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