Mostly foreign trawlers, but also some Canadian fishing vessels, have indiscriminately devastated fish stocks in the Grand Banks, off Canada’s east coast, the World Wildlife Fund Canada said on Tuesday.
They “deliberately” catch species at risk, including cod, and then throw tens of thousands of tons of dead fish caught in their nets, that are not commercially valuable, back into the ocean, the organisation said.
In doing so, they are threatening the future of the offshore fishery and risking the future of several marine species, WWF said.
“Most people assume that because the fishing of some species is banned, that those fish stocks are no longer being caught, but this is not the case,” said Robert Rangeley, WWF Canada’s Atlantic marine program director.
“We know that a number of these vessels are deliberately fishing where they know they will catch these ‘non-target’ species in order to maximize their profit,” he said.
In a few cases, so-called “bycatch” can account for as much as 80 percent of a ship’s landed catch, he said.
In 2003, up to 5 400 tons of cod or some 90 percent of the estimated stock at that time were caught as “bycatch” on the southern Grand Banks, he said.
“While subsequent increased enforcement by the Canadian government has reduced rampant illegal cod over-fishing, clearly cod stocks will not recover when almost the entire endangered population is removed as bycatch in a single year,” Rangeley said.
WWF blamed bad international fisheries management as well for the devastation and called on the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) countries to immediately reduce bycatch of cod in the region by 80 percent, ban fishing on coral hotspots and other sensitive fish habitats, reduce the number of trawlers on the Grand Banks and better enforce existing NAFO regulations.
Several of the 12 NAFO members are meeting this week in Estonia to set fisheries quotas for next year.
“We’re trying to lead the charge in combating international over-fishing off our coastal areas. We’re looking to get some momentum out of these meetings in Estonia,” said Canadian fisheries and oceans spokesperson Phil Jenkins, noting Canada supports the reports’ conclusions.
“We hope to get some change in the way the fisheries are managed so that issues like the bycatch one can be lessened.” he said, but still within the NAFO framework.
Source: IOL (South Africa)