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DFO citation to Portuguese trawler captain for ‘observer intimidation’ 1st ever issued

But then the NAFO rule against intimidating Fishery Observers — who spend weeks/months aboard foreign, factory-freezer trawlers monitoring catches, and collecting data — only came into force in 2019. With no protection before then, how often were observers harassed and could their reports even be trusted?

DFO issued a citation for "observer intimidation" to the master of the Portuguese factory-freezer trawler Nova Virgem Da Barca on Feb. 20th of this year. DFO only recently posted the info on its website.

The Portuguese trawler was fishing redfish in waters outside Canada's 200-mile territorial limit when DFO enforcement officers boarded the ship, issued the citation, and removed the European Union observer.

The citation was issued under a fairly new 2019 conservation and enforcement rule of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), the organization that oversees migratory fish stocks in international waters outside Canada's 200-mile limit.

The rule (Section 30, article 15 here) outlines that the master of a vessel must not "obstruct, intimidate, interfere with, influence, bribe or attempt to bribe an observer in the performance of his/her duties."


On one hand, NAFO dictates that foreign trawlers cannot fish unless they’re carrying at least one independent observer, but another provision of the organization's conservation and enforcement rules (Section 30, article 6) allow fleets to fish without observers for up to 75% of the time.

NAFO is generally seen as toothless, unable to enforce the quotas it sets.

Despite that, in more recent years NAFO has begun to manage various stocks (turbot/squid) inside Canadian waters to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.

While the Canadian government goes after its own fishermen to the full extent of the law for fishery violations, NAFO doesn't.

Under NAFO rules, once a citation is issued it's up to the home country of the foreign trawler (in this case Portugal) to follow through with an investigation, and possible penalties/court action.

The end result often amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist.

Meantime, migratory groundfish stocks such as cod and flounder have failed to heal despite Canadian fleets suffering under decades of commercial fishery shut downs.

Two Portuguese trawlers that were anchored in early August off eastern Newfoundland after COVID-19 stormed through the crews have been cited four times between them for illegal fishing outside Canada’s 200-mile.

A DFO official said the two trawlers were not inspected because the vessels only came to port for medical reasons, and an inspection wasn't safe due to public health concerns.

Ryan Cleary,


Independent licensed owner-operators are encouraged to join SEA-NL here. These blog posts will be public for a limited time, before becoming exclusive to the membership.

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