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Fish Audit report says only 26.5 per cent of Canada’s wild fish stocks are healthy
Dr. Robert Rangelely says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) needs to change its approach to managing fish stocks in Canada, by first determining how many fish should be left in the water.
Rangeley is a marine biologist and Director of Science with Oceana Canada, a non-profit group formed in 2015 to lobby the federal government on policies to restore the health of Canada’s oceans and fish populations.
Earlier this week Oceana released its fourth annual Fishery Audit. That report says just 26.5 percent of the stocks managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) are healthy, and the number of healthy fish populations has declined by eight percent from 2017 to 2020.
Even worse, the group says, no comprehensive or meaningful stock rebuilding plans were released in 2020 and DFO only delivered on 14 per cent of its published priorities.
In a press release, Oceana Canada executive director Josh Laughren said while there have been encouraging investments by the federal government in fisheries science and management in recent years — including the development of a new Fisheries Act — the department has not followed through on its commitments on stock rebuilding plans.
“At this rate, it will be 37 years before all critically depleted populations have a plan to rebuild them back to healthy levels,” said Laughren.
In an interview with SaltWire Rangeley said part of the problem is that decision-making by DFO is too often a political decision.
He said while the DFO has made some good decisions around fisheries management, it has not followed through on its commitment to implement the Fisheries Act.
“The problem is the decision (on quotas) is a political decision.”
No matter what DFO scientists suggest, said Rangeley, the Fisheries minister has the discretionary power on the final decision.
And too often, he said, the decision is swayed by the economic cost to the fishing industry of scaling back a quota or closing a fishery.
He added when it comes to forage fish — capelin, herring, mackerel, the fish that other species depend on, the ultimate question should be how much of the stock should be left in the water, not how much could be allowed to be fished.
“Fifty-five percent of all the landings of forage fish are coming from critically depleted stocks,” he said. “So we should be very careful about now only how we fish those species, but how much we leave behind for all the other species that depend on them.
“We can’t (for example) continue to fish capelin to the point where there’s no capelin for cod or other species,” said Rangeley.
In its Fisheries Audit for 2020 Oceana Canada urges DFO to “address its most critical gaps”.
The group is asking the department to complete regulations to enforce the new Fisheries Act provisions.
Oceana Canada says the department should list 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.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan was not available for an interview.
However, in response to questions from SaltWire, her press secretary Jane Deeks provided a written reply.
In an email, the minister’s office said, “DFO welcomes the Oceana Canada For Fisheries audit and the department will be reviewing the report’s recommendations. We have already made several key investments and legislative changes that are already producing real results.”
The minister’s office added the Liberal government modernized the Fisheries Act in 2018 to restore protections to fish and fish habitat, and make fish stock rebuilding plans mandatory.
Since then, the minister’s office said, DFO has completed rebuilding plans for six of 19 selected stocks. They are Yelloweye Rockfish, Atlantic Cod in area 4X5Y, Atlantic Cod in area 5ZjM, Yellowtail Flounder in area 5Z, Northern Shrimp in Shrimp Fishing Area 6, and Mackerel (Atlantic) in NAFO areas 3 and 4.
The department added rebuilding plans are posted on the DFO website.
A list of Sustainable Fisheries Framework Work Plans for Fiscal 2020-2021, including the timelines for completion or presentation of rebuilding plans for 19 priority stocks, is also on the department website.
Capelin, mackerel and herring are not included in the list of rebuilding plans for 2020-21.
Minister Jordan’s office said for the remaining priority stocks, DFO has specific fishery management measures in place, based on the best available science.
“In addition to stock rebuilding plans, our government has taken strong, consistent action, backed by significant and targeted investments, to protect and restore species at risk and the habitats they depend on,” was their written response to SaltWire’s questions. The minister’s office added, “Through such initiatives as the Canada Nature Fund, the Ocean Protections Plan, the Coastal Baseline Fund, and the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund, we are working to restore and revitalize key populations and ecosystems from coast to coast to coast.”
- Canadian consumers may be supporting illegal fishing, claims Oceana Canada report
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- VIDEO: DFO northern shrimp stock assessment for Newfoundland and Labrador far from rosy
- DFO receives criticism for cutting capelin quota