Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to revisit my question of May 17 to the
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I had the opportunity to ask the minister a question dealing with the proposed fish processing plant inspection fees.
I was surprised when I first came to Ottawa to find a general lack of understanding of the fishing and fish processing industries and their problems. Many Canadians do not realize that Nova Scotia is the leading fishing province in Canada. We lead all other provinces in terms of landed weight and value. Moreover, fish and fish products are the number one export commodity of the province of Nova Scotia.
My riding of South Shore is the most active fishing riding in Canada. I have a strong inshore fishery and a vibrant lobster, scallop and tuna fishery, among others. In fact, the minister recently announced an increase in the groundfish quota for cod and haddock in areas adjacent to my riding, the only such increase recommended in Atlantic Canada.
There are more than 100 fish processing plants located in communities spanning the entire length of my South Shore riding. I have the largest plant in Canada, National Sea Products, which employs approximately 615 people. I have some of the very smallest plants, enterprises that employ only one or two people.
The proposed registration fees and inspection fees were a source of great concern to all processors but especially to many of the smaller ones.
I want to thank the minister for recognizing the differences between fish processing operations and for taking action to help ease the burden of licence fees by capping registration fees at $1,000 for plants under 300 square metres and by imposing a cap of $10,000 per calendar year for product certification services to individual exporters which will go far in ensuring that our export sector remains competitive internationally.
The minister's announcement about fees went a long way in demonstrating the government's willingness to listen to industry. In addition, a communications process has been implemented which is intended to bridge some of the gaps between Ottawa and the regions with respect to regulatory inspection issues.
These positive developments have been encouraging to seafood producers, but there are still a number of outstanding concerns about future relationships between industry and seafood inspectors, especially since the introduction of Bill C-60 which establishes the new Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
I have met on several occasions with representatives from Nova Scotia's major fish processing organizations. They have asked me to seek assurances from Ottawa that the restructuring and amalgamation of food inspection services from three agencies will not
cause further disruptions or jeopardize future competitiveness through new sets of rules and procedures.
The fish processing sector has survived some very difficult years and has successfully adjusted to changes in the resource base, changes in the marketplace and changes brought forward by governments.
I am not convinced that the industry can continue to weather a perpetual climate of uncertainty. I trust the minister is aware of the concerns being expressed by industry. Many fear that they may be swallowed up in a national food agency because the seafood sector is much smaller than the agriculture and pharmaceutical industries.
I hope the minister will be able to assure fish processors that they will be well represented during the discussions about the structure and operation of the new food agency and that there will be a dedicated seafood division to oversee sector specific issues.
The seafood companies in my riding would like to hear the minister's views about how the transition from fishery to the single food inspection agency will unfold and I will appreciate hearing what plans are in place to protect the interests of my province's leading industry.