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A different kind of fishing expedition?


The Office received two complaints about the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Observer Program that requires fishers as a condition of their licence, to allow an observer to stay on board their commercial fishing vessels, including during the evening and overnight hours, and during non-fishing hours. Some fishers have only family members on board, and their vessels are too small to accommodate a stranger. One of the complaints also concerned the intrusiveness of an alternative to having the observer on board — electronic monitoring by use of video cameras and global positioning systems.

Actions taken by the OPC

The investigation established that the Observer Program is authorized by regulation. Observers' duties are to monitor fishing activities by, among other things, examining and measuring fishing gear, verifying the weight and species of fish caught, inspecting fishing records and conducting biological samplings of fish. The only personal information observers would normally collect include the names, addresses and contact numbers of vessel personnel. All of the remaining information collected relates to the fishing activities under observation.

While having a stranger on board vessels is intrusive by nature, the issue is one of "personal" privacy, which does not fall under the Privacy Act, rather than one of protection of personal information.

Outcome of OPC Actions

The Office concluded the complaints were not well-founded. Although the complaints were not well-founded, we discussed the complainants' concerns with Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials who maintained that the department must retain the ability to monitor the fishery. However, they agreed to consult the fishing industry, and we encouraged them to recommend other less intrusive options to carry out this program activity.

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