Canadian Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) inspectors have cited a dozen foreign fishing vessels for illegally harvesting 431.7 tonnes of redfish off the east coast of Newfoundland.

The citations were issued between July 30 and Aug. 22 and involve Russian and European Union vessels.

NAFO adopted new measures this year that called for vessels to immediately stop harvesting redfish in Division 3M — commonly known as the Flemish Cap — once the total allowable catch of the species has been reached.

The fishery closed on July 29, but the vessels involved continued harvesting redfish 48 hours after the fishery closed and they failed to discard catch as required by the rules.

"All the vessels who were issued citations had fished for a two-day period after the closure," said Bob Lambert, acting director of conservation and protection for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"As we boarded [the vessels] and did our inspections and looked at their records and so on, it became clear to us that they didn't actually stop at the time of the announcement."

Lambert said inspectors don't necessarily believe it was a case of the vessels blatantly ignoring the rules.

New NAFO measure

Given that the NAFO measure was a new one, Lambert said, the vessel operators might not have been aware the fishery was closed.

He said the vessels will return to their home ports and investigations will be carried out to determine what happened.

"Once we issue citations, basically the contracting parties of the vessels are notified and those people do the followup investigation and so on, and then they report back," he said.

"What we suspect might come back … where this was a new measure, the announcement went out on [July] 29, it's quite likely we might be hearing back there were problems with timing and the amount of time given to notify the vessel about the closure."

Whatever the reason for the illegal fishing, Lambert said, the rules were broken.

"Clearly, the vessels were supposed to stop at a particular time — and they didn't," he said.

"Our inspectors were on the scene and doing what we are supposed to be doing, boarding vessels and doing inspections, and we notified the contracting parties that, look, obviously there's breaches here."

Familiar vessels

Many of the vessels involved have a history of illegal overfishing in waters off Newfoundland and Labrador.

Vessels including the Russian trawler Novaya Zemlya, the Pescaberbes Dos from Spain and the Joana Princesa from Portugal have all been cited for breaking the rules in the past.

One of the vessels — the Portuguese fishing trawler Santa Mafalda — was seized by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in May 2005 after entering Canadian waters and towed into the harbour in St. John's.

The ship and its master had been cited for fishing violations in 2003 and ordered back to Portugal, but its captain was never charged.

Federal authorities said charges would not be laid as long as the ship stayed out of Canadian waters. In the 10 years leading up to the 2005 seizure, the Santa Mafalda had received 14 citations as a result of nine different incidents.

The complete list of vessels cited in the recent matter include:

  • Spanish vessels Playa Menduina Dos, Rio Caxil, and the Pescaberbes Dos. 
  • Portuguese vessels Joana Princesa, Pascoal Atlantico, Santa Mafalda, Calvao, and the Santa Isabel. 
  • Russian vessels Novaya Zemlya and the Severnaya Zemlya.
  • Estonian vessels Armastus and the Madrus.