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Bill S-13, Coastal Fisheries Protection Act


Hon. Michael L. MacDonald moved second reading of Bill S-13, An Act to amend the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act.

He said: Honourable senators, within the existing Coastal Fisheries Protection Act and its regulations, Canada already has a robust port state control regime for foreign fishing vessels. In recent years, the international community has been working to develop global tools to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. Improving the control of foreign fishing vessels through a global standard is one tool to prevent illegal fishing. I am proud to say that the Government of Canada is part of this movement.

In 2009, Canada and other countries approved the Port State Measures Agreement that had been negotiated through the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Canada signed this agreement in November 2010 to signal the importance of taking strong actions in ports to prevent illegal fishing. Before Canada can ratify this new global standard, we must fill some gaps in our current legislation. That is why the government is introducing amendments today to our Coastal Fisheries Protection Act. Once approved, the proposed amendments to the act and its regulations would allow us to meet our international obligations, not to mention better protect the integrity of legitimate fish harvesting activities in Canada.

Allow me to present the proposed amendments, which can be loosely grouped into three broad categories. The first concerns authorities related to fishing vessels. Currently, fishing vessels must apply for a licence to enter Canadian fisheries waters or to access our ports at least 30 days before they arrive. Under the proposed amendment, the minister could allow a foreign vessel that has been directed by its flag state to enter a Canadian port even if it has not applied for a port licence. In this case, Canada would issue a specific permit for the sole purpose of inspection and enforcement. While the Port State Measures Agreement generally promotes refusal of entry to fishing vessels that have engaged in illegal fishing, there might be situations where the flag state, that is, the country responsible for the fishing vessel, may want Canada's assistance to conduct an inspection and to gather evidence of a violation.

It is not enough to direct vessels suspected of illegal fishing into our ports. We must also give Canadian protection officers greater authority to enforce the amended Coastal Fisheries Protection Act and the Port State Measures Agreement.

Additional amendments would thus increase the powers of Canadian protection officers to inspect and search a foreign fishing vessel and to seize and dispose of illegal catch when that vessel is directed to port under the new permit regime. I stress that Canada would require reasonable grounds to believe the vessel had been engaged in illicit fishing activities as well as proper authorities as provided in the act.

In the absence of the consent of a flag state, however, a Canadian court could still authorize protection officers to dispose of any catch in accordance with international law.

The second set of amendments revolves around information sharing. To meet the requirements of the Port State Measures Agreement, the amendments provide clarity on the authorities to share information. The amendments cover both the type of information and with whom it would be shared. First, the amendments clearly outline that the minister can share information regarding the inspection of a foreign vessel, the denial of entry to port to a foreign vessel, a change in decision, an enforcement action taken, or the outcome of any proceeding relating to a decision.

Second, the amendments clarify that the minister can share this information with the flag state of the vessel; relevant coastal states; regional fisheries management organizations; states in whose fisheries the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing appears to have occurred; the state of nationality of the owner of the vessel; the Food and Agricultural Organization; and other relevant international organizations.

Third, amendments to the act clarify that the minister can report actions that Canada has taken with respect to Canadian vessels that have engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing or fishing-related activities in support of such fishing.

The minister can also report to other states parties to the Port State Measures Agreement, relevant states, regional fisheries management organizations and the FAO.

In addition, the proposed amendments would give certainty to the ability for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency to share each other's information related to the import of fish and fish products.

The third major category of amendments concerns prohibitions and related authorities. Obviously, to monitor an act on illicit fishing activities, we need to legislate associated prohibitions and authorities. Thus, the proposed amendments would make it an offence to import illegal, unreported and unregulated fish into Canada in order to address the inclusion of container vessels in the Port State Measures Agreement. The negotiators of the agreement wanted to ensure that strong actions taken against fishing vessels would not result in attempts to use other vessels to transport catch to ports. The amendments would give the authorities new tools to enforce these prohibitions.

For example, the amendments would expand the powers of protection officers to inspect any place, including containers, warehouses, storage areas and vehicles in all ports of entry. Currently, in relation to fish, such powers are limited to seaports and wharves. They would also expand powers to allow for the entry and search of these places with a warrant and, in exigent circumstances, without a warrant.

Finally, the amendments would allow Canadian protection officers to seize illegal, unreported and unregulated caught fish, fishing vessels, vehicles or any other thing believed to be obtained by or used in the commission of an offence under the act. These foreign vessels would not only be seized. If it is shown they have been engaged in or have supported illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing, stiff fines can be imposed. A summary conviction would land a fine of up to $100,000. Conviction on indictment would cost vessels up to $500,000. Second convictions would garner up to double the above fines.

What is more, if a court finds the person guilty of an offence under the act, it is not just the fines that apply. The court could also order the person to pay an additional fine equal to the estimated benefit they expected to gain from committing the offence. Under the proposed amendments, crime would definitely not pay.

In addition to these three broad categories, the amendments also cover several changes in definitions required by the Port State Measures Agreement. I stress, honourable senators, that these definitions are phrased carefully to avoid catching inappropriate vessels in the legislative net. For example, the amended definition of "fishing vessel" would include any vessel used in transshipping fish or marine plants, but it would not include vessels merely equipped to transship at sea that are not involved in fishing activity, such as vessels transporting automobile parts.

The proposed amendments would also redefine the term "fish" itself. In keeping with the Port State Measures Agreement, "fish" would come to mean species of living marine resources, whether processed or not. The amendments would also add a definition of "marine plant."

Taken together, honourable senators, Bill S-13 would strengthen the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act, aligning it with the new global standard articulated in the Port State Measures Agreement. As part of meeting our international obligations, the bill would allow us to protect the livelihoods of legitimate fish harvesters in Canada more effectively by limiting the amount of illegal fish that enter markets and undermine the profits of legitimate fishermen.

I urge all honourable senators to join me in supporting these critical amendments to the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act.