Canada under fire for opposing a high seas bottom trawling moratorium

Date: October 31, 2006

In a global day of action highlighting Canada’s opposition to the high seas bottom trawling moratorium, protests took place on ‘Moratorium Monday’ across Canada and at Canadian embassies in Australia, New Zealand and Chile.

Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) member organisations and members of the public called on the Canadian government to join other responsible nations in supporting a temporary halt to high seas bottom trawling. The United States (1) and Pacific Island Nations (2), including Australia and New Zealand, have recently come out in favour of a moratorium, joining the UK, France, many other European countries, Brazil, South Africa, India and others. Negotiations have been taking place at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, regarding measures to be adopted in early December to stop destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling on the high seas.

In Canada, ‘honk-a-thons’ were held in Halifax, Montreal, St. John’s and Charlottetown: cars and trucks sounded their support for high seas supporters dressed as crabs, lobsters, tube worms and corals, who were joined by fishermen, scientists, PhD students and celebrities. Canadian Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn is under fire for his recent statement indicating that Canada does not intend to support a temporary halt to the hugely destructive fishing practice that lays waste to fragile underwater habitats, such as cold water corals and sponges. In a recent interview with CBC Radio, Canadian UN Ambassador McNee said he did not believe that the fact that Canada conducts bottom trawling within its own waters was a consideration, or that economic considerations have trumped environmental stewardship.

Although he said that the Canadian government is concerned with some of these fragile ecosystems, he referred to the need for consensus and noted that “the Canadian government has taken the view that regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) – NAFO in the case of Canada – should be vehicles for coming up with a new regime to regulate what goes on on the high seas”. (3) “But most of the ocean’s international waters – around 70% – are not covered by RFMOs with the competence to sustainably manage bottom trawl fisheries and the reality is that those which can, have done little to protect vulnerable deep sea habitats,” said Matthew Gianni, political advisor to the DSCC. “This is why it is essential that nations agree to a halt to the practice until the relevant management regimes are in place.” (4) In New Zealand, “Sea Mounties” (Greenpeace activists dressed as Canadian Mounties) protested outside the Canadian embassy in Wellington with a banner saying “Shame on Canada – Stop deep-sea destruction”. Greenpeace referred to the collapse of cod (Canada) and orange roughy (New Zealand) stocks as the world’s biggest fishery disasters of modern times. “We all need to learn from these disasters and act quickly to protect the incredible life in the deep sea,” said Greenpeace political advisor Geoff Keey. “The science is clear, the first hand accounts and photos all back up the nasty impacts of bottom trawling. It’s time for Canada to show the kind of leadership our oceans need,” said Keey. (5) Letters were presented by DSCC members in Australia (6), New Zealand and Chile (7) asking the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to reconsider Canada’s position and stop undermining measures on high seas bottom trawling at this year’s UN General Assembly.

Notes: (1) US Joins Pro-Moratorium Nations, DSCC news 3 October 2006 (2) Pacific Block Declares for a Moratorium, DSCC News, 26 October 2006 (3) CBC Radio interview with Canada’s UN Ambassador McNee, 26 October 2006 Listen to interview (from 15:32 mins) (4) View a map showing the few high seas areas which have been afforded protection. (5) For Cod’s Sake Canada, Stop Blocking Progress Monday, Greenpeace New Zealand press release, 30 October 2006 (6) Greenpeace calls on Canada to stop blocking progress on high seas bottom trawling, Greenpeace Australia press release, 30 October 2006 (7) Citizen’s Organization urged the Canadian Government not to block protection deep sea biodiversity on the high seas, Ecoceanos, 30 October 2006