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article imageBeleaguered Department of Fisheries and Oceans takes another hit

By Stephanie Dearing     Sep 12, 2009 in Politics
Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is taking another hit after a month of troubles over the collapse of the sockeye salmon fishery and the department's failure to uphold its own laws in the protection of an endangered species.
The seriousness of those two issues have been made weightier with the addition of the latest controversy. Four former employees from the the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) are sounding the alarms over changes to the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) off-shore fishing rules. The former Director General of the DFO's International Department, Bob Applebaum, is one of those employees sounding the alarm. The former employees have been meeting with Newfoundland politicians and industry representatives to let them know about the changes Canada has made to the NAFO agreement, which, they say, means NAFO members will be able to have a say in how Canada handles its exclusive fishery zone, an areas that extends 200 miles out to sea from Canada's shores. Applebaum told press last week, "We are about to lose what we thought we had locked in forever, which is total control of the 200-mile zone off our coasts."
The source of all the fuss is an amendment to a 30 year old NAFO agreement, called The Convention on Future Multilateral Co-operation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries. This latest amendment was adopted by NAFO in 2007, but the agreement still has not been ratified. The NAFO website states that three-fourths of the member states need to ratify the agreement in order for it to become a legal and binding document. There are 12 member states in NAFO, including Canada and the European Union.
Currently, NAFO regulations are restricted to the Atlantic outside of the 200 mile limits that delineate what are called Exclusive Economic Zones. These 200 mile zones are controlled by the country the zone pertains to.
Newfoundland's outspoken Premiere, Danny Williams, is asking Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take immediate action on the matter, warning that Canada will lose its sovereignty if the new NAFO agreement is approved by Canada's House of Commons.
According to the CBC, Harper had campaigned in Newfoundland in 2005 on the premise that he would work to "... extend Canada's control of offshore fish stocks within five years and give provinces a bigger role in managing the fishery."
The four former DFO employees are described only as "senior bureaucrats." While we do not know why they are former employees, they have been taking their message about the NAFO Convention Amendment to Canadians. Their concerns have been dismissed by DFO Minister, Gail Shea, as well as other Conservative party members. Shea posted a statement on the DFO website on September 11th stating that the amendment will provide member states with a dispute resolution mechanism, which was badly needed.
Since 2005, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had advised Canada to drop the NAFO agreement, because it does not protect the fish at risk, such as cod and flounder, and instead to adopt "... a new Regional Fisheries Management Organization." Canada's response was to officially adopt NAFO. The WWF stated last year that NAFO undermines the recovery of the cod fishery.
The DFO recently lost a landmark legal case to four environmental groups based in British Columbia, who filed the case against the government agency in 2007. The groups said that the DFO failed to uphold its own legislation in protecting species at risk. The case centered on a small minnow which has a very limited habitat in British Columbia. The groups won their case this past week, and the implications for the DFO are huge. Environmental activists anticipate that the DFO will now begin to revise its procedures to provide better protection for endangered species.
The collapse of the Sockeye fishery in British Columbia has also brought a lot of attention to bear on the DFO and Gail Shea. While the DFO claims it spends close to $20 million a year on salmon research, this is all the government has had to say to date about the collapse of the salmon fishery. The government, along with other biologists, cannot explain what happened to the Sockeye, however many people feel that the fish were negatively impacted by the spread of sea lice from farmed salmon to the wild salmon.
More about Gail shea, Nooksack dace, Sockeyesalmon, Department fisheries oceans, Fishing agreement
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