete the oceans by 2048, pinnipeds or no pinnipeds.
In other words, we have to do something to protect fish stocks and to control the pinniped population, but in so doing we must ensure that we do not punish nature for a human error.
Let us take some of the measures set out in this legislation.
The bill should require the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to constantly update its studies on the interactions between pinniped and the fish populations. The department already has expertise in and knowledge of the impact of the pinniped population on fish stocks. We must ensure that the new framework created by Bill C‑251 allows for this knowledge to be mobilized so that we can act effectively.
To that end, a pinniped census may be a tool, but the scientific component of the framework should not focus exclusively on a census. In fact, could we look into the need for such a census? How is that better than using methods that estimate the size of populations?
With regard to acceptable population levels for different species, it is important to pay close attention to the criteria used. Using historical levels as a criterion would suggest that population levels have drastically decreased. Does it makes sense to compare our populations to those of other countries when the ecosystems are different? Does it makes sense to use the same framework for all pinnipeds? Should the approach not vary for different species of pinnipeds?
There are many issues to consider, and a lot of questions come to mind. What does it actually mean to remove barriers to trade in seal products? What are those barriers? Are there examples of projects that promote the manufacture and sale of seal products? There are so many questions surrounding this bill.
The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, on which I serve as vice-chair, will be undertaking a study on the management of pinnipeds beginning in a few weeks. Several issues need to be carefully examined. Our study of Bill C-251 will have to take into account the recommendations made by the committee, which will do everything it can to meet with experts, coastal populations, people on the ground, and even officials from other countries such as Norway, Iceland and Finland. The committee plans to visit those countries next fall, in order to look at what has and what has not worked on the other side of the Atlantic.
I will continue to be attentive and proactive. I will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the committee can give the public all the facts and provide a just and objective report to the government, based on the values that will allow for the survival of the marine world in all its splendour.