This year many more Canadians have been directly harmed by climate change, with the hottest ocean temperatures ever recorded. The implications for fisheries and coastal communities are beginning to sink in.
Scientists estimate that the 2021 marine heatwaves in Pacific Canada killed more than a billion mussels, clams and other invertebrates. Hurricanes wrought havoc on fishing communities in Atlantic Canada and Eastern Quebec, and more species are moving northward in search of cooler water — like critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, whose new presence in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is forcing early closures of snow crab fisheries to protect them.
In the face of growing threats from climate change, Oceana Canada’s seventh annual Fishery Audit, exposes widespread Canadian fisheries mismanagement, government-sanctioned overfishing on key stocks and a persistent failure to rebuild depleted fish populations. This hurts marine life, coastal communities, the seafood economy and our planet.
This year’s Audit finds that less than a third of wild fish and invertebrate populations can be considered healthy and most critically depleted stocks lack robust plans to rebuild them. Even worse, despite the looming threat of climate change, Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) management documents do not formally account for this in more than three-quarters of fish stocks, which only further delays rebuilding efforts.
Additional highlights from Oceana Canada’s latest Fishery Audit include:
- The number of healthy stocks has declined, and the number of depleted stocks – both cautious and critical – has increased over the past seven years.
- Only six of 28 critically depleted stocks have a plan to bring the population back to healthy levels, and none of them comply with the amended Fisheries Act rebuilding regulations.
- DFO did not publish any new rebuilding plans this year, despite the requirement to publish 13 by April 2024.
- DFO has yet to revise its suite of policies under the Sustainable Fisheries Framework to meaningfully include Indigenous Knowledge Systems in fisheries management.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
When given the chance, we know that wild fish can recover. Progressive fishing nations have rebuilt fish populations by implementing strong laws that mandate rebuilding. The U.S. has successfully rebuilt 49 stocks since 2000 and Europe’s policies have ended the overfishing of species like anchovy.
We also know that healthy, abundant populations of wild fish lead to more resilient ocean ecosystems that can better withstand pressure from threats like climate change. Rebuilding ocean abundance is essential to the health of coastal communities and it’s a key step toward reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. Instead of undertaking species-by-species negotiations around access to resources, DFO can help reset its relationships with Indigenous Peoples by developing and implementing collaborative fisheries management agreements.
The Canadian government knows what’s needed to rebuild wild fish. What’s missing is urgency and action on the water where it matters most.
Read the full Fishery Audit and see what steps the Canadian government can take to rebuild wild marine fish at Oceana.ca/FisheryAudit2023.