A fishing vessel in the Georgia Straight. Photo by Sean Feagan / Campbell River Mirror.

A fishing vessel in the Georgia Straight. Photo by Sean Feagan / Campbell River Mirror.

Fisheries audit: little improvement over past five years despite government commitments

One-third of stocks considered healthy, many unknowns remain

The most recent audit of Canada’s fisheries show little improvement over the past five years, with many unknowns remaining.

Oceana Canada, a charity advocating for marine environments, has released this year’s version of its Fisheries Audit, an annual assessment of the health of Canada’s fish stocks. The audit has been performed since 2017, when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans increased transparency by releasing more fisheries data.

Despite commitments by the federal government, Canada’s fisheries have shown little improvement, explained Robert Rangeley, Oceana Canada director of science.

“It’s extremely disappointing to see that both on performance and management, the status of our stocks have not changed,” he said.

About 30 per cent of Canada’s fisheries are considered healthy, a decline from 2017. Conversely, about 17 per cent were assessed as “critical” while 16 per cent were ranked as “cautious.”

But over a third of fisheries are considered unknowns — meaning not enough information is available to assess their status.

“We’re in the dark about those,” he said.

Some stocks appear to be in a critical state, but this cannot be verified due to data gaps.

One gap is DFO has not estimated mortality for about 80 per cent of species. For those fish, the impact of bycatch, discard, bait fisheries, and recreational fishing is unknown.

“All those things kill fish — the fish don’t care how they’re killed, they’re just killed,” he said.

This could be helped by implementing a requirement for fishers to count everything they catch, including non-target species.

A new fisheries monitoring policy was developed a few years ago, but has reportedly fallen short.

“There’s no resources, no accountability to implement it, and it’s barely been touched,” he said.

Another shortcoming is the lack of rebuilding plans for depleted fisheries, a legal requirement of the ‘modernized’ Fisheries Act.

“We still don’t have the regulations that say, rebuild these stocks to a healthy level, and do it over this time course — that’s what nations with successful fisheries management do.”

Oceana Canada is requesting the federal government to be more precautionary for forage fish and consider the impacts of climate change on more species. Turning around decades of mismanagement will take leadership, he said.

“We have a new Fisheries Minister who can maybe bring some sense of urgency and vision to the management of our fisheries in Canada.”

Improving Canada’s fisheries management is imperative, said Rangeley.

“It is fundamental to the sustainability of our oceans — how we protect our fisheries, to the future of our seafood — and they’re falling short,” he said. “Oceans are critical as our life support system for the planet.”

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