Archived - Government Response to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans' Report Custodial Management Outside Canada's 200-Mile Limit

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The Second Report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans urges the Government to withdraw from the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) and to establish custodial management over the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap outside Canada's 200-mile limit. Other recommendations made by the Committee for addressing foreign overfishing in the NAFO Regulatory Area include information campaigns, use of Bill C-29 provisions of the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act and application of the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFA) and continued discussions with NAFO to establish a process whereby observer reports would be more transparent and submitted in a timely fashion.

The Government thanks the Committee for its recommendations and its extensive efforts to address this issue. The Report reflects a deep and long-standing frustration on the part of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, its fishing industry, fishers and general public with the problems of non-compliance by foreign fishing vessels in the NAFO Regulatory Area over an extended period of time.

The Government of Canada takes the issue of foreign overfishing in the NAFO Regulatory Area very seriously and is addressing the issue through a number of measures. During 2002, Canada highlighted the problem of the increasing trend of non-compliance in the NAFO Regulatory Area and underscored its concerns in a number of bilateral meetings with other NAFO Contracting Parties. Similar strategies are being implemented in 2003. Ports were closed to the fishing vessels of the Faroe Islands and Estonia as a result of significant misreporting and overfishing of shrimp. A new approach was announced for denying port access to rogue vessels active in the NAFO Regulatory Area. A Roundtable Forum was held on February 20, 2003 to discuss possible options to improve the conservation and management of the straddling fish stocks. At the North Atlantic Fisheries Ministers Conference in Halifax (June 16-18, 2003), the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans stressed Canada's concerns about current non-compliance levels and the need for international cooperation to find timely solutions.

Canada will continue to work bilaterally and within NAFO to address compliance with its conservation and enforcement measures. Canada also intends to implement the 1995 United Nations Agreement on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, which provides useful tools for addressing the issues in NAFO. The Government of Canada is also committed, consistent with international law, to seeking opportunities over time to further advance Canada's role in the management of Straddling Stocks in the NAFO Regulatory Area and to improving the effectiveness of NAFO, in particular compliance with the NAFO measures. The Royal Commission on Renewing and Strengthening our Place in Canada recognized the serious legal, diplomatic and enforcement risks associated with unilateral action on the international scene.

The Government has reviewed the Report and its recommendations in depth. While some recommendations, notably Recommendation five to work for the improvement of observer reports in NAFO, are supportive of the Government strategy, other Recommendations if implemented, would not lead to effective solutions to this issue and indeed, would compromise Canadian interests on several levels.

The following are the Government's responses to the respective recommendations.

Recommendation 1

That the Government of Canada amend the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act to empower it to implement custodial management of fisheries resources on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and on the Flemish Cap.

Government Response

Given the wide acceptance of the 200-mile zone, any attempt to unilaterally extend fisheries jurisdiction beyond 200 miles would not be accepted by the international community and can be expected to attract a strong, negative reaction. Moreover, such action would seriously compromise Canadian interests on several levels. SCOFO members are of the view that "custodial management" may be more palatable to the international community than extension of fisheries jurisdiction. However, custodial management as defined by SCOFO would be seen by the international community as an extension of jurisdiction.

Recommendation 2

That the government of Canada inform NAFO and its Contracting Parties that Canada will withdraw from NAFO and proceed with the implementation of custodial management on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and on the Flemish Cap no later than December 31, 2004, in accordance with Article XXIV of the NAFO Convention.

Government Response

The Government reiterates its conclusion as stated in its response to the first SCOFO report that withdrawal from NAFO holds no benefits for Canada. This has been acknowledged by a number of influential fisheries spokespersons in Newfoundland and Labrador.

If Canada withdrew from NAFO, it would lose its ability to influence the monitoring and enforcement provisions that make the NAFO Regulatory Area one of the most controlled high seas fishing areas in the world: observer coverage, vessel monitoring systems, catch reporting requirements and the joint international scheme of surveillance and inspection. The latter permits NAFO Contracting Parties to board and inspect fishing vessels of other NAFO members; Canada and the EU both carry out inspections under this scheme. As a result, Canada's ability to detect and deter violations would be greatly reduced, and there would likely be significant increased and widespread non-compliance with NAFO measures by fishing vessels of other Contracting Parties.

Canada would also have relinquished its membership in an organization that is mandated by its Convention to take into account Canadian interests in allocating quotas and is required to seek consistency with Canadian conservation measures. Loss of access to information from these sources as well as joint scientific collaboration would also impede Canada's ability to properly assess the state of stocks on the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap.

Canada's withdrawal from NAFO could well lead to the dismantling of the Organization. By withdrawing from NAFO, the results would likely either be an Organization operating off Canada's shores with no obligation or incentive to consider Canadian interests, or at worst, a defunct Organization leading to an unregulated high seas area.

While the inadequacies of NAFO are recognized, it is far better to have an internationally agreed regime than no regime at all. The practical challenge is to find ways to make NAFO work more effectively. Canada is committed to working constructively with the NAFO Contracting Parties at all levels to strengthen NAFO performance. Canada's goal is an improved NAFO, with an enhanced role for Canada as the coastal State, where conservation rules are stronger, violations are acted upon by member countries and compliance is improved.

Recommendation 3

That the federal Government conduct a targeted public information campaign to increase public awareness of violations of NAFO conservation measures by vessels under the flag of member states and to canvas for public support to end the abusive exploitation of the fisheries resources of the Northwest Atlantic.

Government Response

The Government of Canada fully supports the need to increase awareness of violations of NAFO conservation measures under the flag of member states and to canvass for public support. Since January 2002, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has conducted targeted public information campaigns and will continue to do so. Various communications activities have been carried out, or are planned, to increase the Canadian public's understanding of the international context to foreign fishing issues and to strongly make Canada's case before foreign audiences.

Recommendation 4

That Canada make clear that it is prepared to use the provisions of Bill C-29 against NAFO members who have not ratified the United Nations Fisheries Agreement (UNFA) and that, in the case of NAFO members who have ratified UNFA, Canada is prepared to use the provisions to ensure compliance with conservation measures. Canada should confirm its intentions by prescribing offending countries in the Coastal Fisheries Protection Regulations.

Government Response

The Government does not intend to use the Bill C-29 provisions against NAFO members at this time. Canada has demonstrated its seriousness in addressing non-compliance in the NAFO Regulatory Area by other means, such as closing its ports to countries whose vessels have seriously breached NAFO's conservation and control measures and announcing a new approach to deny port access to rogue vessels active in the NAFO Regulatory Area.

UNFA has entered into force and, as is the case with any treaty to which Canada is a party, Canada intends to apply its provisions vis-à-vis other parties to the Agreement including those that are members of NAFO.

Recommendation 5

That the Canadian Government pursue discussions with the NAFO Fisheries Commission to establish a process whereby observer reports would be more transparent and would be submitted in a timely fashion.

Government Response

The Government of Canada supports this recommendation and will continue to pursue efforts within NAFO to achieve transparent and timely observer reports. The Government will seek to strengthen the NAFO Program for Observers and Satellite Tracking. It is recognized that more timely submission of observer reports would increase transparency and support more meaningful analysis of compliance in the NAFO Regulatory Area. It would also enable appropriate follow-up action by the flag State, i.e. if possible violations are detected by the observer, then authorities of the flag State can undertake a full inspection at port.

Canada has made representations to other NAFO Contracting Parties on the need to comply with NAFO requirements for the submission of observer reports. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has discussed with his counterparts in Spain, Portugal and the European Union the need to exchange draft observer reports more quickly so as to detect potential infringements and to help target port inspections to those vessels with possible violations.

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