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Portuguese dragger sued for unpaid hospital bill went on illegal fishing spree after leaving port

If it wasn't bad enough that Eastern Health recently launched a $1-million suit against two Portuguese trawlers for $1 million in unpaid Covid-related medical costs from 2021, one of the ships went on an illegal fishing spree outside the 200-mile limit after leaving Newfoundland waters. The same captain was later accused of disregarding the lives of his crew (and if he doesn't value his men, pity the Grand Banks).

The Portuguese trawlers Santa Christina (above) and Princesa Santa Joana spent more than two weeks anchored in Newfoundland waters in July 2021 when Covid-19 infected their crews. CBC NL reported last week that Eastern Health has filed legal action to recoup more than $1 million in unpaid medical bills.

On Sept. 26, 2021 — less than two months after leaving Newfoundland waters — the Santa Christina was boarded and inspected by Fishery Officers from the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Leonard J. Cowley while fishing on the tail of the Grand Banks.

But then that particular Portuguese vessel has a long history of illegal fishing.

Aug. 1st, 2017 —Citation issued for misreporting redfish catch by more than 50%.

Nov. 20th, 2012 — citation issued for not properly labeling product.

Dec. 19, 2005 — citation issued for using undersized mesh in the cod end.

As for the second Portuguese trawler that owes money to Eastern Health, the Princesa Santa Joana was issued a notice of infringement for misreporting catch on June 24th, 2020.


The term “notice of infringement” is used because Canada cannot actually charge a foreign dragger with illegal fishing on the high seas.

Under rules of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), which oversees fishing on the high seas outside 200 miles, it is up to the home country of an accused vessel to follow through with an investigation, and possible penalties.

Unlike most countries, the continental shelf off eastern Canada extends beyond 200 miles, leaving migratory stocks vulnerable once they cross over to international waters. NAFO is generally seen as toothless, unable to enforce the quotes it sets.

Canada’s Commissioners to NAFO have included 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.

Sullivan's status as a commissioner isn't known since his resignation in early December as union president.

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. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.

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