Nfld. & Labrador

Neglected science hurting fish stocks, senators told

Canadian fisheries science, once the envy of the world, has become so shoddy that it is contributing to the dire state of fish stocks, a prominent researcher told parliamentarians.

Plenty of money for meetings, but not real research, says scientist

Canadian fisheries science, once the envy of the world, has become so shoddy that it is contributing to the dire state of fish stocks, a prominent researcher told parliamentarians.

"We need real conservation, not just paper conservation," George Rose, a former federal fisheries scientist, told the Senate standing committee on fisheries and oceans during a hearing in St. John's on Thursday.

"Canada is no longer a leader in fisheries and marine science. We've just dropped the ball," said Rose, who now holds a research chair in fisheries science at Memorial University in St. John's.

"In fact, a lot of the science that we're doing right now may in fact be wrong."

Years of neglect in fisheries science have ledto researchers being in the dark about the health of common fish stocks, Rose told senators.

"We're in a situation now with many fish stocks that we've never been in before. That is, the stocks are at such low, low levels," he said.

"We're using old models, we're using old algorithms, we're using old ideas to kind of predict what's going to happen. And they don't work."

Science programs scaled back

Most fisheries in Atlantic Canada have been in trouble for years. Ottawa imposed a moratorium on northern cod— the single largest stock in the country— in 1992, shutting down a livelihood for about 20,000 people on Newfoundland's northeast and eastern coasts.

The federal government subsequently closed or scaled back many other fisheries in the region, and along the way downsized its various fisheries science programs.

Rose said Canada is paying the penalty for giving short shrift to fisheries science.

"Most bench-level scientists, working scientists like myself and others, we seem to now be able to get any amount of funding and any amount of money to go to meetings," Rose said.

"We can go to meetings, but we can't do any work. Eventually, you've got nothing to say."

This marks a turnaround at international fisheries science meetings, where researchers anticipated hearing what Canadian scientists had to say.

"They expect us to come in with the new stuff, the new ideas, and when we don't, they don't know how to respond," he said.

Complaints about fisheries science have been levelled for years, as well as concern that cod stocks in particular remain perilously low.

Small-scale fishery reopened

Nonetheless, federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn— acting in large part on anecdotal information from inshore fishermen— reopened commercial cod fishing in some Newfoundland bays this summer, for the first time in years.

As well, the recreational cod fishery, in which residents of Newfoundland and Labrador were allowed to catch as many as five fish a day, was reopened.

That program, criticized by independent scientists as too risky, is being reviewed before a decision is made on whether to revive it in 2007.

The state of the world's fisheries was brought to the fore again last week, with a report in the journal Science that said overfishing and climate change could wipe out commercially caught stocks before 2050.

The study's authors, led by Dalhousie University researcher Boris Worm, said the cumulative loss of biodiversity is diminishing the ocean's ability to produce seafood and resist disease.

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