A Portuguese offshore factory-freezer dragger has been accused for the fifth time in six years of illegal fishing on/near the Grand Banks, hammering home, yet again, that the enforcement regime that oversees foreign fleets outside Canada's 200-mile limit is a joke (on Newfoundland and Labrador).
The Nova Virgem Da Barca, a 57-metre (184 foot) offshore dragger, is registered in Portugal, and was built in 1988. Accusations levelled against the ship since 2017 include the use of illegal undersized mesh, and observer intimidation.
The latest accusation (not actual court charge) against the Nova Virgem Da Barca was issued on March 28th when enforcement officers from the Canadian Coast Guard ship Cygnus boarded the dragger on the tail of the Banks (fishing zone 3N) where she was fishing redfish.
The officers issued a “notice of infringement” against the captain for misreporting catches, with “supporting documentation from the inspection and infringement forwarded to the European Union for investigation and follow-up.”
Canada cannot charge a foreign dragger with illegal fishing.
Which is what's meant by the joke being on Newfoundland and Labrador in terms of quota enforcement (and the resulting impact on migratory fish stocks), but I'll come back to that.
HISTORY OF ILLEGAL FISHING
• In September, 2021 the Novo Virgem Da Barca was issued a "serious" notice of infringement for misreporting bycatches (incidental catches) of cod and American plaice on the tail of the Grand Banks.
• In February, 2021 the captain of the same dragger was issued another "serious" infringement notice for observer intimidation while fishing on the Flemish Cap — the first such notice ever issued. Enforcement officers boarded the foreign dragger and removed the observer, while the ship was ordered returned to port. • In July 2017 the Nova Virgem Da Barca was issued two notices of infringement for using undersized mesh, also while fishing on the Flemish Cap.
'NOTICE OF INFRINGEMENT' MEANS NOTHING
Under the rules of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), which oversees fishing on the high seas outside Canadian waters, once a notice of infringement is issued to a foreign dragger it is up to that vessel's home country to follow through with an investigation, and possible court action/penalties.
Which often result in a mild tap on the wrist.
Simply put, NAFO cannot enforce the quotas it sets, meaning the organization is useless at protecting migratory stocks such as northern cod. (The 30th anniversary of the moratorium — Canada's greatest shame — is this coming July 2nd.)
Not only that, but Canada withholds information on illegal fishing by foreign nations off Newfoundland and Labrador.
An official request by SEA-NL under Canada's Access to Information Act for details of the February, 2021 boarding of the Novo Virgem Da Barca regarding observer intimidation was denied.
One of the reasons given was that the release of such information could be "injurious to the conduct of international relations."
Which obviously take precedence over Newfoundland and Labrador relations.
LITTLE FAITH IN DFO NUMBERS
DFO officials said recently that foreign fleets outside the 200-mile limit harvest only about 300 tonnes of northern cod a year, but then there's little faith in department estimates.
Last October the captain of a Faroe Islands longliner accused "pirate trawlers" of destroying the Grand Banks under DFO’s nose by directing for moratorium species such as cod and other illegal fishing activities under the department's nose.
While Canada brought down the northern cod moratorium on July 2nd, 1992, foreign draggers continue (to this day) to pillage the migratory stock with practical impunity when the fish swim outside 200 miles.
Canada is one of the few countries with a continental shelf that extend beyond 200 miles, leaving migratory stocks exposed to illegal foreign fishing.
Canada’s Commissioners to NAFO include Keith Sullivan, President of the FFAW-Unifor, and Alastair O'Reilly, Executive Director of the Northern Coalition Corporation, representing indigenous communities of Canada's Eastern Arctic and Labrador.
The commissioners are essentially Canada's “voice” at the NAFO table.
What's clear is that "voice" is essentially silent away from the NAFO table, and Newfoundland and Labrador pays the price in terms of stocks such as northern cod that remain on their knees.
Executive Director, SEA-NL