The Telegram (St. John's)
Tougher penalties still needed in the offshore: MP
While the number of foreign offshore fishing vessels dropping gear outside Canada’s 200-mile limit has declined significantly since the 1990s, what remains the same is the criticism of the penalties given to vessels that break the rules.
Under the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), which manages the area, vessels cited for illegal fishing-related offences have to be dealt with by their home countries — the NAFO contracting parties.
Many people and groups in the Canadian fishing industry criticize this process as allowing the vessels to get off easy, thus not being effective in curbing illegal fishing.
According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website, five foreign vessels received citations in 2014.
The latest was the Faroe Islands vessel Arctic Viking while it was fishing shrimp in NAFO division 3L in August.
On Aug. 18, Canadian NAFO inspectors boarded the vessel and discovered the ship’s master had not maintained a stowage plan as required under NAFO Conservation and Enforcement Measures.
In addition, there was no at-sea observer onboard the vessel, which was also a requirement under the measures. The absence of an observer automatically elevated the case to that of serious.
It wasn’t the Arctic Viking’s first citation. The ship is a repeat offender having received citations in 2009, 2008 and 2006.
The four other vessels that were issued citations in 2014 include: on May 5 the Russian vessel Melkart-3, on May 3 the Spanish vessel Puente Sabaris, on April 19 the Portuguese vessel Coimbra and on April 7 the Portuguese vessel Calvao.
The Calvao is another repeat offender. According to NAFO citations dating back to 2004, the ship was issued citations for various infractions on Aug. 2, 2013; April 29, 2009; April 27, 2007; June 2, 2006; and March 19, 2005.
The Puente Sabaris shows cita- tions issued on March 4, 2013 and March 2, 2005.
NDP MP Ryan Cleary says the fact there are many repeat offenders shows how ineffective NAFO is in punishing fishing vessels breaking the rules on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, and on the Flemish Cap.
“You can’t knock Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the military. They are doing their job. But in terms of the end result, it’s just not there,” Cleary said.
“I think these foreign vessels outside the 200-mile limit should be treated as those inside the 200-mile limit. If you cite a vessel for overfishing, bring it in to the adjacent country — in this case Canada — and throw the book at them.”
Canadian fishery inspectors act as NAFO inspectors when outside the 200-mile limit. The inspectors provide their evidence to the home countries of the offending vessels and those countries have to conduct their own investigation and report to NAFO on what was found.
Cleary said he’s been for years seeking the information on what the outcomes of these cases are. As a journalist prior to becoming an MP, he filed access to information requests for the information. Now, as an MP, he has new ways to seek out the information.
“As a journalist, they always denied releasing the information because ‘it may jeopardize international relations’,” Cleary said. “One of the tools I have as a Parliamentarian is that I can put questions on an order paper, up to five at one time.
“The question I asked was, with regard to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Articles 39 and 40 of the NAFO Conservation and Enforcement Measures, what penalties, fines, and court actions have been imposed by the home countries of foreign trawlers that have been cited for illegal fishing in the NAFO regulatory zone off Canada’s East Coast over the past 10 years?”
The answer Cleary received from federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea offered up some answers.
“Mr. Speaker, over the past 10 years, there have been 13 home countries of foreign trawlers that have been cited for illegal fishing in the NAFO regulatory zone off Canada’s East Coast. In total, there have been two verbal rebriefs, eight warnings, two vessels ordered to leave the NAFO regulatory area, one vessel suspended, 696,980.48 EU in fines, 12.000 EEK in fines, 100 LVL in fines, and 285 USD in fines.”
Cleary said an analysis done by his office on the DFO information found that over the past 10 years, a total of 144 citations were issued involving 56 vessels. The type of offences, he noted, included misrecording of catch, the use of liners or under-sized mesh, exceeding bycatch limits and failing to co-operate with inspections.
“According to this (information) there were no court actions. These penalties don’t work. They act as slaps on the wrist and this has been going on for decades,” Cleary said.
“And this goes back to our moratorium. When we stopped fishing inside they didn’t stop fishing outside. They did clamp down, but the bottom line, from my perspective, is the fines are too low. It is not a deterrent.
“Take all the verbal reprimands, the warnings or the little bit of monetary penalty imposed, you take that number and put it next to 56 vessels — and we are talking offences such illegal mesh, undersized mesh, hiding fish — these have been serious. Nothing’s changed, same old story year after year. Leaving it to the home port, that doesn’t work.”