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Vol 38  No 8
January 12, 2006


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Forum debates how to rebuild Grand Bank stocks

By Kimberley Thornhill

Dr. Arthur May

Rebuilding the once-rich fishing grounds of the Grand Banks was the focus of some lively debate for the almost 100 people who participated in the latest Memorial Presents forum, hosted Dec. 15 by the Harris Centre and the Marine Institute.

President Emeritus Dr. Arthur May, who chairs the Advisory Panel on the Sustainable Management of Straddling Fish Stocks in the North Atlantic, was the guest speaker for the forum. He summarized the action plan presented by the advisory panel to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans. The minister appointed the advisory panel in December 2004 to find ways to overcome the problems of international governance and overfishing.

The panel’s report concluded that NAFO has failed and recommended the federal government act to replace NAFO with a new Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO). The panel concluded that a custodial management approach to straddling stocks is not possible without advances in international law, but that a RFMO would be more easily attainable and could achieve the same goals and objectives. They urged Canada to engage the European Union to develop a bilateral agreement to rebuild groundfish stocks and to better manage straddling stocks.

Three speakers were invited to give their reaction to Dr. May’s presentation.

Francoise Enguehard, a journalist, communications consultant and writer and a native of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, sees the Grand Banks issue as a global environmental problem to which there are no simple solutions, regardless of who fishes there.

“You need to understand the importance of the Grand Banks in the collective psyche of the French, Spanish and Portuguese. There are whole regions in those nations that still depend on the fishery for their survival.”

She believes that negotiating bilateral agreements with European countries for a temporary removal of their fleets from the fishing zone, in exchange for increased quotas when the fish returns, will prove to be difficult on both sides of the Atlantic. Custodial management, she says, may be a popular move here in Canada but that it would probably provoke a furor of diplomatic and international law responses from European nations.

Many forum participants agreed with forum panellist John Joy, Q.C., a marine lawyer and chair of the Fisheries Institute for North Atlantic Islands. He is surprised by the lack of any presence of the legal argument at any level, federal or provincial, on custodial management.

“The provincial government, in my view, must provide the leadership on the development of the best possible argument for custodial management and make it part of the public debate,” said Mr. Joy. He observed that the provincial legal argument on jurisdiction over offshore oil and gas on the continental shelf played a large and defining role in the legal, political and public opinion forums that helped the province secure a significant interest. He concluded that a similar role for legal argument is important to achieve meaningful results in the fishery.

He also pointed to implementing other policies to recover the ground fish stock including a total ban on domestic and foreign fishing, creating an independent fisheries science institute, and declaring Canadian custodial management on the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap. He also insisted on a major overhaul of DFO following a royal commission investigation into the administration of the department.

Dr. George Rose, professor and chair of Fisheries Conservation, agreed with the Dr. May’s conclusion that North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) has failed to manage a sustainable fishery in the Northwest Atlantic. “I fully support the position of the advisory panel that NAFO must go. It has simply outlived its usefulness and is too broken to fix.”

For those in the audience, the debate seemed to be long overdue, with many participants commenting that the issue has to be made a priority among the federal and provincial governments and the public. No matter what action is taken, both sides of the debate agreed that action is needed, and soon, to protect the Grand Banks and rebuild the ecosystem for benefits of future generations.

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