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LETTER: Learning from history — we need a new NAFO

The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), at a September meeting in Bordeaux, decided on Total Allowable Catches (TACs) under its jurisdiction for fish stocks adjacent to the East Coast of Canada. The total TAC for all fish stocks amounted to 93,938 tonnes of which Canada received 37 per cent or a quota of 34,900 tonnes. The main stocks are cod, redfish (ocean perch) and yellowtail flounder but there are significant quotas of Greenland halibut (turbot), skates and witch flounder as well, among smaller amounts for other species.

The NAFO member countries are Canada, Cuba, Denmark, EU, France, United States, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and Ukraine. Although Denmark and France are members of the EU, they have a separate membership because they represent Greenland and St-Pierre-Miquelon respectively. Those latter two entities are adjacent to the fish stocks and deserve shares.

NAFO was established formally in 1979 after introduction of Canada’s 200-mile limit in 1977 and superseded the International Commission for Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF) inaugurated in 1949. During meetings held prior to ICNAF, the delegation for both the United States and Canada had doubts about a commission dominated by Europeans as being the best way to proceed. They were correct but it proceeded along that line anyway. Everything was based on historical fishing and at that time foreign vessels could fish to within three miles of land. There may be no other fishing agreement in the world that entitles such fishing opportunities to countries that have no adjacency. History is the only common thread.

We have all heard the saying “history repeats itself” and during the tenure of ICNAF and NAFO it may be fair to say that mismanagement, overfishing and illegal fishing has certainly been repeating itself. It is interesting to note that at the September meeting of NAFO this year, all contracting parties focused on ensuring the sustainable management of the key fish stocks while maintaining a reasonable predictability for the industry. It appears now that only key fish stocks are important without realizing that all fish stocks have to be considered if the whole ecosystem is to be maintained.

Sustainability has been mentioned by NAFO for many years, too, but without effect. ICNAF even had sustainable use of fishery resources as the prime criterion for its establishment. Lots of talk but no action while many fish stocks on the Grand Banks and Flemish Cap have been devastated.

We know that both ICNAF and NAFO have not lived up to their obligations. Having distant foreign nations determining and deciding on TACs adjacent to Canada has not worked. Adjacency should probably be the only criterion.

We can look to history to determine not to make the same mistake. Using adjacency would give four countries a legitimate argument for inclusion. They are Canada, United States, France (St-Pierre-Miquelon) and Denmark (Greenland). Those four would also need to control the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks too or there will still be overfishing and illegal fishing. A gradual phase out of other countries and extension of jurisdiction by NAFO (if a new entity should retain the same name) are required.

This is possible and there is precedent in Iceland and Norway for the way they manage offshore fisheries. We can assume that the reason why Norway and Iceland are reluctant to join the EU is because by doing so they will kiss their fisheries resources good bye.

They base their decision on history, too, but in a positive way.    

Gordon Snow

Ottawa

(Originally from Harbour Grace)

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