Sorry Clearwater, the ocean floor is not your private storage area.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, January 10, 2019
K’JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - This morning, CBC released court documents revealing one of Canada’s largest fishery corporations has been fishing illegally for years. This fall, Clearwater Seafood was charged with leaving thousands of traps in their offshore lobster fishery unattended at sea for weeks to months at a time.
The news comes as no surprise for Shannon Arnold, Marine Program Senior Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. Arnold has been gathering information on Clearwater’s offshore lobster fishery for more than two years.
"We've been trying to track down details on how this fishery operates because our analysis led us to question whether it was possible for Clearwater’s one offshore boat to fish upwards of 6500 traps within the law," Arnold says, "We know now that Clearwater were ‘storing’ thousands of traps on the bottom instead of bring them to shore and using thousands more baited traps to fish unattended for weeks to months at a time."
Arnold says that, by being permitted to step outside the laws that all other fishermen must follow, Clearwater has been able to bring in more profit. "It essentially amounts to years of subsidies," Arnold says.
Arnold commends enforcement officers and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) for pursuing and finally charging the license holder (CS Manpar) with what they describe as a ‘gross violation’ of the ‘72 hour rule’.
Arnold says that ‘storing’ traps on the bottom illegally and not tending gear within the 72 hour regulation has serious conservation implications and brings up questions of equity in how our fishery system may favour big companies over independent fishermen.
"The difficulty we have experienced in getting a full picture of how this fishery works has highlighted the distressing lack of transparency in our fishery management system. This is especially true where fisheries are consolidated, like this case - basic fishery information and science being carried out by this company is protected in the name of 'proprietary information," Arnold says.
Arnold finds this lack of transparency worrisome in fisheries, because it is a public resource that is managed on behalf of all Canadians by the government. Fishermen or big companies, like Clearwater, are given a licensed privilege to use it to make profit.
In this case, Clearwater bought all the other licences and consolidated the fishery to just one boat. The company has been lobbying behind the scenes for an exemption for the very law they were just convicted of breaking.
Ecology Action Centre has learned the company has carried out a research study to inform a possible change in the law and now DFO has granted a 'special science licence' for this year - however the study is not available for peer review in the public realm. This 'proprietary study could inform changes to a law that regulates all fisheries in Atlantic Canada.
"Clearwater has been granted a huge area of public waters. They bought rights to profit from a public resource, and the public deserves transparency on how this resource is used. Instead, the system is opaque, giving larger companies the ability to keep more from the public in the name of proprietary information," Arnold says.
As the court documents state, this illegal fishing pose real risks to Canada's marine environment.
"Thousands of traps, checked less frequently than required by the law can cause increased lobster wastage, puts endangered fish species like cod and cusks at more risk, and increases the liklihood of entanglement for the North American Right Whale," Arnold says.
The Ecology Action Centre has released more details on this issue, including information on the fact that Clearwater has held a 'sustainable' certification for a premium eco-label throughout these years, the conservation impacts of breaching the 72 hour rule, and impact on equity in fisheries on their website.
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For more information, please contact:
Marine Program Senior Coordinator
1 (902) 329 4668