Statement made on 25 April 2012 by Senator Elizabeth Hubley
Hon. Elizabeth Hubley:
Honourable senators, let me begin by expressing my thanks to our former colleague Senator Meighen for calling the attention of the Senate to the economic benefits of recreational Atlantic salmon fishing in Canada. In one of his final contributions as a member of this house, Senator Meighen presented a wonderful summary of the state of this industry as was detailed in a recent report from the Atlantic Salmon Federation. I thank Senator Meighen for initiating this inquiry and wish him well in his retirement.
This report by the Atlantic Salmon Federation clearly demonstrates the linkages between a healthy salmon population and the economic benefits Canadians, and particularly Canadians on the East Coast, can achieve from this resource. The report pegs the economic value of the wild Atlantic salmon at $255 million, including $150 million in direct gross domestic product, or GDP, contributions. About 4,000 full-time-equivalent jobs depend on this resource. In fact, the actual number of jobs is probably much higher because of the seasonality of this industry. Of the $150 million in contribution to GDP, most of that, or about $128 million, is directly attributable to the recreational fishery.
Recently released census results give us an official confirmation of what we all know. The weight of population and economic activity in this country is shifting to the Western provinces. Although this provides incredible growth potential in the Western provinces, economic opportunity is much more limited in regions like Atlantic Canada, particularly in the rural areas. This is precisely the region of the country that is most impacted by and receives the most benefit from the Atlantic salmon. The $150 million of direct GDP contribution from this industry is focused not in our cities but on the rural areas of these provinces, areas where people have limited choices to earn a living, other than uprooting their family and moving across the country.
Honourable senators, that is precisely why we need to protect this industry. It is estimated that the wild Atlantic salmon population is currently at less than 20 per cent of its historic numbers. This is a species that needs our protection and regulation if it is to survive and if our industry surrounding this species is to thrive.
The low point of the wild Atlantic salmon was only 10 years ago, when there were an estimated 418,000 salmon in the wild. While this seems like a relatively large number, the number was about 1.8 million in 1973, just a few years earlier. That number had risen to 600,000 by 2010.
What have we seen as the numbers fluctuate? Over the past few years, as the salmon starts to recover a little bit, the number of anglers chasing those fish has increased, and so the economic value also increases. From 2005 to 2010, as the number of fish started to climb, the number of anglers in the recreational fishery increased from 41,000 to 58,000 participants. Remember, these anglers provide direct economic benefit precisely to those areas of our East Coast where opportunities are limited and where the recreational fishery is the biggest component contributing to the value of this industry.
However, the wild Atlantic salmon stocks, while increasing, are not thriving. They still sit at a fraction of their historic numbers. It is the responsibility of the federal government, principally through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, to ensure that this resource is protected and conserved, both to uphold our moral responsibility to the environment and to maintain the economic livelihood of those areas that depend on this fishery.
Particularly on the East Coast, we vividly remember examples of fisheries mismanagement and the resulting costs to our communities. We have to ensure that this does not happen again. As noted in the report by the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has recommended that the wild Atlantic salmon be declared an endangered or threatened species in numerous areas of the Atlantic coast.
Honourable senators, if the wild Atlantic salmon stocks collapse, we lose this multi-million-dollar industry supporting rural areas of the Atlantic shore. The wild salmon recreational fishery needs proper scientific-based management to ensure that it is available in the future. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a stated policy goal concerning the conservation of wild Atlantic salmon, which is to maintain and restore healthy and diverse salmon populations and their habitat for the benefit and the enjoyment of the people of Canada in perpetuity.
However, despite the importance of this industry to some of our most economically vulnerable regions, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' budget related to Atlantic salmon has been reduced by 75 per cent since 1985. On top of that, the department's budget was cut again in Budget 2011, and according to media reports, more cuts are looming in the next federal budget.
The report by the Atlantic Salmon Federation supports increasing the federal budget dedicated to wild Atlantic salmon by $15 million per year. This would go into conservation, restoration and education programs. With this investment, the federal government could truly assist with expanding this industry. The report points out that the return on this investment, solely based on the increased angler spending as the industry expands, would be in the range of 18 per cent, with the break-even point in six years. This does not even take into account the reduced need for other types of government support since the industry mostly affects rural areas with fewer opportunities.
It is the federal government principally, through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, that has the mandate, the expertise and the authority to protect wild Atlantic salmon. We are at a critical point. Wild Atlantic salmon numbers have started to recover, but they are still endangered or threatened in many areas. Where the numbers are increasing, the related economic activity and benefit is also increasing.
This is not the time to further reduce the contribution of the federal government, but instead it is an opportunity for further investment. This is an industry with growth potential, but only if the federal government plays its role. Further investment is needed to allow this industry to grow, to support our rural communities and to protect the wild Atlantic salmon.
I urge the federal government to support this important fishery and to protect it for future generations.