Flying High Seas

Watch how Canada works with its international partners to monitor the high seas and deter illegal, unreported and unregulated activities that invariably harm our oceans' resources.

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In 1992, the United Nations banned the use of driftnets because of the serious harm they were doing to our oceans and the species they house.

High-seas driftnets span vast distances – some, up to 90 km - and indiscriminately scoop up anything in their path, leaving untold environmental damage in their wake.

To further combat these illegal nets, the Government of Canada in 1993 launched Operation Driftnet to detect and deter usage.

Canada then combined forces with its NPAFC partners to ensure a more strategic and unified approach.

Operation Driftnet has since become a huge success, essentially curtailing the use of these destructive fishing nets and other harmful illegal activity in the North Pacific region.

Aerial surveillance is key.

Blair Thexton, Intelligence Supervisor, Fisheries and Oceans Canada:
We are able to monitor these activities from high altitudes with the use of two main machines, two main assets. So, again the CP-140 Aurora aircraft, which is equipped with a radar sensor and automatic identification sensors and that's an AIS, Automatic Identification Systems. The second asset is a satellite. The satellite is equipped with a radar aperture, so a radar machine, that sends down a signal, receives the data back to the satellite in the form of a contacts on the water. These contacts are typically what a radar will pick up – so large metal objects.

Groups that would conduct these illegal high seas driftnet fishing activity quickly learn that we're becoming very good at what we do. So, over the last five years we've sort of honed our skills and started to utilize the information and the capabilities that are available to us so again, that provides a very solid deterrence factor to those that would go out and conduct this very irresponsible method of fishing.

We've got other Canadian departments contributing to High-Seas Driftnet Initiative. For example, we've got the Department of National Defence. Without the Department of National Defence, these patrol missions would not occur.

Lieutenant-Colonel Reid McBride, Canadian Armed Forces:
The Department of National Defence has the long range maritime patrol aircraft, the CP 140 Aurora. It's a large 4-engine turbo prop airplane with a crew of 10. It's able to do long-range maritime patrol surveillance. Because these driftnet operations are in the North Pacific – a very large body of water – it's the ideal platform and it's the only platform the Government of Canada has which is able to do these long-range missions.

We deploy to Japan, a fairly significant deployment.

Protection of the environment is one of the secondary duties for every maritime patrol mission that we fly.

Canada's monitoring and enforcement efforts are not limited to the Pacific region. Our efforts also extend across the country to the Atlantic Ocean.

Blair Thexton, Intelligence Supervisor, Fisheries and Oceans Canada:
So, to give you an idea of some of the aerial surveillance activities that are occurring on the East Coast – so in the Atlantic Ocean – Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a contract with Provincial Airlines Limited and they contribute three aircraft to the East Coast. So, these aircraft are typically smaller aircraft. They're twin prop and they're Beachcraft King Aircraft.  They're used not only to patrol inside Canada's 200 mile limits – or our exclusive economic zone – but also outside that boundary.

So, the implications of Canada not conducting these efforts to deter illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing are significant. Let's face it, we're dealing with a black market industry so it's very difficult for us to put our finger on exactly the impact this is having on not only the environment, the ecosystem itself, as well as the economic impact to the countries that are involved. Some experts have estimated that up to 11 million all the way up to 23 million tons of illegal product are being illegally harvested every year, and that's over and above the legitimate fisheries that are occurring. So, we can translate that to the billions. So that can be 10 to 25 billion dollars of global revenue that's lost, due simply because of this illegal activity that's occurring. So, I don't think Canada can afford not to conduct these collaborative efforts.

I think Canadians can be confident and proud that Canada is contributing to these global efforts to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing – basically, the illegal fishing that's occurring within the international waters.  Canada is putting forward tremendous effort. In fact, I would say that they are a leader in the effort to combat illegal fishing on the global scale and that's been recognized year after year.