I gave the following statement this morning (Monday, Sept. 12th) at the Delta Hotel in downtown St. John's. The press conference, to announce a Private Members' Bill calling for an inquiry into the NL fisheries, was made in the same hotel room where then-federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister John Crosbie shut down the northern cod fishery in 1992.
Welcome, and thank you for coming.
Before I begin, I should note that my office sent out invitations to this news conference to all of Newfoundland and Labrador’s MPs and Senators, the leaders of each of the province’s three political parties, as well as fishing industry representatives, industry players, the union, mayors – people with a concern about the future of the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery.
I’ve called this news conference to announce that I will be presenting a Private Members’ Bill this fall in the House of Commons calling for a Commission of Inquiry into the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries.
The call for an inquiry was a central plank of my election platform leading up to the May 2nd federal election, and I’m following through on that commitment.
I’ve spent much of the summer speaking with fishermen and fisherwomen, stakeholders, politicians, the union, and scientific sources inside and outside the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
I decided to hold this news conference in this particular room, at this particular hotel, for a very particular reason.
It was here - 19 years and two months ago - that then federal-Fisheries and Oceans Minister John Crosbie shut down the northern cod fishery – the first such commercial fishery closure in Newfoundland’s 500-year history.
The atmosphere in the room that day was heated, incredibly tense, incredibly dramatic.
I know, I was there.
I sat in the front of the room, in front of John Crosbie, as fisheries reporter with The Evening Telegram, as fishermen tried to ram in the door at the back of the room.
The door behind you.
Security personnel had jammed the door handles with chairs so that the fishermen couldn’t get in.
The fishermen were furious with the amount of compensation that the feds were prepared to pay at the time - $225 a week - which was described as a “starvation package.”
The fishermen were more upset because they felt that the news should have been delivered to their faces.
Fishermen had been barred from that 1992 news conference.
Fishermen are not barred here today.
The door at the back of the room is open.
When the northern cod fishery was closed an estimated 19,000 fishermen and plant workers lost their jobs.
Another 20,000 jobs were directly impacted.
That’s 39,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who found themselves out of work.
The layoff was described as the biggest in Canadian history.
Bigger than the Dust Bowl.
The fishing moratorium would initially scheduled to last two years.
19 years and two months later and here we are.
The commercial groundfish fisheries of Newfoundland and Labrador have seen little, if any, recovery since the early 1990s.
We have lost upwards of 80,000 of our people.
Outside of the scheduled food fishery, it is illegal for a child to jig a cod.
How far we have fallen.
The foundation of our culture - the fishery - has been gutted.
And the little that’s left of our fishery is still threatened.
Our culture is threatened.
Our future is threatened.
It is threatened by lack of vision.
It is threatened by the absence of a rebuilding plan.
It is threatened by apathy in all quarters.
It has been almost 20 years since the first commercial fishing moratorium was introduced and there has been practically no healing of fish stocks, no substantial recovery of any kind.
The groundfish stocks on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland have been described as one of the world’s greatest sustainable protein resources that should be able to sustain annual landings of more than 400,000 tonnes.
But the stocks have been allowed to decline into “virtual oblivion.”
That quote was from 1992, a quote that’s as true today as it was 19 years ago.
A Commission of Inquiry would investigate the effectiveness of the current management system and the state of fisheries science.
Such an inquiry would also investigate fisheries enforcement and quotes - who holds the rights to the fish in the sea, and who exactly is fishing the quotas.
In recent days, I have heard directly from DFO employees in St. John’s, employees who approached me to speak off the record.
The sources say that DFO’s science branch has been reduced to a skeleton crew and that scientists aren’t replaced as they retire.
We’ve been hearing that for years.
Moral is “horrible” due to cuts, attrition and workload.
Scientific research vessels are on their last legs.
And the axe is still falling on DFO, with future cuts expected in the 5 to 10 per cent range, as with all federal government departments.
Most worrisome, the DFO sources say management decisions are as political as ever, and not based on science, what little science there is.
In 2005, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans compiled a report: Northern Cod: A Failure of Canadian Fisheries Management.
The report took DFO to task for failing to recognize “mismanagement” as one of the reasons for the stock collapse.
The report also questioned why a recovery plan had not been drawn up, describing DFO’s lack of long-term vision as “astonishing.”
Nothing has been done since the release of that 2005 report.
The absence of a national fisheries policy has led to inconsistencies in management approaches across Canada.
The federal Conservative government called an inquiry in 2009 into the decline of sockeye salmon on British Columbia’s Fraser River.
How can the federal government investigate management policies in one end of the country and not the other?
When they have so clearly failed — everywhere.
How can there be such a discrepancy from coast to coast to coast?
Canada’s Fisheries and Oceans Department was once the envy of the world.
That was decades ago.
Managed Annihilation, History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse, is the title of a book released in 2010.
As the title indicates, Managed Annihilation contends that northern cod were administered into virtual extinction.
It’s time to rebuild not just fishery, but our reputation as stewards of the sea.
An inquiry would also investigate the effectiveness of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization in managing migratory stocks outside Canada’s 200-mile limit.
Just last week I learned that there have been 9 fishing citations issued against foreign trawlers operating outside the 200-mile limit since September 2010, citations that DFO has failed to publicize — intentionally or otherwise.
The inquiry should also investigate the impact of the Canada/EU free trade deal on Canadian fish stocks.
We have been warned that any such free-trade deal will negatively impact fish stocks off Newfoundland and Labrador, and, together with recent changes to the NAFO convention, allow for potential foreign control of Canadian stocks.
Newfoundland and Labrador has been warned to prepare now for life after oil.
Economist Wade Locke of Memorial University, as well as former Auditor General John Noseworthy have warned that Newfoundland and Labrador must prepare now for what might happen once the oil boom ends.
We have been warned the good times won’t last.
I have taken the warning seriously.
The fishery is broken.
The fishery is in perpetual crisis.
The fishery can still be fixed.
Be it cannot be fixed without the facts.
To date, I have the support of my party, the New Democrats, both federally and provincially, in my call for an inquiry.
Today, I’m calling on all Canadians, all levels of government, and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians specifically, to support the call for an inquiry.
It’s been almost 20 years since the fishery collapse.
The question shouldn’t be how much an inquiry will cost, but how much Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy has already lost — and will lose — because of the gross mismanagement of the resource.
The question shouldn’t be whether you personally or the Government of Canada supports an inquiry.
The question should be why hasn’t an inquiry already been called.
The time has come to pull the fishery out of perpetual crisis and create a new economic model that works.
As I said in the House of Commons this past spring, maybe some day we’ll want our son\s to be fishermen.
And our sons will want to be fishermen.