The state of Canada’s fisheries

Image Source: Flickr

How has the fish industry been holding up?

Sean Watson


Anew audit from the oceanic institute states that the federal government isn’t maintaining Canada’s fish stocks. Ottawa has defaulted on its commitment to rebuild already depleted stocks.

In addition, only about one-third of fish stocks are healthy – meaning they can be harvested sustainably. 13% of Canada’s fish stocks are “critically depleted” – this means that the stock has a minimal amount of fish that can be harvested while maintaining sustainability.

A large number of stocks rest in a “caution” state but they are also in decline. This can severely hinder Canada’s seafood industry by limiting our fish production. Species most affected include finfish – as opposed to shellfish – such as the Northern Cod. The study didn’t only have bad news: some species in the Gulf of Saint- Lawrence are on the rise, including Red Fish.

Experts have called for rebuilding plans but only three have been made for critical stocks. There was a backlash to Ottawa following a report in 2016. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has made commitments including a promise to put in place rebuilding plans. These rebuilding plans will set targets and management plans to bring all fisheries out of “critical” and “caution” zones and will manage their recovery.

Unfortunately, the federal governments have not met these goals for fishery recovery. Much of this may stem from the fact that the Shellfish industry in Eastern Canada is thriving. However, this complacency comes at the cost of our dying fish stocks.

“This is about managing an ecosystem. We need healthy oceans for lots of reasons, including biodiversity, but we also need them for the fisheries,” says Robert Rangeley, the Director of Science for Oceana Canada. “We would have 13 or 14 rebuilding plans in place if they meet their commitments.”

He suggests a model similar to that of the United States, where rebuilding plans have been mandatory for the last 20 years. “[With mandatory rebuilding plans] there’s no messing around, you get on with the job.”
Bill C-68, currently in the Senate, brings amendments to the Fisheries Act and calls for stocks to be managed back to healthy standards. It contains strong provisions for rebuilding plans but also ensures that stocks never fall to critical levels.

If combined with strong regulations, it will bring positive change and start to undo the neglect the fisheries have been receiving for decades.


Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol. 48 Issue 06 on November 21th, 2018