SEA-NL calls on new federal Fisheries and Oceans minister to investigate allegations ‘pirate’ draggers destroying Grand Banks

“Canada may have the toughest fishery enforcement within its own waters, but as long as it’s a free-for-all once migratory stocks swim over the imaginary line that is the 200-mile limit those efforts are in vain,” says Ryan Cleary, Interim Executive Director of Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray must investigate the magnitude of the overfishing, and take immediate actions to stop it,” said Cleary. “This is not just about Newfoundland and Labrador, but a national food-security issue, as well as propelling a blue economy?”

Captain Christian Mathisen of the Faroese longliner Bordoyarnes alleged last week that “pirate” factory-freezer trawlers are destroying the Grand Banks by directing for moratorium species such as cod, along with other illegal fishing actives.

While Fisheries and Oceans is said to be aware of the illegal activity, Mathisen said enforcement officials have told him directly their hands are tied because Covid-19 protocols prevent boardings and inspections.

Mathisen said he tracked trawlers this past summer, and has “no doubt” they were illegally targeting various species such as cod, halibut and redfish (“everything they can get”).

He warned “there will be nothing left to fish” if action isn’t taken. DFO was asked to respond to the allegations this week, but failed to respond.

In September, Mathisen himself was issued two separate “notices of infringement” for failing to report discards in his daily catch reports, although he said the infractions were the result a “misunderstanding.”

Mathisen said Faroe Islands fishermen don’t have to report discards, whereas discards must be reported when fishing in waters outside Canada’s 200-mile limit governed by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO).

Mathisen said the actions of the factory-freezer trawlers — whose massive nets drag over the ocean floor — “are taking food from other fish and leaving nothing behind.”

While Canada lowers the hammer on its own fishermen for illegal fishing, NAFO rules dictate it’s up to a vessel’s home country to follow though with an investigation of a “notice of infraction,” and any possible follow up. Fines that are imposed by a home country usually amount to a slap on the wrist.

Despite adjacent fishing fleets from Newfoundland and Labrador suffering through decades of commercial fishery shutdowns, foreign fleets have continued to pound migrating stocks once they cross over the 200-mile limit.

Next year is the 30th anniversary of the northern cod moratorium, and the loss of more than 30,000 direct jobs — which remains the biggest layoff in Canadian history.

Ryan Cleary
Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador Inc.
709 682 4862