Let’s come right to the point: Why is Oceana Canada here? Simply put, Canada has the opportunity—and, we would argue, the responsibility—to recover our fish populations and help feed the world. In particular, Oceana Canada is dedicated to winning campaign victories that result in science-based fisheries management for the benefit of people and wildlife alike. It’s a big challenge, but one we’re prepared to address.
Wild seafood requires minimal fresh water to produce, emits little carbon dioxide, doesn’t use up any arable land, and provides healthy, lean protein at a cost-per-pound lower than beef, chicken, lamb or pork. Our oceans can, if properly tended, provide a nutritious meal every day for nearly a billion people.
However, for the first time in recorded history, the amount of fish caught from our oceans began to decline dramatically a few decades ago. We’re steadily eroding the best, most sustainable source of animal protein we have, at a huge cost to our oceans and the nearly one billion people who rely on them for protein.
Here’s the good news: We’ve learned. Canadians, more than almost anyone, understand the economic, ecological and social cost of fisheries collapse. Canada has stopped the worst cases of overfishing, and has helped force other countries (like many of those fishing just outside our waters) to follow suit. For that, we deserve credit.
Now the opportunity: Although we have stopped the worst cases of decline, our fish populations are not in good shape. Of the 155 major fish stocks supporting Canada’s fisheries, only half are healthy, and overall fish population sizes have declined by 50 per cent, according to a recent Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel. The state of our fish populations is worse than in many other developed regions, including the United States and the European Union.
Canada has not taken the steps necessary to rebuild fish populations to healthy levels. Many of the collapsed stocks – of which Atlantic cod is the most famous – remain at very low levels. For most, including cod, there is no recovery plan in place, and very little publicly available information about targets, trends, and the assumptions behind management actions.
The danger, nearly a generation after the first high-profile collapse, is that we risk accepting this depleted state as the new normal, as inevitable. It’s not.
If we take action quickly, we can reverse this trend and make our oceans more abundant. We are the 16th largest fishing nation and have the potential to provide 50 per cent more fish on a sustainable basis than we do now. We know what’s needed, and here is plenty of evidence that when we act, fish and wildlife recover—some very quickly, others more slowly. Better management, including stopping overfishing and setting science-based catch limits; reducing bycatch and protecting habitat, will bring our fisheries back.
Canada has all the raw material needed to restore the health of our oceans. We have diverse coastal communities, a sophisticated fishing industry, a dedicated community of activists, world-class scientists and a shared understanding of both the importance of the oceans and the impact of mismanagement.
Together, we can save the oceans and feed the world.