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Atlantic & East Coast Report

Canada's Sell Out on High Seas Trawling

By Myles Higgins

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

If anyone in Newfoundland and Labrador needed further evidence that a proposed UN moratorium on high seas dragging was a good idea they got it last week. The evidence came from none other than the chairman of Clearwater himself, John Risley, a man who's been public enemy number one in provincial fisheries circles for some time.

According to Risley, there is no proof that bottom trawling causes any damage to the sea bed. Risley said at a recent meeting of the St. John's Board of Trade, "There is zero scientific evidence, not one shred of scientific evidence that these fisheries do any damage to the bottom environment whatsoever.” He went on to say that, "We could not have a shrimp fishery, we could not have a ground fishery, we could not have a scallop fishery, we could not have a clam fishery, if it wasn't for bottom trawling."

How can anyone say with a straight face that dragging a weighted net across the sea floor and scooping up every last thing in its path does no harm to the environment? Come on folks, do you really need to be a scientist to see the idiocy of that statement?

On the fishing side of the equation, it's all well and good for Mr. Risley to tout the consequences to local fisheries, but a temporary high seas ban would not affect Canada's shrimp fishery, ground fishery, scallop fishery, clam fishery or any other fishery for that matter. It wouldn't affect any of these fisheries because they are all conducted inside Canada's 200 mile economic zone and are not subject to the proposed UN plan.

Mr. Risley's protest and the decision by Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, who I'm sure know each other quite well, makes me wonder if perhaps there is not something else at play here. Could it be that Mr. Risley has financial interests that are indeed plying international waters and involved in the rape of our oceans in places where prying eyes can't see what's happening? Could it be that Mr. Hearn is aware of those interests?

The government's argument for not supporting the UN plan is lame at best. All you have to do is look at it. They claim that supporting the plan would put pressure on Canada to stop dragging inside its waters. Bull!!! Canada has the exclusive right to manage its own water and the sea bed beneath it. Besides, when has Canada ever buckled to ill informed international pressure when it comes to doing what it wants to do? If it did we wouldn't have a viable and sustainable seal harvest in the country today.

Mr. Hearn, in all his wisdom, has publicly said that the proposed ban would be useless since it wouldn't be enforceable that far out to sea. Very well then, if it isn't enforceable what's the harm in supporting it? It might do no good to have the ban in place but by the Minister's own admission, it can't do any harm either.

When I first heard Loyola Hearn say Canada would not be supporting the UN position I was floored, absolutely floored. I couldn't believe that a Minister from Newfoundland and Labrador, a place that has been so hard hit by the depletion of fish stocks, could take the side of nations like Spain and Russia. Nations that have consistently broken international fishing laws and helped destroy the North Atlantic fish stocks. At first I just thought he might have sold out on this issue in exchange for pushing through some recently announced reforms to NAFO regulations. It's not that I'd agree with an approach like that but at least I could have understood it. Now it seems the real reason for his position might be even more sinister.

During his comments to the Board of Trade, Risley said most of the areas over which bottom dragging is performed is little more than gravel beds anyway and there is really nothing there to protect. In response to that statement Ransom Myers, a fisheries biologist with Dalhousie University, pretty much said it all. Myers agreed that the majority of trawling now takes place over areas that are essentially gravel beds but went on to say, "…they weren't mere gravel beds when they started.”

 

Canadian Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn was presented with a copy of this release on Friday of last week.  As of press time he has not responded.