The Health of Canadian Fisheries Continues to Decline

Press Release Date: November 16, 2020

HALIFAX, NS — Today, Oceana Canada released its fourth annual Fishery Audit which shows that Canada’s fisheries have declined since reporting began in 2017, and that a mere 26.5 per cent are now considered healthy. The number of healthy populations decreased by almost eight percentage points from 2017 to 2020, despite significant investments by the Canadian government in science, fisheries monitoring and management including a modernized Fisheries Act. To make matters worse, no comprehensive or meaningful rebuilding plans – crucial prerequisites to rebuilding collapsed populations – were released in 2020, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada only delivered on 14 per cent of its published priorities.

“There is an alarming gap growing between government commitment and action. There have been encouraging investments by the federal government in fisheries science and management in recent years. Unfortunately, this has not yet translated to action on the water. At this rate it will be 37 years before all critically depleted populations have a plan to rebuild them back to healthy levels,” says Josh Laughren, Executive Director, Oceana Canada. “Canadians and our coastal communities deserve well-managed fisheries for the future of their livelihoods and for food security.”

There have also been troubling decreases in crustaceans such as shrimp and crab and in small forage fish such as capelin, herring and mackerel that are prey for many commercially important fish, including cod and tuna. Crustaceans make up the economic backbone of Canada’s fisheries, and forage fish are essential to healthy marine ecosystems.

“Healthy fish populations are critical to healthy ecosystems and coastal communities. Our oceans are facing growing threats and greater uncertainty, putting the marine life we all depend upon at risk,” says Dr. Robert Rangeley, Science Director, Oceana Canada. “A lot is at stake, and it’s time for the government to take urgent action now to manage our oceans and fisheries sustainably. We can rebuild populations to provide more opportunities for coastal communities and make the Canadian seafood industry more resilient to growing threats such as climate change. As we look to rebuilding our economy post-pandemic, we must seize the opportunities that our ocean economy can provide.”

“Canada has an opportunity to think about the future we want and need as we set a path to recovery for our resource-rich nation. Failure to act now risks squandering the hundreds of millions of dollars of recent federal government investments to improve fisheries management. It would also mean losing out on the massive long-term potential of the original blue economy, wild fish, to support our planet,” says Rangeley.

In the year ahead, Oceana Canada is urging Fisheries and Oceans Canada to address its most critical gaps, including:

  • Complete regulations to bring into force the new Fisheries Act provisions, including listing all major stocks in the critical zone that require rebuilding plans;
  • Address inconsistencies in catch monitoring by implementing the national Fishery Monitoring Policy introduced in November 2019; and
  • Develop and implement high-quality rebuilding plans that include targets and timelines to rebuild stocks back to healthy levels, as identified in 2020/21 work plans.

For more information, and to add your name to Oceana Canada’s urgent call to rebuild Canada’s fish populations, visit

Contacts: Tammy Thorne, Oceana Canada,, 437-247-0954 and Kathleen Munro, Pilot PMR,, 902-789-3165. Media assets available here.

Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana Canada has successfully campaigned to end the shark fin trade, make rebuilding depleted fish populations the law, improve the way fisheries are managed and protect marine habitat. We work with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits and protect our future.