Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-27, which will enable Canada to ratify the United Nations agreement on the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory species, commonly known as the UN Fisheries Agreement, or UNFA.
The bill amends the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act and the Canada Shipping Act. When Bill C-27 is passed and these acts are amended, Canada will then be in the position to ratify the United Nations agreement and the UNFA will then provide an important tool for the protection of straddling stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.
I am pleased that the legislation has reached this final stage of approval by the House. It has been a long process but the outcome will be well worthwhile.
Once we have passed Bill C-27 and have ratified the UN fish agreement, we will then have increased moral authority to encourage other states to ratify the agreement.
We can get on with the job of seeing that this and other international agreements to conserve the world's fisheries are brought into force and implemented.
At this point I would like to remind the House of some of the history which demonstrates the need for international action to deal with overfishing of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks and which eventually led to the development of UNFA.
By way of background we need to go back to 1977 when Canada, as did many other nations, established the 200 mile exclusive fishing zone. It is important to note that Canada's continental shelf extends beyond the 200 mile limit and thus fish stocks straddle the limit. This geographic situation has been a cause for concern for Canada even before the fishing zone line was created.
In 1979 NAFO, or the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, was created to take responsibility and to protect fish stocks in the northwest Atlantic beyond Canada's 200 mile limit. This was followed by the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, known as UNCLOS, which was open to signature in 1982 and which came into force in 1994.
UNCLOS provides coastal states with the exclusive sovereign right to explore, exploit, conserve and manage fisheries within the 200 nautical miles from their shore. However, it only provides general rules for co-operation and management of the straddling and the highly migratory stocks.
Despite the advantages and the advances of NAFO and UNCLOS, overfishing by vessels continued outside Canada's 200 mile limit in the northwest Atlantic. This contributed to the decline of straddling groundfish stocks of cod, flatfish and turbot.
In 1989, in response to scientific evidence of a serious decline in fish stocks, Canada began a major campaign to end overfishing in the northwest Atlantic. For example, in 1990 Canada hosted a conference on high seas fishing in St. John's, Newfoundland. We had experts there from coastal states around the world trying to design new principles for high seas fishing.
During the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, the Earth Summit at Rio, Canada won international support for the convening of a conference for the negotiation of new arrangements to establish comprehensive rules for the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks on the high seas.
The UN Fisheries Agreement was concluded in August 1995 and Canada was one of the first countries to sign. To date, 21 states have ratified the UNFA. This agreement requires 30 ratifications to enter into force.
During this time the international community developed other instruments to deal with similar problems in the fishery. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO, developed the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas, which is fortunately known by the more convenient term as the Compliance Agreement.
Members of the House are well aware of much of this material so I will not go into detail. I will only say that the FAO Compliance Agreement and the FAO Code of Conduct are significant steps toward greater fisheries conservation, but the United Nations Fisheries Agreement that we are discussing today is by far the most important tool that we could have.
Why is UNFA so valuable? It sets up a new legal framework which will provide the effective monitoring, compliance and enforcement needed to protect straddling and highly migratory fish stocks on the high seas.
Proper conservation and management of these stocks will make a significant contribution to ensure the sustainability of this important food source for future generations.
This will probably be one of the most important international issues that faces the world in the 21st century. If we do not take adequate steps to protect stocks of fish in the high seas, within 20 or 30 years, indeed, within our children's lifetime and perhaps our own we will see more than half the world's surface cease to be a source of protein in food for human kind. Half the world's surface will become a desert from the point of view of feeding human kind. That is the issue. That is why it is so important to work in this area.
Let us have a look at some of the main sections of the agreement. First, under general principles, the UNFA provides guiding principles for the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks. These include the precautionary principle whereby states must be more cautious in their fisheries, scientific conservation and management decisions when information about the fishery is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate; compatibility between measures applied inside and outside a coastal state's waters to ensure that measures adopted by a coastal state in its waters for straddling fish stocks are not undermined by measures applicable to the high seas; the use of the best scientific evidence available to determine resource status; and the minimization of pollution, waste, discards and bycatch.
The second point I would like to stress is the obligation to co-operate. This is an international area and international co-operation is essential. The United Nations fisheries agreement reiterates the law of the sea obligations for parties to co-operate in the conservation and management of straddling and highly migratory fish stocks either directly or through regional fisheries organizations and arrangements. For Canada, the two key organizations are the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, NAFO, which I mentioned earlier, and the international convention for the conservation of Atlantic tuna, those highly migratory stocks.
The UNFA also sets out general principles and obligations regarding the setting up, functioning and strengthening of regional fisheries organizations and provides rules concerning the participation of states in such organizations. As we know, the problem of non-members bedevils agreements of this type.
UNFA provides specific rules with respect to non-members of regional fisheries organizations.
In effect, UNFA binds the parties to co-operate in the management and conservation of straddling or highly migratory fish stocks, whether or not they belong to a given regional fisheries organization. Vessels whose flag states are party to UNFA are bound by that organization's conservation and management measures even if they are not party to the organization.
With respect to transparency, UNFA has provisions to oblige regional fisheries organizations to be transparent in their decision-making and other activities. Intergovernmental organizations and NGOs that are concerned with straddling and highly migratory fish stocks will now have an opportunity for observer participation in meetings of these organizations.
Some organizations—ICCAT for example—have already established guidelines for their participation. NAFO and others are considering proposals to do so.
Co-operation is a very important principle when it comes to science and management. UNFA reiterates the UNCLOS principle that states have a duty to co-operate in the conservation and management of fishing resources.
Specifically, this means that states undertake an obligation to co-operate in exchanging and sharing scientific, technical and statistical data and information concerning straddling and highly migratory fish stocks, and also co-operate in finding the right solutions for sustainable management of the resource.
UNFA requires flag states to undertake measures to ensure that their vessels comply with regional conservation and management measures and do not engage in activities that undermine the effectiveness of such measures.
UNFA offers a strong compliance and enforcement regime, a regime which allows states other than the flag state to take action, such as boarding and inspecting a vessel flying the flag of another state that is party to UNFA, without prior authorization of the flag state, to ensure that vessels are complying with conservation and enforcement measures developed by regional fisheries organizations. These provisions are an important step towards prevention of overfishing of stocks that straddle Canada's 200-mile limit.
The eighth point is the dispute settlement procedures. Finally, there are compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedures. These procedures are established for disputes which arise out of the interpretation or the application of the United Nations fisheries agreement or regional fisheries agreements, such as the NAPO convention which I mentioned before.
UNFA refers to the procedures set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which will apply to states that are party to the United Nations fisheries agreement whether or not they are parties to the law of the sea agreement. This is a very useful technique which provides states that are parties to the UNFA with an effective way to resolve disputes concerning the conservation and management of those straddling and highly migratory fish stocks.
The non-flag state enforcement regime and the compulsory and binding dispute settlement procedure of the UNFA make it the strongest existing international regime applicable to the high seas.
I would like to say a word on the need for this bill.
The merits of UNFA are clear. Now we need to adopt Bill C-27 in order for Canada to be able to fully implement the agreement. Existing legislation is, for the most part, sufficient to allow Canada to implement the 1995 agreement. There are, however, some gaps. Bill C-27 is intended to allow Canada to assert the rights meet the obligations set out in the agreement. By design it goes no further than that.
We have worked hard. When I talk of hard work I would like to pay special tribute to the hon. member from Malpeque for his dedicated work in this House and in committee. We would not be here with the possibility of this bill without his untiring dedication. I believe that this should be recognized by all members of the House on both sides.
The member for Malpeque and other members of the fisheries committee, as well as members of this House from coastal ridings, have worked hard to ensure that the bill is fully consistent with the agreement. We will implement this legislation in a manner that is fully consistent with our rights and obligations under the agreement.
States that accede to the agreement and honour the obligations that it sets out have nothing to fear from this legislation. We will fully respect the safeguards that are set out in the agreement.
Differences that arise, such as whether the obligations have been honoured, will be negotiated between states, resolved within the framework established by the regional fisheries organizations or, as a last resort, submitted to compulsory and binding dispute settlement.
For ourselves and states which accede to and honour the obligations set out in the agreement, the confrontations of the past will happily be relegated to the pages of history. In our view the agreement, once ratified by ourselves and our fishing partners, will make an important contribution to conservation, a sustainable fishery and constructive relations between states.
Once the bill is passed and subordinate regulations are made, Canada will be in a position to ratify the UNFA, and I stand to state on behalf of the Government of Canada that we will ratify the UNFA when that stage is achieved.
The compliance and enforcement regime is the only part of the UNFA that needs to be implemented by the adoption of new legislation. That is why we introduced Bill C-27.
Canada has already begun to implement the agreement. At home we are reviewing our domestic and foreign fishing policies to verify that all of them are in compliance with the principles and rules of the agreement. Internationally we are working to implement the UNFA principles and rules within the regional fisheries organizations to which we belong, such as the International Convention on the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, as well as through our participation and negotiations to create new regional fisheries organizations, particularly in the western and central Pacific.
I am convinced that the general adoption and implementation of these guiding principles and rules by which regional fisheries organizations operate will improve the way we manage the world's fisheries.
Once we have ratified UNFA, Canada can be a leader in urging others to ratify it and to implement its principles, rules and values, both within their jurisdiction and within regional fisheries organizations throughout the world.
We cannot solve the problems of the world's fisheries alone, but Canada intends to be a leader. With the UNFA and the other tools at our disposal, and with the co-operation of our fishing partners, we can bring an end to the destructive and wasteful fishing practices of the past, and we must do that.
I therefore urge the House to move quickly to adopt Bill C-27.