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Mr. President, distinguished delegates, observers, ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of the Government of Canada, it is a great pleasure to welcome you to Halifax for the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization.
If you have the opportunity, I invite you to experience some of the beauty and warmth that Halifax and Nova Scotia have to offer.
We all know how important the fishery is to all of our countries, and this is why NAFO’s work is so important to us.
Here in Atlantic Canada, our economy and our communities were founded on the wealth of the fishery. And today, our prosperity is still directly linked to its abundance.
I come from a fishing family and community myself — in Prince Edward Island. So I know from experience the importance of fisheries, and I recognize the need to focus on the long-term economic viability of this important resource.
Here in Nova Scotia, the fishery has long been a cornerstone of everyday life. One third of our total Atlantic landings comes from just off this province’s coast.
The global economic downturn has had a significant impact on the fishing industry and other sectors in recent years. Here in Canada, we have made strategic investments to strengthen our financial system, to support development and growth, and to stimulate spending. We are beginning to see signs of recovery.
Over the years, we have also invested to diversify and strengthen our fishery. We continue to work hard to help individuals and communities adjust and to transform our fishery — to better match capacity to supply, and to bring more stability and predictability.
And we have made progress. Today, we have a smaller, more viable fleet — one that is better matched to the state of our fish stocks. We have also learned an important lesson — conservation must always come first.
We have worked hard with people throughout the fishing industry to promote responsible fishing and processing practices.
We have adopted strict conservation measures for Canada’s fisheries, to protect and rebuild our fish stocks, and secure a brighter future for the thousands of people who rely on them.
And we have not shied away from making tough decisions in the name of conservation.
For example, I reduced the 2010 quota for shrimp in the area adjacent to Newfoundland and southern Labrador, in Canadian waters, by close to 30 per cent for conservation reasons. These are not easy decisions on any level. But as leaders, we must be willing to make decisions that may be unpopular in order to ensure the health of our fish stocks for generations to come.
Canadian harvesters have made sacrifices to rebuild our fish stocks, but we also know that we cannot do it alone. Rebuilding our stocks means ensuring sustainability both inside and outside Canada’s 200-mile limit.
This is why NAFO is so important.
To Canada, NAFO is an essential institution that has to work and work well. Our fishers and coastal communities depend on healthy and sustainable fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic for their economic future.
In this regard, I am pleased that NAFO has made significant progress in a number of important areas:
Our collective commitment to putting conservation as the number one priority in managing fisheries resources is a tremendous step. NAFO decisions to maintain moratoriums on a number of fish stocks, consistent with the scientific advice, have clearly demonstrated its commitment to protecting stocks over the long term.
These efforts have brought recovery to two important groundfish stocks — 3M cod and 3LN redfish. These fisheries were reopened at last year’s annual meeting. Those who have sacrificed during the moratoriums can look forward with optimism to resuming their traditional fisheries with a renewed sense of stewardship and conservation.
The commitment to improving enforcement and compliance is a key achievement and complements conservation efforts. In this regard, Canada has made a considerable investment in the Joint Inspection Scheme in the NAFO Regulatory Area. There is increasing enforcement collaboration with a number of Parties in the form of joint patrols and inspections.
In 2006, NAFO adopted a number of enforcement-related amendments to its conservation and enforcement measures. Consequently, for the most part, the rules of the fishery are now being followed. There are still cases involving NAFO citations for serious infringements, but they are increasingly the exception. We must continue this process, for although there has been a significant improvement in compliance in the NAFO Regulatory Area, parties recognize the need for continued vigilance to ensure the continued recovery and growth of important groundfish stocks.
I am also pleased to see a commitment to reforming NAFO. NAFO has adopted the amendments to the 1978 Convention and decided last year to undertake a Performance Review of the organization. Norway and Canada have ratified the amendments to date, and we believe this is the right course. I encourage all parties to pursue ratification to ensure a strengthened NAFO Convention comes into force as early as possible.
Lastly, I would like to applaud the progress that NAFO has made in protecting vulnerable marine ecosystems in the NAFO Regulatory Area, in response to the United Nations General Assembly Sustainable Fisheries Resolution. Last year, NAFO decided to close eleven additional areas of coral and sponge concentrations equivalent to an area the size of my home province of Prince Edward Island — in other words, more than five thousand square kilometres. Now that is significant.
In closing, let us mark the occasion of this 32nd annual meeting of NAFO by rededicating ourselves to this goal: Let us demonstrate our shared commitment to the future of our precious fisheries and oceans resources, and the future of those who rely on them.
I wish you a successful and productive meeting.