Massive charges against fishermen

SHUNPIKING, Atlantic Canada Today
July, 2002, Volume 7, Number 42

Canadians are being charged 2000 times more frequently than any vessel from any foreign fleet by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

DFO data, obtained under the Access to Information Act, disclose an extensive criminizalization of rural producers in the fishing communities in Atlantic Canada.

DFO officers recorded 300 "breaches of regulations" in the commercial lobster fisheries of the Maritime provinces during April-October 2001, issued more than 1,400 "warnings" to Canadians fishing inshore and offshore and took another 800 cases to court -- a total of 2500 recorded infractions.

Some 450 "quota infractions" were recorded in the commercial snow crab fishery, prosecuted extensively from and around the Newfoundland offshore. As a penalty, DFO docks fishermen from their 2002 quotas by whatever amount was overfished in 2001.

DFO is a literal Catch-22. DFO's biggest single target was the food fishery around the Newfoundland inshore. This is a very limited privilege granted local fishermen in outports to catch small quantities of certain species to supplement straitened family budgets and avert malnutrition or worse. More than 550 of the total "violations" recorded were of this nature. It is rather like telling a family who is starving to eat less.

Yet this stands in dramatic contrast to enforcement of foreign fishing beyond the 200-mile limit. Only 27 violations were detected in 2001 by fisheries observers aboard Canadian Coast Guard vessels, and 25 the preceding year. Some 20 countries maintain fleets off the Canadian coast.

DFO officers and wardens have enjoyed full police powers under the Criminal Code of Canada since the 200-mile limit was first instituted 25 years ago in 1977.

Has criminalization increased? The federal government has hitherto refused to release any statistics at all.

The ceremonial food fishery of the First Nations has also been an object of intense surveillance. No statistics are available of federal DFO charges against and arrests of Natives.

The intensive government police activity is justified as a "conservation" measure. The struggle of fishermen to defend their livelihood is criminalized and reduced to a law and order question, while the rest of the society has been kept in the dark.

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