Monday, October 3, 2011

Confederation's greatest failure

I gave the following statement Monday morning (Oct. 3rd) during a national news conference in the Centre Block of the House of Commons.

Welcome and thank you for coming.

I’ve called this news conference to announce that I will be tabling my private members’ bill later this afternoon in the House of Commons.

The bill is entitled An Act Respecting a Commission of Inquiry into the Development and Implementation of a National Fishery Rebuilding Strategy for Fish Stocks off the Coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The short title - the simple, straight-forward title - is the Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding Act.

It was in 1992 that John Crosbie, then-federal Fisheries and Oceans minister, shut down the northern cod fishery off Newfoundland’s northeast coast and Labrador, the first such commercial fishery closure in Newfoundland and Labrador’s 500-year history.

When the fishery closed an estimated 19,000 fishermen and plant workers lost their jobs.

Another 20,000 jobs were directly impacted.

The shutdown was described as the biggest layoff in Canadian history.

Bigger than the Dust Bowl.

The fishery moratorium was initially supposed to last 2 years.

It’s been 19 years and four months and the commercial groundfish fisheries off Newfoundland and Labrador have seen little, if any, recovery.

We have lost more than 80,000 of our people.

Outside of the scheduled food fishery, it is illegal for a child to jig a cod from the end of a wharf.

That’s how far we’ve fallen.

Five years after Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949 we handed over control of the fisheries to the Government of Canada.

I would describe our fisheries as Confederation’s greatest failure, a national embarrassment, a national shame.

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 400,000 tonnes.

But the stocks have been allowed to decline into “virtual oblivion.”

That quote was from 1992, but it’s as true today as it was almost 20 years ago.

Why have commercial groundfish stocks such as cod and flounder failed to recover?

Why is there no rebuilding plan?

Why are newer fisheries for species such as shrimp and crab starting to fail?

These are reasonable questions.

There are no reasonable answers.

The common thread would seem to be management - or mismanagement - at the federal and provincial government levels.

The feds look after harvesting, the province looks after processing.

A Commission of Inquiry would investigate the effectiveness of the current fisheries management regime.

Is it working?

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 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 on one end of the country and not the other?

When they have all so clearly failed – everywhere.

Besides management, an inquiry would also investigate the state of fisheries science.

From all reports DFO’s science branch has been gutted - reduced to a skeleton crew and that scientists aren’t replaced as they retire.

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.

I’ve been forwarded internal DFO documents in recent days that reveal DFO managers are planning massive cuts aimed mainly at stock assessment and fisheries management.

The intent appears to be to reduce the frequency of most stock assessments from once a year – to once every three to five years.

Given that Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest number of managed fisheries the impact is likely to be felt the greatest in my province.

Doing stock assessments every 3-5 years will increase the uncertainty in the data and hence the scientific advice given to managers.

Can our fisheries get any worse, I’m afraid so.

The purpose of this news conference is to draw the line in the sand, to draw the line in the ocean.

An inquiry would also investigate fisheries enforcement and quotas – who holds the rights to the fish in the sea, and who exactly is fishing the quotas, who’s benefiting from the quotas.

An inquiry would investigate the effectiveness of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization in managing migratory stocks outside the 200-mile limit.

At NAFO’s recent annual meeting in Halifax the quotas for most groundfish stocks were cut across the board.

Across the board - all stocks are in trouble.

There are other areas of serious concern with our fisheries.

We have been warned that the potential free-trade deal between Canada and the European Union 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.

As I said earlier, the federal government controls fishing, while the province of Newfoundland and Labrador controls processing or fish plants.

But Redfish, flounder, halibut, crab, and offshore shrimp are all being processed out-of-province.
In places like China.

How does that make sense?

Where is the vision in that?

The Newfoundland and Labrador fishery is broken.

The fishery is in perpetual crisis.

The fishery can still be fixed.

But it cannot be fixed without all the facts.

I’m calling on all Canadians, all levels of government, to support the call for an inquiry.

I have 20 seconders for my private members’ bill – the maximum allowed.

Seventeen of the seconders are New Democrats from every region of this country, as well as 2 Liberal MPs from my home province – Scott Simms and Judy Foote.

Elizabeth May, head of the Green Party of Canada, has also agreed to second the bill.

If it had of been a bank that was mismanaged to bankruptcy, there would be demands for accountability.

Why should Newfoundland and Labrador expect any less?

My province has been warned to prepare now for life after oil.

To make sure we can do for ourselves, so we don’t revert to our old label – as incorrect as it was - as a drain on Canada.

The foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador ‘s culture - the fishery - is teetering on the edge.

It’s not too late to save it, and ourselves.

I held a news conference in early September to announce my intention to introduce my private members’ bill this fall, and the call for a fishery inquiry.

Within hours Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield released a statement to say an inquiry will not happen.

He pointed to positive indicators in areas like the Eastern Scotian Shelf that efforts to study and conserve cod stocks in the Atlantic are paying off.

Only the Eastern Scotian Shelf is off Nova Scotia - not Newfoundland and Labrador.

The final thing I want to point out, and hammer home is this:

A Commission of Inquiry isn’t about pointed fingers of blame, but pointing the way forward.

Thank you.

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