Audit finds Canada’s fisheries in decline and response lacks urgency

Report says 17 per cent of fish stocks are critically depleted, up from 13.4 per cent in 2018

An Atlantic cod in an anemone field. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility/ROPOS, Oceana Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

An annual audit of Canada’s fisheries has flagged a decline in the number of healthy fish stocks over the last two years and warned they will continue to suffer without more specific government action.

The findings are contained in a report released Wednesday by the advocacy group Oceana Canada, its third report card on the state of the country’s fisheries based on data from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The report urges Ottawa to finalize regulations setting timelines and targets for rebuilding critically depleted stocks, predicting the situation will deteriorate further if such actions are not taken.

This year’s audit concluded that 17 per cent of Canada’s fish stocks are critically depleted, up from 13.4 per cent in 2018. Fisheries in what the group calls the cautious or critical zones outnumbered the 29.4 per cent of stocks considered healthy.

The health status of 38 per cent of stocks could not be assessed due to insufficient data.

Robert Rangeley, science director with the organization, said the series of audits has revealed worrying trends, including a disappointing lack of action on the continuing “crisis” in Canada’s fisheries.

“I thought by our third audit we’d see more progress,” he said by phone from Ottawa.

He said the federal response has failed to keep pace with the rising number of critically depleted stocks, a situation that may worsen as the oceans undergo unpredictable changes from climate change.

“There’s a lot of really good and smart people in charge of the science and management of our oceans, but progress is too slow,” he said. ”The urgency is only getting greater.”

The report cited some progress, including an increase in scientific publications assessing fish stock health and greater transparency of fishery monitoring.

It also pointed to the new Fisheries Act, amended in June, as an opportunity for progress. But it said still-developing regulations should include such provisions as timelines for stock rebuilding plans and standardized monitoring systems in order for the new legislation to make a difference.

READ MORE: Advocates sound alarm on worst B.C. commercial fishing season in 50 years

Twenty-four of the country’s critically depleted fish stocks are in Eastern Canada, including Atlantic cod and northern shrimp. Nine critically depleted stocks live in waters around B.C., where numbers of critical stocks are on the rise, according to the report.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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