One of the biggest threats to our environment is our growing global population, which by 2050 could exceed nine billion people. To support this many people, food production will have to increase by 70 per cent. Deciding how we feed this growing population will define us for generations to come.
Restoring the world’s fisheries is a critical part of the solution. Wild seafood requires minimal fresh water to produce, emits little carbon dioxide, does not use arable land and is renewable. It is also a shared global resource that requires investment to ensure thriving fisheries and healthy ecosystems. Thanks to our geography, history and expertise, Canada is in a position to be a world leader in how this shared resource is managed.
Last year alone, Canada’s fishing industry produced more than $6 billion in exports, and it supports 80,000 jobs annually. The industry is thriving, but under conditions that make it vulnerable to another collapse. The industry is making more money than ever before, but this is in large part due to the high price of a small number of stocks - like lobster, shrimp and crab - and the low value of the Canadian dollar. Similar to a stock portfolio, diversity is always key. Without a diverse fishery, we will not have stocks to fall back on when conditions change.
Many of Canada’s stocks remain severely depleted after years of overfishing, and many, such as northern cod, still do not have a rebuilding plan in place.
Less than a year ago, Oceana Canada commissioned scientists to access the state of Canada’s fish populations and concluded that less than a quarter of them can be considered healthy, and that the health of almost half of them could not be determined, in part because of a lack of available data.
Now, a year into a newly elected federal government, Canada is finally seeing new investment in science and a commitment to transparency. During a recent Oceana Canada symposium, The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard released – for the first time – key information on the true state of Canadian fish populations.
Never before have researchers, and the Canadian public, had this kind of opportunity to be informed about our fish. We can now begin to monitor the health and progress of 159 of our commercial fish stocks. Additionally, Minister LeBlanc announced an investment of $24 million per year, devoted exclusively to science activities that support healthy fish stocks.
Scientists, NGOs and environmentalists have been asking to see this information for years and the significance of its release must not go unnoticed. There have been serious consequences to Canada being left in the dark. This lack of transparency has contributed to Canada falling well short of the progress made in other countries to rebuild fisheries, as well as our failure to live up to international standards for modern fisheries management. The biomass of Canada’s marine stocks has declined by 55 per cent since 1970, and we are no longer the industry leader we once were.
Armed with this information and a renewed commitment to science, experts now have a better picture of which stocks are healthy or at-risk, and can apply management tools accordingly to recover depleted populations.
Our oceans are resilient, and if the government stays true to its commitments, we can reclaim Canada’s position as a world leader in fisheries and pave the way for a sustainable future.