Canadian fisheries officers continue to board and inspect foreign offshore fishing vessels outside the 200-mile limit — checking for violations of the rules set in place by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO).
And while the number of vessels on any given day on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, and on the Flemish Cap, is much less than in the 1990s, the officers still nab their share of offenders.
And some of the names of the offending vessels are well-known, being repeat offenders over the years.
So far in 2014, four vessels have received citations — on May 5 the Russian vessel Melkart-3, on May 3 the Spanish vessel Puente Sabaris, on April 19 the Portuguese vessel Coimbra and on April 7 the Portuguese vessel Calvao.
The Melkart-3 was boarded while it was in port at Argentia and it was determined by inspectors the ship exceeded the bycatch allowance for division 3N cod and failed to leave the division for 60 hours as specified in the measures.
The Puente Sabaris, which was fishing Greenland halibut in NAFO Division 3L, had recorded 65 tonnes of catch in the fishing log and stowage plan, whereas inspectors found an additional 51.25 tonnes of Greenland halibut in a separate hold that was not recorded.
Citations were issued for misrecording of catch in the fishing logbook and failing to maintain an accurate stowage plan. The vessel was subsequently recalled to port by Spanish officials for an investigation.
The Coimbra was cited for using undersized mesh while fishing for groundfish. The mesh size was less than 130 mm, which is a violation of NAFO measures. A multiple-flap topside chafer also had undersize mesh. Two citations were issued.
On the Calvao, inspectors observed that logbook information did not correspond with Canadian air surveillance flight catch estimates and the daily catch report. Citations were issued for misrecording catch in the fishing logbook, and misreporting catch in the daily catch report.
The Calvao is one of the vessels known as a repeat offender. According to NAFO citations dating back to 2004, which are listed on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) website, the ship was issued citations for various infractions on Aug. 2, 2013; April 29, 2009; April 27, 2007; June 2, 2006; and March 19, 2005.
The Melkart-3 and the Coimbra show only the 2014 citations, while the Puente Sabaris shows citations issued on March 4, 2013 and March 2, 2005.
Bob Lambert, director of conservation and protection with DFO in the Newfoundland and Labrador region, said there are always repeat offenders, whether inspectors are dealing with domestic or foreign vessels.
“Right now there is a fairly small number of vessels that fish in the NAFO area. I think we are somewhere in the mid-20s as to the number of different vessels in any one day,” Lambert said. “That being the case, we would like to see that there be no repeat offenders.
“The measures have been improved a lot in the last couple of years. There’s daily electronic catch reporting, so we get that every day. There’s set-by-set information … so it gives us a lot more information to look at. So, we can say if what a vessel is reporting makes sense to where it is fishing. Those are some of the measures we’ve only gotten in the last couple of years, but it really helps us to focus our efforts. It sort of gives us a sense of who’s where and if what they are reporting makes sense.”
What happens to a vessel once citations are issued against it depends on the seriousness of the alleged offence.
If it’s deemed a minor offence, such as with the Melkart-3 on May 5 for exceeding its bycatch, the contracting party — Russia — has to be notified of the citation within 24 hours.
“Under the measures that is not listed as a serious citation. But we have to be a little careful when we toss around the ‘serious’ citation word, because that doesn’t mean it is not important,” Lambert said. “What it means is that the information and evidence is passed over to the contracting party and they are obligated to investigate.”
In cases of infringements deemed serious under NAFO regulations, such as the use of undersize mesh and significant misreporting of catch, what happens in the days following the boarding by Canadian inspectors is much more forceful.
“In relation to the Puente Sabaris, she was misreporting catch, which is considered a serious citation under the measures,” Lambert said. “So when that happens, in addition to us notifying the contracting party within 24 hours, the contracting party is obligated to conduct an inspection and investigation within 72 hours of being notified.
“In the case of the Puente Sabaris … she was actually misreporting catch in a significant amount greater than 10 tonnes and 20 per cent. They are obligated to direct that vessel to port.”
The contracting parties are provided the evidence obtained by the Canadian inspectors — who when outside the 200-mile limit are acting as NAFO inspectors — and those countries have to conduct their own investigation and report to NAFO on what was found.
Following that, the contracting parties have to report the outcome of any actions taken, such as sanctions or fines given to the master of the vessel.
NAFO measures have often been criticized over the years as being weak, with some groups going so far as to say NAFO has been ineffective in curbing illegal fishing in the NAFO area.
Lambert said that under the NAFO measures, the responsibilities of the contracting parties are clearly defined.
“Basically, contracting parties need to ensure that the sanctions imposed are adequate to be effective in securing compliance and deterring further infringement,” he said.
“Even in our own domestic system, not everybody is going to be pleased with a sentence. In the case of NAFO, when people see what sanctions or fines are imposed to deal with an individual case, if they are consistently not significant or there is some sort of apparent problem with them, the flag state has to defend that. And a flag state’s interest is in that it can control their own vessels.
“But there are some very significant fines that’s been handed down, including some fines up to as high as $200,000 Canadian along with fish seized, vessels held until fines paid and that sort of thing.”
Some other vessels noted with repeat citations over the years include:
• Spanish vessel Pescaberbes Dos, with citations issued Aug. 3, 2013, Feb. 3, 2012, April 24, 2011, Feb. 24, 2009 and Feb. 21, 2009;
• Portuguese vessel Santa Isabel with citations issued Aug. 4, 2013, July 2, 2011, and Sept. 12, 2010;
• Estonian vessel Madrus with citations on Aug. 22, 2013, June 28, 2011, May 11, 2010, and July 6, 2008;
• Latvian vessel Otto with citations June 15, 2009 and Feb. 11 2004; and
• the Faroese vessel Havborg with citations Oct. 26, 2008, March 25, 2006 and Sept 9, 2005.