For six years, Oceana Canada has been conducting an in-depth analysis on how healthy ocean fisheries are in Canada and how they are being managed by the federal government. Alarmingly, this year’s Fishery Audit shows that despite the government making significant investments, developing new policies and updating laws to improve fisheries management, these changes have not yet led to healthier fisheries.
Here are the core findings from Fishery Audit 2022:
• Unhealthy: Nearly one in five wild fish stocks (17 per cent) are critically depleted and the number of healthy stocks has declined since 2017.
• Without a plan: Less than 20 per cent of critically depleted stocks have plans in place to rebuild them, and some continue to have high fishing pressure that risks their recovery.
• Without a status: More than one-third of stocks (37 per cent) fall into Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) “uncertain” category, meaning they don’t have a health status. Of these, nearly one-quarter (25 per cent) are likely critically depleted according to Oceana Canada’s research. This lack of a health status stunts efforts to recover fish populations.
Rebuilding fisheries requires monitoring on the water and at landing sites. The 2022 Fishery Audit again shows the need for stronger tracking and reporting of how much fish are being removed from the ecosystem. The percentage of stocks with a recent stock assessment declined over the past year Canada released the Fishery Monitoring Policy in 2019 to count all catches in a fishery but it hasn’t been fully implemented in a single fishery.
Sonia Strobel, Co-founder and CEO of Skipper Otto Community Supported Fishery, is quoted in this year’s Audit stating “Canadian harvesters and consumers both benefit from fisheries monitoring and increased transparency across the seafood supply chain. Monitoring fishing activities not only helps minimize bycatch and prevent overfishing, but it enables the story of where your seafood comes from to be told, which allows people to make more sustainable choices.”
One of the most pressing threats to the oceans is climate change, and new research in this year’s Fishery Audit shows Canada is not prepared. Despite scientific evidence showing the impact of climate change on fisheries, nearly three-quarters (72 per cent) of DFO’s science and management documents do not formally consider climate change.
Climate change expert Dr. William Cheung, Director at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, Canada Research Chair in Ocean Sustainability and Global Change states in the Audit “To restore ocean abundance in the face of climate change, more conservation-focused fisheries management is required, but it should not stop there. To rebuild overfished stocks, it is imperative to fully account for species vulnerability to climate change and urgently employ adaptive management strategies.”
Salmon and Indigenous Priorities
For generations, wild Pacific salmon have played a crucial role in the lives of Indigenous Peoples living on the North Pacific Coast. But today, overfishing, climate change and habitat destruction have led to less predictable returns and serious declines in many stocks. The status quo is not working. The management issues that apply to other wild fish populations also apply to salmon. These include an absence of reference points, inadequate monitoring and slow policy implementation. Currently, the status of most salmon populations is unknown. And of those populations that do have enough data, few are considered healthy.
In the summer of 2021, Oceana Canada brought together participants from both Atlantic and Pacific coasts representing a number of First Nations, Treaty Tables and Indigenous research organizations to discuss Indigenous priorities and approaches for rebuilding wild fish populations. A clear message emerged from the workshop: shared decision-making and a new narrative are required. Participants stressed that Indigenous Knowledge Systems and ways of knowing should be incorporated into fisheries management by being considered on an equal footing with DFO science contributions and with opportunities for separate Indigenous-led assessments.
Ken Paul, member of the Wolastoqey Nation, explains the obligation Canada has to rebuild fisheries: “The decline of culturally significant fish species is not only a loss of food but also a loss of identity and culture. Canada’s obligation to rebuilding fisheries is inextricably linked with its commitment towards reconciliation. This requires a balanced approach to fisheries management that embraces the unique knowledge systems held by Indigenous Peoples.”
Change is urgently needed, and it is possible thanks to the expertise, policy, tools and laws already in place in Canada. Now we need action. Oceana Canada’s recommendations are:
• List all depleted stocks under the newly amended Fisheries Act
• Meaningfully engage with Indigenous communities and organizations and make fisheries decisions informed by Indigenous Knowledge Systems
• Integrate ecosystem impacts into fisheries decisions by rebuilding depleted forage fish
• Address vulnerabilities to climate change
• Count all sources of fishing mortality
The future of wild fish populations off the coast of Canada can be bright, but we need strong action from the government.
Oceana Canada’s Executive Director, Josh Laughren says “In the face of overfishing, mismanagement and accelerating climate change and biodiversity loss, the need to rebuild depleted wild fish populations has never been more urgent.”