Nfld. & Labrador

Williams says Harper deal erodes Canadian sovereignty

Newfoundland and Labrador's premier is calling for immediate action from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying Canada's sovereignty within the 200-mile coastal limit is threatened.

Newfoundland and Labrador's premier is calling for immediate action from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying Canada's sovereignty over its fishery resources within the 200-mile coastal limit is threatened.

"Proposed amendments at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization threaten not only to further erode the sustainability of fish stocks, but also serve to institutionalize the ability of other nations to impose their management over stocks inside of Canada's sovereign 200-mile limit," Premier Danny Williams said Friday.

The federal government has tabled a proposal in the House of Commons to reform its arrangement with international NAFO members regarding fisheries management in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Williams says some of the proposed changes are unacceptable.

"This is a serious matter. It needs to be addressed. It can easily be stopped," Williams said Friday.

"The proposal that has now been tabled can be pulled back — that's the solution that we want, and that’s what we think needs to happen. What might have started out as a genuine effort to improve the NAFO enforcement procedures may in fact weaken them, and what we have now is a totally unacceptable situation."

The Convention on Future Multilateral Co-operation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries was signed on Oct. 24, 1978 in Ottawa. It came into force on January 1, 1979.

There were seven signatories: Canada, Cuba, the European Economic Community, Germany, Iceland, Norway, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The convention has been amended three times since 1979.

On Sept. 28,  2007, after two years of talks, NAFO adopted a document entitled Amendment to the Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries. 

NAFO's website says the document is the first formal step toward reforming the convention.

Williams says some of the amendments  fly in the face of what Newfoundland and Labrador wants.

"Newfoundland and Labrador from time eternal has been looking for custodial management. A commitment was given that custodial management would be implemented on the east coast that was not done," said Williams.

"What we have now is the reverse situation. We now have international custodial management, ironically, within our own waters. So, instead of getting custodial management outside our 200-mile limit, we now have the possibility that there could be foreign custodial management within our 200-mile limit."

Campaigning in Newfoundland in December of 2005, Harper promised that, if elected, his government would extend Canada's control of offshore fish stocks within five years and give provinces a bigger role in managing the fishery.

Harper said the Conservative party supports custodial management, which would see the federal government extend its jurisdiction over parts of the Grand Banks that lie outside Canada's 200-mile limit.

"It is not just our responsibility to the fishermen of this country," Harper said. "It is our responsibility to the planet to ensure that these resources are managed and regulated and used responsibly, not raped the way they're being now," he said.

Williams says he has written Harper asking him to table a formal objection to the amendments with NAFO.

"Time is of the essence in this matter as the amendment is moving through the NAFO processes.  We must act quickly and decisively to ensure our sovereignty is protected within the 200-mile limit," he said.