Lifelines: Canada's East Coast Fisheries

Law Of The Sea – The Exclusive Economic Zone

B. Applebaum, BA LLM


The Canadian Perspective

14. Canadian interests covered the full range of subjects dealt with in the Conference to a degree greater than a great many of the other participants. Fisheries, pollution, deep seabed exploitation, dispute settlement--even the archipelagic issues involved Canada, in view of the Arctic archipelago that falls within Canadian boundaries. The following are only a few illustrative examples.

15. Canada had already identified valuable hydrocarbon deposits in its east coast continental shelf (which extends, off Newfoundland, much farther into the ocean than most shelves). Canada wanted to keep the benefits from these resources as much as possible to itself, particularly for the province of Newfoundland for which new resources were particularly important (UNCLOS would, in the end, provide a sharing arrangement for areas outside 200 nautical miles.[9]) In terms of deep seabed resources Canada had two major concerns: that deep seabed mineral exploitation, with its expected nickel output, might undermine world nickel prices with effects on Canadian mining companies and communities; and that the legal regime adopted for deep seabed exploitation should be adequate to protect the rights of private enterprises, expected to include Canadian companies, in establishing and exploiting minesites.

16. Concerning living resources, the Canadian coastal areas in the Pacific and Atlantic held some of the richest fish resources in the world. When the United Nations Conference began in 1973 Canada's east coast territorial sea and fishing zones totalled 70,600 square miles. With extension to 200 nautical miles they would encompass 673,000 square nautical miles, in which 96% of the total fish catch by Canadian and other fleets fishing off the east coast of Canada had been taken. On the Pacific coast, the Canadian territorial sea and fishing zones would expand from 46,600 square nautical miles to 135,546.[10]

17. On the east coast the resources had, for centuries, attracted fishing vessels from many countries. In the period following 1958 a growing array of new participants from East and West Europe joined the traditional operators from West Europe. The total foreign capacity dramatically increased while the Canadian capacity remained fairly stable.[11] The combined Canadian and foreign catches became a serious problem, with significant stock declines appearing by the early '70s.[12] The international fisheries management organization in place from the late 1940s, the International Commission for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF) was ineffective in preventing these declines[13] and unlikely to be able to reverse them.

18. The Canadian government had the same views on what had to be done as did numerous other coastal States with similar problems: extension of jurisdiction to establish control over fishing for the stocks, to keep catches within the limits required for conservation, and to obtain the maximum possible preferential share of the catches for the coastal fishermen. The group of coastal States thinking along these lines at the UN Conference were numerous, and influential. They included, besides Canada, the U.S., Russia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland and many others. The Canadian approach, however, varied from that of most of the other coastal States, because the 200 nautical mile limit considered by most as the maximum extension necessary did not encompass significant areas of fish habitat off Canada's Atlantic coast. Most of these areas outside 200 nautical miles provide habitat for fish stocks located primarily inside 200 nautical miles, but which extend, for part of the year, outside 200 nautical miles.

19. The fishing grounds off Canada's Atlantic coast, called the "Grand Banks", extend well beyond 200 nautical miles in two areas, the northern area called the "Nose" and the southern area called the "Tail" of the Grand Banks. The fish habitat outside 200 nautical miles encompasses 327,000 square nautical miles, as compared with the 673,000 square nautical miles landwards of this limit.[14] This situation resulted in Canadian proposals, supported primarily by Argentina which has a similar situation, aimed at providing coastal State control beyond 200 nautical miles in the special situations where this made sense in fisheries management terms. These efforts did not, however, succeed.

20. At the time the 200 nautical mile limit was being proposed only 4% of the total catches off Canada's east coast, by Canada and all other countries, took place outside 200 nautical miles.[15] This fact led one writer at the time to note "...while these areas beyond 200 miles should be an integral part of any management zone for Canada, their exclusion should not be too detrimental for effective management".[16] (This conclusion did not, however, turn out to be correct; the problems which developed are described later in this paper.)

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