A United Nations-sponsored proposal to protect and promote small-scale fisheries has run into a problem, with Canada emerging as the lone dissenting voice in a dispute that may have a connection to policy on the Middle East. 

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had nearly unanimous support among 98 countries for guidelines to protect family-run, independent fleets that seek access to species in an increasingly industrialized fishery. 

Ratana Chuenpagdee

Ratana Chuenpagdee on Canada's objections to the FAO proposal: 'We didn't really see this coming.' (Memorial University)

But Canada is at odds with other nations, because of a wording change that calls for the protection of fishermen "in situations of occupation," meaning any occupied territory or region. 

Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs objects to the wording change. 

While the Israeli-Palestinian situation is not specifically mentioned in the addition made by Mauritania, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson called the amendment a needlessly political move, and Canada thus will not support it. [Mauritania shares a border with Western Sahara, which is in dispute with neighbouring Morocco.] 

Ratana Chuenpagdee, a geography professor at Memorial University in St. John's, has consulted in the FAO talks and was caught off guard by Canada's decision. 

"I was surprised as everybody else, because Canada was very supportive of the guidelines during the first consultation [last year]," she said. 

"It went very smoothly. So we didn't really see this coming." 

'A principled issue'

Christian Brun, director of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, agrees the amendment is provocative, but still wants Canada to approve the deal for the sake of small fishing fleets. 

"This is just a principled issue," he said. 

"They can make their point somewhere else ... because what is at risk here is that the document might just not exist at all." 

The guidelines go before the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome next month.

With files from Vik Adhopia