NOTES FOR AN ADDRESS
THE HONOURABLE BRIAN TOBIN
MINISTER OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS
THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE
ON STRADDLING FISH STOCKS AND
HIGHLY MIGRATORY FISH STOCKS
New York, 27 March 1995
I was my honour to first address this conference one year ago. At that time, I spoke about how close we were to the brink of ecological disaster in a great many of the world's fisheries. In the past year, with few exceptions, the situation has worsened.
In a publication this month, March 1995, "World Fisheries : Problems and Prospects", the FAO describes the situation as follows :
"As the world catch has expanded, the number of stocks considered to be fully exploited, or over-exploited, has continued to increase ... (There has been a) serious decline, due to overfishing, of some of the more valuable species such as cod, haddock and flounder."
One place this has occurred is on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, off Canada's Atlantic coast.
Another recent 1995 FAO report, "The State of World Fisheries", deals specifically with the role of distant water fleets :
"In (1980), it was anticipated that there would be a retrenchment in distant-water fishing fleets as a result of extension in national fisheries jurisdictions to 200 nautical miles. (T)his retrenchment did not occur and in fact many of these distant-water vessels continue to operate."
Despite the large number of distant-water vessels still operating, their catches on the high seas continue to fall, from 9.1 million tonnes in 1989 to 4.7 million tonnes in 1993.
Some countries ... like Japan ... have made the necessary transition and operate responsible distant water fleets. These are not a threat to straddling stocks and highly migratory species. The same cannot be said for all other distant-water fishing fleets.
These distant water fleets have become increasingly desperate, fishing whatever they can, wherever they can, "however they can, heedless of the consequences. These fleets ... from countries like Spain ... "fish today and forget tomorrow". This ecological madness cannot continue. It can have only one outcome ... depletion and, in some cases, destruction of fish stocks.
The FAO, in its 1995 report on "The State of the World Fisheries", recognizes the grim situation that Canada faces with straddling stocks on the Grand Banks. the FAO says :
"Effective fisheries management is a major problem in North America. In view of unregulated high seas fisheries, Canada's domestic management efforts did not prove sufficient to sustain cod fisheries in the northwest Atlantic."
Note, this is not a quote from a Government of Canada document. Nor is it something said by a representative of the fishing industry in Canada. Rather, it is a statement of fact by the UN specialized agency responsible for fisheries, the FAO.
The FAO has it right. But, I have to tell you that it was not only Spanish vessels taking 10 or 20 times their NAFO cod and flounder quotas that depleted straddling stocks. Canadians also took too much fish in the 70s and 80s.
Canada made mistakes. But we have faced up to those mistakes. And we have learned from them. As Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I have implemented strong conservation and enforcement measures.
I did so, because that is what is needed to protect straddling stocks from commercial extinction.
Now, Canada needs strong conservation and enforcement measures to be respected by the EU outside 200 miles. We have not gotten that. Instead, the Spanish fleet is continuing to fish out of control, threatening to destroy what little remains of straddling stocks off Canada's Atlantic coast.
We cannot solve problems in the fishery by denying those problems exist. We have to recognize problems openly, then do what needs to be done to solve them.
That is what needed to be done regarding salmon on Canada's Pacific coast. As a new Minister, I knew Canada had problems of both conservation and enforcement with Pacific salmon. I appointed a former opposition politician, former Speaker John Fraser, to do a public study. He held public hearings. He made a public report.
The Fraser Report painfully catalogued our mistakes regarding Pacific salmon. That was needed. What was needed, as well, was decisive action. We took that action. The recommendations made in the Fraser Report will all be implemented.
The sacrifices made by fishermen in Atlantic Canada and by their communities to protect straddling stocks will all be in vain unless there is, as well, effective conservation and enforcement outside 200 miles. NAFO has adopted needed conservation measures. But Spanish fleets are flouting these. They continue to fish out of control, threatening vulnerable straddling stocks with commercial extinction.
Last April, Canada arrested a flag-of-convenience vessel, the Kristina Logos, outside 200 miles. This vessel was using small mesh gear. Her catch was almost entirely juvenile fish. And, she had on board significant quantities of species under international moratoria.
One year later, that is a few weeks ago, Canada arrested a Spanish vessel, the Estai, outside 200 miles. This vessel was using small mesh gear. Her catch was almost entirely juvenile fish. And, she had on board significant quantities of species under international moratoria.
Canada has ample evidence of the Estai's destructive pattern of fishing :
1)Canada emptied one of the two cargo holds and found 81 per cent of the fish were under 43 cm, far too young to have spawned; in fact, only 2% of the fish in the hold were of spawning age ;
2)Canada examined the captain's logbook ... the secret logbook, not the one shown to NAFO inspectors; it confirmed the high percentage of small, juvenil fish caught by the Estai; and
3)when Estai was approached by Canadian vessels, it cut its own net and sent it to the ocean floor; the net was later retrieved; it had illegally small mesh, the kind used to catch small, juvenile fish.
The fish in the hold, the secret logbook and the net with the illegal mesh are incontrovertible proof of the destructive fishing practices of the Estai.
But, I did not come here today to focus on the very serious bilateral dispute that Canada has with Spain. I will not dwell on the massive destruction of straddling stocks in the Northwest Atlantic caused by 10 years of Spanish overfishing. Rather, I am here to speak about what is needed from this conference to benefit conservation of straddling stocks and highly migratory stocks globally.
For these resources, conservation inside 200 miles is futile unless there is conservation outside 200 miles, as well. What is needed outside 200 miles are effective international controls. That is exactly what Canada is trying to achieve at this conference.
There are five main elements to this :
(1)A Legally Binding UN Convention
-For high seas fisheries, a more complete framework of rules is needed to give proper effect to the provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention on straddling stocks and highly migratory stocks.
-To be effective, this framework of rules must be legally binding.
(2)The Precautionary Approach
-There will always be a commercial argument to fish hard and hope for the best. That is the road to disaster.
-Conservation must be foremost. If we are not sure, then we should fish less or ... sometimes ... not at all. If we are to err, let it be on the side of caution.
(3)Compatibility between Conservation Measures Inside and Outside 200 Miles
-This means that everyone must play by the same rules. The coastal State should have a special role in setting those rules.
(4)Binding and Compulsory Dispute Settlement
-To protect resources and to ensure that all countries large and small are fairly treated, there must be binding and compulsory third party settlement of disputes relating to high seas fisheries for straddling stocks and highly migratory stocks.(5)High Seas Enforcement
-Finally, there needs to be some means to ensure that, once rules are set internationally, all vessels abide by those rules.
-Therefore, there has to be high seas enforcement by other States where the flag State fails to do so. In the end, only the credible threat of enforcement action will deter the irresponsible.
Taken together, these are the basic elements for an effective system of international control of high seas fisheries.
Good progress has been made on the first four elements : a legally binding UN convention, the precautionary approach, compatibility, and dispute settlement. Where far more work needs to be done by this Conference is on high seas enforcement.
Everything that we have accomplished thus far at this conference, everything we accomplished at the Law of the Sea conference, and everything we accomplished at the UN Conference on Environment and Development can be rendered meaningless without effective high seas enforcement.
Without effective high seas enforcement, the precautionary approach will be meaningless. Without effective high seas enforcement, compatibility of conservation measures will be meaningless. Without effective high seas enforcement, binding dispute settlement will be meaningless.
Why? Because it is only through effective high seas enforcement, we will be only voices in a meeting room far from the fishing grounds. Without effective high seas enforcement, we will create a piece of paper that does nothing to limit the destruction caused by overfishing. Without effective high seas enforcement, this conference will have failed.
I want to make clear. Canada is not at this conference to seek extension of jurisdiction beyond 200 miles. Nor are we here to seek authority for the kind of measures we have taken against Spanish vessels this month. Rather, Canada is at this conference to work with others towards a convention that will ensure that no country again faces the terrible situation that Canada does. An effective international regime for conservation of straddling stocks and highly migratory stocks will prevent overfishing and avoid the kind of conflict that Canada is now involved in against Spanish fleets.
Canada believes this conference can and will succeed. We believe this conference will approve a convention to provide effective international controls for high seas fisheries. Canada will work diligently with other States to have that convention enter into force as soon as possible.
But, realistically, that will take time. It won't happen this year. It won't happen next year. We will be fortunate if all the major distant water fishing states ratify the convention by the year 2000.
What happens between now and then? What do we do to protect resources until the new highseas fisheries convention is working in practice? That very much depends on the situation that each of our countries faces.
A few fortunate States face a situation where the straddling stocks and highly migratory stocks on which they rely are not fully utilized. More States face a situation where these resources are fully utilized. But a great many more States rely on resources that are being overfished and threatened with serious depletion.
Canada faces perhaps the most extreme threat to straddling stocks of any country in the world. The vast cod and flounder stocks that sustained major fisheries on the Grand Banks for five centuries now teeter on the brink of commercial extinction. The last commerciallyharvestable straddling stock ... turbot... has been heavily overfished outside 200 miles for the past four years. We believe it is heading for collapse unless this overfishing is ended.
Canada is confident that straddling stocks off our Atlantic coast can be protected when the UN convention on high seas fisheries is fully implemented. What is needed are measures to protect these resources until then.
Canada is taking those measures. We are taking those measures inside 200 miles. We have imposed and we are strictly enforcing moratoria to prevent any fishing of threatened straddling stocks by Canadian vessels.
As well, we have worked multilaterally through NAFO ... the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization ... to obtain internationally agreed conservation and management decisions to protect these straddling stocks outside 200 miles. And, we have negotiated bilaterally with those countries whose fleets have disregarded NAFO conservation and management decisions and kept on overfishing.
Finally, when all else failed, Canada took measures unilaterally to end this overfishing. We did so to ensure the survival of threatened straddling stocks. We did so out of necessity.
Canada had no choice. We had pursued every other avenue. Those avenues failed. Overfishing outside 200 miles continued. We could not watch straddling stocks on the Grand Banks meet their ultimate destruction because of this continued overfishing.
Canada's measures have not been taken against fleets that abide by internationally agreed conservation rules. We have taken these measures only against fleets that disregard those rules, and that, in doing so, undermine the conservation goals of the Law of the Sea.
Canada has not taken these measures eagerly. We have taken them reluctantly. We believe strongly that co-operation and multilateral decision-making are the right way to go.
Canada has not taken these measures out of a sense of national pride. We have taken them with humility. We realize that until recent years we, too, were part of the problem.
But, we will stand by these measures until some means can be found to protect straddling stocks from uncontrolled high seas fishing. We are flexible as to the means to achieve this goal. But we are resolute that this goal must be achieved.
We are equally resolute that multilateral means must be found to solve these problems in future. That is why a successful outcome to this conference is of such importance to Canada. It should be just as important to all the fishing nations of the world.
In seeking to achieve a successful outcome, let this session be guided by the principle of sustainable development, as outlined by the Brundtland Commission. Let this session find ways to give practical effect to the provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention on straddling stocks and highly migratory stocks. And, let this session be inspired by the commitments that all countries undertook at the UN Conference on Environment and Development.
Let me conclude as I did one year ago to this conference. If we do not deal with these general problems at this conference, then where and when will we do so ? If we do not do so through an effective high seas fisheries convention, then how will we do so? I fear that if we do not do so here and now, then fisheries conflicts can only increase and resources that should benefit both present and future generations will continue to be destroyed.