August 29, 1946 (20th Parliament, 2nd Session)


William Chisholm Macdonald (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of National Defence)


Mr. MACDONALD (Halifax):

I was very much interested in the minister's plans for the expansion of his department. I do not intend to say anything on the programme or on the appointment of inspectors which has been proposed. Before I proceed, however, I wish to say that the minister to-day has the confidence of all who are interested in the fishing industry. This places a great responsibility on him, and I know that his administration will fully justify the confidence placed in him. I intend to say something on a matter which was covered in the fine speeches delivered by the hon. member for New Westminster and the hon. member for Queens-Lunenburg, namely, the position of our fishermen off the Nova Scotia coast and on what we call the Sable Island and Quero banks.
This question presents two problems. One has to do with the destruction of the fishermen's nets, trawls and gear by steam trawlers. The other problem has to do with the conservation of the fish population now existing in those waters.
The first question as to the destruction of gear is not a new one in Nova Scotia. It has been brought up on many occasions in the past. This question was brought to the attention of the minister of marine and fisheries over twenty years ago. In 1924 a petition signed by fifty or sixty fishing masters protested against the destruction of their nets and gear 63260-349J
in the waters in or near Sable Island banks. The Sable Island banks lie southwest of the Quero banks. The petition was sent to the department of marine and fisheries of that day. Many declarations were sent accompanying it. These declarations, which were made by masters of fishing schooners, set out the particulars in detail of the damage done to the nets, and also in most cases gave the nationalities of the owners of the trawlers, as well as the names of the trawlers.
In consequence of those representations the government provided a protection vessel, the Arras to patrol the fishing banks off Sable island. The question of depredations by trawlers was also raised before the royal commission which was set up to investigate the fisheries of the maritime provinces and the Magdalen islands. This commission was headed by the late Hon. A. K. Maclean, who at the time was president of the Exchequer Court of Canada. There were several members on the commission, one of whom was the Hon. Cyrus Macmillan, who was afterwards minister of fisheries. The commission made its report in 1928. I should like to read one or two extracts from the report, which sets out clearly and concisely the complaints of the Nova Scotia fishermen in respect of the operation of foreign trawlers at that time. I might add that there was a minority report by the Hon. A. K. Maclean, dealing with trawlers. However, in respect of this question of the destruction of fishing nets and gear the commission as a whole were in complete agreement.
At page 93 of the report there is this statement:
Under the second general heading of direct protection of the fishermen, two objections to steam-trawlers were expressed to us-that the steam-trawlers are foreign-owned and foreign-manned, and that they destroy fishermen's gear without making restitution. With reference to the first of these protests, six of the ten trawlers now operating from ports in the maritime provinces are said to be owned in Canada; and the majority of the crews are said to be naturalized British citizens. This objection may therefore be considered as relatively unimportant. But the contention that steam-trawlers destroy the fishermen's gear was supported by well substantiated statements by many fishermen who themselves had suffered loss. At Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, the captains' association was represented before us by counsel who stated that the damage to gear of some of the Lunenburg fishing fleet by steam-trawlers amounted in recent years to at least five thousand dollars. We were told by several fishermen that it is sometimes the practice of steam-trawlers to set their fishing course where other fishing vessels have taken up their position, and that they destroy, particularly during their night fishing operations, the gear that lies in the track of their trawl. In Great Britain, there have been many prosecutions of operators of steam-trawlers for such destruction of the gear of other fishermen and

many convictions have resulted. There, however, the aggrieved fisherman may place his case, for equitable adjustment, before a general court specially established for this purpose. The Canadian shore fisherman has no such privilege; he has to depend on his own effors to protect his rights and his property, and his efforts are usually futile. France, it is said, maintains a light cruiser or patrol boat to enforce discipline among French steam-trawlers operating on the banks; and we were told that the Canadian hospital ship on these fishing grounds endeavours to provide protection for Canadian fishermen's
fear. But the statements made to us by many shermen indicate that the protection is far from adequate.
Then the report goes on to say that- Beyond her territorial waters, Canada has no jurisdiction. The high seas are free to all nations as fishing grounds, and no country alone can prevent the steam-trawlers of other countries from operating there with their own methods and in their own way.
The two important questions above, which call for consideration, are the taking of immature fish and the destruction of fishermen's gear. They are questions that can be disposed of solely by international negotiations and arrangements. We, therefore, recommend that an effort be made by the government of Canada to bring about an international conference or negotiations among the nations from which steam-trawlers now operate on the fishing banks of the North Atlantic, with a view to making international arrangements or agreements for the regulating of all fishing vessels on the banks, particularly for the protection of fishermen's gear and for the more complete conservation of the fisheries in those areas. The desirability of such negotiations has frequently in the past been discussed and advocated, but no practical or definite plan has yet been formulated.
Those are extracts from the majority report of the commission. The Hon. A. K. Maclean, in his minority report with reference to this matter, had this to say:
Complaints were made to the commission, particularly at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, concerning the damage done to line trawlers and fishing gear by Canadian and foreign trawlers. Such damage occurs in international waters. This being the case, regulations to effectively alleviate or end these complaints must be the subject of international action. In the North Sea, where fishermen of many nations are engaged in fishing, it was found necessary to regulate the manner and methods of fishing, and to police the fishing areas. To achieve this end a convention between Great Britain, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France and Holland was entered into, in 1882. It is said that this convention has in a large degree accomplished its purpose. For the same reason, as well as others to be later mentioned, I would recommend that the government of Canada take the proper steps to secure, if possible, an international conference representative of the countries whose citizens fish on the North Atlantic fishing grounds, with a view to the enactment of international regulations governing the operation of trawlers in these waters, and the punishment of offences against such regulations.
I said a few minutes ago that this question of the destruction of gear and nets of
fishermen is not new. In the course of my law practice I have been concerned with several cases where fishing schooners have been run down by trawlers. One of these, which is a typical case, and reference to which may be useful, concerned the vessel Mahaska. This was a Lunenburg fishing schooner which was run down by a French trawler in 1929, and sank as a result. The material facts are set out in two or three sentences of the judgment of Mr. Justice Mellish, the admiralty judge who tried the action. I quote:
This is an action for damages by collision. The Mahaska is a fishing schooner. On the 22nd March, 1929, she was lying at anchor near Sable island banks.
I have said that the Sable Island banks lie immediately southwest of the Quero banks which were mentioned yesterday by the hon. member for Queens-Lunenburg. The judgment goes on to say:
At about two a.m. on said date she was when so lying rammed and sunk by the defendant ship -a steam trawler. The weather at the time was fine and clear.
In that case two lives were lost and the schooner sank in four minutes. It was only because of the skill of the members of the crew handling the dories that a much greater loss of life was prevented. What I wish to bring to the attention of the committee is this, that so far as I know no action has ever been taken to implement the recommendations of the royal commission that an international conference be held with a view of making agreements for the regulating of fishing vessels on the banks.
The second problem which is presented in connection with the Quero banks is that of the conservation of the fish. Some question was raised yesterday as to the international law bearing on this subject. It is true textbooks say that the fish in the high seas are the property of the persons who first catch them, and the jurisdiction of a country extends over adjacent waters only to the three-mile limit. That may have been international law when these textbooks were written, but law can, I suggest, become obsolete or should not be followed because of changed circumstances. The world has changed since the days when these principles of law were first enunciated: it has become smaller. Te experience we have had of recent years shows that international law as known at one time is not respected generally by all nations. The Canadian Bar Association is meeting to-day in Winnipeg, and I read in the morning papers that one of the questions to be considered there is the codification of international law.


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