Have I got a deal for you

Why do fish stocks keep feel­ing the pres­sure?


Our fed­eral govern­ment loves ju­di­cial in­quiries. They must. Ju­di­cial in­quiries are big stuff. MP Ryan Cleary has pro­posed a Bill call­ing for an in­quiry into the fish­ery. When I first heard that, I was re­minded of the lyrics of Amy Wine­house’s song “Re­hab.” If I can para­phrase this cor­rectly to fit the sit­u­a­tion, the open­ing line would go; “ They called for an in­quiry, but I said no, no, no.”

A cynic might say that govern­ment in­quiries of­ten turn out to be noth­ing more than make-work projects for politi­cians. This one could cost the tax­pay­ers $25 mil­lion, with a sub­stan­tial amount of that likely go­ing to the com­mit­tees and travel ex­penses of the MPs who would un­der­take the, uh, in­quiry.

Any­one who can read, can tell you how to fix the fish­ery. For cry­ing out loud, it’s a re­new­able re­source, but only if you make sure two things are ac­com­plished. I’m about to re­veal what those two things are, and I’ll only charge per cent of what an in­quiry will cost. I’m hop­ing you rec­og­nize a bar­gain when you see one.

First, though, a short his­tory les­son. Af­ter con­sid­er­able dis­cus­sion be­gin­ning in the late 60s, by politi­cians around the world en­gaged in an in­quiry, Canada be­came one of 162 na­tions that signed onto the in­ter­na­tional Law of the Sea Treaty, or LOST, in 1982. The treaty cov­ered nav­i­ga­tional, mar­itime, min­eral, fish­ing, en­vi­ron­men­tal, and other con­cerns of most of the world’s coastal coun­tries, in a man­ner in­tended to pro­tect smaller, less de­vel­oped coun­tries.

You might see why the United States only par­tially signed on in 1994, af­ter they gained cer­tain reg­u­la­tory pro­tec­tions Canada wasn’t pay­ing at­ten­tion to. The U.S. still hasn’t rat­i­fied it, so to say they are will­ing par­tic­i­pants would not be cor­rect.

The treaty set out the 12-mile ter­ri­to­rial limit, as well as a 200-mile eco­nomic ex­clu­sion­ary zone, or EEZ, around mem­ber coun­tries. Coun­tries were free to en­ter into what­ever trade ar­range­ments they wanted to within that 200-mile zone. Dis­putes that might arise out­side the 200-mile zone that in­volved fish­ing rights of species of fish that rou­tinely crossed in and out of the zone were to be re­solved by an in­ter­na­tional court.

One such ex­am­ple of this was the tur­bot war in the mid-90’s. Dif­fi­cul­ties with pro­tect­ing strad­dling fish stocks out­side the EEZ be­came ev­i­dent when it ap­peared that the tur­bot was in dan­ger of be­com­ing ex­tinct. In March 1995, Cana­dian Fish­eries Depart­ment of­fi­cers seized a Span­ish fish­ing ves­sel that was fish­ing tur­bot in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters off the coast of New­found­land.

Spain brought a claim against Canada be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice al­leg­ing a breach of the cus­tom­ary right to fish on the high seas, a right cod­i­fied in the Treaty. One con­se­quence of the tur­bot con­tro­versy is the United Na­tions Treaty on Strad­dling and High Mi­gra­tory Fish Stocks. The treaty gives coastal states, i. e. Canada, di­rect en­force­ment pow­ers to con­trol ex­ces­sive fish­ing for mi­gra­tory stocks such as cod or tur­bot, which then can lead to manda­tory dis­pute res­o­lu­tion mea­sures.

Some coun­tries, like the U. S., don’t like manda­tory dis­pute res­o­lu­tion, be­cause it re­stricts au­ton­omy. Sub­mit­ting to ex­ter­nal ju­ris­dic­tion cre­ates an un­com­fort­able prece­dent. Canada never seemed to mind that, and frankly, our pow­ers of “en­force­ment” have proven laugh­able, as well as detri­men­tal.

Les­son over. So here’s what we know. If you don’t over­fish be­yond what’s known as the re­cruit­ment rate, or the rate at which a species’ re­pro­duc­tion can keep up with catch rates, the stocks will re­plen­ish. Ev­ery­one seems to be abus­ing that con­di­tion. This as­sumes, as well, the sec­ond cri­te­ria I told you I’d pro­vide is met, which is en­sur­ing the habi­tat is pro­tected.

What’s miss­ing? Why do fish stocks keep feel­ing the pres­sure? Clearly, it’s our non-con­fronta­tional de­sire to avoid en­force­ment. If we were more con­fronta­tional, per­haps we could have taken steps to re­strict trade with our so-called Treaty mem­bers when they voted to ban our seal prod­ucts last year. Ot­tawa, as we know, couldn’t be both­ered with that.

Ev­ery one of our trade agree­ments in­volv­ing the ex­ten­sion of fish­ing rights that may be within the 200 mile EEZ must be re­vis­ited. At the same time, we have to de­velop a more an­tag­o­nis­tic per­sona, to be ex­er­cised against all over­fish­ing, do­mes­tic and other­wise.

Maybe we should con­sider drop­ping out of LOST. Govern­ment may want to spend $25 mil­lion to even­tu­ally reach sim­i­lar con­clu­sions that I’ve pro­vided here for you at 1/100th the cost.

I hope my cheque is in the mail. I’ve got ex­penses here. Alex Harrold writes from


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