Last year, the appropriation for relief to fishermen was discontinued by the dominion government in all parts of eastern Canada. In New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Gaspe and the north shore of Quebec, no relief has been given to fishermen. We could not give any to the fishermen of Magdalen islands, either, because the dominion government had no appropriation for that purpose. They had abandoned their policy of giving relief directly or through provincial governments. On the other hand, the fishermen of Magdalen islands have had last year an almost miraculous catch, as regards quantity. For a great number of years the average yearly production of mackerel had varied between 8,000 and 10,000 barrels, while last year it reached 23,000 barrels. As a result of such an increase in quantity, prices fell in importing countries and the fishermen of Magdalen islands requested higher prices based on their needs. It was only natural that they should do this, and we cannot blame them for it.
As a result, however, last fall, the buyers and fish dealers have refused to pay the Magdalen islands fishermen the prices asked for cured mackerel and consequently these fishermen have had to keep the greater part of the whole production throughout the winter. They communicated with the department of fisheries and I suggested that they sell their mackerel at the market price offered them last fall. If additional money were required by them to maintain a reasonable standard of living; if help were needed, the matter should be referred to the proper authorities, but they could not expect, for their fish, a very much higher price than that paid to other producers. This year, they have sold to a dealer unknown to me and they claim that they only received from $3.50 to $4 a barrel. It is unfortunate, for, a short time after the opening of the shipping season, the market price of cured mackerel increased considerably and they could have obtained a much higher return.
Let us now examine the conditions regarding lobster. Last year, the lobster catch in the Magdalen islands was negligible, claims the hon. member. Statistics show that, last year, one-third of the total lobster catch of the Magdalen islands was sold alive for 10 to 12 cents a pound, while the other two-thirds were bought by the canneries at a minimum price of 5| cents a pound, this price being fixed by regulation of the department of fisheries. According to my information, in the past fishermen have been getting for 14873-200
canning lobsters a price ranging from 2 to 4 cents a pound, this being the average paid to fishermen by lobster canneries. Last year we fixed a minimum price of 5i cents a pound. Four thousand cases were packed which should have brought an average of from $17.50 to $18 a case. In previous years the fishermen had been getting only $14 a case from the buyer or exporter. Last year they should have received from $16 to $17 and if they did not care to sell to the exporter at that price, they only had to sell to the government buyers. As a matter of fact, last year the federal government bought lobster from fishermen or canners who could not find a market through the usual trade channels due to the fact that the British market was closed to them.
Mr. Chairman, last year's fish catch for the Magdalen islands has been practically normal. However, it is known that the market for cured mackerel has not been as good as it should have been and as we had a right to expect.
The hon. member wants to know what measures the government intends to adopt for the benefit of these fishermen. They are exactly the same that apply to fishermen throughout Canada. This year, as previously, we secure for them a higher price than they usually obtained for canned lobster. To-day, according to information available, fishermen should get a minimum of 6 cents a pound for canning lobster and from 12 cents to 14 cents a pound for live lobster on both Canadian and American markets. While the price obtainable last year for canned lobster was from $17 to SIS a case, this year fishermen can get from $19.50 to $20 a case and this barely three weeks after the opening of the fishing season. This means that the demand for lobster so far is reasonably high and that great market possibilities are expected. Magdalen islands fishermen should benefit from this condition in the same degree as other members of their trade. Furthermore, if the ordinary buyers and exporters do not offer fair prices, they have the option of selling to the govenment buyers who will pay maximum prices as they did last year.
We shall continue supplying all available information in order to help them market better quality products. I believe our inspectors have already reached the Magdalen islands to start their educational work in order to help the fishermen help themselves. We call their attention to the best market possibilities and, besides, we have paid them, this spring, a sum of $40,000 to make up for low prices of cured fish, including cod as well as mackerel. We have spent, during February and March, over $40,000 to help
Wednesday Evening Sittings
Magdalen islands fishermen. Therefore, I suggest that they have no ground to complain of favouritism or of discrimination on the part of the Department of Fisheries. They get and will continue to get the same treatment that it is possible for us to grant to all fishermen of eastern Canada. If there has been any discrimination, it has truly been to the benefit of the poor Magdalen islands fishermen.