National News

Canada sole holdout on fisheries guidelines

A fishing boat heads to port in Eastern Passage, N.S. on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Canadian scientists are appealing to the federal government not to hold up a unique set of United Nations-sponsored guidelines that would protect small-scale fisheries around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan -
A fishing boat heads to port in Eastern Passage, N.S. on Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Canadian scientists are appealing to the federal government not to hold up a unique set of United Nations-sponsored guidelines that would protect small-scale fisheries around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
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By Alison Auld, The Canadian Press

HALIFAX - Canadian scientists are urging the federal government to approve guidelines aimed at protecting small-scale fisheries around the world, but which are being held up by Ottawa over concerns the process has become too politicized.

About 70 academics, fisheries experts and ecologists from across the country signed a letter to the prime minister and the ministers of foreign affairs and fisheries, urging them to sanction the document from a committee with the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization.

Ratana Chuenpagdee, a Memorial University professor in St. John's, N.L., who consulted on the guidelines, said they sent the letter Monday after Canada abruptly registered its opposition to certain wording and became the only dissenting voice out of 97 other member states.

"Canada should not be the sole country in the world standing in the way of the realization of these important guidelines for vulnerable and marginalized small-scale fishing people globally," says the one-page letter.

"It is untenable that Canada ... would block the voluntary guidelines that have the potential to benefit millions of small-scale fishers globally, including those in Canada."

The letter says the guidelines stress the importance of fisheries that support sustainable fishing practices and ensure food security, particularly for women, children and the elderly in impoverished countries.

They will be presented in Rome on June 8 for further debate.

Stakeholders spent more than five years drafting the guidelines that were presented in February in Rome, where Canadian representatives raised concerns over a passage introduced by Mauritania.

The text reads, "All parties should protect the human rights and dignity of small-scale fisheries stakeholders in situations of occupation to allow them to pursue their traditional livelihoods..."

A spokesman with the Department of Foreign Affairs said the reference to occupied regions "was extremely unhelpful to the issue being discussed at the Rome meetings."

"Canada is concerned with the singling out of small-scale fisheries stakeholders 'in situations of occupation' and believes that including this language in the voluntary guidelines serves only to politicize the process," Adam Hodge said in an email.

Hodge would not elaborate on the issue or specify whether the government's concerns related to Mauritania, which has a history of territorial disputes with its western African neighbours.

But Chuenpagdee dismissed the complaint, saying the guidelines are voluntary, were never intended to have any political implications and emphasize human rights rather than geopolitical concerns.

Christian Brun of the Maritime Fishermen's Union agreed and said Canada risks scuttling a set of principles that could promote the growth of small-scale fisheries globally.

Brun says there are about 8,500 independent fishing captains in Atlantic Canada, who are part of small-scale fisheries that account for about $2 billion in export revenues in the region.

He says he's frustrated that Ottawa appears unwilling to compromise and is hoping the document can be salvaged in Rome.

"They've taken an extreme position ... and we believe that to be an extremely big mistake," he said.

"This is a very, very important international document that sets out some basic principles around small-scale fisheries."

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