Earlier this week, I published a blogpost that described European nations — the same nations the federal Conservative government is negotiating a secret free-trade agreement with — as having “fished out/raped” the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
Indeed, I went so far as to call the EU countries “serial rapists.”
I received some criticism for my choice of language.
I first used the term "serial rapist" in a Sept. 3, 2006 column for the then-Independent newspaper, headlined A fishing story.
The column follows …
Attention Newfoundlanders out for a fight — this column’s for you.
You may have read a news piece this week about a Portuguese trawler cited for illegal fishing.
The Independent had the story nailed down but it broke in another media before we could get it to print.
Normally the story would have been dropped altogether at that point, but the article’s author missed a critical point.
Wait for it …
The Joana Princesa was caught with its pants down on Aug. 25 in the act of raping the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
Rape is a harsh, harsh word that’s only used these days in American courts, but it’s a lot stronger than Canada’s word for the crime, sexual assault, and a much more fitting description for what foreigners do every day — decade in, decade out — to our precious fishing grounds.
Two Canadian inspectors aboard a zodiac snuck up on the trawler just as it was pulling in its nets.
The inspectors asked to be allowed on board, but the foreign crew ignored them. (No. 1 slap in the face for the fighting Newfoundlanders keeping count.)
One of the two determined inspectors then maneuvered the zodiac alongside the Princesa (not exactly a name befitting a rapist), while the second officer dared a high seas boarding.
The Portuguese wouldn’t lower a boarding ladder. (No. 2 slap in the face — the Canadian inspector could have been killed.)
Both inspectors eventually got on board to find the Portuguese had been fishing with a liner inside their net.
The foreign crew tried to get rid of the evidence, but they weren’t quick enough for our high seas lawmen.
A liner was once described to me as an onion bag — water and stunted plankton are about all that can get through.
Whatever fish the foreign crew was chasing that day didn’t stand a chance.
The Canadian inspectors then waited on board the foreign trawler for a day and a half until a European Union patrol vessel could steam to their coordinates and verify the citation.
In fact, the EU officers found the illegal liner was even smaller than the Canadians had reported — fish about the size of pens and pencils were about all that could swim through its mesh (oh, for the days of palm-sized catches).
In the end, the citation stuck. The Canadian inspectors were picked up by their mother ship and the EU patrol boat went on its way.
Before I get to what happened to the Portuguese rapist/trawler, I should mention a little about the vessel’s history.
The Princesa (there’s that sweet name again) was cited in December 2004 for illegally catching more than five tonnes of American plaice, a species under moratoria.
In that particular incident, Canadian inspectors boarded the Joana Princesa and discovered the unprocessed plaice on the ship’s deck.
The inspectors found even more fish when the net was pulled (like you would).
In 2003, the same vessel was issued three citations, including one for exceeding the five per cent bycatch limit for American plaice.
It was also charged in 2001 for using small-mesh gear.
In other words, the Portuguese trawler is a serial rapist.
So what became of the Princesa once the citation was issued and the authorities went on their way?
Wait for it …
Contacted in Brussels, Conservative Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn patted the Canadian government on the back for doing such a good job, which they are.
“We have a constant presence and have done a very good job in monitoring,” Hearn was quoted as saying.
He’s a firm believer NAFO can be reformed.
Forget the fact that Newfoundland politicians have been trying to do that since the day it was born.
Hearn will fail like the ministers before him.
Countries such as Norway have begun taking a heavier hand against Spanish and Portuguese vessels, known there as “trawler pirates.”
Dozens of fishing vessels have been arrested, but even that doesn’t seem to be working.
In July, the captain and owner of a Spanish trawler arrested for illegal fishing in Norwegian waters announced they had no intention of paying fines levied against them by local police — who don’t seem to be able to do much about it.
What’s clear is that countries adjacent to fish resources must have the power to enforce quotas and arrest ships.
Diplomacy is a joke — Loyola is a fool if he believes otherwise.
So what happened to the Joana Princesa once the authorities went on their way?
What was the repeat rapist allowed to do as soon as it was released on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland after being caught red-handed?
The answer is a perfect example of why custodial management is our only prayer and the Conservative government must be forced to live up to its commitments, come hell or high water.
The Princesa resumed fishing.
The above column was nominated for a 2006 Atlantic Journalism Award for commentary.