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Why MP Gudie Hutchings rejected Bill C-251

MP Gudie Hutchings (Long Range Mountains), who voted nay to Bill C-251, says it was not a whipped vote. – File photo

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES – Bill C-251, the Conservation of Fish Stocks and Management of Pinnipeds Act, was introduced into the House of Commons as a private members bill for the first reading on Feb. 9 and was rejected on June 15 during the second reading. Five Newfoundland and Labrador MPs voted against it, and one MP was absent for the vote.

The act was put forth with the purpose of respecting the development of federal framework on the conservation of fish stocks and management of pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses), as large populations of pinnipeds are responsible for serious effects on marine ecosystems.

The bill consisted of the following measures:

• Promote the conservation and protection of marine ecosystems by addressing the harms caused by pinniped overpopulation

• Provide for yearly pinniped censuses to be conducted

• Regulate the management and control of pinniped populations to establish acceptable levels for pinniped species, determined based on historic levels and the levels of similar species where fish, mollusk and crustacean biomasses are consistently maintained at commercially viable levels in other countries in the northern hemisphere

• Encourage the use of anti-predator mechanisms around fishing facilities or infrastructure, and spawning areas

• Promote year-round control of pinnipeds in order to manage their numbers and mitigate the detrimental effect these marine mammals are having on the environment when acceptable pinniped population levels are exceeded

• Address trade barriers on seal products to promote the sale and trade of various seal products by local businesses

• Establish programs and projects, mainly in rural areas, coastal communities and Indigenous communities, to promote the making and selling of pinniped products

With the fishery being a vitally important industry, not just in Newfoundland and Labrador, but all of the Atlantic Provinces, residents took to social media to call into question the reasoning behind the decision to vote against C-251.

One day later on June 16, the Office of the Official Opposition made a statement where Craig Pardy, PC Shadow Minister of Fisheries and MHA for Bonavista, was calling on the six Liberal Members of Parliament who voted nay on Bill C-251 to take a ‘reality check.’

“Yesterday afternoon, MPs Joanne Thompson, Seamus O’Regan, Ken McDonald, Churence Rogers, Gudie Hutchings, and Yvonne Jones had an opportunity to push party politics aside for the betterment of coastal communities across Newfoundland and Labrador. Instead, they failed their constituents, and they failed our province on the national stage,” stated Pardy.

Pardy observed that, on top of the five nay votes, Yvonne Jones, MP for Labrador, was absent.

“Members of our coastal communities across Newfoundland and Labrador are relying on their Federal Members of Parliament to take action immediately to restore the biodiversity of our oceans, restoring a culture and way-of-life, while also bringing this ecological disaster to an end. While our fishery remains in an ecological crisis because of seal overpopulation, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador need their federal representatives to step up in solidarity regardless of political stripe to represent our best interests,” said Pardy. “The people of Newfoundland and Labrador see the impact that seals have on our fisheries every single day – which has been validated by multiple studies over the decades. They have called on our political leaders to address this crisis – to restore our fishery. Yesterday, they decided that a whipped party vote was more important than representing an industry that is heavily relied upon by their constituents. This is absolutely shameful.”

MP Gudie Hutchings (Long Range Mountains), Minister of Rural and Economic Development, said the vote wasn’t a party whip call.

“For private members bills we’re allowed to vote how we want to vote, and we all voted the way we did because the bill itself was very weak. The bill was suggesting we spend $30 million a year counting seals, and my line was, ‘Why waste money on counting them? What difference does it make if there’s five million or eight million or ten million? Let’s put that money into product development and research so we can make scientific-based decisions.’”

Hutchings said there was no science behind the bill and no Indigenous component.

“The other thing is, you have to be careful. Our province exports $6 billion of seafood a year. You don’t want to jeopardize those markets at all and none of that was addressed.”

Hutchings said there is currently a quota of 400,000 seals and they aren’t being harvested now.

“The fishermen aren’t getting anything for them, so we need to do the product development and the science research to say, ‘Okay, look, we have a fertilizer issue, and you know what, you can use the waste from seal for fertilizer perhaps. There are hungry countries in the world. Can we do a dried seal protein powder to help hungry nations?’ We know oil is the healthiest Omega 3 in the world. Yes there is the pelt side of it, but we need to have scientific decisions where we can then develop the industries to support the growth of this. Then the fishermen will go out and harvest these seals. If you grow and build an industry around this, then the price will go up and the fishers will want to harvest it.”

Hutchings said all of this is necessary because of the impact that Green Peace could have.

“They have big, deep pockets and we have to be able to say the seals are having a problem on our ecosystem, but we’ve done our science and research. We know that we can develop an industry, so there’s going to be a harvest, but that’s going to turn into small businesses and big businesses in rural Canada as we develop this as well.”

Hutchings said this needs to be a cross-government approach, it can’t just be Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

“DFO manages the water and manages the quota. This needs to be Global Affairs Canada. This needs to be Innovation. This needs to be Economic Development. This needs to be entrepreneurs. This needs to be agriculture. This isn’t a DFO fix.”

Hutchings said everyone is concerned about the seals, but they have to have a proper plan in place.

“My question to fishers would be, ‘Where would you be if you lost your market for your lobster and your crab and your other species to the States because we mishandled the seal thing?’ This isn’t just a Newfoundland and Labrador issue. It’s a global issue, so we have to handle it correctly and I’m confident we are. We now have a plan. The minister is moving forward on this, and I can’t wait until we start seeing some science come in and then we can develop these small industries and I’ll be pushing for a lot of them in rural Newfoundland and Labrador to make a difference.”

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