Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise today and support a bill that has been put forward in the House of Commons by my colleague, the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, which is in essence central coastal Newfoundland.
Bill S-208 is an important bill for all of us who have lived a traditional life, both commercially and non-commercially, around the sealing industry. The people in my riding of Labrador, both indigenous and non-indigenous people, have engaged in the seal industry for centuries. Throughout my family, right on back to my great-great grandfather’s day, the seal was a very important part of survival, both from a cultural perspective and from an earning value perspective for the family. It is a way of life for us still today, as we eat seal and wear seal.
We feel the federal government has an obligation to protect and support Canadian heritage activities, whether that be farming, fishing, or in this case, seal harvesting. We are asking members of the House of Commons to support that position.
Bill S-208 is just one way for the federal government to stand by its commitment to indigenous people and non-indigenous people, and to those whose economies are affiliated with the seal industry.
While foreign governments and well-funded activist groups from away and at home in Canada have dealt a significant blow to this industry over the years and created a terrible image of the Canadian seal harvest, we have an obligation to make sure we make things right and that we point out the unfair publicity that has surrounded the industry.
It has been over 30 years since regulations have started to change within the seal industry. The images today of white coats and baby seals are still used by those who are trying to make a cash grab on the backs of those in the industry. However, it has been over 30 years since that has ever occurred in the sealing industry in Canada. It is one of the most humane industries one could ever partake in, and the people who perpetuate a different image are indeed, as my colleague said, fraudulent in their intentions and fraudulent in their information. What is happening in the industry today is their negative propaganda has done harm. It has done harm to the Inuit people who are dependant on seals for food security in their communities, and it has done harm to the rural and coastal communities of Canada.
For Labradorians, and for Inuit all over Canada, the seal harvest is so much a part of our lives. It is the cultural core of who we are as people, and it is the mainstay of our diet. It is really hard to explain to Canadians who have not been a part of the north shore of Quebec and the Magdalen Islands cultural industry, or that of Nunavut, or Nunavik, or Labrador, or coastal Newfoundland. It is really hard to explain what it means from a cultural and industry perspective, but I am going to attempt to do that.
I will attempt to do it through my own story, as one person. I grew up in a small, remote, rural community of predominantly indigenous Inuit people. When I grew up in the community, our clothes back then were all of seal. They were all hand sewn and handmade by my mother, my grandmothers, and my aunts. It was done from the seals my dad and my grandfather would catch. Not only was it the main source of food and protein for our family, but it was a main source of clothing as well. Still today, we continue in that vein, despite the negative publicity toward us.
We are not a society of people that judge others based on their culture. We do not judge them based on what they eat or what their cultural practices are, nor should they judge us, as northern and coastal people.
What know the seal industry is more than a cultural and significant industry to the people of the north and coastal regions in Canada, it is also a species which is impacting the entire fisheries ecosystem in Atlantic Canada. Those who ignore the impact of the seal on other species are really just blinding themselves in a cloud, where they do not want to be peeping out at the real story.
The real story is that in coastal areas, like in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have seen the seal population growing at a rapid rate, because we are no longer harvesting at the levels we once did, because the commercial industry has been eroded, and because the international markets have been buying into the fraud and the negative propaganda of money-grabbing socialite groups. It is because of those things that our whole ecosystem is out of balance.
We hear it from those who work in the fishing industry. They are seeing a huge depopulation of capelin and cod. I live in a community that has a river running through it, where I fish salmon with a rod from the rock just down lane from my house. I can look out and see seals in that river, something my grandfather never saw. The animals are starving. They are looking for a food supply. They are starving. They are going wherever they can to find food.
Seal have become over-populated. They have become a huge predator to every other fish species in the ocean. Seal today are eating more fish in the Atlantic waters around the coastal communities and the ridings like the one I represent than any fishery could take in 10 years, based on the quota levels that we currently have.
The seal industry is important in many ways. It is important to the people who live there and who have culturally used this animal for survival, and continue to do so today, and as a main source of food and clothing. It is important to the ecosystem of the fisheries habitat that we continue to harvest to ensure that balance is there and that communities are able to have sustainable fisheries, in seal, cod, salmon, shrimp, crab, and capelin. Right now the seal is overpopulated and has become a predator to every other species.
It is not uncommon for any of us in those communities to get emails, and photos from fishermen who, just cleaning a seal, are opening it up to find its whole stomach filled with baby crab. This is in areas where the crab population is declining at huge rates, year over year.
However, through this bill, we do want to point out the importance of seal products in Canada, in all of our communities, and what that means as a supplement to the income of people who live there.
When we look at traditional crafts from northern and arctic regions, especially in Nunavut—I think my colleague from Nunavut spoke on this bill a couple of weeks ago in the House of Commons—we can see the tremendous dependence on seal products to be able to run small businesses, to earn a living, and to build on their investment in those communities. It has been a way of life for them, as with any other species harvesting, farming, and fishing has been a way of life for anyone else in this country.
We feel this bill is consistent with our commitment to renewing our relationship with indigenous people who depend on this industry as I have outlined. I would like to remind everyone in this House and anyone who will listen that Canada’s seal harvest is one of the most humane industries. It is well regulated and it is sustainable. It is overly abundant and healthy in Canada. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
I just want to assure all my colleagues here of the importance of supporting this bill, and of the importance of marketing this seal as a product and as an industry for Canadians who have depended upon it traditionally for many years.