Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the whip of the Conservative Party.
I am certainly pleased to be here today to speak to this important piece of legislation, Bill S-3, an act to amend the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act.
As has been stated by my hon. colleagues, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a very serious problem both around the world and here at home. It is one of the main impediments to the achievement of sustainable fisheries worldwide, and it depresses the market prices for our fisheries exports.
As a Nova Scotian and a former chair of the fisheries committee, I understand the critical importance of our fishing industry and the role it plays in our economy, both at the local level and national level. Hard-working, law-abiding fishermen are committed to ensuring that Canada's marine resources are sustainably harvested and continue to be available for future generations. We invest in extensive fisheries science and monitor the status of fisheries and make decisions on how much catch can be allowed in a given season to ensure the health of the fishery.
However, those vessels that undertake illegal fishing operations have no regard for the sustainability of the fisheries they target. Their only concern is fishing as much as possible and selling that catch in the global market. We must stand up for our fishermen by supporting efforts to combat illegal fishing. We need to pass Bill S-3.
In Canada, we appreciate the critical importance of protecting our shared fishery waters. This includes our leadership efforts to ensure sustainable fishing practices and enforcement in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, and let me be clear that the bill before us today would not impact the management of NAFO, as the amendments relate to the activities at port, not at sea. Plus, our leadership in this organization demonstrates our country's commitment to sustainable fishing.
As part of our NAFO enforcement efforts, our inspectors make use of a comprehensive approach, including the use of satellite vessel monitoring systems, port inspection, daily catch reports and surveillance overflight information to target offenders.
We are seeing results. Due to our conservation measures, illegal fishing has been deterred, and the number of citations has been decreasing overall in the last 15 years, with only nine citations issued in 2014.
Turning back to the bill before us, the international community has been working to develop global tools to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. I am proud to say that the Government of Canada is part of this global movement.
As a nation with a robust fishing industry, Canada has a strong interest in protecting fish stocks and ensuring that fishing regulations are respected. The goal of the port state measures agreement is to prevent a vessel that has been fishing illegally to land its catch and for the illegal catch to enter the market. The agreement needs 25 parties to come into force. So far, 11 countries have taken the steps needed to ratify or otherwise become parties to the treaty, and another 16, including Canada, have indicated they will become parties as well.
With the existing Coastal Fisheries Protection Act and its regulations, Canada already has a robust port state control regime for foreign fishing vessels, and these amendments would make our regime even stronger. Even without the agreement, these amendments are important for improving Canadian fisheries enforcement efforts.
The proposed legislative changes have a practical necessity as well. The first concerns authorities related to the port access of foreign fishing vessels. As my hon. colleague has stated, the proposed changes establish an enforcement system that would apply when a foreign vessel has been directed by its flag state to enter a Canadian port. In this case, Canada would issue a specific permit for the sole purpose of inspection and enforcement.
It may be the case that the flag state may want Canada's assistance to conduct an inspection and to gather evidence. In such cases, allowing a vessel into our ports to gather this evidence would be more effective at combatting illegal fishing than keeping that vessel out of our ports.
As illegal fishing is a global threat to sustainable fisheries, the sharing of information on illegal fishing operations is essential for our partners to work collectively to address this international threat. We need to know who the criminals are to ensure that they are prevented from landing their catch.
The amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act would clearly lay out information to be shared with our international enforcement partners. Here at home, Bill S-3 would give clarity to the ability of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency to share information related to the importation of fish and seafood products.
Another category of changes contained in Bill S-3 concerns import prohibitions and related authorities. Under the proposed changes, it would give authorities new, practical tools to enforce prohibitions on illegal fisheries.
Currently, fisheries officers are limited to inspecting wharves and ships. Obviously, global trade is changing and fisheries officers need to be able to inspect all areas where fish may be kept. Those areas include warehouses, vehicles, or through a point of entry, such as an airport. These amendments would allow fisheries protection officers to seize illegally caught fish in these places and seek their forfeiture in the event of conviction for their illegal transportation.
The amendments would also ensure that the punishment fits the crime. If a court finds the person guilty of an importation offence under the act, significant fines would apply. Over and above these penalties, the court could also order an additional fine equal to the financial benefits the defendants gain from committing the offence. This would ensure that fines do not simply become a cost of doing business.
Fishing is a global industry, and our government recognizes this reality. Some of our key fisheries export markets, such as the European Union, have already ratified and implemented the port state measures agreement. Others, such as the United States, will soon be on board. These amendments would apply the same global standard in our ports as our key trading partners.
In conclusion, Bill S-3 would strengthen the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act, aligning it with the new global standard articulated in the port state measures agreement as part of meeting our international obligations.
The bill would allow us to protect the livelihoods of legitimate fish harvesters in Canada more effectively by limiting the amount of illegal fish that enter the world markets and that undermine the profits of responsible law-abiding fish harvesters. Our government is committed to ensuring sustainable fisheries and maximizing economic opportunities for our harvesters. Part of that commitment is supporting the global fight against illegal fishing.
In closing, I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting these critical amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act. This is a piece of common sense legislation that I think all sides of the House can support. It would enable our fisheries officers to actually board foreign vessels not just at the wharf, but also when that fish has been landed at the wharf and is en route to a market somewhere in Canada or North America.
The importance of this should not be understated. It would be one more tool in the tool belt of our enforcement officers. They have a tough job as it is. This would enable them to shut down overfishing, and specifically foreign overfishing. It would allow them to go on board foreign vessels. It would encourage those flagged owners of those vessels to force those vessels to port in Canada, and would allow our fisheries officers to go on board.
This is a win-win not just for enforcement in Canada, but it is a win-win for the global fisheries and sustainability everywhere.