Mr. Speaker, before I respond to the hon. member's motion, as this is my first time speaking in the House I would like to thank the citizens of Nanaimo—Alberni for the trust they have given me to represent their interests in the House. As I begin my career in serving them I pray that I will honour that trust. I thank my campaign manager and the wonderful team that worked hard to ensure our success during the election. I also thank my wife Helen for her love, constant support and encouragement.
Mr. Speaker, if you will permit me a small personal digression, I would like to pay tribute to my late father, Albert Lunney, who passed away during the election campaign on October 24. I know that there are a number of hon. members who have followed their fathers' footsteps into the House and I congratulate them. On his deathbed my father told me that he had bought a pair of shoes a number of years back and he liked them so much that he bought a second pair. He had never been able to wear out the first pair, so he wanted me to have the second pair. To my surprise, they fit me. When I visited him in the hospital the next morning, although he was unable to lift his head from his bed I could see the pleasure on his face when I whispered to him “Dad, I am going to wear your shoes in the House of Commons on my first day”.
It gives me great pleasure to have fulfilled that pledge the day we first assembled in the House for the 37th parliament, the same day the Speaker was elected and, Mr. Speaker, you yourself were appointed. I congratulate you also. It is a day that I and many of us will never forget.
I have one final word and then I will turn to the matter of debate. One of the things I learned from my dad was a love for truth. My dad used to say that truth is stranger than fiction. It is my hope that during the 37th parliament members of both sides of the House will be known for a passion for truth and for service to the people who have elected us to this House.
Turning to the matter of debate, Motion No. 119 reads:
That in the opinion of the House, the government should undertake a study of the issues posed by the fish-farming industry, with particular regard to ecosystem health.
I am pleased to address this issue because it is one of particular significance, study, opinion and debate in my own constituency of Nanaimo—Alberni. Aquaculture in B.C. began in the early 1900s, with shellfish, oysters, clams and mussels. Farmed salmon were introduced in the early 1970s and have quickly become the leading product in the industry. The B.C. coastal area currently employs about 2,400 people and produces product worth about $200 million Canadian.
Aquaculture shares elements of concern with all elements of agricultural activity. Indeed, all human activities leave a footprint of some kind on the environment. It falls to us as good stewards of the environment to consider the short term and long term impacts of that footprint and to make sure our practices are balanced so that our needs of food production and the growing demands of humanity for food are balanced with the environmental concerns to protect unpredictable wild stock and natural resources. We must ensure that we employ best science practices to balance these potentially competing concerns.
That said, we know that extensive studies have been and continue to be done. The minister announced last August, just in time for the election, a commitment of about $75 million over the next five years for sustainable and environmentally sound aquaculture. I understand that included about $32.5 million for science and research.
I know that we have an aquaculture commissioner's office now, with a $2 million budget, and we have had travel to both coasts by the fisheries and oceans committee to look into the issue. Ongoing studies are continuing. We might wonder in this request in Motion No. 119 whether we are asking for funds for a study to study what the government is already studying and spending.
Referring to the Commons debate on the issue in the 36th parliament, I quote my colleague for Vancouver Island North, who stated:
The creation of a big budget aquaculture commission in Ottawa is not the answer. What is needed is a clear progressive mandate and budget for more biologists to vet project proposals. The committee heard from private investors who either had already or were prepared to invest their money in labour intensive aquaculture only to see their hopes and dreams dashed on the bureaucratic rocks.
The frustration of many in the industry has resulted in a brain drain coupled with capital shift as many highly skilled and experienced personnel from B.C. are increasingly leaving for countries such as Chile, Norway and Asia. Indeed, on my last flight home to Vancouver Island I spent considerable time in conversation with one such individual returning from Chile to his home in Nanaimo.
Many genuine and serious concerns about protection and wild stocks and the environment have been advanced. We have heard them articulated very well this morning by the hon. member in his motion. The concerns include, as he mentioned: escapement, the potential for escaped salmon to interbreed; disease; sea floor contamination; bioactive chemicals; and potential nutrification of the sea floor. Also, there are economic concerns on the west coast as commercial fishermen see their market undercut by low priced farm fish.
All of these are legitimate concerns and are worthy of scientific and public scrutiny. These issues have been studied, are being studied and no doubt will continue to be studied. I will say that intense scrutiny and study has brought about some changes, at least on the west coast where our provincial government has put in rather extensive controls. There was a moratorium on expanding fish farms a few years ago and to my knowledge it has not yet been lifted.
There have been improvements. The early farms involved shallow water which was sheltered. That of course led to real problems with disease and to sea floor problems. All farms now have to be in deeper water where there is a greater flush. That has reduced the problem of disease, at least in our end of the world, and the sea floor problems.
I understand that treatment is also expensive. Treatment has to be prescribed by a veterinarian and that adds to the cost of the feed. That in itself encourages good farming practices. Science has contributed to safety.
Predators do attack the nets. Auxiliary nets are now being used to keep them away.
A recent advance is the use of cameras to control feeding so that when feeding slows the dispensing of food also slows and reduces the sea floor pollution.
Although we have had escapes of Atlantic salmon and there are anecdotal stories of salmon in our coastal streams, there is no indication they have been successful at spawning or crossbreeding.
Many of the concerns originally advanced have been addressed by good science applications. A whole new area of concern is the attempt to develop genetically modified fish. The report of the Royal Society of Canada which was recently presented calls for an intense protocol of scientific screening before any GM organism is released into the environment. This principle should rightly be upheld in Canadian waters.
On the other side of the coin, I know that in our environment the fish farmers often come under criticism for being found in pristine areas where boaters or kayakers do not expect to find them when they are seeking solitude. However, occasionally these people have also been involved in rescue and in harbouring and sheltering boaters who have been in trouble. Also, they are involved in cleaning up the environment as they pick up after other boaters who discard diapers and floating bottles and other paraphernalia.
The hon. member mentioned some of the horror stories that have happened, where production has gone unbalanced. Indeed, there is going to be a need to maintain balance. There is a dynamic tension among production, regulation and conservation. To be successful we must find the balance. We must retain fundamental respect for the earth. The earth is our home. We must use the best tools of science, such as observation, measurement, quantification, verification and diligence, to ensure that production is optimized with minimal long term impact, but we must also strive to ensure that bureaucratic and unwieldy regulations do not frustrate an industry that has the potential to contribute to growing demands for food and to an urgent need for stable, long term, year round employment in our coastal communities.
The hon. member has raised some very good issues. The need for ongoing study is certainly there. We hope that much of the available funding already committed to by the minister for the next five years will be invested in continuing the research that needs to be done.