Hon. H. F. G. BRIDGES (Minister of Fisheries):
Mr. Speaker, for some time the government of Canada has been giving careful consideration to the proclamation of the Fisheries Prices Support Act, 1944, and to the
type of fish that the act should first apply to. This problem has been closely interwoven with what the government's policy on post-UNRRA relief would be, and also with the trade and tariff negotiations at present going on in Geneva. These negotiations have been and are being closely watched by the Department. of Fisheries, the deputy minister of fisheries having been present at Geneva during some of the negotiations on fish.
As the government's policy on post-UNRRA relief has just been announced by the Prime Minister (Mr. Mackenzie King), I am now in a position to make a statement indicating the intention of the Canadian government on the matter of purchases of fish for relief for the 1947-48 production, and on the matter of proclaiming the Fisheries Prices Support Act, 1944.
As part of its contribution to international relief the government feels that it can make available out of Canada's production of fish during the present fiscal year, quantities of canned and salted fish of types suited to relief feeding. The types to be purchased will be dried salted cod, haddock, hake, pollock and cusk, pickled barrelled fish (herring, mackerel and alewives), bloaters, canned herring and canned mackerel and chicken haddie. In the case of salted fish which is produced mainly in eastern Canada, the commercial export markets are reasonably firm, but in frozen fish both the home and export markets are weak. It is the government's hope that the industry will divert as much raw codfish as possible to salting rather than to freezing. The government will be prepared to buy, at prices to be determined, up to 10,000,000 pounds of dried salted cod and related species, up to 40,000 barrels of pickled fish, up to
50.000 boxes of bloaters, up to 900,000 cases of west coast canned herring, and up to
100.000 cases of eastern canned fish, the latter being in addition to the current purchases being made in the east by UNRRA. It is hoped that quantities of cod and related species of fish can also be diverted from the frozen outlet into the canned form.
The details of the methods of purchase, of prices and other terms of contract cannot be announced until after discussion with the industry, and members of the industry are being invited to Ottawa to discuss this and related matters next week. The purchases however will likely be handled by the Canadian Commercial Corporation. The prices to be paid for this fish by the government will not necessarily be at the levels at which UNRRA has purchased in the past season. Many raw fish prices have declined recently, and the increased volume of activity which
these government purchases will provide to fishermen and operators should contribute to a lowering of costs. The government will, however, in establishing the prices give due attention to the raw fish prices being paid to fishermen. As I mentioned earlier, these operations are confined to the 1947-48 season, that is to the current fiscal year, and the government in no way commits itself to a continuation of relief purchases next fiscal year.
Of the $20 million just announced by the Prime Minister to be made available for post-UNRRA relief, up to $8,000,000 will be made available for fish purchases. This amount, it should be noted, will be confined to purchases of fish of the salted and canned varieties. For some time, however, the government has been endeavouring to find additional outlets for frozen fish in European markets, either through commercial channels or through relief purchases. Despite this attention no substantial market for frozen fish has been found in Europe. Exchange difficulties in some countries, lack of merchandising facilities for handling frozen fish in others, and expansion of Europe's own fish production have all militated against frozen fish exports. In the United States, the only remaining substantial export market, competition from expanded United States production and from the products of Newfoundland and Iceland have contributed to a lowering of prices, and have slowed down the rate of Canadian sales of frozen fish. In the circumstances the government believes that the solution to the frozen fish problem depends on increasing the consumption of frozen fillets in the domestic market. To effect such an expansion of our home market has its difficulties, but is a solution, as many hon. members pointed out in the recent debate on the fisheries research board bill, which would have a lasting benefit to the industry, and which should be physicall}' possible since Canadians consume only some 10,000,000 pounds of frozen fillets annually, or something like three-quarters of a pound per head. To take care of the frozen branch of the industry the government is prepared to proclaim immediately the Fisheries Prices Support Act 1944. Under that act a board will be established with five members and with advisory committees from the industry-both management and fishermen.
The act gives the board powers to buy and sell fish and to prescribe prices. The board will be established without delay. It will confine its operations during the present fiscal year to fish produced during the remainder of the 1947 season. It will be asked to prepare in collaboration with industry a
general distributional programme, including advertising, designed to increase domestic sales of fish of all species and kinds, and particularly packaged fish, and in particular to consider the specific species of the east, prairies and British Columbia in which the prices received by fishermen from the freezers are unduly low in 1947, and to devise means of maintaining these prices at or near their current levels. This programme of support will be related to the domestic market only. The government wishes it to be clearly understood that it is not prepared to support or subsidize the export trade in frozen fillets. The attention of the board, as I have just stated, is to be devoted mainly to the expansion of the domestic market. This expansion will be aligned to a new government programme of improving the quality, the grading of packaged fish, and the standards of inspection will be set up accordingly.
The prices support programme therefore for 1947 is aimed at expanding domestic consumption by improving quality and by giving close attention to the distribution costs of the industry which hitherto have tended to hold retail prices at levels that limited1 consumption. The programme of the board will be confined to the remainder of 1947 production. So far as fishermen are concerned, their current prices should be well maintained during the season, first by relief purchases of salted and canned fish, and second by the operations of the support board in maintaining fishermen's prices and in making additional sales of frozen fish on the domestic market.