Mr. Speaker, first off, obviously I would like to thank the member for St. John's West for having raised this issue in the House of Commons, an issue that has been studied at great length by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
I would also like to highlight the excellent contributions make by all of the members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, who have worked together very effectively, members of all parties. What is important for us, our common objective, is to work hard to ensure that maritime communities are able to live off fish resources adequately and properly.
I would also like to add that, as a member from Quebec, often when we talk about the fishery, people wonder what we are talking about, because in Quebec, the fishery is not seen as an important part of economic activity. What is important to highlight—and this is very important—is that for the maritime communities in Quebec that survive on the fishery, the economic situation for them is as bad as it is for communities in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island.
Accordingly, even though the fishery makes up a relatively modest portion of the entire economy of Quebec, for those communities, it is a very important element of economic development.
As a maritime country, Canada has always been particularly interested in the oceans and their resources. The fishery has long held a significant place in the lives of Canadians, from historical, economic and cultural perspectives.
We understand perfectly well that adequate conservation measures and proper management play a critical role in maintaining the viability of fish resources in our oceans.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the minister for his very effective and very prompt action regarding the situation, particularly beyond the 200 mile limit. As my colleague, the member for St. John's West said, all of the stakeholders in the fishery across the country welcomed the appointment of the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. So it is a great pleasure to work with the hon. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
The Government of Canada regards overfishing to be a serious problem. That is why we have given our full support to the United Nations agreement on straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks, also known as the United Nations Fisheries Agreement.
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which took effect in November 1994, gives coastal states exclusive sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the fisheries within a zone extending 200 nautical miles from their shores.
It does not, however, address the rights these states have over straddling fish stocks and highly migratory deep sea species.
Hence the importance of the action we are taking. If we as a country are taken steps within our 200 mile limit to have highly efficient conservation measures—which is not always easy, given the economic situation of our communities—it is important for countries fishing outside our limits to respect international conventions, for the very purpose of preserving this resource, which is so vital to the development of our communities.
For example, some of the straddling species, such as cod, dab and halibut, move about within and beyond the east coast fishing zones, that is beyond the 200 mile limit, as well as the adjacent offshore waters. The highly migratory species such as swordfish and tuna move about the high seas and the exclusive economic zones of the coastal states.
The United Nations Fisheries Agreement helps remedy some of these shortcomings. It was adopted in August 1995 by a United Nations Organization conference. Canada signed it on December 4, 1995 and ratified it on August 3, 1999. It took effect on December 11, 2001, after ratification by the 30th country on November 11, 2001. This represented a major step in international co-operation as far as the high seas were concerned, an objective of considerable importance to Canada for a long time.
As hon. members are aware, Canada played a lead role in the ratification of this agreement on the international level, and the contribution of all of the fisheries ministers who participated very actively in the adoption of this agreement needs to be recognized.
The agreement establishes guiding principles for the sustainable management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, such as the precautionary approach and the minimization of pollution, waste, discards and bycatch.
It also sets out serious obligations for flag states to respect and contains provisions regarding the oversight and application of fisheries measures established by regional fisheries organizations in order to ensure compliance. In addition, a dispute settlement mechanism contained in the agreement provides for the peaceful resolution of conflicts on the high seas.
What does this mean in the world? It means that regulations are now in place, that regional organizations can effectively take action to prevent overfishing, that in the case of fishing at levels which would not ensure sustainability and when disputes arise between countries, there is a dispute settlement mechanism available.
The principles of the agreement are principles very much after our own hearts, principles such as conservation and the precautionary approach.
This is why we were very proud of our active participation in its development. We played a key role in the negotiations leading to the adoption and entry into force of the United Nations Fisheries Agreement. We were proud to be among the first countries to sign this agreement in 1995. Since then, many other countries have ratified it as well: the United States, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Brazil and Australia.
Canada has never shirked its responsibilities as a leader in the international management of fish. In fact, the Government of Canada took its commitment towards the UNFA very seriously. It tried to incorporate these principles into its legislation and its policies, as well as within regional fisheries organizations such as the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization.
It is all very fine and well that we enforce these rules in our country, but it is also important that they be respected by other member countries and signatories to this agreement.
We just saw how important this is. During the inspection of a Russian ship, the Olga , officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans found 49 tons of cod and nine tons of ray on board. The fish had been taken outside Canada's 200 mile limit. Such activity violates the moratorium imposed on all stocks of cod in NAFO's regulatory area. We continue to closely monitor this situation. However, the case of the Olga clearly illustrates the importance of implementing the principles of the UN agreement on fisheries in all regional fishing organizations.
Above all, Canada has worked hard to get the message through. Over the years, we has assumed a leading role in promoting that agreement around the world.
Whenever we had the opportunity, we explained that the UN agreement on fisheries is a giant step toward the effective management of international fish stocks. This agreement will have a truly positive impact on all the nations that rely on sound and abundant fisheries.
The message has been heard. In December, following its ratification in Malta, the UN agreement on straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks officially came into effect. This was a great victory for all maritime nations, and a giant step toward the effective management of the world's fish stocks. Canadians can be proud of this major achievement.
The agreement gives the countries of the world the means to manage fishery resources in a sound fashion, and to protect them offshore. It is a perfect example of the commitment made by Canada and the countries of the world to promote responsible fishing practices, and to ensure the establishment of strong and sustainable world fisheries, now and in the years to come.
In conclusion, Canada will pursue its efforts to convince the states that have yet to ratify the agreement to do so at the earliest opportunity. We will continue to put pressure to ensure the full and effective implementation of the UN agreement on fisheries.
Finally, I applaud the very quick action taken by the minister to ensure that this agreement is respected by all the countries that depend on fishing.