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Another Portuguese dragger accused of illegal fishing as Canadian NAFO seats left vacant for months

Fishery Officers accused a Portuguese dragger of misreporting catches on the tail of the Grand Banks outside 200 miles on three separate occasions in November. The latest allegations of illegal foreign fishing come at the same time that DFO reveals two of Canada's three seats at NAFO — the international organization that oversees high seas fishing off Newfoundland and Labrador — have been vacant for months.

The Portuguese offshore factory-freezer trawler Princesa Santa Joana was boarded and inspected on Dec. 5th, 2022 on the tail of the Grand Banks by Canadian Fishery Officers from the Leonard J. Cowley. As a result, the captain was accused of misreporting catches on Nov. 5th, 22nd, and 25th. CBC photo.

It's clear that high seas overfishing of migratory stocks is not on Ottawa's radar.

Canada is one of 13-member countries of NAFO, or the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, that oversees fishing on the rich grounds on and off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland just outside Canadian territorial waters.

Stocks such as northern cod (which will be under a moratorium for 31 years this July) migrate from inshore to offshore and back, oblivious to the imaginary dotted line in the water that is the 200-mile limit.

Only NAFO is powerless to protect them on the high seas, unable to enforce the quotas it sets.

The allegations against the Princesa Santa Joana are a prime example.

Under NAFO rules, the Canadian Fishery Officers who boarded and inspected the Portuguese trawler could only issue "notices of infringement" to the captain.

The captain could not be charged, and the ship could not be escorted to a Canadian port to have the book thrown at its 50-year-old hull by our justice system.

Canada must forward notices of infringement to the home country of the vessel in question (Portugal in this case) for investigation and follow-up in terms of penalties/fines.

What's the good of an effective enforcement regime inside 200 miles if it's the wild west outside?

Unlike most countries, the continental shelf off eastern Canada extends beyond 200 miles, leaving migratory stocks vulnerable once they cross over into international waters.

The captain of a Faroese longliner told me in the fall of 2021 that “pirate” factory-freezer trawlers were destroying the Grand Banks by directing for moratorium species such as cod, but the hands of Canadian Fishery Officers were tied because Covid-19 protocols prevented boardings and inspections.


The Princesa Santa Joana was also alleged to have misreported catches in June 2020 in fishing zone 3L on the tail of the Banks.

The ship was recently in the local news as one of two Portuguese trawlers (the other being the Santa Cristina) that Eastern Health is suing to recover over $1 million in COVID 19 medical expenses from July 2021.

The Santa Cristina, which also has a history of infractions on the Grand Banks, went on an illegal fishing spree soon after leaving Newfoundland waters in the summer of 2021.

The Santa Cristina, a Portuguese fishing vessel, was anchored in Bay Bulls in July 2021 when the crew came down with COVID-19. The ship's owner was later accused of giving no value to the crew. Two months after leaving port the captain was cited for illegal fishing on the tail of the Grand Banks.

Two of Canada's three NAFO seats are vacant — one for 19 months, and the other for seven.

One of the seats was held by Keith Sullivan, former President of the FFAW-Unifor, and the other by Alastair O'Reilly, Executive Director of the Northern Coalition Corporation, representing northern indigenous communities.

O'Reilly's two-year term as NAFO representative expired in May 2021.

Sullivan was also appointed as a Canadian representative to NAFO between 2019-2021, but was re-appointed to for a one-year term that expired in July 2022.

Appointments to NAFO are made by the federal cabinet through the Privy Council office. (Go here to apply.)

I don't recall hearing Sullivan (who resigned from the FFAW in December), or O'Reilly open their mouths about pirate draggers, foreign overfishing or problems with NAFO in general.

How the hell is that possible?

It's clear that DFO is failing the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery today in terms of poor science and bad management, and the Government of Canada has failed the inshore sector/rural NL for generations by giving international relations a higher priority.

And we have failed to demand better.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters.

Reach me at or call/text 682 4862

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