Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak in the House to the motion of the hon. member for Charlotte on a fishers' bill of rights.
The state of the fishery in the country is far too often overlooked, specifically in Nova Scotia and certainly in the South Shore riding which I am honoured to represent and in my neighbouring riding of West Nova which is very aptly represented in the House of Commons.
We talk to the people in the fishery. We know the people in the fishery. I am not a fisherman. I do not contend to be a fisherman but I certainly have many constituents who are fishermen. The South Shore riding is the largest single fishery riding in Canada with 800 and some registered fishing boats in Shelburne county alone. Queens county has another 200 and some and Lunenburg county has 180. It is a tremendous resource.
That resource is no longer there. That resource has declined. As the member for Charlotte mentioned, it declined over the years because of bureaucratic intervention, because of government intervention. He did not want to point the finger at anyone. I do not think I am willing to do that either. Certainly all governments of all parties have made major mistakes in the fishery and I think to this very day they continue to make them.
One difficulty I have with something called a fishers' bill of rights and the public right to fish is that I am not sure we any longer have a public right to fish. We cannot simply buy a fishing licence today and go fishing. There is no fish to catch. There are ITQs. There are community quota groups. There are all kinds of restrictions against fishing. The public right to fish is something I am very much afraid we may have lost a long time ago.
Even in new fisheries I have a number of cases—and I am sure members opposite have a number of cases—where people in an experimental fishery were not even granted the first licence to be given out in that fishery, whether it was an experimental shrimp fishery in St. Margaret's Bay or a clam fishery in the midshore, the endshore or the offshore. The people who developed those fisheries, the people who did the experimental work, very often were overlooked when it came to licences in direct contravention and contradiction of the Fisheries Act.
The hon. member for Charlotte mentioned TAGS. I would like to talk for a moment about the failure of TAGS to address the problem. To begin with TAGS was designed for ice plugged ports in Newfoundland. As an afterthought it was thought that it could apply to diminishing groundfish stocks in Nova Scotia. They brought TAGS in combined with a licence buyout that did not take enough out of the fishery. The TAGS program only covered the first $26,000 of gross landings by any fishing boat. After that they had to buy it back.
Let us figure out what it takes to accumulate the first $26,000 gross of a fishing year. They pay for their steamboat licences. They pay for their crews. They pay for their provisions. They pay for their diesel. They pay for their onboard catch monitoring. They pay for any ITQ transferring they do. They have not made any money and they are over the $26,000 gross.
The people who tried to work were penalized. The people who benefited from TAGS were the people who decided to sit back and improve their golf game or to go trouting. For the fishermen who tried to continue to work and to feed their families it was a dismal failure. That is the best thing that can be said about it.
We move on to the situation these people are still in with diminishing fish stocks. The south shore of Nova Scotia and parts of southwest Nova are extremely lucky. We have a few fish left. We are a long way from having a successful fishery. There was quota by every community group in Nova Scotia left in the water last year, quota they were unable to catch or quota that was not there.
We are encouraging the shacking of small fish. Shacking is a term fishermen use for throwing fish overboard. If they have a quota and they are only allowed 4,000 pounds of haddock what are they to do with the small ones? They cannot afford to bring them ashore as little haddock are worth 40 cents per pounded compared to big haddock which are worth $1 a pound.
It is a very dismal situation these people find themselves in. They are environmentalists and conservationists and they understand. They also have families, mortgages and car payments and have to attempt to make a living. The fishermen of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Newfoundland and Quebec are in dire straits as a result of TAGS.
We can look at the effort out there on the ocean by dragger fleets, seiners and foreign fleets. They have caught our bait. They have caught our food fish, our cod, our haddock and our halibut. It goes on and on.
This year Atlantic salmon stocks are expected to be at an all time record low of returning winter salmon to the rivers of southwest Nova. These rivers are under stress. We know acid rain has stressed the ability of the spawn to survive in the rivers. This is not rocket science. We understand that pollution is a factor.
We are at an all time low and we have the most stringent conservation methods we have ever had. No longer are estuary fisheries allowed at the mouth of rivers. Mature salmon can no longer be kept. Fishermen are encouraged to keep only grilse and only male grilse.
The aboriginal fishery takes male grilse out of the fish way for its allotment. This is not a threat to the salmon going upriver to spawn and reproduce.
What is a threat has been the fact that the federal government has allowed a foreign fishery in St. Pierre and Miquelon to buy the gear of the Newfoundland fishermen who sold their salmon gear to St. Pierre and Miquelon fishermen and set that gear in a 10 mile swath 200 miles long out to the edge of the shelf. No one in the House or on the fisheries committee or in the department will convince me that this has not affected returning fish to Nova Scotia.
For a long time we had a moratorium on commercial salmon fishing, which is indicative of the state of the fishery. The real money in the fishery is made from haddock, cod and flounder. The sport fishery is important but the real money and the real livelihoods of the majority of the people are in the ground and lobster fishery.
We have more pressure now. We have complete devastation in the fishery. Now in the lobster fishery there are more lobster licences and more effort in the lobster fishery than there has been in the past 50 years.
The point is that the lobster fishery needs a much more serious, increased effort. It is the sole provider of many families in Nova Scotia, South Shore and southwest Nova. That fishery is under serious pressure. I suspect it is under serious pressure in P.E.I, Newfoundland and parts of Quebec. We have to be very careful how we treat that fishery if it is to survive.
In my closing remarks I would just like to say a bit about the inability of the government to come forth with a proper buyout program for active licences. The licences on the banks about which there is some discussion about buying, the licences that have not been used for five, ten, fifteen or twenty years, are not catching fish. We do not have to worry about those licences. We should buy the active licences and put a restriction on bringing an inactive licence back into the fishery.