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Seafood giant Clearwater convicted of ‘gross violation’ in lobster fishery

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Canadian seafood giant Clearwater was convicted of “gross violation” of fisheries regulations last fall after senior management ignored federal government warnings to change the way the company conducts its monopoly offshore lobster fishery, CBC News has learned.

The decision to prosecute North America’s largest shellfish producer occurred amid a lengthy and still ongoing lobby effort by Clearwater to change the rule it broke: a Canadian requirement that fishing gear at sea must be tended every 72 hours.

Clearwater company CS ManPar was convicted for storing 3,800 lobster traps on the ocean bottom off the Nova Scotia coast for upward of two months in the fall of 2017 — for 17 consecutive days on one occasion, 31 consecutive days on another.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) says the practice poses a “serious conservation risk” because lobster and other species can be unintentionally caught.

“This was a gross violation,” federal Crown prosecutor Derek Schnare told provincial court in Shelburne, N.S., on Sept. 20.

CBC News has obtained the submitted evidence and audio recording in the case, which has not been publicly reported.

A Clearwater spokesperson would not comment on the company’s conduct.

720-tonne monopoly

Halifax-headquartered Clearwater has exclusive rights to Lobster Fishing Area 41, which starts 80 kilometres from shore and runs to the 200-mile limit, extending from Georges Bank to the Laurentian Channel between Cape Breton and Newfoundland.

The company fishes entirely off southern Nova Scotia. Unlike every other lobster fishery, there is no season and Clearwater has been awarded a quota of 720 tonnes, which it says represents about 15 per cent of all lobster it sells.

The Randell Dominaux is shown at dock. (Robert Short/CBC)

During the fall of 2017, Clearwater’s only offshore lobster vessel, the Randell Dominaux, was either tied up or carrying out a scientific scallop survey for the University of Maine. Schnare said leaving the traps on the ocean floor was cheaper than taking them ashore.

The offence was made worse because in 2016, DFO explicitly warned senior Clearwater management to stop its long-standing practice of storing traps offshore.

The first warning was delivered in a PowerPoint briefing by fishery officers in June 2016 and later in an August 2016 followup letter to Christine Penney, vice-president of sustainability and public affairs for Clearwater Seafoods and CS ManPar.

The PowerPoint presentation by DFO’s conservation and protection branch detailed widespread non-compliance by Clearwater. It said that in 2014, the company left 8,500 traps in the water for 68 days while the Randell Dominaux was in dry dock.

In December that year, DFO carried out an at-sea boarding of the Randell Dominaux that revealed “a significant marine resource loss directly linked to the fishing practices.”

Two trawls, which are strings of traps, that had been “soaking” for 13 days contained 128 dead lobsters, 53 weak and bitten lobsters, 60 claws and 18 groundfish.

Even traps stored at sea unbaited and with escape panels removed still continued to fish, DFO said. In one case, 3,400 traps that were unbaited were hauled and found to contain 15,000 pounds (6,804 kg) of lobster.

The written followup from DFO Maritimes regional director Doug Wentzell contained more detail. It noted that in 2015, the company failed to tend gear for a period of 98 days and numerous trawls went untended for 15 days or more. Wentzell also said the traps were stored without required buoy markings.

“Two prior warnings were given by DFO to stop the practice of unlawfully storing gear at sea,” Schnare told the court in September. “Despite this warning, however, the practice continued.” 

The warnings were not passed on to the two captains of the Randell Dominaux, a decision criticized by Schnare as a failure of corporate responsibility.

‘Serious conservation risk’

Evidence presented in court included impact statements from DFO Maritimes Region managers Sara Quigley and Cathy Merriman outlining the threat posed by untended traps, from potential entanglements with whales to unintended catches of lobster and other species.

“As these impact statements illustrate, the practice of leaving untended traps in the oceans represents a serious conservation risk to Canada’s marine resources, both commercial and non-commercial species,” Schnare told provincial court Judge Claudine MacDonald.

Three Clearwater companies were in court that day, charged with violating Section 115.2 of the Atlantic Fishery Regulations:

  • Clearwater Seafood Inc.
  • Clearwater Seafood Limited Partnership.
  • CS ManPar Inc., the corporate entity that owns the vessel.

CS ManPar pleaded guilty and charges against the two other Clearwater entities were dropped.

Lobster traps are shown in Eastern Passage, N.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Robert Short/CBC)

Schnare told the court Clearwater’s offence was mitigated because in this case, which dealt with the 2017 violations, the traps were not baited and escape panels were removed.

“This offence would be considered much more serious in the Crown’s view if the traps were left soaking while baited and fully functional,” he said.

That fact did not, he said, remove the risk of bycatch or lobster spoilage, and had no impact on the risk of lost traps or gear conflict with other fishermen.

The company was fined $30,000. ​Schnare suggested the amount was chosen to limit a tax benefit for Clearwater. In a statement to CBC News, Clearwater said it would not be able to deduct any fine.

Clearwater conduct ‘seems arrogant’

Environmentalist Shannon Arnold of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax applauds the Department of Fisheries for acting.

“It just seems arrogant to ignore the regulator like that,” she said in an interview. “I think it’s important the government gets out there and shows that there is a level playing field and they aren’t going to let different parts of the fleet and different corporations versus independent fishermen play by different rules.”

Arnold raised conservation concerns in 2016 and 2017 about Clearwater storing traps with both DFO and the Marine Stewardship Council, which certifies the Clearwater offshore lobster fishery as environmentally sustainable.

In 2017, the company employed by MSC to audit Clearwater — Acoura — accepted Clearwater’s word that it was not storing traps, telling Arnold the company had confirmed it was not doing so.

“Clearwater might as well have been certifying themselves,” said Arnold.

She wants evidence Clearwater has ended the practice.

Halifax-headquartered Clearwater has a monopoly in Lobster Fishing Area 41 off Nova Scotia. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

That is an assurance Clearwater would not provide when asked by CBC News. Instead, Penney, the vice-president, said DFO has admitted the 72-hour rule is “impractical.” In an email, she said DFO “has initiated a regulatory amendment to provide the flexibility around the 72 hour gear tending rule.”

“The updated regulations will provide flexibility for cases such as offshore lobster where evidence exists that conservation outcomes are not compromised by such flexibility.”

DFO said it’s reviewing the rule, but harvesters are expected to comply with the 72-hour rule while the review is underway.

“Fishery officers will continue to enforce these regulations as appropriate,” said DFO spokesperson Debbie Buott-Matheson in an email.

The case for throwing the rule overboard

Clearwater has already carried out the first phase of a science study on the effects of different soak times on lobster and bycatch species like cod in the offshore lobster fishery.

According to MSC auditors, the company said its findings have shown longer soak times do not increase bycatch, one of the conservation concerns.

“The study was not a factor for DFO in pursuing an amendment to Section 115.2 of the Atlantic Fishery Regulations,” Buott-Matheson said.

Shannon Arnold is the marine policy co-ordinator with the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre. (CBC)

That study has not been made public on the grounds it contains proprietary data. DFO said it has not yet issued a science licence for the next phase of Clearwater’s 72-hour soak-time study.

Arnold objects to secrecy surrounding science that is being used to justify a rule change.

“This company has been given a huge swath of public resources that the government manages on behalf of Canadians and you shouldn’t be using privacy rules to stop Canadians from therefore knowing about what’s happening out there.”

MSC, the environmental certification group, said it learned of the Clearwater conviction from CBC News. Its Canadian director, Jay Lugar, said the conviction occurred after the most recent certification audit in August 2018, and Acoura will take it into account in the 2019 audit.

“The certifier deemed that the fisheries activities did not negatively impact the health of bycatch species and thus did not alter the fishery’s score,” Lugar said in the email.



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Chill out: Wolves take snow days too, says study

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When snow falls, wolves chill out, according to a recent study from the University of Alberta.

Over two winters, researchers looked at the movements of grey wolves near Fort McMurray, Alta. in conjunction with data on snowfall in the area.

“We found that on the night that it was snowing, wolves rested more than they travelled, and when they travelled, they travelled slower than on other days when there wasn’t any snowfall,” Amanda Droghini, a former master’s student with the biology department. 

The researchers also found that within a day of the snowfall, the wolves returned to their normal movement behaviours. They don’t know exactly why the wolves changed their movements, but they have some theories.

“We think that it might be something about actively falling snow,” said Droghini.

Snow, like rain, clears the air of scent molecules, she said. Wolves rely heavily on their sense of smell to hunt, especially at night. Most of the wolves studied do their hunting after dark.

Another possible explanation, said Droghini, is that the wolves’ prey move less in falling snow.

“We unfortunately don’t have the data to test this,” she said, but if other animals are hunkered down, waiting for the snow to stop, there is no incentive for the wolves to go out hunting.

In their study, researchers used cameras and data transmitted from collars on 17 wolves. (Submitted by Amanda Droghini)

The researchers used data from remote cameras that monitored snowfalls, and collars on 17 wolves. These wolves were also part of a separate study that looked at the movement of wolves and moose near Fort McMurray.

It’s hard to say right now how climate change might affect the behaviour of wolves in snow, said Droghini.

Information about snow conditions is scarce, particularly in the North where there aren’t many weather stations.

Droghini said more freeze and thaw cycles could make movement difficult for animals in winter.

Rain after snow can create an icy crust over the snowpack, and this kind of snow is the most challenging for animals to walk through, she said.

“It costs them a lot of energy.”

The concern, said Droghini, is that it might be more difficult for animals to maintain the energy levels they need for the reproductive season.



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Trump says U.S. will develop space-based missile defence

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Moving to protect the U.S. from advanced missile threats from China and Russia, President Donald Trump on Thursday laid out plans for a new array of space-based sensors and other high-tech systems designed to more quickly detect and defeat attacks.

Trump, in a speech at the Pentagon, declared that space is the new warfighting domain. And he vowed that the U.S. will develop an unrivaled missile defence system to protect against advanced hypersonic and cruise missile threats from competitors and adversaries.

“Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States — anywhere, anytime, anyplace,” Trump said. “In a time of rapidly evolving threats, we must be certain that our defensive capabilities are unrivaled and unmatched anywhere in the world.”

Trump did not mention Russia, China or North Korea in his roughly 20-minute speech. But the Pentagon’s new strategy makes clear that its plan for a more aggressive space-based missile defence system is aimed at protecting against existing threats from North Korea and Iran and countering advanced weapon systems being developed by Russia and China.

The new review is the first since 2010, and it concludes that to adequately protect America, the Pentagon must expand defence technologies in space and use those systems to more quickly detect, track and ultimately defeat incoming missiles.

Acting Defence Secretary Pat Shanahan, who also spoke, said the new hypersonic missiles being developed by nations such as Russia and China are harder to see, harder to track and harder to defeat.

To address that, the U.S. is looking at putting a layer of sensors in space to more quickly detect enemy missiles when they are launched. The U.S. sees space as a critical area for advanced, next-generation capabilities to stay ahead of the threats.

The administration also plans to study the idea of basing interceptors in space, so the U.S. can strike incoming enemy missiles during the first minutes of flight when the booster engines are still burning.

20 times faster than sound

Russia and China have made clear their efforts to develop the high-tech programs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled new strategic weapons he claims can’t be intercepted. One is a hypersonic glide vehicle, which could fly 20 times faster than the speed of sound and make sharp manoeuvres to avoid being detected by missile defence systems.

Missile defence officials on Thursday declined to provide any budget estimates or timelines for the programs.

Michael Griffin, the defence undersecretary for research and engineering, told Pentagon reporters that developing a new layered network of sensors in space is key to being able to detect a fast-moving hypersonic missile in its early, more vulnerable stages.

The Pentagon, he said, will study the issue to determine how many would be needed, and at what orbit they would fly. He said the program is affordable and some funding for that would be in the budget that will be proposed for 2020. The system could be operational in the late 2020s.

Officials said the study on space-based interceptors could begin in the coming months. But, recognizing the potential concerns surrounding any perceived weaponization of space, officials emphasized that no testing is mandated, and no final decisions have been made.

The Trump administration is considering ways to expand U.S. homeland and overseas defences against potential missile attacks, possibly adding a layer of satellites in space to detect and track hostile targets. (Mark Wright/Missile Defense Agency via Associated Press)

‘Ineffective, costly, and dangerous’

Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, immediately raised concerns, calling the plan a bad Star Wars sequel.

“While it is true that the missile threat environment America now faces is different, the answer is not to build a wall in space,” Markey said. Adding that Trump’s “misguided rush to weaponize space would be as ineffective, costly, and dangerous as it was more than three decades ago when it was soundly rejected.”

During his Pentagon appearance, Trump also pressed his case to build a wall on the southern border and expressed his condolences on the deaths of four Americans in Syria on Wednesday.

Any expansion of the scope and cost of missile defences would compete with other defence priorities, including the billions of extra dollars the Trump administration has committed to spending on a new generation of nuclear weapons. An expansion also would have important implications for American diplomacy, given long-standing Russian hostility to even the most rudimentary U.S. missile defences and China’s worry that longer-range U.S. missile defences in Asia could undermine Chinese national security.

While the U.S. continues to pursue peace with North Korea, Pyongyang has made threats of nuclear missile attacks against the U.S. and its allies in the past and has worked to improve its ballistic missile technology. It is still considered a serious threat to America. Iran, meanwhile, has continued to develop more sophisticated ballistic missiles, increasing their numbers and their capabilities.



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Zimbabwe in ‘total internet shutdown’ amid violent crackdown

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Zimbabwe on Friday went into “total internet shutdown,” a media group said, after a days-long violent crackdown on people protesting a dramatic fuel price increase.

Badly injured people streamed into a hospital in the capital after alleged assaults by security forces.

“Our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history,” the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a sweeping statement lamenting the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse.

Media group MISA-Zimbabwe shared a text message from the country’s largest telecom company, Econet, calling the government’s internet order “beyond our reasonable control.” The High Court will hear a challenge to the shutdown on Monday, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said.

A prominent pastor and activist who faces a possible 20 years in prison on a subversion charge arrived at court, one of more than 600 people arrested this week. Evan Mawarire has called it “heartbreaking” to see the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa acting like that of former leader Robert Mugabe.

‘It’s a shame what’s happening’

Mawarire is accused of inciting civil disobedience online. “It’s a shame what’s happening,” the pastor said. A magistrate said there was reasonable suspicion he had committed an offence and set a Jan. 31 hearing, while Mawarire remains in detention until his lawyer on Monday can seek bail.

International calls for restraint by Zimbabwe’s security forces are growing, while Mnangagwa prepares to plead for more investment at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He announced the fuel price increase on the eve of his overseas trip, leaving hardline former military commander and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga as acting president.

Zimbabwe cleric and activist Evan Mawarire speaks to the media as he arrives at court Thursday, accused of inciting violence through social media. (Jekesai Nijikizana/AFP/Getty Images)

Gasoline in the economically shattered country is now the world’s most expensive. Zimbabweans heeded a nationwide stay-at-home call earlier this week in protest. Rights groups and others have accused security forces of targeting activists and labour leaders in response, with the United States expressing alarm.

The UN human rights office on Friday urged Zimbabwe to stop the crackdown, noting reports of intimidating door-to-door searches by security forces.

68 cases of gunshot wounds

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights has said it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and more.

Injured people streamed into a private hospital in the capital, Harare, on Thursday. Some had broken legs. A nurse attended to a man with a broken spine.

Albert Taurai told The Associated Press he had ventured out to look for bread when plainclothes officers wearing masks beat him up, accusing him of barricading roads.

Keith Frymore, a 21-year-old security guard, had a torn lip. He told the AP a group of uniformed soldiers attacked him at work.

Shops running out of bread

“I need $70 to get help here. I don’t have that kind of money,” he said.

Other hungry Harare residents who ventured out seeking food have reported being tear-gassed by police. Soldiers were still controlling long fuel lines in the capital on Friday, and many wary residents stayed at home.

A man stands in a shop after failing to find bread in Harare on Friday. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press)

Zimbabweans had briefly rejoiced when Mnangagwa succeeded Mugabe, who was forced out in late 2017, thinking the new president would deliver on his refrain that the country “is open for business.” But frustration has risen over the lack of improvement in the collapsed economy, which doesn’t even have a currency of its own.

The internet shutdown cuts off crucial access to the mobile money that Zimbabwe’s government uses to pay teachers and other public workers. Some said they can no longer afford fares for public transport, and some shops have run out of basics such as bread.

Demonstrations are ‘terrorism,’ government says

Death tolls in this week’s unrest have varied. Eight people were killed when police and military fired on crowds, Amnesty International said. Zimbabwe’s government said three people were killed, including a policeman stoned to death by an angry crowd.

The demonstrations amount to “terrorism,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, blaming the opposition. State Security Minister Owen Ncube thanked security forces for “standing firm.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for decades. (Natalia Fedosenko/TASS News Agency/Associated Press)

But among those arrested are several ruling ZANU-PF party community leaders as well as a soldier and a police officer.

The U.K.’s minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, has summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador to discuss “disturbing reports of use of live ammunition, intimidation and excessive force” against protesters.

The European Union, in a statement late Thursday, noted the “disproportionate use of force by security personnel” and urged that internet service be restored.

Canada updated its travel advisory for the country on Thursday, warning access to food and fuel is limited, and an increased police presence should be expected in all major urban centres.



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