And congratulate the government for finally doing something which was so obviously right that it should have been done many years ago. It has taken so long to bring the bill before us that both governments, the previous one and the current one, deserve some blame for not doing it earlier. However, it is a bill we are more than happy to support.
Our fisheries critic has spoken to the bill and to its amendments on several occasions. Obviously we are very supportive of any act that adds to our conservation and management skills to control the fisheries resource as best we can. In this case we are talking about the straddling stocks outside and inside the 200 mile limit. We are talking about cod, flounder, turbot, tuna and swordfish.
We need to protect all these fish for the livelihood of all those who depend on them. We need to protect the fisheries resource because it is a tremendous source of protein for the whole world, a world that is often starving and hungry. If that resource is managed properly, if we make sure it is a renewable resource that remains renewable, all the world will be well served. Hence we are very supportive of the bill.
Unfortunately it has taken way too long to get the bill approved by the House of Commons. We hope Canada becomes a signatory to the agreement very quickly. After many years only 59 countries have become signatories to it. There have only been 17 ratifications and we need 30 before the agreement has any international effect. We may have missed an opportunity that we certainly should not have missed.
We on this side of the House congratulate the Liberal government for doing this, but we were surprised that all the amendments put forth by the member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok, the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore and myself were voted down by the majority of government members. Some of the amendments that were discussed fully in the fisheries committee could have made the act an awful lot better and an awful lot stronger. All amendments should not have been voted down.
One amendment I am sure should not have been voted down by members opposite is my amendment to section 701(1) which would allow for enforcement. Everybody on this side of the House interprets the act as being very weak when it comes to the enforcement side. The principle of the act is good, but it cannot be enforced by our fisheries protection officers, the RCMP and coast guard officials designated under the act to do enforcement. There was a real opportunity to strengthen the act so that it would add to the conservation and protection of our fish resources.
My colleague who spoke before me mentioned the amendment I am talking about. The problem with section 701 is that a foreign fishing vessel caught in Canadian waters illegally cannot be charged right away. Permission of the home state has to be obtained. That might be okay when dealing with the signatories to the agreement.
Canada or the other signatory countries might say that if one of our vessels is caught doing something wrong, the enforcement officers can lay a charge and let the chips fall where they may. However, what happens when the real culprits in international overfishing are pirate ships of countries flying flags of convenience registered in Panama or Belize or someplace else? As the former speaker just mentioned, what happens if someone is caught on a Christmas Eve? How would fisheries officers get permission?
What should a fisheries officer off the coast of Newfoundland do in a situation similar to the Estai ? How could a fishing captain who is breaking the law by using a liner inside of his regular trawls to can catch small fish and destroy a resource be charged? How would the officer get control of the vessel?
If in Newfoundland waters the enforcement officer would call the federal Minister of Fisheries who would then contact the federal Minister for International Affairs who would then try to contact somebody in a place like Panama and get permission to lay a charge on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Labrador. It will simply never happen.
My amendment was pretty straightforward. All it said was that enforcement officers in our fleets would have exactly the same set of rules and regulations. If they found a Canadian vessel inside Canadian waters breaking the law, the captain could be arrested, the ship seized and taken to port, and the legal process would set in. Why is there a different set of laws in the bill, one that applies to foreign vessels inside Canadian limits and one that applies to the vessels of Canada and other signatories to the agreement inside Canadian waters?
It is a real shortfall in the bill. We proposed an amendment which was agreed to by this side of the House. I believe all members on this side supported the amendment and everybody on the opposite side voted against it. On the one hand the government deserves credit for finally bringing in the bill. On the other hand it certainly could have made it a lot better and could have protected more of the fish stocks off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador or indeed any part of Canada.
That being said, we will still support the bill because it is badly needed. Anything that conserves and protects our fish resources is obviously something we will support. It is not just the fish resources. I have heard the minister of fisheries say sometimes that his first priority is to protect fish, not fishermen, fisherwomen, or workers, or other people who depend on the fishery. I take a different approach. The first responsibility of the minister of fisheries is to the people he represents. That means he has to conserve and protect fish stocks. As long as it is done on a scientific basis, we are more than happy to support him.
In Newfoundland and Labrador a lot of things are happening that do not preserve and conserve our fish resources. Our fishermen, fisherwomen, plant workers, truckers, suppliers and other support industries have a way of life based upon an inshore fishery in Newfoundland. That inshore fishery is now again at very serious risk, which I raised in committee yesterday when the Newfoundland delegation was here. We have done many things to preserve, conserve and protect our resource, and we are allowing one part of the ecosystem to completely destroy and diminish all other efforts we have taken.
In the case of seals we have a very serious problem. As I said in committee yesterday, sometimes we are destined to repeat history because maybe our memories are bad. We should not be destined to repeat events. In the 1980s when the cod stocks were being seriously depleted there was always the argument that we did not have enough scientific proof to significantly reduce quotas. Every fisherman in Newfoundland could say it was getting harder and harder to make a living, more and more difficult to find fish, and when fish were found they were smaller than they had ever been before.
I was in government in Newfoundland from 1979 to 1989. I know the premier and the other politicians in Newfoundland fought hard to get the federal government to reduce the quotas and to do something about management of our fish stocks. Nobody listened to us or in particular to fishermen.
Now in 1998-99 we have another problem where everybody in Newfoundland, every politician of every political party, every fisherman who lives around the coast of Newfoundland, sees the great predation by seals.
Seals have gone from roughly two million in the mid-1980s to close to seven million now. They eat millions of tonnes of fish per year. In Atlantic cod alone, a stock which the government has tried to preserve, $3 billion in TAGS and income support has been put in place to try to regenerate roe in Newfoundland. That $3 billion is going to be lost because we have not been willing, we have not been brave enough and courageous enough, to take on the International Fund for Animal Welfare and other lobbyists who have their axe to grind and use anything they can to raise significant amounts of money for their organizations.
We read in the news today how the Government of Canada deals with environmental problems. We are afraid for our lives to touch the seal issue. No one wants to touch seals. No one wants to get involved with the seal issue.
In western Canada, on a similar environmental issue, we have a problem with snow geese. There are not many people who make a living on snow geese. In Atlantic Canada this year seals ate 210,000 tonnes of Atlantic cod. That would employ almost everyone who was previously involved in the Atlantic fishery; 210,000 tonnes of cod and one million tonnes of caplin. If protected, that resource could create a significant amount of jobs in Atlantic Canada.
However, it cannot be dealt with. The government says that it cannot justify an increase in the seal quota, the total allowable catch, because it does not have scientific data. In effect, it is a repetition of what happened with the cod stocks in 1980.
We are afraid to listen to fishermen. We are afraid to listen to people who can see evidence on the shoreline on any given day of seal predation. Now we are in the situation where the Government of Canada says that we cannot cull the herd. We cannot do anything.
However, the Canadian program aims to cull snow geese by 1.25 million this year, 1.9 million in 2000 and 2.6 million in 2001. We are almost doubling our cull of snow geese because of an environmental disaster. We are doing it, in a way, to protect the snow geese. If we do not, they will simply eat themselves out of house and home and nature will find a way to bring the numbers down.
I am saying to the minister that when it comes to conservation, protection and enhancement of our fish stocks, we should do what Environment Canada has authorized be done for snow geese. Many more people make a living in Newfoundland based upon the fish resources that we have.
That being said, I believe that some of our amendments, especially on enforcement, should have been approved, but Liberal members chose not to accept them. However, members on this side of the House and we in the Conservative caucus will support Bill C-27. If nothing else, it is an improvement to what we now have. On behalf of our caucus I give our support to this bill.