Captain Paul Watson Responds to Canadian Writer Joan Forsey

Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Joan Forsey of Toronto has been described as the Armchair Critic of Anything Against Newfoundland. She has written pro-sealing articles for the Toronto Star and the American Sportsman. Captain Watson has responded to her latest criticism leveled at Sea Shepherd because it gives us an opportunity to address some of the issues she raises about overfishing.

Joan Forsey's letter to Sea Shepherd is posted below Captain Watson's Response 

Dear Joan,

Yes, I am still functioning and I don't think that I'm "losing" it as you put it. Of course, from your point of view I have "lost" it simply because I happen to disagree with you. I notice in your writings you have a tendency to say: "Can't these people read?" Or "what kind of Sea Shepherd are you?" Or "why can't you grasp what I'm saying?"

What you are really saying Joan, is that unless we agree with you it means we obviously can't read or grasp reality.

So you begin by assuming I know nothing about bottom trawling. As it turns out, I am very much familiar with bottom trawling. In 1993, I was arrested by Canada for chasing Cuban and Spanish drag trawlers from the Banks. According to the DFO, our actions cost the Cubans $35 million in lost revenues for Redfish. I was put on trial in St. John's in 1995 and acquitted of the charges.

We are still involved in the issue and as recently as 2005, we dropped 16 net rippers on the Tail of the Banks and we are working on plans to deploy hundreds of net rippers on the Flemish Cap.
I am very much aware of the impact of the foreign draggers on the ecosystems of the Northwest Atlantic, but I am also aware of the fact that between 1945 and 1992, the Canadian dragger fleets devastated the cod. It was Canadian vessels - including vessels from Newfoundland - that destroyed the fishery in competitive partnership with the foreign vessels. The state of the fisheries today has everything to do with the greed of Canadian fisheries and it has very much everything to do with the incredible incompetence and mismanagement of the DFO.
To say that overfishing by Newfoundlanders is not a factor contributing to the demise of the Northern Cod is willfully deceitful.
Newfoundlanders are not solely guilty but they are guilty nonetheless. Have you read Sea of Heartbreak by Newfoundland writer Michael Dwyer? Have you read Sea of Slaughter by Farley Mowat? How about Lament for an Ocean by Michael Harris? Or perhaps The Empty Ocean by Richard Ellis?
In the 70's according to Ellis in The Empty Ocean, the cod populations were declining at an alarming rate. He writes, "Even with these catastrophic predictions in hand, the Canadian government was more protective of its human population, and not wanting to throw thousands of Newfoundland fishers out of work, it cut the quotas by a mere 10%. Even with this reduction, however, the fishers continued to increase their productivity, with the sadly predictable result that the cod population has declined even more precipitously. By 1992, it was obvious that the fishery had run out of fish, and the Canadian government closed it down, not temporarily, but permanently."
Joan, I was warning Canadians and Newfoundlanders as early as 1977 that the cod fishery was on the threshold of collapse and the "experts" dismissed me as not knowing what I was talking about. They called me ignorant and uninformed then and I was proven right, and now you come along calling me ignorant and uninformed now. 
I wear my accusations of being called ignorant and uninformed as badges of honour because I have been a conservationists long enough to see my positions constantly vindicated.  
Magdalen Island writer Pol Chantraine in his book The Last Cod Fish documents the role that DFO played in the demise of the cod. Chantraine wrote that the government was tolerating overfishing of certain species at levels so high that their natural predators like the cod had to look elsewhere. So Joan, as you say, cod do swim and the reason they swam outside of the 200-mile economic zone had quite a bit to do with the fact that Canadian fisheries were pillaging their natural food supply.
You see Joan, it is not elementary. People like you look at it from a limited perspective. You see fish and you see fishermen and you see seals. It is all very simply according to you, and as you say, elementary.
However, even a simplified chart of marine biodiversity will illustrate up to a thousand different diverse species involved in a web of interdependence. Overfishing of one species causes a chain of events that impacts all other species. 
Everything worked quite well within the Northwest Atlantic ecosystems before the hand  and mind of man got involved. The hand began to take too much and the mind never really could grasp the picture as a whole. Still can't for when it comes to the life aquatic, "homo sapien" remains "homo aquaticus ignoramus."
What the hell did Pierre Trudeau know about fishing? Well according to you he knew that fish could swim. My, what a profound and witty statement - a typical politician's dismissal of reality. How about asking where are they swimming to? Or why are they swimming here instead of there? The answers, of course, lie in what their needs are. Yes Joan, not just people have needs. Fish have needs, also, and it is difficult satisfying one's needs when some greedy lumbering landlubber of an ape is literally snatching the food from your mouth without the foggiest idea of how things work in your community.
Fish, seabirds, marine mammals, invertebrates, and aquatic vegetation have evolved into a community where all contribute and all are supported. When you introduce a foreign species that really has no natural reason to be in the picture, and worse, has no idea of what is what, or what they are doing - then the neighbourhood is shattered and diminished.
Humans are literally home invaders and their objective is looting and destruction. Not only do we steal everything of value in sight, we smash the furniture (bottom draggers smashing coral reefs for example) and slaughter innocent bystanders and call it "by-"catch or "incidental take."  
You see, Joan, we have absolutely no business being in the fishing business. There are too many humans now and not enough fish, and the plain sad fact is that the aquatic eco-systems cannot realistically be expected to support and to survive under the escalating demands of expanding hominid populations.
As early as 1956, landings of cod were down in the Newfoundland/Labrador region by 80,000 metric tons or a fifth of what had been landed a half a century earlier. Newfoundlanders were knocking out the foundations of the cod fishery well before the big foreign draggers landed on the scene. In the sixties, there were large Canadian fleets of draggers and factory ships. In 1969, these "Newfoundland" vessels landed two million metric tons of cod. After that year, the catch began to decline. In the 70's, Canada introduced the 200-mile limit which limited foreign draggers but did not decrease Canadian predation.
 I was raised in a New Brunswick fishing village and I remember quite vividly the excesses of the East Coast fishing industry. I saw the greed displayed everyday. I reject your accusation that I am ignorant. I have a memory of what things were yesterday and the knowledge of what things are today and I am well read on this subject. This memory and knowledge trump your uninformed opinions, Joan, and your quoting of Pierre Trudeau and jingoistic assertions about the righteousness of Newfoundlanders does not substitute for historical truth.
Joan, all draggers, be they Canadian or European are foreign draggers because all of them are foreign to the habitats they are plundering.
You cite Jack Davis blaming the foreign draggers way back in 1969. Yet you seem to forget that Canada was deploying draggers and other technologies in the offshore waters of other nations also and these were considered invasive foreign draggers by these nations. Canada was as guilty of looting the waters of other nations as these nations were of looting Canadian waters.
Canada imposed the 200-mile limit in the 70's and the fish that were being plundered by both Canadian and foreign vessels became exclusively Canadian, except of course, where the Canadian government actually licensed foreign vessels to come inside the 200-mile limit to fish.
In 1993, when I intercepted and ordered the Cuban dragger Rio Las Casas to leave the Tail of the Banks, I was not aware that Canada had issued a redfish permit to that vessel. After ordering the vessel to leave, the DFO vessel Cape Rogers radioed the Cuban and said, "You have every right to fish in these waters, you need not be intimidated by the Sea Shepherd vessel."
In fact, the DFO skipper referred to me as a pirate while I was trying to stop the Cubans from pirating redfish. I did not damage any property or injure anyone but Canada spent 4 million dollars trying to unsuccessfully get a conviction on me for the terrible crime of "Mischief."
Two years later, Brian Tobin goes out and plays hero ordering an armed boarding of the Spanish trawler Estai. What is not so well known is that Canada actually compensated the Spanish for lost revenues suffered by the inconvenience of being used as a political football to advance Tobin's image.   
Fishermen always seem to blame others for their problems. In Japan, they kill dolphins because they eat "their" fish. Mexicans blame El Nina or Gringos. Canadians blame seals or foreign draggers. It always seems to be someone else's fault.
The destruction of Canadian fisheries are the result of overfishing by both Canadian and foreign fishing operations and gross incompetence and spectacular mismanagement by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).  
You say that I should be blaming Canada and not Newfoundland for the fishery disaster. I have never shied away from attacking the DFO for their crimes. But like it or not Newfoundland joined Canada. It was Newfoundland's choice and Newfoundlanders have had a great deal on influence with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The DFO bureaucracy is sometimes referred to as the Nufie mafia and Newfoundland has had more than its fair share of Fishery Ministers including the present Minister Loyola Hearn. These ministers all have one thing in common, they all scapegoat the seals for their own incompetence.
Joan, I don't think I am ignorant of the history of the demise of the fisheries on Canada's east or western coast. I have spent my lifetime engaged in the issues. I have skippered voyages to disrupt sealers and draggers both. I have dropped net cutters on the Banks and cut trawl lines on foreign draggers.

You ask what kind of Sea Shepherd am I?
The answer is that I represent my clients and my clients are marine mammals, sea-birds, sea-turtles, fish and invertebrates, in fact, the diversity of aquatic ecosystems.    
I make no pretense of being concerned about the welfare of this group of fish killers over any other group of fish killers. I don't eat fish, and besides, hominids are hominids whatever silly little coloured piece of cloth they fly on the stern of their ships.
The fact is that there are too many of us hominids and so few of the species we are intent upon destroying.
I advocate the complete shutdown of all commercial fishing operations. It is a wasteful, ecologically-destructive industry that has no future. Worse yet, is that fish and our oceans may not have a future.
All the world's fisheries are presently in a state of diminishment and thus all the world's fisheries are in a state of collapse.
We now find ourselves defending fish in National Park Marine Reserves like the Galapagos Islands where we have been working in partnership with the Galapagos National Park rangers to intercept fish poachers.
Last year, I was called to Dakar as a consultant to the President of Senegal to advise on how to deal with illegal fishing. My ships have intercepted poachers in the waters of Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Australia, Brazil, Guatemala, and Mexico.
My question to you, Joan, is what the hell have you done other than scapegoating seals and shifting the blame to foreigners?
I have done my homework, but most importantly I intercept, enforce, and protect. That is the kind of Sea Shepherd that I am Joan. I am a shepherd conservation activist on the sea and not some pathetic whining armchair scribbler sending missives off to the Toronto Star or to American Sportsman magazine.
I'll let you in on a little advice Joan on how to save the fish: Stop eating them.

From: Joan Forsey
Sent: Sunday, May 28, 2006 5:50 PM
Subject: overfishing

Would someone please pass this e-mail along to Paul Watson, assuming he is still functioning.  His latest diatribe against Newfoundland suggests he may be losing it.
Dear Paul:
What kind of "sea shepherd" are you?  You seem abysmally ignorant about the cause of declining fish stocks off Canada's east coast.  As Pierre Trudeau famously said, "Fish swim."  Did you know that?  And if foreign fleets are scraping the bottom of the ocean (I think you're familiar with bottom-trawling) just outside Canada's 200-mile limit, there are fewer fish to swim into Canadian waters.  This is elementary. Why can't you grasp it?  The state of fish stocks has nothing to do with overfishing by Newfoundlanders.
Let me try to enlighten you. In 1969, when Jack Davis was federal Minister of Fisheries, he said that massive fleets of foreign trawlers were destroying the fishing industry along the Canadian coastline, and that intensive offshore fishing by state-owned foreign fleets was hitting Canadian marine resources so hard they might never recover. "Important species have been knocked back to the point where they are of little commercial interest to Canadians," Mr. Davis said, according to a report in The Globe and Mail at the time. He pointed out, for example, that the haddock catch on the east coast had been reduced in 10 years to 25 million pounds from 100 million pounds.
That was in 1969 -- 37 years ago! (And it had nothing to do with Newfoundlanders.)  In fact, Mr. Davis said that the crisis for some of the Canadian fishing industry was reached in 1968.  Major grounds off the Atlantic coast were critically overfished and Newfoundland fishermen found their catch cut by half, The Globe reported.
Mr. Davis also told of flying over a Russian fleet just outside the 12-mile limit west of Vancouver Island.  The Globe quoted him: "Dragging gigantic nets backward and forward over a few square miles off our coast, it cleaned off one of our most productive fishing grounds."
The Globe said Mr. Davis named the USSR, Poland and East Germany as operators of vessels ovefishing offshore grounds. Giant fleets fishing within Canada's (what was then) 12-mile limit were operated from Spain, Portugal, France, Denmark, Great Britain, and the United States.
And if you want to know who's out there bottom-trawling and overfishing today, get in touch with Greenpeace!!  (I hope you're on speaking terms.)  You might even want to get their "NAFO Case Study" put out in June of last year.
If you did a bit of research you would also find that the Canadian government (not the Newfoundland government) permitted overfishing off our coasts in order to secure trade agreements that benefited not Newfoundland but other regions of the country (e.g., for auto plants in Ontario).
I would also remind you that Newfoundlanders managed the fishery for well over 400 years and there was no problem with the fishery until after Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949 and the federal government took over fishery management. 
Paul, you really should do some homework before you sound off. You seem ignorant, and it doesn't become you.
Joan Forsey