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Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador 

 Luncheon Address
International Conference on the Governance of High Seas Fisheries and the
United Nations Fish Agreement � �Moving from Words to Action� 
St. John�s Convention Centre (Convention Hall)
Monday, May 2, 2005 � 12:30pm



Ministers, dignitaries, visitors, colleagues, friends:

On behalf of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, it is my pleasure to welcome you to this beautiful province. I would also like to formally thank the efforts of the Canadian government, particularly Prime Minister Martin and Minister Regan, for coordinating this �Moving From Words to Action� conference on overfishing.

Newfoundland and Labrador has a relationship with the ocean dating back to its first aboriginal inhabitants. It�s often remarked that when the Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto � or John Cabot, as we call him � arrived from Europe in 1497, that to catch codfish all you needed to do was to lower a basket into the water below.

In the centuries that followed Cabot�s arrival, the rich fish stocks off our shores drew people from Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal. Eventually, communities comprised mainly of Irish and English settlers dotted the coastline. The settlement of this bountiful place was based on proximity to the sea. Fish, particularly cod, became the lifeblood for thousands of people.

Since the 1800s, the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador have struggled to control the areas off their shores. Decisions about fisheries management always seem to have been made by a more populous, wealthier nation.

Make no mistake � there is a long history of our rich fish stocks being exploited for economic gain. Financial greed began to climax with the introduction of fishing vessels trawling the offshore areas, and especially when foreign factory freezer trawlers were introduced on the fishing banks off Newfoundland and Labrador. A ferocious international appetite for fish that had begun in the 1840s had reached unsustainable levels by the 1960s. In 1968, foreign fleets took nearly 660 thousand tones of northern cod, with another 123 thousand taken by Canadian fleets. The stocks have never recovered from the overfishing of over three decades ago.

To this day, fishing vessels continue to ignore conservation rules. The estimated amount of moratoria species taken by non-Canadian vessels outside the 200-mile limit tripled from 2002 to 2003. So far in 2005, twelve fishing citations have been issued to five vessels. These incidents make the news here, but they beg the question: How many other violations go undetected?

The problem is that the fish swimming outside Canada�s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks, don�t know there is an imaginary line in the sea. Canada has taken tough measures to protect the straddling and highly migratory fish stocks that swim into Newfoundland and Labrador�s side of the 200-mile limit. But the same protection does not exist in international waters.

The inshore fishery was not the reason that the Canadian government had to place the codfish under moratorium in 1992. They weren�t the cause of the stocks� collapse, but thousands of people and hundreds of communities have suffered the most from that announcement. Try explaining to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that it is fair that Canada implements strict conservation measures off our shores, all the while that foreign overfishing continues on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks, outside the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.


Today I am going to speak with you about turning words into action. I hope that what I say will give you a better appreciation for how important your decisions are to people in our communities.


Overfishing is not a Newfoundland and Labrador issue. This is a global environmental problem. Only with change to international fisheries management will these fish be given a chance to recover.

Rogues on the high seas don�t care about words around boardroom tables. They will only stop breaking conservation rules if the threat of being punished is real, not just words on paper. They will only stop if there is a visible presence on the water that is prepared to enforce the rules, and flag states willing to prosecute violations. They will only stop if penalties are an economic deterrent, not just a cost of doing business. They will only stop if home countries make overfishing socially, politically, and economically unacceptable. They will only stop if the international community pressures nations to punish offenders, rather than hope the problem goes away.

Newfoundland and Labrador, and the residents of all coastal jurisdictions, needs the help of the people in this room today. When you return home, it won�t be good enough to say that you tried to find a solution. It is not acceptable to say that quiet diplomacy is the only option. It is not enough to take small steps, when big ones are needed.

The fish stocks off our coasts remain so weakened that it has been recommended that the Canadian government formally designate the Northern cod as endangered. Given that the codfish off our shores could once be scooped up in baskets, this is nothing short of an ecological disaster.

Coastal states and fishing states around the world are facing similar problems. If there is anything good to have come from this environmental travesty, and I doubt that there is, it is that we have newfound respect for words such as conservation. Ecosystems. Precautionary approach. Sustainability. Enforcement. We now understand that depleting fish stocks in the name of short-term financial gain is no longer acceptable. Not only is it unacceptable, it is extremely short-sighted, because with no more fish, there will be no more fishing industry.


We here in Newfoundland and Labrador deal with the consequences of this overfishing every day. Communities such as Trepassey, Gaultois, Burgeo, and Ramea are still adjusting to the moratorium. There are many others too, and sadly, as long as the moratorium continues, there will be more.

Just last Fall, a remote coastal community on the Connaigre Peninsula was told that their fish plant was being shut down. The fundamental problem is that there is just not enough fish to go around.

The people in this room today are the ones who have the power to help the children, families, and communities of places like Harbour Breton. You have the ability to find a way to put an end to overfishing. You have the power to work out a solution that will give the fish stocks a chance to rebuild. When you are networking, when you are hammering out details, and when you return home to brief your governments, I ask you to remember one thing: You are not just in the fisheries management business. You are also in the business of supporting sustainable fishing communities. The management of fish stocks impacts people, not just the fish, and existing management regimes are not working.

Throughout the world, coastal nations and fishing communities face similar disastrous problems. But people who live in landlocked areas and urban centres do not hear about the latest violation by a fishing vessel. They do not face daily reminders that a way of life has been destroyed.


If the status quo were working, none of us would be at this conference. The slow pace of international fisheries management is frustrating. We have engaged in diplomatic efforts led by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and by Foreign Affairs Canada. Efforts have been made in regional fisheries management through the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. International law has been used, such as Canada�s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the development of the United Nations Fish Agreement.

Despite all these words that have a hollow sound in Newfoundland and Labrador, illegal fishing continues to take place. The actions of vessels outside the 200-mile limit speak far louder than the actions taken under multinational agreements.

We need a multinational plan of action. We need to clarify and strengthen the role and responsibilities of the coastal state. We need stronger enforcement. We need to improve our ability to work cooperatively and effectively. And we need to change NAFO.

I say to you, the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks can be an example of how, together, we can make international fisheries management work.


The theme of this conference points to the need to take action. One of the higher profile acts in recent years occurred in 1995, when Canada fired a warning shot across the bow of a vessel that was suspected of overfishing.

We acknowledge that this is not the way to manage the fishery. This conference is an opportunity to take new and constructive approaches. The key is to finding a meaningful, long-term alternative.

From our point of view, NAFO is unwilling, or unable, to control the fishing practices of its member states. Or to implement the necessary actions to promote rebuilding. NAFO faces many challenges, but effective enforcement is its greatest. For example, some NAFO contracting parties use the �objection procedure� to ignore science-based quotas that are established multinationally, and then unilaterally set their own economically-motivated quotas.

Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, many of us believe that the time has come for new action. To test the resolve of the international community in its determination to reduce and stop overfishing violations. We believe that there must be another way to ensure consistency on conservation measures inside and outside the 200-mile limit. This option is known as custodial management.

The motivation behind �custodial management� is protecting weakened fish stocks. It involves applying consistent conservation-based measures. It is about ensuring that fish stocks that straddle the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone are given a chance to recover.

To reach this goal, custodial management involves fisheries management by the adjacent coastal state. It is an approach that could be used by other coastal states, but which would be initiated on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks.

By applying custodial management out to the edge of the continental shelf, Canada would manage the stocks that currently straddle the 200-mile limit. This would ensure consistent application of resource conservation measures, while respecting the established shares of other nations. It will ensure the application of the UN Fish Stocks Agreement.

As the coastal state, Canada would assume responsibility for ensuring that conservation and scientifically-based management is applied. Canada would be responsible for surveillance and enforcement.

This is the start of a solution that can work in a multilateral context. NAFO, as the regional fisheries organization, would continue to be responsible for access and allocation decisions, scientific recommendations, and the management of discrete stocks.

Let me be clear. This is not an extension of jurisdiction, nor is it a grab for resources or territory. This is a resource stewardship concept that would seek international support. It would respect historical shares, promote conservation, and would enhance the role of the coastal state. It would strengthen compliance with consistent management measures, and provide more deterrence for fisheries violations outside the 200-mile limit. Straddling stocks such as cod, American plaice, yellowtail flounder, witch flounder, redfish, and Greenland halibut would all be given a better chance to recover.

This is not just a solution for Canada, and for Newfoundland and Labrador, but for all countries that fish in the Northwest Atlantic.

However, if this cannot be implemented within NAFO, then in the interest of allowing the stocks to rebuild, we will continue to urge the Government of Canada to pursue this option through other means.

Custodial management is a multilateral and collective opportunity to restore, protect, and share resources for the future. And it speaks to Newfoundland and Labrador�s awareness that the current system is not working. It is indeed time to move from words to action. It just might serve as a model for other parts of the world.


I, along with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, hope that you enjoy your stay with us. We hope that you will take the time to explore the many coastal communities that are a tourists� delight. But let me be the first to invite you to return in July or August, when the weather is a bit more agreeable!

It�s been 10 years since Canada fired the warning shot on the high seas. It�s now 13 years since the

Northern Cod closure. It�s been 28 years since the extension of jurisdiction to 200-miles. And it�s now 37 years since approximately 800 thousand tonnes of Northern Cod was taken in a single year. Indeed, it is time to move from words to action.

Thank you.

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