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'Pirate trawlers’ destroying Grand Banks under DFO’s nose, says Captain of Faroe Islands longliner

The captain of a Faroese longliner says “pirate” factory-freezer trawlers are destroying the Grand Banks by directing for moratorium species such as cod and other illegal fishing activities.

View of a Canadian Coast Guard vessel from the deck of the Faroe Islands longliner Bordoyarnes. Vessels from the Faroe Islands and Greenland fly under the Danish flag.

While Fisheries and Oceans is said to be aware of what’s happening, Capt. Christian Mathisen says enforcement officials have told him their hands are tied because Covid-19 protocols prevent Fishery Officers from boarding and inspecting the huge foreign draggers.

Mathisen, captain of the Faroe Islands-registered longliner Bordoyarnes, warns if the ‘pirate trawlers’ continue overfishing “there will be nothing left to fish.”

He asked that the names of the specific foreign trawlers and the countries the vessels are registered in not be named for fear of retaliation.

The Bordoyarnes was tied up in Bay Roberts on two separate occasions in September when Mathisen himself was issued two “notices in infringement” by DFO Fishery Officers for misreporting halibut catches.

In correspondence with SEA-NL in response to that post, Mathisen said there was a “misunderstanding” — which I’ll come back to.

First, to the Grand Banks and Mathisen’s allegations.

Mathisen, who’s been been fishing on the Grand Banks for 30 years, said he's familiar with “every canyon, ever rock” on the bottom, and knows where to find various fish species at various depths, and at different times of the year.

He says up to seven foreign trawlers have been fishing year-round on the southern Grand Banks (fishing zones 3N and 3O) outside 200 miles, “and are destroying the bottom and taking all the halibut.”

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").

According to Mathisen, DFO Enforcement Officers are “fully aware” of the illegal fishing, but when they attempt to board the foreign trawlers they are told there’s Covid aboard, and a boarding/inspection is called off.

DFO was asked to respond to the allegations earlier this week, but the department has yet to respond.


Mathisen said “there has never been more life” on the Grand Banks in terms of cod, halibut, and hake — the stocks of which are “exploding” — and “somebody in Canada/Newfoundland needs to wake up and do something about it.”

“Without any research nobody knows about it. Most of the fisherman in Newfoundland/Canada is thinking crab and squid and the bigger fishing vessels (are) thinking shrimp and Greenland halibut. Cod was a big part of Newfoundland history, and it is a shame to see the stock die of age.”

Atlantic halibut aboard the Bordoyarnes.


The back-to-back “notice of infringements” against Mathisen in September were specifically for failing to report discards in the daily catch reports. (Again, find the details here.)

Mathisen said the problem is that in the 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).

Regardless, he said a longliner — which uses thousands of hooks to catch fish — “can never kill a stock.” Further, he said while his licence allows him to catch halibut at a minimum size of 45 cm, he chooses to stick to Canada’s minimum size of 81 cms.

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

Capt. Christian Mathisen.

Finally, Mathisen said while his longliner is landing in Newfoundland, contributing to the local economy and driving up the halibut price in markets for local fishermen, the foreign trawlers are not.

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/penalties).

That’s one of NAFO’s fatal flaws that Canada has failed to address for decades.

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 the imaginary line in the water that is the 200-mile limit.

Next year, 2022, 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,


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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