Canada’s National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

Published by:

Communications Branch
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0E6

DFO/2005-280 (Revised September 2005)

©Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2005

Cat. No. Fs23-462/2005
ISBN 0-662-68828-7

Printed on recycled paper

1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose

The purpose of this document is to specify Canada’s plans to prevent, deter, and eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; to provide a description of Canada’s existing policies and legislation related to this problem; and to identify ongoing programs and projects to address it.

Canada’s National Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (NPOA-IUU) was developed in accordance with the principles and provisions of the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU fishing (IPOA-IUU). These principles and provisions are set out by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

The NPOA-IUU elaborates and recommends solutions to Canada’s IUU fishing concerns with respect to overcapacity, lack of effective flag State control by both contracting parties and non-contracting parties, and non-compliance with no consequences by contracting parties to regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs).

1.2 Overview of IUU Fishing

During the past few decades, the international community has become increasingly aware of the growing number of unlawful and irresponsible fishing activities within national jurisdictions and on the high seas. These activities, commonly referred to as IUU fishing, threaten the sustainability of capture fisheries around the world.

IUU fishing works against the efforts of States, RFMOs, industry, and legitimate fishers to maintain productive and sustainable fisheries. In addition to the direct damage IUU fishing causes to fish populations, it also has an adverse affect on marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles, and biodiversity as a whole.

While the true magnitude of IUU fishing around the world is unknown, the FAO suggests that approximately 30 per cent of the total catch in 2000 was the result of IUU fishing. It is clear that the purveyors of IUU fishing activities are dynamic, driven by profit, and supported by both economic and social incentives. It is also clear that these activities can differ from one region or targeted species to the other. Moreover, IUU fishing can adversely affect the people employed in illegal fishing activities; as a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) workshop on IUU fishing (April 2004) drew attention to the inadequate safety conditions of crew members from poor and underdeveloped parts of the world.

Particularly disturbing are organized illegal fishing activities occurring in the area governed by RFMOs or in other areas of the high seas. Some fishing fleets continue to illegally catch fish protected by moratoria in the NAFO regulatory area, while others fish in excess of their legal quotas each year.

In order to address IUU fishing, stakeholders at all levels need to adopt equally dynamic national, regional, and international strategies. More information about the global problem of IUU fishing can be found at the FAO Fisheries Web Site at:

1.3 Origin and Purpose of the IPOA-IUU

The IPOA-IUU is a voluntary instrument that identifies means to prevent, deter, and eliminate IUU fishing activities through a series of measures that are meant to be fully implemented by all States, regional economic integration organizations, and RFMOs. It identifies cooperation, coordination, broad consultation, and full participation from all stakeholders as key elements of the implementation process. It also encourages a comprehensive and integrated approach that considers all economic, social, and environmental impacts of IUU fishing. This approach is based on the fundamental principle of conservation, transparency, and non-discrimination.

The concept of the IPOA-IUU arose from the Twenty-third Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in 1999. The Committee was alarmed by the rate at which IUU fishing activities were increasing, the estimated damage caused by such activities, and the proliferation of vessels flying flags of convenience.

The IPOA-IUU was developed in a manner that draws on the rules of relevant international law within the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Therefore, although the IPOA is voluntary, many of its basic provisions exist in other binding instruments, such as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the 1995 United Nations Fish Agreement, and the FAO Compliance Agreement.

COFI approved the IPOA-IUU on March 2, 2001. It was formally adopted by the FAO Council the following June.

1.4 Canadian Fisheries

Fisheries resources play an important role in Canada, providing food and income for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. In 2003, these fisheries employed approximately 115 000 people, who landed some 873 000 tonnes of fish in the Atlantic region and 218 000 tonnes of fish in the Pacific region. The combined value of the catch was more than $2.9 billion in 2003. With exports of fish and seafood products estimated at $4.5 billion in 2003, Canada ranked fifth in the world for exports in this sector.

Much of Canada’s fishing industry operates offshore in what is one of the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), equivalent to approximately 31 per cent of the country’s land mass. Addressing the many threats to Canada’s fisheries resources in such a vast area presents a serious challenge to fisheries managers.

Key threats to the stocks within and outside Canada’s EEZ include:

  • fishing for species under moratoria;
  • exceeding the allowable bycatch for species under moratoria;
  • exceeding quotas or the amount of fish that vessels are permitted to catch;
  • harvesting undersized fish;
  • misreporting catches;
  • fishing in an area that has been closed to fishing; and
  • ineffective control by flag States over their vessels on the high seas.

These threats add to a decade of challenges and adjustments in Canada’s fisheries sector. Groundfish and salmon stocks on the Atlantic coast have failed to recover from their low levels of the past decade. Pacific salmon stocks, although showing signs of improvement as a result of management measures introduced in the late 1990s, remain depressed.

The performance of these and other fish stocks underscores the importance of effective conservation measures. At the same time, demands for access to these stocks continue to highlight the need to strike a balance between harvesting the resource and protecting it to ensure its sustainability.

A complete overview of Canada’s policies, legislative framework, and fisheries management programs as they relate to the provisions of the IPOA-IUU can be found in Annex 1. The Tables in Annex 1 should also be used as a reference for Sections 2 and 3 of this document.

1.5 Canadian Legislative and Regulatory Framework

To address the threats posed by IUU fishing to the sustainability of Canada’s fisheries, the Government of Canada has implemented a number of policies and programs over the years. These policies and programs are consistent with the principles of the IPOA-IUU.

Table 1 of Annex 1 provides a quick overview of the legislative framework governing fisheries in Canada, while Actions 2.1, 2.1.1, and 2.2 identify examples of Canada’s efforts to strengthen its fisheries policies.

Canada’s legislative and regulatory framework is designed to:

  • manage and protect fisheries resources in a biologically sustainable manner; and
  • outline potential action to be taken, when necessary, to prevent destructive practices while continuing to seek effective international solutions.

The legislative instruments designed to deliver Canada’s fisheries resource objectives include:

  • the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Act;
  • the Oceans Act;
  • the Fisheries Act;
  • the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act; and
  • the Species at Risk Act.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Act

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Act establishes the powers, duties, and functions of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to:

  • seacoast and inland fisheries;
  • fishing and marine sciences; and
  • the coordination of the policies and programs of the Government of Canada respecting oceans.

The Oceans Act

The Oceans Act gives the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans the legal authority to draw together all Canada’s ocean stakeholders, including Aboriginal organizations, to develop an oceans management strategy based on the sustainable development and integrated management of activities and resources in estuarine, coastal, and marine waters.

This Act also includes Canada’s full rights and jurisdiction over internal waters, our fishing zones off the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic coasts, and our rights with respect to the Continental Shelf. It also covers Canada’s right to harvest sedentary species in or on the Shelf, and our jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of minerals and non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil.

Finally, the Oceans Act is a declaration of Canadian jurisdiction over its 12-nautical-mile Contiguous Zone, extending from the outer of Canada’s 12-nautical-mile Territorial Sea and its 200-nautical-mile EEZ.

The Fisheries Act

The Fisheries Act is the cornerstone of Canada’s fisheries management policy, providing broad powers to the Minister for the management, conservation, and protection of fish resources. These powers include discretion to:

  • award licenses or leases for fisheries or fishing;
  • allocate harvests among user groups; and
  • protect fish habitat and prevent pollution.

While the regulation of commercial fishing is the most visible of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s regulatory programs, the Act also applies to tidal and recreational fishing, freshwater fisheries, and Aboriginal fisheries.

Three sections of the Fisheries Act form the basis for fisheries management in Canada:

  • Section 7 provides the Minister with the absolute discretion to grant licenses and leases, wherever the exclusive right of fishing does not already exist by law;
  • Section 9 provides the power to cancel or suspend licenses and leases for cause; and
  • Section 43 provides regulation-making power by the Governor General in Council for the conservation and protection of fish, and the management and control of fisheries.

The Fisheries Act also contains provisions that prohibit the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.

The Coastal Fisheries Protection Act

The Minister’s responsibility for regulating foreign fishing in Canadian waters is set out in the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act (CFPA). The CFPA and associated regulations provide the Minister with the authority to allow foreign vessels access to Canadian waters or Canadian ports.

The Canadian Port Access Policy remains a “closed ports” policy whereby Canadian ports are generally closed, and access is a privilege that may only be granted by the Canadian government. Canada’s Port Access Policy is consistent with international obligations, including international trade obligations.

The CFPA prohibits certain classes of vessels from fishing for specified fish species contrary to the rules of the high seas in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) Regulatory Area (NRA).

Between March 2002 and March 2003, Canadian fisheries officers dealt with 10,321 fishing and habitat violations of the Fisheries Act regulations and the CFPA. In the same period, 2,907 charges were laid and an additional 1,188 charges are pending or under review.

The Species at Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act (SARA) was created to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct. The Act protects species at risk and their critical habitats. It also contains provisions to help manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or extinct.

More information about Canada’s fisheries legislation, including the full text of the Fisheries Act and the CFPA, can be found at:

The full text of all Canadian legislation may be found on the Department of Justice Web site at:

1.6 International Commitments

Fisheries resources lie in both national and international waters, and the Government of Canada is committed to protecting and conserving the sustainable harvest of these resources around the world. To help ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources in international waters, Canada participates in several international and regionally based fisheries organizations, including the FAO, NAFO, and the Pacific Salmon Commission. Fisheries and Oceans Canada also monitors the fishing activities of foreign-flagged vessels in international waters, and negotiates and administers international fisheries treaties and trade agreements.

Table 1 of Annex 1 provides a quick overview of Canada’s legislative framework governing fisheries, while Actions 2.5 and 2.6 address Canada’s efforts to continue meeting its international commitments.

Canada has ratified, and is implementing, national versions of all the international agreements identified in the IPOA-IUU as key elements for combating IUU fishing, including:

  • the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea;
  • the United Nations Fish Agreement;
  • the FAO Compliance Agreement; and
  • the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing Operations.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the comprehensive regime of law and order covering the world’s oceans and seas. Within UNCLOS are rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. It enshrines the notion that all problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be addressed as a whole. Canada ratified UNCLOS on November 6, 2003.

The United Nations Fish Agreement

The United Nations Fish Agreement (UNFA) elaborates the fundamental principles established in UNCLOS that States should cooperate to ensure the conservation of fisheries resources straddling the EEZ and the high seas.

UNFA provides a framework for the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks in high seas areas regulated by RFMOs. It carries an obligation to apply the precautionary approach and ecosystem-based management when managing these fisheries on the high seas and in waters under the jurisdiction of coastal States. It also obliges States to minimize pollution, waste, and discards of fish and obliges them also to exercise effective control over their fishing vessels on the high seas.

One of the most innovative aspects of UNFA is the right of States that are party to the UNFA to board and inspect vessels of other State parties on the high seas, and to verify compliance with internationally agreed fishing rules of RFMOs. Canada ratified UNFA in August 1999 and is a strong supporter of the Agreement.

Another important aspect of UNFA is the dispute settlement provision. According to Article 27, Part VIII, States have the obligation to settle their disputes by negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.

The FAO Compliance Agreement

Canada ratified the 1993 FAO Compliance Agreement on May 20, 1994, and has supplied the FAO with vessel information as required by the Agreement. Countries that have signed or ratified the Agreement should ensure that they are reporting such information, particularly under Articles 4 and 6, which urge countries to:

  • maintain a record of fishing vessels entitled to fly its flag and authorized to be used for fishing on the high seas, and take such measures as may be necessary to ensure that all such fishing vessels are entered in that record; and
  • make readily available to FAO the following information with respect to each fishing vessel entered in the record required to be maintained under Article 4:
    • name of the fishing vessel, registration number and previous names (if known);
    • port of registry;
    • previous flag (if any);
    • International Radio Call Sign (if any);
    • name and address of owner or owners;
    • where and when built;
    • type of vessel; and
    • length.

In order to promote the principles of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the Government of Canada has collaborated with industry to implement selective fishing programs and integrated fisheries management plans.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing Operations

In 1998, through a 13-member board of fishers and fishery representatives, Canada developed a Canadian Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing Operations, which is a commitment by participating harvesters to achieve sustainable fisheries. Currently, 80 per cent of fishers in Canada have adopted the Code and a new board has been elected to implement it.

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