Vive Le Canada

Europe, Canada promise to reform beleaguered fisheries
Date: Tuesday, September 27 2005
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September 23, 2005

Europe, Canada promise to reform beleaguered fisheries

By ALISON AULD

HALIFAX (CP) - Canada and several European nations are pledging to reform the embattled agency in charge of vital fisheries in international waters in the North Atlantic, but will do little to immediately clamp down on illegal fishing or to protect threatened species.

Members of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization committed this week to restructuring the group in the wake of persistent criticism it has lost any ability to control flagrant fishing violations in waters outside Canada's 200-mile limit.

"I'm convinced they're serious about the reform," David Bevan, Canada's senior delegate to the NAFO meeting, said from Estonia after it wrapped up Friday.



"People are recognizing there's a lot of scrutiny on governments and organizations like NAFO to modernize and improve the fisheries in a sustainable way."

NAFO's 13 member countries agreed on the need to toughen sanctions against countries that breach regulations, to take a more ecosystem-based approach to management, and to improve inspections of vessels at sea and in port.

But members won't remove a controversial provision that allows countries that don't agree with NAFO-set fish quotas to opt out and set their own allocations.

Instead, Bevan said the group will beef up its monitoring of vessels that use the objection procedure and will try to ensure that it doesn't affect conservation measures.

A working group was also created to focus on the reform, promising to meet in April and produce recommendations at NAFO's next annual meeting a year from now.

It's a time line conservation groups will be watching closely as they try to get assurances the beleaguered organization will indeed undergo what they say are much-needed reforms.

"They don't have any more chances or options," said Josh Laughren of the World Wildlife Fund, which recently released a report critical of NAFO.

"I mean, this is it. They had to commit to this. They did and it has to be fixed next year or I think everyone will agree it's time to look a other options, like totally changing the organization or replacing NAFO."

Environmentalists were hoping to see a swifter response to what they say is a deepening crisis on the high seas, with more fish stocks being placed under moratorium and already vulnerable species being pursued by fishing fleets.

They have been pressuring the group for years to issue stiffer fines against countries that violate fishing agreements and do more to monitor activity on the water.

Several recent studies, including one commissioned by the federal Fisheries Department, have sharply condemned the organization, saying it has become powerless in controlling fishing in the vast region and has allowed several fish stocks to slip even closer to extinction under its watch.

"NAFO has lost all credibility in Canada and will have no credibility until these deficiencies are remedied," states one report ordered by the department.

Bevan conceded the group has not been as effective as it could be in policing the fisheries, but he's convinced his European counterparts are committed to reform.

"A lot of the sins of the past certainly can't be denied," said Bevan, an assistant deputy minister with the Fisheries Department. "But I think we've seen in the past year a significant improvement and we have to remain vigilant."

In the past two years, Canada has increased surveillance in international waters off the East Coast, keeping at least one enforcement vessel in the area round the clock and conducting daily surveillance flights.

Bevan insists that member countries, including Spain and Portugal which have been cited for several infractions in recent years, are getting tougher on illegal fishing by letting Canadians participate in inspections and issuing higher fines.

"The actions taken by flag states against their own citizens demonstrate that they're now serious about maintaining control," said Bevan.

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