Today, an article published in Policy Options by three of Canada’s leading thinkers on oceans issues, Jeffrey A. Hutchings, Randall M. Peterman and David L. VanderZwaag, calls on the Trudeau government to take bold political leadership to protect Canada’s fisheries. The article points to a critical issue in Canada today: that our federal government’s stated desire to support sustainable resources stands in stark contrast to our nation’s inability to manage one of our most precious resources, our oceans.
Oceana Canada echoes the statements of Hutchings, Peterman and VanderZwaag which call on Trudeau to look internationally: “Other developed countries have been able to effectively and efficiently implement the precautionary approach in resource management (targets, limits, harvest-control rules[i]) and other sustainability policies.”
Despite having the world’s longest coastline, Canada is lagging behind national and international obligations to protect and manage marine fish populations sustainably. On the surface, Canadian fisheries seem to be doing well, with the value of seafood exports now on the rise. If we look deeper though, the real state of the fishery is more troubling. In the 1950s, Canada was the seventh largest producer of wild fish by weight. Today, its ranking has plummeted to 20th. Only 50 per cent of fish stocks are deemed healthy, and many species, such as cod and other groundfish, have never been given a real chance to recover after serious overfishing in the 80s and 90s.
In many countries, including those in which Oceana works, such as the EU and the US, we have seen how changes to law and policy lead to broad-based recovery. These countries require the government to set targets for fish populations and implement rebuilding plans when stocks are overfished. In Canada, by contrast, under the Fisheries Act, the Minister has a great deal of discretion regarding setting quotas, and is not required to ensure rebuilding plans are developed or implemented. This might sound like a subtle difference, but experience all over the world shows that the difference between an Act that allows rebuilding and an Act that requires rebuilding is the difference between depleted and abundant fish populations.
The best way to tackle this is by effectively implementing the policies that are already in place. Beyond this, we also need to make simple but fundamental changes to the Fisheries Act to limit the Minister’s discretion and require that a rebuilding plan be developed once a fish population is deemed depleted. This has been recommended many times in Canada, including by the Royal Society of Canada’s Expert Panel 2012 report on sustaining Canada’s marine biodiversity, led by Hutchings, along with Peterman and VanderZwaag among others.
Rebuilding Canada’s fish abundance will not be easy, but this is a simple and critical first step. The federal government can put Canada on the path to ocean abundance, greater economic benefit, and more resilient coastal communities, allowing us to help to save the oceans and feed the world.
Join us in calling on Trudeau’s government to protect Canada’s oceans and learn more by becoming a Wavemaker.
[i] The article goes on to explain that fisheries should have “a target reference point (something to aim for), a limit reference point (something to avoid), and a harvest-control rule (which specifies the appropriate level of fishing pressure, depending on how close the stock is to its limit or target)”