A nation’s neglected oceans

Jane O’Hara June 18 1984

A nation’s neglected oceans

Jane O’Hara June 18 1984

A nation’s neglected oceans


Jane O’Hara

Samuel Anthony, 58, stands aboard a 38-foot longliner as it rocks to the gentle, unremitting cadence of the sea in Newfoundland’s Trinity Bay. For 200 years the Anthonys of Grates Cove have been catching cod and looking to the steel-grey ocean for their survival. Anthony, who first went fishing as a baby cradled in his father’s arms, now earns about $8,000 a year, working 16

hours a day from June to October. And he plans to continue doing so as long he lives. For him, like millions of other Canadians, the oceans are a way of life. Said Anthony: “The water is born into you. There is nothing else I could content myself with.”

Indeed, Canada’s three great oceans—the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic—have been a way of life for Canadians throughout the country’s history. In profound ways they affect even the daily lives of landlocked mainlanders who rely on water transport to bring in products ranging from West German coffee grinders to Japanese video cassette recorders. And the oceans also provide a workplace for Canada’s

11,000 navy personnel and for the

100,000 East and West Coast commercial fishermen, whose catch earns $1.6 billion in exports each year. In British Columbia 300,000 West Coast sport fishermen inject roughly $120 million into the provincial economy each year.

The oceans also support a variety of lifestyles. In early spring former U.S. president Jimmy Carter travelled to the Queen Charlotte Islands off the B.C. coast to fish for steelhead trout. Pleasure boating is also big business. There are an estimated 1.75 million pleasure

boats in Canada. The West Coast’s

85.000 pleasure boat fleet alone is worth over $1 billion—more than the cost of the commercial fishing fleet. In the Maritimes tourists annually crowd the beaches, coves and rocky inlets. In Prince Edward Island tourism temporarily increases the island population to

500.000 from 125,000 each year, and sport fishermen from the United States, Europe, South Africa and Australia charter tuna fishing boats at $250 a day to catch blue fin tuna which can weigh as much as 1,000 lb. Said Shirley Bennett, who operates a boat charter company in North Lake, a community that calls itself the Tuna Capital of the World: “Last year an Australian booked a charter every day for a season that begins in

late summer and ends in the early fall.” Canada is as dependent on the oceans now as it was when the country was first settled. There are 500 ports in the country, which represent a vital economic and transportation link with the rest of the world. Halifax, the commercial and military hub of the Maritimes, has one of the world’s finest deep-water harbors. It is the home of the Canadian navy, now known as Maritime Command, and it provides the gateway to trade with Europe and the eastern sea-

board of the United States. More than 12 million tons of goods are transferred to and from ships in Halifax Harbor each year. At Vancouver, the busiest West Coast port, 2,800 vessels carrying 51 million tons of coal, grain, lumber, oil and manufactured goods worth $13 billion flow through the gates of the beautiful mountain-backed harbor. This year, as well, Vancouver port authorities anticipate a record-breaking

200,000 cruise ship visitors as a result of the booming Alaska tourist business.

Canada’s dependence on shipping once produced a healthy shipyard industry, but recently that maritime business has deteriorated markedly. Shipbuilding flourished in the Maritimes in the 1800s and during the two world wars. In

the Second World War, Canada had a merchant marine of 400 ships which was the fourth-largest in the world. In its most productive years, 1943 and 1944, Vancouver shipyards turned out one 10,000-ton freighter a day. Currently, Canada’s shipyards in Vancouver, Halifax and Saint John produce very few large commercial vessels and depend to a large extent on government contracts. Still, Canadian ports and transportation workers benefited from the $47 billion in export and import trade that was moved by ship in 1983.

Although millions of Canadians continue to earn their living from the oceans in traditional ways, the situation has begun to evolve. Recently, there has been an increasing amount of research targeted at Canada’s maritime resources. That has created a new breed of seaworthy entrepreneurs and raised the prospect of large-scale economic benefits. The St. John’s-based Newfoundland Oceans Research and Development Corp. (NORDCO) is using high technology to service the offshore oil industry and the fisheries. In the Arctic government hydrographers are charting the ocean depths in an attempt to open up the Northwest Passage and transform it into a Suez Canal of the North.

In Nova Scotia the provincial government plans eventually to harness the 200-foot tides in the Bay of Fundy and create boundless resources of clean energy. Large international business consortia are studying the economic feasibility of mining the ocean floors. And on both Canadian coasts increased work in aquaculture has made commercial fish farming a reality.

In many ways the increased exploration of Canada’s oceans is a response to necessity. In the 1970s the OPEC oil crisis prompted a renewed search for fossil fuel reserves. When that search was extended to the seas, researchers found that the potential rewards were enormous. In the Atlantic offshore alone, enough oil was discovered to provide 250,000 barrels a day for 25 years. In the Beaufort Sea analysts estimate that there may be as many as 32 billion barrels of oil under the shallow seabed. The development of Atlantic oil has led to numerous related high-technology operations in the region. Currently, there are almost 40 Atlantic firms that service the offshore industry.

The fishing industry is also undergoing vast changes, which many experts contend could revolutionize commercial fishing. In government laboratories and on experimental fish farms which dot the coast of British Columbia, salmon are being raised in captivity, cultured like pearls. Both federal and provincial governments have begun to put greater emphasis on aquaculture—the breeding and growing of fish in captivity. That is

because Canada’s wild fish stocks have been depleted through overfishing. As well, Canada has fallen drastically behind European and Scandinavian aquaculturists who are beginning to make huge sales of their salmon in Canada, Japan and the United States.

The threat from foreign competition is growing steadily. Since 1978 Canada has been the top fish and seafood exporter in the world. In 1982 the value of the catch was $1.9 billion, and $1.6 billion of that was exported.

The fishery and oil deposits are not the only economic treasure troves off Canadian shores. There are also vast amounts of precious metals on the seabed which large corporate consortia are anxious to exploit. The metals take the form of potato-sized nodules that are rich in manganese, cobalt, nickel and copper. Scientists estimate that they exist on 20 per cent of the ocean floor—a surface that in total covers 70 per cent of the Earth. As well, further tests have shown that the nuggets contain the highest-yielding ores anywhere on Earth, which makes them particularly attractive to mining interests because they will be cheaper to process than lower-grade ores.

Recently, two Canadian mining firms, Noranda and the International Nickel Co. of Canada, have joined two of the large international consortia that are conducting seabed mining tests. But developed and underdeveloped countries are still disputing a comprehensive international agreement on who owns the billions of dollars of mineral wealth under the sea. A total of 130 countries, including Canada but excluding the United States, signed the Law of the Sea Treaty in December, 1982. The treaty proposed a United Nations authority that would govern exploitation of the seabed. It also set rules for staking claims for the transfer of technology to Third World states. As well, it declared that a share of royalties from the sale of the minerals should be given to the Third World and landlocked countries. But the United States’ refusal to sign the treaty, combined with high capital costs and low world metal prices, leaves the future of seabed mining uncertain.

The Law of the Sea Treaty is critical to Canadian sovereignty over its waters—an issue that has major economic implications for the nation. Currently, Canada and the United States have four maritime boundary disputes. The most important is Canada’s claim to roughly one-third of the fish-rich Georges Bank. Earlier this year, by mutual consent, the two countries took the case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Justice Minister Mark MacGuigan personally introduced Can-

ada’s case before the international tribunal, and a judgment is expected in August. As well, Canada and France are in the process of trying to negotiate a boundary overlap between zones of sovereignty off Newfoundland and St. Pierre-Miquelon.

But one of the most crucial boundary disputes involves the historic Northwest Passage in the Arctic Ocean and the coastal waters of the Arctic archipelago. The United States and other maritime nations maintain that the waterway is an international strait and should be open to “innocent passage” as set out in the Law of the Sea Treaty. The Canadian position is that the passage has not attained the status of an inter-

national waterway because it has not been consistently used by marine traffic, despite the fact that the U.S. supertanker SS Manhattan sailed through it in 1969. Capt. Thomas Pullen, now a marine transportation consultant in Ottawa, was an official Canadian representative aboard the Manhattan when it sailed through the passage. “I was protecting Canadian sovereignty,” said Pullen, who is an expert on Arctic navigation. Pullen argues that it is essential that Canada stake its claim to the Northwest Passage before foreign ships begin using the route. Both the United States and Japan are interested in the area for strategic and economic reasons. The United States has a large stake in Alaska gas and oil, and the Japanese have invested $400 million in Beaufort Sea oil exploration.

Still, according to Kenneth Beau-

champ, director of the Arctic Ocean program for the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, a private Arctic research group, Canada has not clearly stated its position on Arctic jurisdiction to the world community. Nor has it properly established its sovereignty by upgrading its economic activity or increasing its military presence in the Arctic. Although there are two Canadian Forces “communications research” stations, one in the eastern Arctic and one in the western Arctic, there are no military outposts there. Said Beauchamp: “A military presence would be one more bit of evidence that the area belongs to this country.”

Part of the job of patrolling the Arctic

falls to Canada’s tiny navy, which critics consistently denounce as undermanned, underequipped and incapable of fulfilling its national requirements or its international duties. Maritime Command flies regular reconnaissance missions in the Arctic using Lockheed Aurora aircraft, which have the ability to detect and destroy submarines. But the navy presence is still a token one. And the Arctic duty is only a small part of the navy’s task of securing Canada’s 240,000-km coastline.

In a secret cabinet document, which became public in May, Defence Minister Jean-Jacques Blais expressed concern that financial restraints in the past decade have made it impossible for the navy to replace obsolete ships and “other major combat systems.” Blais also estimated that there will be only 12 seaworthy naval surface ships by the

1990s. When Blais visited Halifax last January and went for a harbor cruise, two of the destroyers that were to accompany him remained at dockside with mechanical problems and a third broke down at sea. The government has ordered six new frigates, but critics contend that they will not be sufficient to fulfil defence policy objectives. “Twelve ships in the 1990s are a lot less than we need,” said Daniel Middlemass, a professor of political science at Dalhousie University. “This is because of the enormous amount of surveillance required.” According to Middlemass, Canada needs a navy of as many as 24 modern naval ships. As well, a Senate subcommittee report called for a $6.6-billion renewal

of the naval fleet by 1996 and it described Canada’s Maritime Command as so “pathetic” that it had become a burden to NATO and a threat to peace.

Despite the damage to Canada’s maritime tradition caused by the navy’s decline, Canada’s vast ocean coastlines ensure that the sea will continue to play a vital role in the lives of Canadians. But rules have already begun to change. Contact with the sea will become less direct and increasingly technical. Said Newfoundland’s Samuel Anthony about his life on the ocean:“The members of the next generation will know nothing about it except what their grandfathers tell them.” Still, they will be fine tales of the toughness and bravery that forged a nation and provided the building stones for the future.

Diane Luckow