It may be time to change the words to the NL classic as the fishery fades away
On Friday, Oct. 21st, I debated my Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons. The following is my 15-minute speech, followed by links to the questions and answers that followed, and to the speeches of the Conservative, Liberal and NDP speakers.
Madam Speaker, my private member's bill — Bill C-308 — is 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 of my bill, the title that cuts to the chase, is the Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding Act.
The key word is “rebuilding.”
We must rebuild.
We must rebuild what was once one of the world's greatest protein resources — the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
We must rebuild what has been lost to us.
We must rebuild the fish stocks and use them as a foundation for life after oil, as a foundation for the future of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Let “rebuild” be the one word that resonates with every member of this House.
It is almost 20 years after the fall of the Newfoundland and Labrador cod fisheries and there has been practically no rebuilding — none.
That’s the key question that an inquiry would answer.
Why have stocks not rejuvenated?
Why have stocks not been rebuilt?
Why has the moratorium stretched almost 20 years when John Crosbie said, in 1992, that it would last only 2 years?
Commercial fish stocks are in desperate shape, about as desperate as they were when the fisheries were first closed.
Soon after Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, she handed over responsibility of her fisheries to the Government of Canada to manage.
The fisheries were our offshore oil of today, an incredible resource and wealth.
Only — unlike oil — the fisheries were an incredible renewable resource, a renewable wealth.
Sixty-two years after Confederation and our commercial fisheries for species such as cod —what was once known as Newfoundland currency — are on their knees.
How far have we fallen?
For most of the year, it is illegal to jig a cod, to jig a fish from the vastness of the north Atlantic.
What was once seen as a Newfoundland birthright is now a crime.
But the real crime is the fact that nothing has been done, that the fish resource has not been rebuilt, that we have not acted.
The real crime is that a generation later and the stocks are still in the same desperate shape.
The Grand Banks of Newfoundland were fished out, plain and simple.
In the year 1968, the northern cod catch was officially recorded at 810,000 tonnes — three times the estimated maximum sustainable catch.
Unofficially, more than one million tonnes of northern cod were taken from the sea that year.
It has been downhill ever since.
To be clear, this is not about blame.
There is blame to be shared by everyone, by the Government of Canada, by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, by foreign trawlers, by our own domestic fleet, by viewing the fishery as an occupation of last resort, by international organizations that are powerless, that are toothless to manage migratory stocks, by the use of fish stocks as international bargaining chips, by greed, by apathy everywhere.
The apathy must end.
To quote Newfoundlander Rex Murphy from a National Post column earlier this month:
“Newfoundland is in silent crisis. Increasingly, St. John’s highly concentrated economy resembles a sort of miniature Hong Kong amidst an increasingly deserved province. Out-migration is stealing a whole generation of Newfoundlanders. The outports are becoming just places ‘where the parents live,’ and the larger centres outside St. John’s have become dominated by old-age homes.”
To quote another Newfoundlander, Zita Cobb of Fogo Island, who is renowned as an entrepreneur and a visionary and who’s behind one of the largest projects every attempted to preserve even a small portion of rural Newfoundland.
She says, “If something isn't done now, we are going to be disconnected from our sense of community and our sense of past. The most tragic thing that could happen and it is happening now, is for a son not to understand his father's life.”
Our Newfoundland and Labrador culture, a culture steeped in the fishery, is slowly dying.
Let Me Fish Off Cape Saint Mary's is one of the most powerful Newfoundland and Labrador songs ever written.
Will there come a day when we will not relate to that song, or a day when we are forced to change the words to, Let me drill off Fort McMurray.
We must rebuild, or that will happen.
The ultimate tragedy is not so much that the stocks collapsed, but that there is no plan to rebuild them.
That is Confederation's greatest failure.
That is our national embarrassment.
That is our national shame.
That is Newfoundland and Labrador's “silent crisis.”
Canada once bore the reputation as a great steward of the sea.
Our reputation today is worth as much as an empty net.
An inquiry would investigate federal and provincial fisheries management.
Is the management working?
The ultimate measure of that management is the state of the stocks, the state of the industry.
The management, obviously, is not working.
Stock after stock has failed.
One of the last reports on northern cod was carried out in 2005 by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
The report was entitled, Northern Cod: A Failure of Canadian Fisheries Management.
The title says it all.
Ask me what was done with that report.
Nothing, even though the report took DFO to task for failing to recognize mismanagement as one of the reasons for the stock collapse.
That report also questioned why a recovery plan had not been drawn up describing DFO's lack of long-term vision as “astonishing.”
How can the federal government investigate management policy on one end of the country and not the other, when it has so clearly failed — everywhere?
Newfoundland and Labrador's commercial salmon fishery was shut down in 1991, 20 years ago this week.
There has been no recovery. Do honourable members see a trend?
Because there is a trend.
An inquiry would also investigate the state of fishery science.
Science has and is being gutted.
Instead of rebuilding for the future, we are taking away our opportunity for a future.
An inquiry would also investigate fisheries enforcement and quotas.
Who rules the rights to the fish in the sea and who exactly is fishing the quotas?
Who is 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.
Has it been effective? Absolutely not.
At NAFO's recent general meeting in Halifax the quotas for most groundfish stocks were cut across the board.
All stocks are in trouble.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, which I sit on, tabled a report in the House last week on the snow crab resource.
The study was triggered by concerns expressed after DFO cut the snow crab harvest in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence by 63 per cent.
DFO had been warned to cut the quota but the minister ignored the advice.
Again, this is not about blame.
I purposely avoid laying blame. That is not what this is about.
Recommendation 3 of the snow crab report advises that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans strike a task force to review the snow crab assessment process and the management of the fishery.
The problem is not just with the management of the snow crab resource, but with the management of all the fish that swim off Newfoundland and Labrador shores.
Today in my province, palm-sized fish are being exported to places such as China and the U.S. for processing while the plants we have left are closing permanently and our aging plant workers are protesting in the streets.
We are scraping the bottom of the barrel and the bottom of the sea.
We must rebuild.
Experts have said that a healthy groundfish stock could provide an annual harvest of 400,000 tonnes.
The total groundfish harvest last year for all of Newfoundland and Labrador amounted to less than 20,000 tonnes.
Which is a shadow or skeleton of our once great fisheries of the great Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
The time to rebuild is now.
The Prime Minister once described the east coast as having a culture of defeat.
I stand before the members to say that is not the case.
It is far from it.
We are fighting for our culture and our rural way of life in Newfoundland and Labrador.
We want to ensure that we can provide for ourselves rather than revert to what we have been labelled in the past, a label which I am sure everyone in the House has heard and one that is absolutely incorrect, that being that we are a drain on Canadian Confederation.
That is not the case.
If the fisheries and the Grand Banks of Newfoundland had of been banks that were mismanaged into bankruptcy there would have been demands for accountability, for reform and for an overhaul to ensure that never happened again.
The Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Labrador in my home province deserve no less.
I urge all honourable members to support my private member's bill.
It is not just the fish stocks that need rebuilding, but also our faith in this country to help individual provinces stand on their own.
My speech was followed by 5 minutes of questions and answers, followed by speeches by Conservative Randy Kamp (Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission, B.C.), Liberal Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra), New Democrat MP Peter (Sackville-Eastern Shore, Nova Scotia), Conservative Patricia Davidson (Sarnia-Lambton, Ontario), and New Democrat Phil Toone ( Gaspesie-Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Que).