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Environmental Issues, Fisheries Management

harp seals, NAFO, drift nets, trawl nets, international negotiations

Licenses for sport fishing are usually distributed by the provincial or territorial governments, which retain the revenue collected. Many provinces put these revenues into fish conservation projects. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for regulating, developing, and conserving Canada’s commercial fisheries, although it delegates part of the management of freshwater fisheries to the provinces through federal-provincial agreements. The department also conducts research and represents Canada in international agreements on fisheries management and marine research. There are management problems involving other countries on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

In the international waters of the Atlantic, fisheries are regulated by an international body called the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), whose 17 member states include Canada, the United States, and the countries of the European Union (EU). Disputes involving NAFO are worked out in international negotiations and through the United Nations. Canada controls fishing within 200 nautical miles (230 mi/370 km) of its shores, and NAFO recognizes Canada’s right to enforce its regulations to protect fish stocks that are partly within and partly outside this limit. Not all countries respect this right, however, and international tensions sometimes flare. One incident occurred in 1995, when Canadian officials boarded a Spanish fishing boat and charged the captain with fishing for turbot using gear that was illegal under Canadian law. The outcome was that NAFO barred the EU (of which Spain is a member) from fishing for turbot in those waters and set the EU’s catch limit for turbot at much less than it requested.

On the Pacific coast, salmon spawned in Canadian streams are caught by American fishing boats and also as an incidental (unintentional) catch in trawl nets and drift nets operated by Japanese, Koreans, and Taiwanese. Issues between Canada and the United States are dealt with under the Canada-United States Pacific Salmon Treaty, signed in 1985. The two nations, however, have not always agreed on how the treaty should be implemented. Issues with other nations are handled through an international organization, the North Pacific Anadromous Fisheries Commission, which promotes the conservation of salmon and other anadromous fish (fish that migrate between rivers and the ocean) on the high seas. Trade sanctions are applied to countries that break its rules.

Controversy has also surrounded the Atlantic seal fishery. Protesters from several nations objected to the harvesting of whitecoat harp seal pups, which they charged was done in a cruel manner. It was banned in the 1980s, and today only harp seals that have molted their white coats—and are therefore considered mature—are harvested.

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