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The House of Commons Standing Committee
on Fisheries and Oceans

Honourable Gerry Reid, Minister
Fisheries and Aquaculture

Salon "C", The Delta
Friday, March 15, 2002
8:30 a.m.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and on behalf of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, I would like to welcome you to our province. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you about the fishery, which is of vital importance to the people of our province.

The prosperity of Newfoundland and Labrador has always been highly dependent on the resources of the sea. As a result, developments in international law relating to the concept of territorial seas and the rights of coastal states, have been of vital importance to this province. This is particularly true, whereas overfishing by foreign vessels has been a major contributor to the collapse of east coast groundfish resources. Over the past decade, this has resulted in the displacement of thousands of fishermen and plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador alone.

Foreign overfishing and its impact on the economies of coastal states are not new issues. By the late 1940s several countries including Newfoundland, were increasingly concerned by the growing presence of foreign vessels fishing just outside the three mile territorial sea, which was then based on straight long lines drawn from headland to headland.

In 1945, the United States drafted the Truman Proclamations, which declared that coastal states not only had a right to take action to conserve fish stocks outside the traditional three mile territorial sea, but also owned the mineral resources of the adjacent continental shelf. Meanwhile, foreign countries were taking action to unilaterally establish a two hundred mile economic zone within which they would regulate fishing activity.

Closer to home, the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF) was established in 1949, for the purpose of sharing scientific advice and allocating quotas among member states. Unfortunately, however, initiatives such as the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries were not effective in controlling the activities of distant water fleets, and fish stocks off Newfoundland continued to be depleted.

The first Conference on the Law of the Sea was convened, under the auspices of the United Nations in 1958, to further develop international law pertaining to the governance and protection of the worlds oceans. At this Conference, and at a second in 1960, several coastal states, including Canada, supported a doubling of the territorial sea to six miles, with an adjacent fisheries zone of a further six miles.

These negotiations were unsuccessful and in 1964, Canada passed the Territorial Sea and Fisheries Zone Act which established a nine mile fishing zone outside the three mile limit. This was followed in 1970, by Canada's unilateral extension of the territorial sea to twelve miles. Canada also tested the boundaries of international law with the Arctic Waters Pollution Act of 1970, which was intended to protect Arctic waters and their resources. Meanwhile, overfishing by foreign vessels in the waters adjacent to Newfoundland and Labrador continued to increase.

To provide just one example, in 1968 the total catch of Northern cod reached 810,000 tonnes, of which 687,000 tonnes were harvested by foreign vessels. The results of this onslaught were predictable. By the early 1970s, Northern cod had collapsed, with major consequences for the Newfoundland and Labrador economy. While Canada's declaration of a 200 mile exclusive economic zone in 1977 resulted in some rebuilding in the early 1980s, there was no recovery in some areas, such as northern Labrador, which had traditionally supported a significant commercial fishery by Newfoundland and Labrador vessels.

In 1973, a third UN Conference of the Law of the Sea was convened in an effort to achieve international consensus. These negotiations concluded in 1982 with a final agreement entitled the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS is particularly significant for Newfoundland and Labrador in that it provides for a twelve nautical mile territorial sea, as well as a two hundred nautical mile exclusive economic zone for fisheries purposes. Moreover, UNCLOS provides coastal states with the rights to exclusively manage seabed resources to the edge of the continental shelf, even in those cases, such as the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap, where the continental shelf extends for more than two hundred miles.

This is particularly valuable, since it provides Canada with rights to oil and gas resources throughout the entire continental shelf. Similarly, the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea provides Canada with exclusive control over sedentary fish resources, such as snow crab and scallops to the edge of the continental shelf. The 1982 Convention of the Law of the Sea, as well as the growing international acceptance of the right of a coastal state to a two hundred mile exclusive economic zone, effectively brought 90 percent of the world's fisheries under coastal state management. Unfortunately, however, the third U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea did relatively little to develop international law with respect to fisheries occurring outside 200 miles.

Thus, while the Law of the Sea Convention contains a number of vague references to the need for states to cooperate to ensure the conservation of fisheries resources on the high seas, the uncertain extent of coastal state rights and the absence of effective enforcement measures and dispute settlement procedures meant in effect, that few controls existed. This was a major concern with respect to both highly migratory species and straddling stocks, which continued to be heavily exploited by distant water fleets.

In the context of Newfoundland and Labrador, the problem arises because of the extension of the continental shelf beyond the 200 mile exclusive economic zone in two areas known as the "Nose" and the "Tail" of the Grand Banks. These areas represent a part of the natural range of several groundfish species, including Northern cod, southern Grand Banks cod, and several flatfish species, which are of tremendous economic importance to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Significant portions of these stocks move outside the 200 mile limit at certain times throughout the year in response to changes in water temperature and food availability. During these periods, these species have been subject to severe overfishing by foreign vessels. It is clearly impossible for a coastal state, such as Canada, to manage such stocks effectively within a 200 mile exclusive economic zone in the absence of effective management measures outside 200 miles.

A moment ago, I mentioned that the1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea urges nations to cooperate, either bilaterally or through regional international fisheries organizations, to ensure the proper management and conservation of fisheries resources on the high seas. The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, or NAFO, was established in 1978 as the international fisheries management organization with responsibility for the proper management and conservation of fisheries resources in the northwest Atlantic outside the Canadian 200 mile exclusive economic zone. NAFO is comprised of several countries, including Canada, Russia, Japan, Iceland, the European Union, and others, which have significant fishing interests in the northwest Atlantic.

Unfortunately, however, NAFO like its predecessor ICNAF, has been ineffective as a fisheries conservation and management organization. The escalation in foreign overfishing off Canada's east coast after 1986 coincided with the entry of Spain and Portugal into the European Union (EU). Overfishing by the EU and a number of non-NAFO member countries, dramatically reduced several straddling groundfish stocks of critical importance to Newfoundland and Labrador, including Northern cod, Southern Grand Banks cod, American plaice, yellowtail flounder, Greenland halibut and witch flounder.

This overfishing, in turn, greatly reduced Canadian catches of these stocks within 200 miles. Historically, the Newfoundland and Labrador fleet sector accounted for approximately 95 percent of the total Canadian harvest of these stocks.

By 1993, quotas for NAFO managed stocks were at an all time low, and proper scientific assessments could not be conducted because of discarding and misreporting of catches. The foreign harvest of immature fish was widespread and a major factor in the decline of all stocks managed by NAFO. These factors led to moratoria on principal NAFO managed stocks in 1994, after Canada's decision to impose moratoria on major groundfish stocks inside 200 miles in 1992.

Historically, the EU catch of key straddling stocks has been constrained only by the availability of fish. As catches increased, the resource declined to the point where catch levels could not be sustained. In 1987, the EU's share of NAFO quotas for key straddling stocks, exclusive of Northern cod, totalled 23,170 tonnes. Its reported catch of these species, including an estimated 35,000 tonnes catch of Northern cod, approximated 135,000 tonnes. In 1990, NAFO allocated 15,000 tonnes of these species to the EU, which subsequently reported catches of approximately 46,000 tonnes, including 22,000 tonnes of Northern cod for which it had no allocation. The Canadian estimate of the EU catch of regulated straddling species in 1990, however, approximated 98,000 tonnes, including 22,000 tonnes of Northern cod.

In total, overfishing of NAFO regulated straddling stocks by the EU and non-NAFO countries exceeded 850,000 tonnes over the 1986-1994 period, at least 240,000 tonnes of which was Northern cod. Stock depletion has been so extensive that key fisheries are no longer commercially viable and are under NAFO imposed moratoria.

Significant gains in NAFO enforcement and management were seen after the Government of Canada sent its Navy to the area in question in 1995, in what has since become known as the Turbot Wars. The establishment of a one hundred percent observer and dockside inspection programs, the establishment of standardized mesh size for groundfish, and greater adherence to scientific advice resulted in improvements in compliance within NAFO.

These conservation measures, however, were short lived, as is evidenced in a recent analysis carried out by Canada on fishing activities in the NAFO regulated areas. This analysis shows increasing trends of non-compliance, since 1999. These trends include increased landings of moratoria species, overfishing of 3L shrimp, parties exceeding Greenland halibut allocations, increased use of small gear, and a failure by some parties to even submit a number of observer reports in 2000-2001.

More than 10,000 tonnes of moratoria species were landed in 2000 by foreign fleets. This volume of fish could provide several months of processing employment to south coast towns like Burgeo, who are still suffering from the devastation of the moratorium.

Canada presented this analysis at the January 2002 NAFO meeting in Denmark. All contracting parties present, expressed concern with the situation and acknowledged the need for improvements.

Expressions of concern appeared to be the most we achieved at this meeting, for despite scientific advice to the contrary, the quota of Greenland halibut was increased from 40,000 to 44,000 metric tonnes. Similarly, a motion put forward on depth restriction which would have reduced by-catch of species under moratoria, such as American plaice and 3N0 cod, was defeated.

In summary, NAFO has failed us since its inception in 1978, and Canada has failed us as well. The political will, with the exception of a few brief moments in our history, has not existed in Ottawa to deal with foreign overfishing. There must be some drastic changes in the approach and attitude of the federal government, and decisive action must be taken to deal with the foreign fishing activities on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks, as well as the Flemish Cap.

The Fisheries Commission of NAFO is unwilling or unable to control the fishing practices of its member states or implement the necessary actions to promote rebuilding. It is obvious that the only way to conserve fish stocks outside the 200 mile limit, is to bring them under Canadian management.

By extending custodial management to the edge of the continental shelf, Canada would manage those stocks which currently straddle the two hundred mile limit. This would ensure consistent applications of resource conservation measures while respecting the established shares of other nations. Only under such an arrangement will groundfish stocks on the Grand Banks rebuild. I urge this Committee to seriously consider this approach.

I would like to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak on this issue, which is of vital importance to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

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