Ecology Action Centre

Ecology Action Centre

November 19, 2010 02:01 ET

First Canadian NGO to attend ICCAT, Holds out Hope for Agreement on Conservation Measures

PARIS, FRANCE--(Marketwire - Nov. 19, 2010) - Frustrated with Canada's lack of progress on shark conservation, the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), based in Halifax, Canada, is attending this year's International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting in Paris, as the first Canadian NGO ever to attend the meetings. The EAC, along with other conservation organizations, is pushing for ICCAT to agree to binding measures to limit shark catches by all ICCAT member nations, including Canada.

"Canadian fisheries are contributing to global declines in sharks. Our swordfish and tuna surface longline fleet has high levels of unwanted incidental catch- more than half of what they hook - and most of it is sharks. If ICCAT members can make responsible decisions on shark protection, it will make a big difference in Canada." says Shannon Arnold, Marine Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre.

The Atlantic Canadian swordfish and tuna longline fishery catches at least 100 000 sharks incidentally every year along with about 1200 sea turtles, as well as juvenile blue fin tuna and other marine animals. Canada has no measures in place to effectively limit this bycatch.

"Our government has been avoiding real change on the water, often using the unacceptable excuse that other countries are behaving even worse," adds Arnold. "Canadians expect better than this from our government, particularly given that fisheries in Canada are a public resource."

ICCAT's stock assessments show that Atlantic sharks are more vulnerable to overfishing than other populations. Conservation groups are working to have ICCAT agree to catch limits for some shark species, prohibition on catching of particularly threatened species, reporting of all catch, whether landed or discarded at sea and a "fins attached" rule, which would effectively reduce shark finning. 

In Canada, the EAC has advocated for policy changes to support Atlantic Canada's long- standing low-impact gear sectors for swordfish and tuna. The harpoon and rod and reel fisheries, support many fishing livelihoods and have essentially no wasteful bycatch. 

"Canada was once a world conservation leader and should be leading the way at ICCAT. We have the resources to implement best practices, strong research capacity, and an uncomplicated seascape compared to the complex overlapping national waters and fleets on the Eastern side of the Atlantic. Not only that, we have active fisheries using much more sustainable fishing gear. We're hoping Canada can live up to its former reputation," says Arnold.

Over the past decade the United Nations (including most ICCAT members), has passed 8 Resolutions calling for international regulators to take action to manage shark fisheries, yet there have been very few changes on the water. The past failure of ICCAT countries to agree to science advice on catch limits greatly undermines the credibility of the organization and the intentions of its members. These same countries are signatories to the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing. With political will, ICCAT can still take the appropriate measures and put words into action towards the conservation of globally important fish populations.

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