Madam Speaker, even though I am a west coast member of Parliament the concerns tonight are basically east coast. I will address those, but they are similar to a lot of concerns we have on the west coast.
The debate tonight makes it clear there is a huge problem with the management of fisheries right across Canada. I hear more about federal fisheries operations in my riding. With all due respect to some of the good people who work for DFO, we have huge problems with the management of DFO. These management problems are not new. Fisheries has been in crisis management for many years, if not decades. We are paying the price now and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are definitely paying the price.
The Liberal decision to close the cod fishery ignores the advice of its own advisors and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Fisheries Resource Conservation Council called complete closure an unrealistic option that in no way would guarantee stock rebuilding. The Liberals have disregarded that advice and stalled on these issues for years. They do not take the advice of people and groups hired to give them good advice.
We have heard a lot about seals tonight and I will talk about them a bit more later on, but I do not think it is any secret that seals eat fish. My colleagues across the floor are obviously concerned and very aware of those issues. We have a similar problem on the west coast. It is something we will have to deal with soon or we will be in a similar situation on the west coast with our salmon as the east coast is with their cod.
It is utter mismanagement that is creating these problems. Some of the solutions and some of the statements that have come out of the fisheries ministry are absolutely unbelievable.
There was a headline in the Ottawa Citizen today that stated, “Critics see something fishy about 'seal exclusion zones'”. I see something fishy about it too. I will quote a little from the article:
In a desperate effort to save dwindling fish stocks, Federal Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault vowed yesterday to set up “seal exclusion zones” to protect important cod spawning areas...
That is a pretty good concept if we can do it. But how in God's name can we do it? Seals do not stop at a fence or gate; they do not read signs. It is totally unrealistic. We are in serious trouble if that is the best we can do with the huge multi-billion dollar budget that federal fisheries has.
The Chronicle Herald stated, “Fishermen in Newfoundland burn flag, vow to defy cod ban”. This really defines how serious this problem is in the hearts and souls of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and certainly these problems will spread to the west coast. One member of the Fish Food and Allied Workers Union said:
If the federal government thinks this is an issue that's going to die down after a couple of days, they've got another thing coming.
I am afraid he is probably right. The fisheries department responded to some of the protests by closing 10 offices along the west coast of Newfoundland and in Labrador. How is that dealing with the problem? That is not facing up to the problem. That is just running away from the problem.
I will present a little bit of history on the seal issue. I have with me a seal report that was tabled in the House of Commons in 1999. It contains a number of recommendations that went to the government of the day, a different minister but the same Liberal government, and I will quote a little from it:
The FRCC has also raised an alarm about the effect of seal predation on cod stocks. In a November 1998 report to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans it stated:
We are disappointed that the effects of seal consumption could not be quantified as part of the 1998 SSRs [stock status reports] for Atlantic cod stocks. DFO analysis suggests that:
grey seals are consuming between 5,400-22,000t annually of Eastern Scotian Shelf cod (on a total biomass estimated to be as low as 32,000t);
In other words, they are eating most of it, or they were then. The report continues:
harp seals may be consuming as much as 140,000t annually of northern cod;
seals in the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence may have consumed as much as 68,000t of cod in 1996;
And it goes on and on. What was the response? The government set up an eminent panel on seal management, which was probably not a bad idea, but again it did not listen to the panel's recommendations.
Again, estimates of the amounts of some commercial fish species, particularly northern cod, redfish, Greenland halibut and American plaice consumed by seals and many NAFO divisions are large in comparison to current fisheries catches. Seals also consume large quantities of capelin, which is an important prey for many of these commercial species. It just goes on and on. Seals are a huge problem and we are not dealing with it. This was reported in 2001, two years after the report went to government.
Funding for seal science in general should be increased. We are talking about $6 million for studying it some more. As a member across the way said a little while ago, we do not need another study. We need action because seals are a huge problem.
The fisheries committee, which I am pleased to be a member of, spent a great amount of time last year studying the overfishing on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap. The committee made a substantial, all party unanimous report that was tabled and given to the fisheries minister. It was basically rejected out of hand.
The report gave the minister some good information on how to deal with managing the stocks a bit better, the problems with NAFO, the problems with seals and the cod stock reduction. It was totally rejected. What is the point?
I have the report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on “Custodial Management Outside Canada's 200-Mile Limit” that was tabled in March of this year. The report talks about custodial management, the problems with NAFO, and the overfishing by foreign fleets. These are situations that have been going on and on for many years. It is time that the minister of the day, the ministry, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, with all their staff and huge budgets, dealt with these issues.
The department has all kinds of people here in Ottawa in the fisheries offices. I do not know what they do. I do not think there are very many salmon, or cod for that matter, in the Ottawa River and if there are it would be a surprise to me. We are talking about cod here tonight.
The point I am trying to make and drive home is that we have a huge problem here. It is time to put aside political differences, whatever they may be. It is time to put aside any sort of rhetoric or concern that perhaps somebody might not like this or like that. For instance, if we talk more about the seal hunt, which I firmly believe we have to do, it is time to put all of that aside and do what is right. We must do what needs to be done.
That is why we are here as members of Parliament. We are here to make decisions and to do the right thing, not what might be politically correct or what might be the flavour of the day. We are here to try and correct this particular situation that will create a huge problem for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am very much afraid that as time goes by it will also affect people on the west coast. It has already to some large degree.
As my colleague from Nanaimo mentioned earlier, the fishery on the Fraser River was allowed to have a huge over-escapement. Over-escapement is as bad as under-escapement. It pollutes the spawning beds and creates problems for future years. Again, it is the mismanagement of the whole fishery issue. I must keep on saying mismanagement because that is what it is all about.
There must be further studies on seals and that is good. Let us get more information. However, let us move on some of the information that we already have. If the Department of Fisheries and Oceans does not have sufficient scientific evidence on seal populations on both coasts, in fact all coasts including the Arctic coast, it has not been doing its job. This is part of fisheries management. Dealing with predators is part of a management regime for any species. If we have a predator problem then we should be dealing with it.
Human beings have become a predator of our fish stocks. It has evolved over centuries, thousands of years, and we have become more and more of a predator of our resource fish in the ocean. We have become the predator.
Therefore, the natural predator, which to a large degree is the seal, must be balanced out. We have totally ignored that issue. We have turned a blind eye and it is time to deal with it. Otherwise there will be no fish.
The bottom line is, what the minister has done in the last few days is too little, too late. The stocks are almost gone. The member for Labrador said it is just not good enough.
I strongly urge the minister to reconsider his decision on the complete closure of the stock, allow the people from Newfoundland and Labrador to at least have some input into how their fishery should be managed, listen to them, and start listening to all these recommendations that have been put forward to him over the years. It is time for some action.