Ocean scientists call on Liberals to restore Fisheries Act, unmuzzle researchers
'Please let the scientists talk,' says UBC's Rashid Sumaila
A group of 19 ocean scientists are calling on the new Liberal government to implement four recommendations to repair damage they say was done to Canada's ocean science by the outgoing Conservative government.
"Almost every scientist is happy and proud of Canadians for the results we just saw in the last election," says Dr. Rashid Sumaila, a researcher at the University of British Columbia's Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.
"We all worry about a society that is not based on science. If a government doesn't care about evidence you can be sure we are going to driven into really terrible situations."
Sumaila is director of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's Ocean Canada Partnership. He is part of a group of ocean scientists from across Canada that published a paper called Canada at a crossroad: The imperative for realigning ocean policy with ocean science in the January 2016 issue of Marine Policy.
It argues that Canada's ocean ecosystem health is critical to the country's maritime economy and the resilience of coastal communities, but that federal government has neglected ocean science by silencing government scientists, cutting funding, closing libraries and destroying archived material.
When it comes to a warming planet, these scientists say, it's critical Canada better understands what's happening in the Arctic Ocean.
"There's a huge range of new changes coming on. The ice is melting. Ocean acidification is happening. Water is warming up," Sumaila said.
Among their recommendations: reversing the changes to the Fisheries Act that only protect fish that have market value. Sumaila says fish, regardless of their market value, need to be protected in order to preserve sensitive ecosystems.
"Not just because they are valuable today but we need the whole system to work," Sumaila says.
The scientists also say the outgoing government has failed to implement its Oceans Act and they describe this as "unlawful."
"And one key commitment in the act, declared and signed on at the United Nations, is to make sure that 10 per cent of our ocean areas are protected in what are called marine protected areas. At the moment we have less than one per cent," Sumaila says.
The group's other two recommendations for the government are to fully implement the Species at Risk Act and to unmuzzle scientists, allowing them to communicate in traditional forms of media such as at conferences and with journalists, and in new forms such as social media.
"Please, please let the scientists talk," says Sumaila. "Let them share their findings with Canadians so Canadians can have the information they need to make various decisions at various levels."
The paper also says Canada's aboriginal peoples have a unique jurisdiction over the oceans as they "rely heavily on fish and fisheries for cultural and ceremonial purposes, as well as for food and employment."
Patrick Gruben, chair of the Inuvialuit Game Council, agrees with some of the recommendations.
He also suggests the new government bring back the Coast Guard to the Western Arctic and restore a number of DFO monitoring positions in the region that were cut.
He also wants better baseline data to be collected for the lakes around the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and in the Beaufort Sea.
"If you are looking at future development, we need that baseline data to make good decisions," Gruben said.