Declining fisheries: It’s time to give fish a fighting chance | Oceana Canada

Today, Oceana Canada released its third annual Fishery Audit, a report on the state of Canada’s fisheries. The results? Canada’s fish populations have declined over the past three years and the government is not acting with the speed and rigour needed to rebuild them.

Unless we see quick changes from the government, Canada cannot ensure a sustainable seafood industry or one that can adapt to global threats to the ocean, such as climate change, pollution and habitat destruction. Since our first Fishery Audit in 2017, we’ve seen worrying signs of decline. Here are some of Fishery Audit 2019’s key findings:

• Declining fisheries: Less than a third of Canada’s fish populations, 29.4 per cent, can confidently be considered healthy and 17 per cent are in the critical zone, where conservation actions are crucial.
• Failing to rebuild: Progress on implementing rebuilding plans remains slow. There are plans in place for just 18 per cent of critically depleted stocks.
• Missed commitments: Commercial fisheries still lack sufficient levels of monitoring with accurate total catch estimates, making it impossible to manage them effectively.

Ecosystems and coastal communities need healthy fish populations to thrive. They support economies and are an essential source of sustainable protein for millions of people. With the ocean facing more threats than ever before, the marine life we all depend on are at greater risk.

For example, this year the health of more crustacean species declined into the critical zone but according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, just three groups of crustaceans – snow crab, lobster and shrimp – account for 73 per cent of total fisheries landings, worth approximately $3.8 billion. With the bulk of Canada’s seafood industry depending on crustacean fisheries, we do not have time to lose.

Despite these worrying declines, some progress has been made since Oceana Canada’s last Fishery Audit was released. Most importantly, a modernized Fisheries Act became law in June 2019. For the first time in its history, rebuilding plans will be required for depleted fish populations. The government has also committed more than $100 million over five years to assess and rebuild fish populations. This new investment and a legal requirement to manage fish populations sustainably, if backed up with strong regulations to ensure the law is appropriately enforced, could signal an historic turning point in the health of Canadian fisheries. This provides a rare opportunity for ambitious progress in 2020 and beyond.

To seize Canada’s opportunity to rebuild fish populations, Oceana Canada is calling on DFO to: 

• Complete the Fisheries Act rebuilding regulations to bring the new provisions into force, including requiring targets and timelines for rebuilding plans; 
• Address inconsistencies in catch monitoring by implementing a long-awaited national fishery monitoring policy;
• Develop and implement high-quality fishery rebuilding plans for critical stocks that include targets and timelines; and
• Complete all deliverables outlined in DFO’s fiscal year workplans.

A lot is at stake, and Canada’s fisheries have been in trouble for years. It’s time for the government to get serious about rebuilding fisheries and give fish a fighting chance.

Join Oceana Canada as a Wavemaker to stay up to date on our work to rebuild oceans full of life and visit FisheryAudit.ca to learn more about Canada’s fisheries.