Magazine article Insight on the News

Europe and Canada Enter Rough Water

Magazine article Insight on the News

Europe and Canada Enter Rough Water

Article excerpt

Of all the potential post-Cold War crises, even the most creative observers lacked the imagination to see that fish (of all things) would spark an international flare-up. Or that the setting for this new conflict would be Canada. Canada? Who would have thought that such a seemingly benign subject and place would have led to this? And who can say where this high-seas brawl will end? At this point, only one thing is clear, and the Clinton administration and Congress should take note: America must stand up and support its loyal friend and most reliable neighbor.

On March 27, a Canadian fishing patrol cut the net of a Spanish trawler caught overfishing in international waters. This prompted the European Union to suspend for an "unspecified time" fishery negotiations with Canada. EU countries, especially France and Spain, are claiming that the Canadian action violates international law. One French ambassador said that "Canada is becoming more like America by the year. Like Americans, they are now taking international law into their own hands and they are taking what they want when they want it."

It is surprising that the French ambassador would even try to involve America, albeit rhetorically. The EU surely is thrilled that once again the Clinton administration is idling silently on matters of foreign and trade policy while Europeans act with abandon. The president is failing to be consistent with another campaign promise; were economic policy truly the cornerstone of his foreign policy, he would recognize the interdependence between overfishing and international power plays. With limited fish in the sea, it is natural that short-term economic gain (the European approach) might clash with long-term considerations (the Canadian approach). But the issue is separate from the environment, which is at once separate and larger than the issue of international trade disputes.

America's northern neighbor is helping to protect the international economy, environment and order of tomorrow. Because of foreign overfishing, there has been a serious decline in groundfish stocks outside Canada's 200-mile offshore boundary. Inside Canada's 200-mile boundary, that country's fishermen have been forced - by their own government - to observe a strict fishing moratorium. The moratorium has been so severe that many fishermen, especially in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, now must look for a new livelihood altogether, and this hardly has made the Canadian government popular among its citizens. In fact, it costs Canadians $3 billion (Canadian) annually to assist fishermen in transition. In other words, as long as European overfishing continued, Canadian taxpayers were paying for the welfare checks of their own unemployed and for the economic welfare of Spanish fishing machines.

But at least Canadians - unlike some saber-rattling Europeans - understand the larger purpose behind their government's strictures. Fish too zealously fished, it has been discovered, cannot reproduce at the same rate that fishermen can catch them. If caution is not followed, fish in the Grand Banks, off Canada's Atlantic coast, soon will become extinct. And fish in these waters (like fish everywhere) ar-e indifferent to 200-mile limits. Unlike fish, most humans are capable of reason; they should recognize the reasonableness of efforts to conserve the fish stock.

Brian Tobin, Canada's minister of fisheries, put the matter clearly: "Conservation inside 200 miles is futile unless there is conservation outside. …

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