Canada Starts to Get Tough On `Pirate' Cod Fishermen

AFTER months of talking tough, Canada is taking action against international fishing fleets in an effort to protect the last schools of Northern cod in the icy waters of the Grand Banks off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

On Saturday, Canadian authorities for the first time seized a foreign-flagged vessel fishing in international waters just outside Canada's 200-nautical-mile boundary. Acting under a new agreement that bans cod fishing in international waters, Canadian fisheries officers boarded and forced the boat to return to a port in Canada.

Flying foreign flag

The Kristina Logos is reportedly owned by a Canadian company but was flying the Panamanian flag when stopped. Authorities seized 100 tons of processed fish and say they will send the crew of 22 back to Portugal. The ship's owners face charges of fishing without a license, which could result in a fine of as much as $100,000 (Canadian; US$72,254).

Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin declared the move a first step in cracking down on overfishing by international fishing fleets. At the time the Panamanian vessel was stopped, about 60 boats were fishing just beyond Canadian waters, he said. About 10 of those were fishing illegally for fish banned under the international moratorium. ``These are the ones I have called pirates,'' Mr. Tobin told the Canadian Press. ``They fish without quotas. Their motive is greed. They must be stopped to protect the resource.''

Within its own waters, Canada has banned cod fishing, leaving more than 50,000 fishing industry workers jobless and costing the federal government billions of dollars in unemployment and job-retraining benefits.

Failing cod stocks

Several factors are to blame for the failing cod stocks, including years of overfishing, bad fishing practices, a large seal population (seals eat cod), and unusually cold waters in the North Atlantic, which limit cod reproduction.

Canadian research scientist George Rose told the Monitor that cod once swam in ``mega schools'' scores of miles wide, but more recent schools are a mere fraction of that size.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has said Canada will not tolerate foreign boats scooping up the remaining cod that swim from Canadian waters across the international boundary onto the high seas.

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