Oceans – Modernizing Fisheries Management

Ocean Governance

Over the past few years, we have seen a welcome effort to modernize Canada’s ocean governance.

The DFO began to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Framework (SFF) and new provisions and regulations under the amended Fisheries Act require the department to maintain healthy fish stocks and implement plans to rebuild depleted stocks based on the best available science. Substantial and sustained resources (both people and financial) will be needed to successfully recover fish, their ecosystems, and the myriad benefits to coastal communities of thriving fisheries.

Currently only 30% of Canada’s commercial fish populations are considered healthy and many more are being managed at historically low levels. Of the 25 fish stocks assessed to be in the “critical zone”, only nine have the required rebuilding plans. Major investments made in 2019 to develop fishery rebuilding plans will sunset in the coming budget year. DFO Science has made considerable progress assessing gaps and has now identified 70 stocks as having unknown status that need to be addressed. The current SFF work plan is very challenging in regard to developing and updating Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs), reference points, and harvest control rules across commercial fisheries that have languished for many years. The department has made progress, but continues to lag on many of its core targets. And now, management and stakeholder work and critical research has been set back by two seasons of COVID-19 restrictions.

It is concerning to see a planned decrease over the next few years in the budget and staffing for DFO’s fisheries and aquatic ecosystems core responsibilities despite the ambitious agenda, increased commitments, and deliverables. Funding is needed for field surveys, science and socio-economic assessments, management work and timely publication and access to data, assessments, evaluations, records of meetings, and management plans. Investment is needed to ensure effective involvement of civil society and communities in the management of fisheries in public waters. Reconciliation must be at the forefront of the department’s core fisheries responsibilities and will continue to require substantial investment.

Recommended Investment:

$125 million over five years for the development and implementation of SFF management objectives and Fisheries Act rebuilding requirements. [DFO]

Contacts

Shannon Arnold – sarnold@ecologyaction.ca
Jay Ritchlin – jritchlin@davidsuzuki.org

Advancing Ecosystem Approaches to Fisheries Management

Current single species management of fisheries often ignores important ecosystem considerations such as the impact on non-target species, cumulative impact on habitat, food availability for marine predators, trade-offs between different fisheries, and the shifting environmental and climate conditions that affect the health of fish populations and, therefore, the amount available to fisheries. Ecosystem based management approaches are needed to create more adaptive fisheries that respond to changing environmental, oceanographic and social conditions. With fish populations at much lower levels after decades of exploitation, the margin for error in management systems is slimmer and the consequences of collapse more dire for the marine species and ecosystems that underpin the fishing industry and wellbeing of fishing communities and related sectors.

Calls for more integrated management approaches have grown steadily internationally over the last 30 years and Canada has enshrined ecosystems approaches in both the Fisheries Act and Oceans Act. However, concrete actions lag.

The last decade has seen progress in frameworks and tools to support a shift towards ecosystem-based fisheries management (EFM), with some of the world’s leading work coming out of DFO research groups focused on the Northwest Atlantic shared fish stocks. Domestically, however, DFO has only inched forward on concrete application of these in fisheries management. In 2018, a long-awaited National Working Group was established to advance and operationalize ecosystem approaches to fisheries assessments and management. Some important initial steps have been taken, but the work remains underfunded and limited capacity is stifling critical progress. Investment is needed to create practical and concrete tools that implement the broad vision of EFM management for Canadian fisheries. Socio-economic and cultural considerations are also core elements of EFM frameworks and require dedicated resources to enable stakeholder and cross- sector participation.

The need for innovative management approaches that integrate and account for human activities, interdependent ecosystem components, and environmental and climate changes will only continue to grow in the future. Developing adaptive systems will be crucial for maintaining ecological, social, and economic resilience in the face of rapidly changing oceans.

Recommended Investment:

$75 million over five years to advance ecosystem-based fisheries management application. [DFO]

Contacts

Shannon Arnold – sarnold@ecologyaction.ca
Jay Ritchlin – jritchlin@davidsuzuki.org

Ocean Monitoring and Enforcement

With an increasingly ambitious fisheries and ocean management and conservation agenda, robust monitoring and enforcement investment is needed to ensure compliance and to support community-led monitoring opportunities. A continued insufficiency of personnel and vessels for inshore and offshore fisheries monitoring and boarding impairs the coverage of compliance and protection (C&P) activity. Onboard and dockside catch monitoring, observing, and data collection is often failing to achieve coverage targets.

The Green Budget Coalition appreciates that DFO’s work plan now includes the development of a national plan to implement the 2019 Fishery Monitoring Policy. Significant restructuring investment is needed to ensure that observer programs, through a combination of human and electronic options, are rigorous, safe and sufficient. Regulator-led standards are desperately needed for human observer programs and to ensure safety and reliability. Government reinvestment in these programs needs to be considered. There is also growing recognition that electronic and video monitoring systems will help fleets meet data and transparency challenges and offer additional compliance support.

Improving monitoring and enforcement presents a significant opportunity for stimulus and recovery investment that creates meaningful, long-term career opportunities, particularly within coastal communities that have been struggling with economic decline and job loss for decades. These opportunities would be of particular value to fishing communities and Indigenous communities and could dovetail with investment in protected area establishment, marine spatial planning and improved resource management. Investment in vessel and equipment production and repair would inject funding directly into coastal economies, supporting skilled jobs within small and medium enterprises.

Recommended Investment:

$40 million over three years to improve observer coverage, provider standards and targets, develop electronic monitoring standards, and implement promised expansion of use under the National Fisheries Monitoring Program. [DFO]

See Permanent Funding for Protected Areas, earlier in this document, for recommendations for long term monitoring and enforcement of MPAs.

Contacts

Shannon Arnold – sarnold@ecologyaction.ca
Jay Ritchlin – jritchlin@davidsuzuki.org

Robust Boat-to-Plate Seafood Traceability

Seafood traceability is critical in order to strengthen sustainable fisheries management, deter illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, ensure companies can verify their environmental and social responsibility claims, and provide Canadians with a greater opportunity to support local, sustainable seafood producers.

Canada’s requirement for “one-up, one-down” traceability, established in 2018, is not sufficient to safeguard businesses and consumers. Canada’s major trade partners have imposed stringent import requirements on Canadian products to meet their labelling regulations, but we lack the same domestic requirements for robust labelling and traceability for seafood products consumed in Canada.

A big step to address the gap came in 2019 when Health Canada was given the mandate to work with DFO and AAFC to develop and implement a boat-to-plate traceability program for seafood in Canada.

To reap the benefits traceability can bring, the federal government will need to develop a full-chain traceability program for all domestically produced and imported seafood in Canada that tracks and verifies key data and ensures the information is carried through the chain and to consumers. Creating such a traceability program on a national scale involves the collaborative efforts of multiple government departments across jurisdictions, industry, civil society and other stakeholders. We recommend that the CFIA work with DFO to establish a multi-departmental task force to accomplish this mandate. Proper investment to create this traceability regime will require new resources and dedicated capacity, investment in improved enforcement and data management, and support for industry implementation.

With effective traceability in place, businesses can verify the environmental sustainability and social responsibility of products they purchase. Companies and investors can be protected from regulatory and reputational risk. Producers and suppliers who maintain sustainable practices can get the recognition they have earned, and governments can better manage their resources.

Recommended Investment:

$100 million over the next five years to develop and implement the Boat to Plate Traceability program. [CFIA, DFO, AAFC]

Contacts

Shannon Arnold – sarnold@ecologyaction.ca
Jay Ritchlin – jritchlin@davidsuzuki.org