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  • Writer's picturerryancleary

DFO changed OCI fishing conditions after company draggers tagged for fishing violations on high seas

DFO amended Ocean Choice International’s licence conditions in October 2022 after three of the company’s offshore draggers were tagged for fishing violations outside Canada’s 200-mile limit — including alleged directed fishing on moratoria stocks. 


The Calvert was one of three OCI draggers issued notices of infringement by DFO in October 2022 related to fishing for yellowtail flounder outside Canada's 200-mile limit.



The amendments ended the investigations, but DFO’s decision to change the rules of a commercial fishery already underway raises concerns about politics or favouritism seeping into enforcement decisions.


Can an inshore enterprise owner now appeal to DFO to change licensing conditions if suspected of an offence? 


Questions have also been raised as to how foreign nations will view Canada’s decision to change fishing rules mid-season. 


Between Oct. 2nd-30th 2022, DFO issued nine so-called “notices of infringement” to three OCI factory-freezer trawlers while fishing yellowtail flounder in international waters outside the 200-mile limit.  


The information was formally released to me in January of this year through the federal Access to Information and Privacy Act (ATIP):


Katsheshuk II — 3 infringements

On Oct. 2nd, 2022 DFO officers issued three notices of infringement to the Harbour Grace-based Katsheshuk II: one each for exceeding onboard retained bycatch limits for 3NO cod, and 3LNO American plaice, and a third for directed fishing for 3N plaice. That particular incident was highlighted as a “serious infringement” related to “directed fishing on moratoria stocks.”


Aqviq — 4 infringements

On Oct. 5th, 2022 DFO officers issued three notices of infringement to the Harbour Grace-based Aqviq: one each for exceeding onboard retained bycatch limits for 3NO cod, and 3LNO American plaice, and a third for directed fishing for 3N plaice. That incident was also noted as a “serious infringement” related to “directed fishing on moratoria stocks.”

On Oct. 30th, 2022 DFO officers issued a fourth notice of infringement to the Aqviq for exceeding retained onboard bycatch limits for 3LNO plaice. 


Calvert — 2 infringements

On Oct. 30th, 2022 the Argentia-based Calvert was issued two notices of infringement for exceeding the retained onboard bycatch limit for 3NO cod and 3LNO plaice.


The Katsheshuk II.


When DFO released the information on the OCI infringements in January the status of each investigation was designated as “pending.”


However, when asked for an update in mid-January a DFO official in St. John's said “these occurrences have been investigated and it has been determined that no further action is warranted.”


Then, in recent weeks, DFO released yet more internal documents under the Access to Information Act that reveal OCI officials had asked DFO to change the company’s fishing conditions, and department officials complied.


Details of what happened were broken down in the DFO documents.


DFO describes OCI as the primary Canadian quota holder for yellowtail flounder on the tail of the Grand Banks (fishing zones 3LNO).


The primary bycatch in the yellowtail fishery includes 3NO cod and 3LNO American plaice — species that are both under moratoria.


While fishing for yellowtail in October 2022, OCI draggers apparently exceeded their bycatch limit for cod (4%) and American plaice (15%).


Those bycatch restrictions were outlined in DFO’s licence conditions, as well as in conservation and enforcement measures under the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), which oversees fishing on the high seas outside Canadian territorial waters.


As a further condition of licence, DFO also required all bycatch for Canadian vessels to be retained (i.e. discarding was not allowed), although DFO pointed out that NAFO does not require all bycatch to be kept. 


DFO’S RESPONSE TO OCI REQUEST

“In response to a request from OCI and recognizing the economic importance of the yellowtail fishery,” DFO amended OCI’s licence conditions to temporarily (until Dec. 31st, 2022) authorize the discarding of plaice and cod for amounts that exceeded the authorized retained bycatch. 



In another DFO document an official noted, “The decision by Canada to authorize the discarding of these two moratoria species will be noted by other contracting parties.”


“The NAFO CEM (conservation and enforcement measures), in particular the move on rules if triggered, will remain a significant challenge.”


OCI later submitted a proposal to DFO to conduct a research study on the distribution of yellowtail founder relative to water temperature, and to identify areas of low bycatch.


Ryan cleary is a former journalist, Member of Parliament, union leader, and long-time inshore fisheries advocate who’s currently helping to organize a co-operative (fpcnl.ca) for inshore enterprise owners. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own. Contact him at fpc-nl@outlook.com or call/text 709 682 4862. 


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