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Date: March 30, 2000

West Coast Fishery Most Unethical In Canada, Report States

If Canada's coastal fisheries were measured in ethical terms instead of by tonnage or monetary value, fisheries on the west coast would score significantly worse than those on the east coast. And of the 42 different fisheries analyzed in a recently completed study of ethics and Canadian coastal fisheries, B.C.'s groundfish trawl fishery is ranked the worst, to the point where it may contravene a UN code of conduct for responsible fishing.

These revelations are the result of a three-year joint study by researchers at UVic, the University of British Columbia and Memorial University of Newfoundland and are contained in the newly-published book Just Fish: Ethics and Canadian Marine Fisheries. It will be released at a morning workshop at 9 a.m. on March 31 at UVic's Dunsmuir Lodge conference centre in North Saanich.

Instead of looking at Canada's collapsing fisheries purely in economic or scientific terms, a team of researchers analyzed them in terms of ethics and justice. With backgrounds in law, economics, history, philosophy, environmental studies, and religious studies, the researchers consulted with fishers, scientists, citizens of coastal communities and other stakeholders in Canada's marine fisheries.

The study concludes that the current state management that directs wealth earned from the resource out of local, resource-based communities and into urban cores and multinational enterprises is neither just nor ethical.

"We are in real danger of turning our oceans into a sea of plankton soup," says one of the book's editors, Dr. Rosemary Ommer. "The message is clear: fish need to be managed as part of an ecosystem, and the relative effects of fishing on the health of the total system must be entered into state policy calculations."

The book's writers say policy makers can find valuable advice in the spiritual values of the Haida and the world's major religions&emdash;all of which stress the importance of stewardship of the natural world and building rest and rejuvenation into the rhythm of society and nature.

"The idea of marine protected areas, now being developed for Canadian waters, fits the Judeo-Christian idea of jubilee [a time to restore relationships disrupted by debt and disenfranchisement] very nicely," says book editor Dr. Harold Coward, director of UVic's centre for studies in religion and society. "We also concluded that self-restraint, local involvement, and a long-term time frame need to become basic principles of stewardship."

The researchers concluded that a just fishery is one that is treated as more than simply a resource to meet market demand. Its realized wealth is evenly distributed and any damage it causes to the ecosystem is repaired. A just fishery manages the ecosystem to keep the resource sustainable and takes various cultural ideas into account in doing this. The traditional Haida k'aaw (herring spawn on kelp) fishery was judged to be the most just and ethical of those analysed.

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Patty Pitts, UVic Communications at 721-7656.

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