Will Canada hold good on its promise to protect the oceans?

Date: October 25, 2005

In spite of the fact that Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has called on countries to “stop the rape of our oceans” (1) and Fisheries Minister Geoff Reagan agrees that no habitat means no fish, Canada stands poised to vote against a moratorium on bottom trawling in international waters at the United Nations. Last week, on Wednesday, 19 October 2005, a medley of deep sea creatures, entangled in three tonnes of bottom trawl fishing gear, were displayed by Deep Sea Conservation Coalition members on Canada’s Parliament Hill to impress on Parliament members the scale of the damage caused to sea floor habitats by such gear.

The action came at the end of a tour that began the previous week in Halifax and also included Saint John and Montreal. (2) “Most people were either extremely shocked at the size and scope of the gear, or already knew something about the issue and had come especially to offer their encouragement and support,” said Sadie Beaton, one of the deep sea creatures weathering the stormy weather outside on Parliament Hill. On Friday, 21 October, Geoff Reagan failed to answer Member of Parliament (MP), Peter Stoffer’s pointed question in the House of Commons as to whether Canada would support a UN measure to bring a temporary halt to bottom trawl fishing in international waters. During bottom trawling (or ‘dragging’ as it is more commonly known in Canada), massive nets and gear are dragged across the sea-bed. (3) Fragile deep-water ecosystems, coral and sponge systems in particular, and the life they support stand no chance against these ruthlessly effective underwater bulldozers. Yet Canada’s official position is that no fishing gear type is inherently damaging. “I don’t know how the Minister can say with a straight face that dragging isn’t any more damaging than other gears”, said Wayne Eddy a long-time fisherman from Nova Scotia. “Even my grandchildren can see that a ten tonne dragger would do way more damage to the ocean floor than a ten ounce cod jig.” (4) Mr. Eddy joined Ecology Action Centre’s Mark Butler, Living Oceans Society’s Dorthea Hangaard, and MCBI scientist, Lance Morgan, for a press conference and seminar with MPs inside Parliament building during the action on Parliament Hill. Additional meetings continued into the following day and included a meeting with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans followed by a public presentation at Ottawa University in the evening by Mark Butler, Wayne Eddy and Phil Kline, senior policy advisor with Oceana in Washington, DC. “If Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin is serious about the promise he made earlier this year, Canada must vote for a time-out on high seas bottom trawling at the United Nations”, said Ecology Action Centre’s Mark Butler. “Despite the Prime Minister’s strong words, the Canadian government has so far ignored the scientific research on dragger destruction. In the 1980s, the government ignored scientific warnings on the imminent collapse of the cod stock,” Butler pointed out. “Now they are failing to listen to similar calls to put an end to destructive dragger fishing.” Leading Canadian scientists have recently sent a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. The scientists’ letter, dated 17 October, called on the Prime Minister to support the high seas moratorium, noting that “it would be in keeping with Canada’s national and international commitments to biodiversity protection.” (5) The latest scientific report from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea has also just recommended that no new fisheries for deep-sea fish should be allowed until it can be demonstrated that they are capable of being sustainable, while all existing deep-sea fisheries should be cutback to low levels until they can demonstrate that they are sustainable. (6)


Notes: (1) On 1 May 2005, Candian Prime Minister Paul Martin called on countries gathered for the conference on High Seas Fisheries Governance to “stop the rape of our oceans.” (2) Drag Net 2005 Tour blog (3) The mouth of a bottom trawl net is held open by two steel plate doors that help to keep the net on the seafloor. One company markets what it calls ‘Canyonbusters’, trawl doors that weigh up to five tons each. To protect the net from snagging on rugged seafloors, heavy chafing gear is attached to the bottom of the trawl net. A heavy cable is then strung through steel balls or rubber bobbins, known as roller gear or rockhoppers, that can measure a meter or more in diameter. (4) Coastal Groups ‘Drag’ Parliament Hill, Attempt to Catch Government Commitment to Action, 19 October 2005, Living Oceans & Ecology Action Centre press release (5) Canadian scientists’ letter of 17 October to Canadian Prime Minister, Paul Martin (pdf) (6) Overhaul Deep-Sea Fisheries, Sharks In Trouble, Good And Bad News For Other Fish Stocks, ICES press release, 18 October 2005 (pdf) Contact: For more information contact: Mark Butler, Ecology Action Centre and Catherine Stewart, Living Oceans Society
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