Safeguarding the future of Canada’s fisheries

Fisheries are of vital importance to Indigenous peoples and coastal economies. In some regions, fisheries are the single largest source of employment and are integral to the cultural and social fabric of the area. In 2016, commercial fisheries contributed approximately $3 billion to Canada’s GDP and provided over 26,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country.

The continued contribution of fisheries to the Canadian economy and wellbeing of coastal communities depends on healthy and abundant fish stocks. However, many commercial stocks across the country are in crisis. Only 30.4% of fish stocks can confidently be considered healthy, while 16% are categorized as having “cautious” health status and 17% as “critical”. Underinvestment is also hindering the advancement of the Nation-to-Nation relationships required to further reconciliation

and implement Indigenous rights. As of July 2021, only 38% of the key aspects of implementing the Sustainable Fisheries Framework (“SFF”) were completed, 14% were in progress, 40% were delayed and the remaining 8% were suspended.

It is therefore paramount that the federal government invests in the future of Canada’s wild fisheries. This means investing in four key areas:

1. Fully funding the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Framework

In order to halt the decline of many of Canada’s fisheries and put them on a path to sustainability, the full implementation of the SFF and stock rebuilding provisions under the Fisheries Act are paramount. These important policy and legislative milestones have the potential to restore fish, ecosystems and thriving fisheries if fully implemented. However, despite significant investments and accelerated progress, many components are still lagging.

Developing and updating Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs), reference points, and harvest control rules that apply the precautionary approach across Canada’s commercial fisheries is a critical component of the SFF that has yet to be completed. Of the 33 fish stocks assessed to be in the “critical zone”, only seven have rebuilding plans required under the Fisheries Act. Seventy-one stocks have been identified as having unknown status—a critical assessment gap that needs to be addressed. Taken together, these initiatives could address some fundamental shortcomings in Canada’s fisheries management regime and contribute towards meeting international commitments for 100% sustainably managed oceans by 2025. However, substantial and sustained resources (both people and financial) will be required to build on the progress already made.

Recommended Investment:

$100 million over five years for the continued development and implementation of SFF management objectives and Fisheries Act rebuilding requirements. [DFO]

2. Investing in a modern fisheries catch monitoring and observer program fit for the 21st century

To achieve Canada’s sustainable fisheries management agenda, a robust onboard and dockside monitoring program is critical. Current approaches to scientific observer programs, catch data collection and compliance monitoring systems are inconsistent across the country. There is a lack of research support to ascertain needed coverage levels to achieve precision and sufficiency of information on all catch including retained, discarded, and interactions with endangered, threatened, and protected species across Canada’s fisheries.

The Department’s National Catch Monitoring and National Bycatch Policies, and increased involvement in discussions on electronic monitoring standards at Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) are encouraging and could also advance work on domestic policy standards.

However, new investment in an up-to-date monitoring and observer system are needed, including regulator-led standards for human observer programs, and electronic and video monitoring systems. Government reinvestment in overhauling, standardizing, and supporting implementation of these programs needs to be considered. Overhauling observer programs will also create meaningful career opportunities, particularly within coastal communities, and support local businesses that are designing cutting edge systems for our ocean economy.

Recommended Investment:

$50 million over three years to improve observer coverage, provide standards and targets, develop electronic monitoring standards, and implement promised expansion of use under the National Catch Monitoring Program. [DFO]

3. Implementing a robust boat-to-plate traceability program for seafood products consumed in Canada

The government’s commitment to a boat-to-plate traceability program is a major step towards the long-term sustainability, competitiveness, and viability of Canada’s seafood sector as well as being critical to helping combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) and labour rights violations in the global supply chain.

Canada’s major trade partners have imposed stringent import requirements on Canadian products to meet their labelling and sustainability regulations with more countries and market requirements coming into force every year, such as Japan’s new import rules to deter IUU fishing. Our current “one- up, one-down” traceability regulations fall short and have made it difficult for industry and Canada to meet trade data requirements. We also continue to have much lower requirements for domestic labelling as well as for seafood being imported into our market.

To keep up with global best practice, to protect Canadian consumers, and to level the playing field for Canadian producers, seafood companies, retailers, and exporters, investment is needed to develop and implement a full-chain traceability program from point of capture for all domestically produced and imported seafood. We recommend establishing a dedicated interdepartmental working group led by DFO and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to ensure interoperability and national leadership throughout the development of the system.

Recommended Investment:

$100 million over the next five years for the needed capacity to develop and implement traceability system and standards, data management, industry training, and implementation support. [DFO, CFIA]

4. Investing in the transition to ecosystem-based fisheries management to restore abundance and ensure resilience and adaptivity of Canada’s fisheries and management systems in the face of climate change

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 stocks. Ecosystem based management (EFM) approaches are needed to ensure more adaptive, resilient fisheries that respond to changing environmental, oceanographic and social conditions.

Since the establishment of the National Working Group to advance and operationalize ecosystem approaches to fisheries assessments and management some important initial steps have been taken. However, the work remains underfunded and limited capacity is stifling critical progress. Investment is needed to develop an overarching vision that better integrates current science initiatives to create practical and concrete tools for implementing the broad vision of EFM for Canadian fisheries.

Recommended Investment:

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