FISH-NL questions quiet reopening of Canadian ports to banned Faroese and Greenland trawlers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Jan. 8th, 2018

The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL) is calling on Ottawa to explain its decision almost a year ago to quietly reopen Canadian ports to trawlers from the Faroe Islands and Greenland that had been banned for overfishing northern shrimp. 

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“Why exactly was the ban lifted, and why didn’t the federal government make the news public when the decision was made?” questions Ryan Cleary, President of FISH-NL. 

Trawlers from the Faroe Islands/Greenland (which sail under the Danish flag) had been banned from Canadian ports since 2010 for overfishing their northern shrimp quota in fishing zone 3L outside Canada’s 200-mile limit.

The Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) had set Denmark’s shrimp quota at 334 tonnes, but the country disagreed and unilaterally set its own quota of 3,100 tonnes — almost 10 times greater than the NAFO quota. 

At the time, then-federal Conservative Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea described the decision as a “dangerous precedent that could impact conservation of the species.”

Meantime, the northern shrimp stock has been in severe decline in recent years. Just last year Canada cut the inshore shrimp quota off the province’s northeast coast by a massive 63 per cent — a devastating move to NL’s inshore shrimp harvesters.

This morning, a DFO official acknowledged the port closure was lifted in February 2017, and the information was “communicated to stakeholders through our NAFO advisory group.”

“DFG (Denmark, Faroe Islands, and Greenland) has not expressed an objection to the NAFO quota scheme in either of the last 2 years and there has been no fishing activity for shrimp in the NAFO regulatory area,” the official said.

Cleary points out that Canada originally closed its ports to fishing vessels from the Faroe Islands and Greenland in December 2004, but reopened them in March 2008. That was supposedly done as a sign of good faith ahead of talks between NAFO countries aimed at breaking the impasse on 3L shrimp quotas.

One of NAFO’s fundamental weaknesses is seen as its inability to enforce the quotas it sets for migratory stocks that swim in and out of Canadian waters. NAFO member countries that don’t agree with quotas set by the organization can use a controversial “objection procedure” to disregard them, and unilaterally set their own.

"Once again, Ottawa is  inclined to side with a toothless and useless NAFO rather than address the significant problems in our fishery,” said Cleary. 

“In the interest of good faith of its Canadian constituents, and in particular, the NL fishery, the federal government needs to explain this questionable and secret decision which further comprises our fishing industry. Who, in Ottawa, is defending NL’s fishing interests?”

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