moved that Bill C-251, An Act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, Canada's coastal regions are facing an ecological disaster. As such, I stand today for the second reading of my bill, Bill C-251, an act respecting the development of a federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds.
Pinnipeds are a group of marine animals that include seals, sea lions and walruses. The focus of the bill is to address the harmful effects of seal and sea lion predation on the biodiversity of our oceans.
Historically, Canada has had the most productive oceans in the world, as it should, having the longest coastline in the world. However, since the eighties, the productivity of our oceans has been drastically reduced, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars in our blue economy and the loss of traditional ways of life for our first nation communities. Currently Norway, a fellow North Atlantic country, has a blue economy worth three times more than that of Canada, with a coastline that is 2.5 times shorter than Canada’s. Thus, Norway’s ocean is nearly eight times more productive than Canada’s oceans.
Since the eighties, Canadian fisheries have undertaken vast conservation measures to improve the health of our fish stocks. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the moratorium on northern cod off Newfoundland and Labrador. There has been a commercial moratorium on Atlantic salmon for the same amount of time, and we have recently seen the closure of the mackerel fishery and the spring gulf herring fishery in Atlantic Canada.
Capelin quotas are currently less than 10% of their historic highs. In Labrador, the snow crab quota has been cut by 80% since 2000. In British Columbia, salmon quotas are down 80% since 2014. This year the Pacific herring fishery has been completely closed. These are a few examples of the conservation measures that have been taken over the last 30 years, but to no avail.
Iceland had a capelin moratorium in 2019 and 2020, and their conservation measures have worked. This year, they have set a capelin quota of almost 900,000 tonnes. Canada once had a 250,000-tonne capelin fishery, but it has steadily declined to only 22,000 tonnes this past year. Norway, Russia and Iceland currently have a million-tonne cod fishery, but Canada’s northern cod cannot recover after a 30-year moratorium.
Cod and many other species rely on capelin as a main food source, and DFO estimates that 7.6 million harp seals consume 1.8 million tonnes of capelin. Now, if folks cannot envision 1.8 million tonnes, they can try envisioning four billion pounds. In addition to the destruction of our capelin stocks, seals have turned their attention to the Atlantic salmon. Anglers in my province have observed seals in salmon rivers such as the Humber River and the Northwest Gander River, as far as 50 kilometres upstream from the ocean.
Local seal harvesters off the coast of Labrador have counted as many as 150 female crabs in the stomach of one seal. At an average survival rate for those crab eggs, that one seal, in a short period of time, destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of adult crab, should they have survived to maturity. Seals have even been observed eating lobster in Nova Scotia and south and western Newfoundland, but they told the server to hold the garlic butter.
Rivers have been closed to salmon fishing, and the cod quota has been slashed in fishing area 3Ps on the south coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The common denominator is predation by grey seals, which have had a population explosion that puts their numbers at five times historic levels.
In Atlantic Canada, the population of all combined species of seals in 1970 was approximately two million. Today, it is over 10 million. These massive herds of seals consume the entire commercial catch in just 15 days. That means they consume 24 times the annual commercial catch in Atlantic Canada every year.
On Canada's Pacific coast, pinniped populations are more than 10 times higher than they were in 1970. Fifty per cent of salmon smolts entering the ocean from B.C.’s rivers are consumed by pinnipeds. They also consume millions of returning adults.
Sea lions in rivers consume 40 pounds of salmon per day. They even wait near a narrow passage at the north end of Vancouver Island to take about two million Fraser River sockeye as they form schools on their annual migration. Pinnipeds even compete with resident killer whales as they forage on salmon and herring.
Massive conservation measures have been made in B.C. fisheries in a similar fashion to those measures taken in Atlantic Canada, but with no results. When Norway and Iceland take conservation measures, they get results. We share the same ocean, so why do we not get the same results? It is very simple. It is because these countries manage their pinniped populations, and those populations have remained stable over the last 30 years.
Many factors contribute to the decline of fish stocks. However, we can only control two. Number one is the amount of fish harvesters take out of the ocean. Number two is the number of pinnipeds that prey on those fish stocks.
Bill C-251 would require the creation of a framework for the conservation of fish stocks by pinniped management. By managing our pinniped populations, we can restore balance in our marine ecosystems. At the same time, we can help restore livelihoods that were lost in first nation and northern communities.
With the vast decline in, and in some jurisdictions the end of, commercial pinniped harvesting, the negative effect was twofold. The 2009 EU decision to ban non-indigenous commercial pinniped products removed the checks and balance in the predator-prey relations in our oceans. It also had the unintended consequence of destroying markets for Inuit hunters.
Pinnipeds are currently harvested in the U.S.A., Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Namibia and Russia. The framework of this bill calls for a yearly census on all species of pinnipeds to ensure the conservation of pinniped populations and that these populations remain viable.
This framework calls for a study of how other countries in the northern hemisphere maintain their pinniped populations at successful and viable levels that do not infringe on the productivity of their oceans. We need to learn from these countries. This framework shall address trade barriers and work to remove them because these barriers are the root cause of our ecological imbalance and the destruction of the livelihoods of the first nations communities that depend on harvesting pinnipeds.
We have the products developed for trade, and I am not necessarily referring to fur. There is a massive demand for healthy omega-3 oil produced from pinnipeds, both for medicinal purposes and as food supplements. My good friend, the doctor from Cumberland—Colchester, knows all about this wonderful topic.
Why is seal oil better for us than other omega-3 oils? Number one, seal oil naturally contains 24% omega-3 without concentration. Number two, seal oil is extremely high in DPA, which is not found in fish oil. In fact, the only other source of DPA is breast milk. Number three, the fatty acids in seal oil are nearly identical to human fatty acids, and are, therefore, much more readily absorbed than those from cold-water fish or plant sources. A shelf-stable, nutrient-rich protein powder has even been developed, and the iron it contains is many times more readily absorbed by the body than iron from any other source.
Products such as these, derived from full utilization of harvested pinnipeds, have enormous potential to help Canada fulfill its role in feeding the approximately 800 million starving people on Earth.
Through consultations with industry stakeholders and first nations communities, I have found tremendous support for this bill and a great desire to have a pinniped management protocol that works side by side with other aspects of fisheries management.
I thank the Pacific Balance Pinniped Society, which has developed a seal management plan that was proposed to DFO that currently has over 700,000 supporters, including 115 first nations groups, the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia, the B.C. Wildlife Federation and UFAWU-Unifor.
I thank the many industry stakeholders that encouraged me to move this bill forward on their behalf. I thank Chief Mi'sel Joe of the Conne River Mi’kmaq Tribal Nation for his support.
I also thank Bob Hardy of the Atlantic Seal Science Task Team, my colleague, the MP for South Shore—St. Margarets, Senator David Wells, the Library of Parliament and my dedicated staff for helping me to put this bill together.
Bill C-251 calls for the government to table a yearly progress report for the framework it develops. My bill, if passed, would provide a long-term conservation opportunity to sustainably rebuild the valuable, renewable, green resource that is our fishery. At the same time, we would rebuild a renewable industry in the harvesting, processing and trade of pinniped products, and would provide both conservation and economic opportunities to first nations and coastal communities.
Mankind has allowed an imbalance to occur in our ecosystem that has resulted from pinniped overpopulation, and it is time to bring an end to this ecological disaster.