Guest Commentary by Newfoundlander Joe Walsh of the St. John's Telegram

Walsh on Fisheries

Captain Paul Watson has known St. John's Telegram journalist Joe Walsh for nearly thirty years ever since they first met when Walsh was covering the Newfoundland seal controversy back in 1976. On most issues dealing with seals and fish, Walsh and Watson have been in separate camps. Joe Walsh has always been a defender of the sealers and the fishermen whereas Watson has devoted his life to defending the seals and the fish.

But in a sign of how serious the diminishment of the fisheries has become, Joe Walsh this week wrote passionately about how the cod continue to be abused and how fishermen are acting irresponsibly. Walsh and Watson both agree that the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans has mismanaged the recovery of the cod. They both agree that the Canadian government must seriously crack down on illegal foreign fishing operations just outside of the Canadian economic zone. We think it is a powerful indictment of the lack of real action to save the Northern cod and we thought it was a column worth sharing outside the borders of Newfoundland.

Walsh on Fisheries

Barking up the wrong tree

The so-called protest cod fishery planned for today on the province's northeast coast is misguided, misdirected and the wrong approach for trying to bring national attention to the plight of the fishery.

How can we, on the one hand, condemn the federal government for allowing foreign vessels to illegally fish northern cod on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks when some of our people are doing the same thing?

Cod stocks are low

How can anyone say we have a right to a food fishery when every bit of scientific evidence we have from federal fisheries scientists, and well-known independent cod biologist George Rose, clearly shows the stocks are on the verge of extinction?

If you want to carry the "our rights" argument further, every Newfoundlander and Labradorian should have the right to kill a moose every year. How long would the moose population last if that was the case?

There is also the argument that since there's plenty of cod being caught through bycatches in other fisheries, such as lumpfish, flounder and shrimp, why not permit a recreational fishery?

It's impossible to conduct these fisheries without a certain percentage of cod being caught. The only way to stop that is to stop the fisheries, and all that will accomplish is to put more people out of work. These bycatches can be monitored closely and the particular fishery involved can be shut down if they are too high.

There's no doubt people are justified in being upset with the way the fishery is being managed, or mismanaged, by the federal government.

But two wrongs don't make a right.

Why has there been no growth?

There are many questions that should be answered by federal Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan, not the least of which is why the northern cod stocks have not recovered since the first commercial moratorium was imposed in 1992.

Why didn't he and his predecessors create a recovery plan instead of a piecemeal approach which has produced little or no results?

The cold, hard truth is that we are no further ahead than we were 10 years ago in knowing why these stocks have not rebounded.

However, the way to put pressure on the fisheries minister is not by breaking the law with a protest fishery.

Regan is part of a minority Liberal government and when the next election rolls around, probably late this year or early next year, the Liberals will need every seat they can muster, including the five they hold in this province.

Through our five Liberal MPs, all of whom represent rural areas, pressure should be brought to bear on Regan to provide answers on critical issues.

If they don't get results, vote them out.

Ironically, while the debate was raging this week over the protest fishery, a Federal Court ruling took away any excuses the federal government has used for not arresting foreign vessels caught illegally fishing straddling stocks just outside the 200-mile limit.

The court ruled that former fisheries minister Brian Tobin had the legal right to arrest the Spanish fishing trawler Estai in 1995 for illegally fishing turbot in international waters.

That means there's nothing to stop Regan from ordering his officials to apprehend the next foreign vessel caught illegally fishing, and charging its captain and owners in a Canadian court.

Prior to this, the feds were operating under the rules of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), which set fish quotas in international waters.

Under NAFO regulations, Canadian officials can board an offending vessel, but it is left to the discretion of authorities in the ship's home port to lay changes - something that seldom happens.

This ruling could prove to be a very powerful enforcement tool, if Regan decides to use it.