Ottawa not doing enough to reverse decline of fisheries, group says

An audit being released Tuesday says the Trudeau government is failing to live up to its commitment to improve management of Canada's fisheries.

'From 2017 to 2018 we saw no change in status of our fisheries,' says executive director

Oceana Canada says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is lagging behind on rebuilding plans for a number of species, including cod. (Patrick Gijsbers/WikiMedia Commons)

An audit being released Tuesday says the Trudeau government is failing to live up to its commitment to improve management of Canada's fisheries.

The environmental group Oceana Canada says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not doing enough to reverse a decline in some species.

It reports that of 26 critically depleted stocks in Canada, there are only rebuilding plans for three.

"From 2017 to 2018, we saw no change in status of our fisheries," said executive director Robert Rangeley. "About one-third of our fisheries are healthy, are verifiably healthy. This is of great concern."

Health status uncertain in 37% of stocks

The audit acknowledges investments in science and fisheries management will take time to show up in fish health measurements, but Rangeley said Oceana Canada expected Ottawa to make progress assessing the 37 per cent of fisheries whose health cannot be classified as either healthy, cautious or critical.

"We've seen an incredible increase in transparency, availability of data, commitment to work plans to put in place rebuilding plans. Unfortunately, what we didn't see in this audit is completion of committed work plans, only 25 per cent," he said.

Some of the stocks whose status is listed by Oceana as uncertain are likely in the critical zone, like Pacific sardine and yellowtail flounder on Georges Bank, while lobster in Newfoundland and Labrador are likely to be healthy.

Action promised after 2016 report

The federal government promised action after a 2016 report for Canada's auditor general by Julie Gelfand, federal commissioner of the environment and sustainable development.

That report exposed weak or non-existent management plans for dozens of fish species, including 12 deemed critically depleted.

The Liberals have announced a $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan, which includes measures to protect marine mammals, restore habitat and a $197-million increase spending on science.

DFO says it has increased its ability to conduct research, monitoring and state-of-the-art stock assessments.

Findings in Atlantic Canada

Still Oceana Canada says DFO is lagging.

Of the 26 stocks deemed critical, most are finfish in Atlantic Canada.

'From 2017 to 2018 we saw no change in the status of our fisheries,' says Oceana Canada's Robert Rangeley. (Submitted by Oceana Canada)

None has completed rebuilding plans, according to Oceana, which says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is the source of its information:

  • In Newfoundland, there are no rebuilding plans for critical stocks of plaice, redfish and cod in the fishing area known as 3NO south of the Grand Banks. A plan is expected before March for cod in area known as 2J3KL off the Avalon peninsula and Labrador.
     
  •  In the Gulf of St Lawrence, rebuilding plans are expected by 2020 or 2021 for five critical populations, including cod, hake and spring-spawning herring. There are no plans for winter skate and yellowtail flounder.
     
  •  In the Maritimes region, which includes the Bay of Fundy and Scotian Shelf, there is no plan for white hake. A plan for Scotian Shelf cod is already one year late. A rebuilding plan for cod in waters next to the U.S. is expected this year.

Has booming shellfish led to complacency

Rangeley says Ottawa may have become complacent.

Overall, the fishing industry in Atlantic Canada is thriving thanks to the big four shellfish species — lobster, crab, scallops and shrimp.

He said the region has its eggs in one basket.

"Most of the value is coming from so few stocks when we have an underperforming industry of all these other fish," he said.

"If we put the effort into giving them the best possible chance to rebuild, we could have much better performance of our fishing industry, healthier oceans and resilience in the face of some of the things we have to worry about such as the uncertainty coming through climate change."

The audit, the groups second, calls on DFO to complete work plans promised over the past two years, including rebuilding plans for cod and yellowtail flounder off Nova Scotia and shrimp in Area 6 off Newfoundland and Labrador.

In a statement to CBC News, DFO said it welcomes the 2018 Oceana Canada fisheries audit and it will review its recommendations.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.