Fin in the News "Canada yet to ratify first global treaty to combat illegal fishing"

By Megan Dolski, The Globe and Mail

The first global treaty to combat illegal fishing has become international law, with more than 30 countries and the European Union formally ratifying the agreement - but Canada is not among them.

The Port State Measures Agreement mandates participating countries to increase controls at their respective ports, with the goal of catching unlawful fishing ships and making it more difficult for them to sneak illicit supply into major markets. It took effect on Sunday, a month after the required 25 countries ratified it.

Canada signed the agreement - and played a role in creating it - almost six years ago, but neither the former Conservative government nor the Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have ratified the deal. The federal Fisheries Department says it's working on changes required to finalize the treaty, but that could take a year.

In the meantime, observers question what message the delay sends about Canada's commitment to combatting illegal fishing, which the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates makes up about 30 per cent of fishing worldwide.

"Canada signed on - but I think we need to address how, just how we are going to deal with illegal and unreported fishing," said Fin Donnelly, fisheries critic for the NDP. "It is a global phenomenon and Canada needs to play its part in addressing and curtailing illegal and unreported fishing."

Mr. Donnelly said he hasn't seen a lot of action from the current government in addressing illegal fishing at the international level.

Ted McDorman, a law professor at the University of Victoria, said he believes Canada is already a leader in terms of addressing illegal fishing.

"It doesn't change anything that Canada's doing in any real way," said Prof. McDorman, who has previously worked at what was then called Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.

"I'm not sure what the holdup is in terms of Canada's ratification of the treaty. In part, it may be that it doesn't add all that much, so there has been no particular internal incentive to do it."

The only potential issue Prof. McDorman sees is the message the delay might send, given Canada's high level of involvement in establishing the treaty.

"It may be perceived by other states that, 'Well, you were a big supporter, so why not?'" Prof. McDorman said.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokeswoman Carole Saindon said Canada is "well-recognized as a strong advocate" for the treaty and work is under way to ratify it.

"Some additional regulatory changes are required," Ms. Saindon wrote in an e-mail. "We hope to move forward with this process shortly."

The department's website said in May that the changes will take a minimum of one year, though the department notes that the key provisions of the agreement are "consistent with Canada's long-standing port access regime for foreign fishing vessels."

Mark Strahl, fisheries critic for the Conservatives, who were in power when the treaty was signed, wasn't available for comment.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says the illegal fisheries industry is worth upwards of $20-billion (U.S.) each year.

"Illegal fishing is an unresolved, internationally pervasive problem, and it's been a problem for some time now," said Dana Miller, a researcher the University of British Columbia whose work has focused on combatting the problem.

Ms. Miller recently authored a study that recommended a new way to tackle illegal fishing that she said would be cheap but has been overlooked: targeting insurance for illegal fishing vessels.

Her study found that vessels linked to illegal fishing are still able to secure insurance. Ms. Miller argues that if insurance companies cut off illegal fishing boats from having access to the financial safety-net of coverage, their illicit business could become less appealing and profitable.

"The idea is that for any activity - particularly criminal activity - if you upset the balance of benefits and costs there may be less of an incentive to engage in the activity," she said.

She said checking for proper insurance documentation could fit into the treaty's inspection processes.

Her study calls on insurance companies to do more to check whether vessels are involved in illegal fishing. For example, she noted lists of known illegal fishing vessels are available online.

"I think they may be surprised," Ms. Miller said. "I optimistically believe they aren't aware they are doing business with criminal organizations."

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