CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Good evening everyone!
What a great pleasure to take part in your convention this year.
Let me begin by wishing each and every one of you a productive couple of days. This is a time to catch up with old friends and make new ones… to take stock of the year that has passed… and to look at the challenges and opportunities ahead. I encourage you to make the most of your time together.
For my part, I want to talk about the steps our Government is taking to support the Maritimes’ fisheries, particularly the lobster industry.
At the same time, I firmly believe that industry must take the lead at finding solutions, and I want to acknowledge and encourage your recent actions in this regard. Your work with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to receive eco-certification as a sustainable fishery is a prime example.
As a Maritimer, I know how hard fishermen work to make a living. And I also know these last few years, in particular, have been difficult for everyone. There are no easy answers, but the federal government is ready and willing to work with you towards finding solutions that won’t roll out with the tide.
About a month ago in the federal budget, Economic Action Plan 2014 spelled out several important investments for the fishing industry, and I am proud to stand by them.
For example, there’s another $40 million over the next two years to support repairs and maintenance at small craft harbours. These facilities are essential for coastal communities and in-shore fleets. The extra money will ensure that important projects get done in the near future.
We are also extending the volunteer firefighter tax credit to search-and-rescue volunteers. Of course, volunteer crews don’t risk their lives on the open sea for the sake of a tax refund. But these heroes, some of whom are in the room tonight, play a critical role in our maritime security. Our Government is proud to recognize them for their selfless acts of courage.
Finally, I’m pleased to say our Government will provide additional funding to the Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnerships Program over two years. And we will renew the Atlantic Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiative to encourage First Nations fishing enterprises to be involved in the integrated fishery.
Additionally, we have made investments in National Conservation Plan and the Health of the Oceans program.
Economic Action Plan 2014 continues this Government’s commitment to strengthening our fisheries for future generations.
Of course, our support for the fishery didn’t start last month.
Since 2010, our Government has invested $50 million to improve the sustainability of the lobster fishery in the Maritimes through the Atlantic Lobster Sustainability Measures. I want to congratulate your association for helping make this program so successful and effective. Through your determination and the dedication of my department, the New Brunswick government supported the program with a loan worth more than $11 million.
As a result, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union retired 161 lobster licences in this province. In Nova Scotia, the MFU collaborated with other fishing associations to retire another 19 licences. This translates to the permanent removal of more than 50,000 lobster traps from the waters in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. What a terrific example of how our collaboration is making a difference in the lives of fishermen and their communities.
When it comes to solving the challenges facing the lobster sector, we must all play a role – harvesters, processors, provincial governments and the federal government working together.
I would like to briefly mention both the Maritime Lobster Panel Report and the Independent Review of the PEI Lobster Industry. I reviewed the reports carefully and also had the opportunity to speak with many industry representatives and the Provinces. Let me tell you that I am committed to helping the Atlantic lobster industry that is why I gave much consideration to the recommendations directed to my Department.
As you know, the panel made several recommendations to my Department. It is clear that DFO has a role to play. The success of our response, however, depends on everyone playing their respective roles. We will be relying on the support, cooperation, and indeed the leadership of industry groups and the Provinces to successfully carry out each initiative.
In particular, we want to work with groups like yours to clarify how we will work with fisheries organizations to enable industry-driven solutions. Solutions around rationalization, around management measures and other issues. I have asked my department to work with you on this and I know that the Maritime Fishermen’s Union will play a leading role.
Also connected to the Panel’s recommendations, we are working hard to find new markets for lobster. On that front, there is very good news. The Prime Minister recently signed a bilateral free trade agreement with the Republic of Korea. This Free Trade Agreement will provide Canadian businesses with unprecedented access to the Korean market. With an annual GDP of $1.1 trillion and a population of 50 million people, Korea is a key market for Canada.
Under the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement, all Korean tariffs on fish and seafood products will eventually be eliminated. But nearly 70 per cent of these tariff lines will be duty-free within five years of the Agreement’s entry into force.
Eliminating Korea’s high tariffs in the fish and seafood sector will level the playing field with the U.S., the European Union and other countries that already enjoy free trade agreements with Korea. It will facilitate the expansion of Canadian fish and seafood exports to Korea’s growing market.
The Agreement is projected to increase exports by 32 per cent and boost the Canadian economy by $1.7 billion annually.
In addition, last October, Prime Minister Harper announced the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement with the European Union. When this agreement comes into force, it will remove 96 percent of tariffs for fish and seafood products. In the first year alone, the lobster industry could save $6.7 million in tariffs.
Seven years in, the last tariffs will disappear, and lobster will be sold completely duty-free. I won’t pretend that increasing exports to Korea and Europe will solve all your problems. But I do think that selling more lobster to Koreans and Europeans should be part of a comprehensive strategy.
Another part of the solution lies in maintaining a strong, independent inshore fleet in Atlantic Canada. The Government has a policy in this regard, the Preserving the Independence of the Inshore Fleet in Canada’s Atlantic Fisheries — or PIIFCAF, as we call it. I want to remind all inshore fishermen that an important deadline is fast approaching. You have until April 12 to terminate or amend any controlling agreements. Those who are still in controlling agreements after the deadline will not be eligible to renew their licences.
I appreciate the strong support from the Canadian Independent Fish Harvesters Federation for the full implementation of PIIFCAF. Your leadership in bringing together fishermen’s organizations across Canada to promote the independent, small-business based approach to fishing in the country reaffirms the importance of this industry to fishermen and their families. Working with the Federation, we are collectively turning our minds to looking at how to make the fishery more economically viable while supporting a vibrant and independent inshore fleet.
Our Government is proud to maximize the economic value of the fishery, to open new international markets for our products, and to ensure sustainability of the fishery. We do all this because we believe in its future. But the future is one that we must work together to create. Over the next two days, MFU delegates have a chance to help shape their destiny right here.
Let me close by repeating my best wishes to everyone for a productive convention, and to reiterate our Government’s commitment to the future of the lobster industry in Atlantic Canada. Whether we’re based in Ottawa, Chéticamp or Richibucto, we need to work together.