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Breaking: Oceana Canada Sounds Alarm with Seventh Fishery Audit, Highlights Government’s Ongoing Struggle to Revitalize Wild Fisheries

Press Release

Widespread mismanagement and government-sanctioned overfishing of capelin and herring threaten economic and ecological sustainability

November 21, 2023, Vancouver, unceded and traditional homelands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil Waututh) nations: In the face of accelerating climate change, Oceana Canada’s 2023 Fishery Audit, launched today on World Fisheries Day, exposes Canada’s persistent mismanagement and failure to rebuild depleted populations, harming marine life, coastal communities, the seafood economy and our planet.

Now in its seventh year, the Fishery Audit assesses the current state and management of Canada’s fish stocks, tracks annual progress and provides recommendations to meet federal policy commitments to return abundant wild marine fish populations to Canada’s oceans.

“Once again, less than a third of Canada’s marine fish and invertebrate populations can be considered healthy and nearly 40 per cent of fisheries lack enough information to assign the health status needed to properly manage them,” said Rebecca Schijns, Fishery Scientist, Oceana Canada. “Even worse, there has been a decrease in the number of healthy fisheries and no significant improvement in Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s performance against science, monitoring and management indicators since Oceana Canada’s very first Audit in 2017.”

This lack of progress is particularly alarming now, because the oceans reached the highest average temperatures ever recorded this year, a clear sign of accelerating climate change. Despite this looming threat, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)’s science and management documents do not formally acknowledge the impacts of climate change for more than three-quarters of fish stocks, which further delays rebuilding efforts.

Additional highlights from Oceana Canada’s latest Fishery Audit include:

  • The number of healthy stocks has declined, and the number of depleted stocks – both cautious and critical – has increased overall over the past seven years
  • Only six of 28 critically depleted stocks have a plan to bring the population back to healthy levels, and none of them comply with the amended Fisheries Act.
  • DFO did not publish any rebuilding plans this year, despite the requirement to publish 13 by April 2024 and failed to prescribe an additional 62 stocks to the Fisheries Act, leaving most depleted stocks without strong recovery measures in place.
  • DFO is yet to revise the suite of policies under the Sustainable Fisheries Framework to meaningfully include Indigenous Knowledge Systems in fisheries management.

“This failure to address Canada’s fisheries crisis has dire implications for our oceans, fishing communities and the planet.  “The government needs to act now to implement their policies to rebuild wild fish for future food and economic security,” says Schijns.

However, there have been some positive developments. More stocks now have reference points that identify when they are healthy, and more have estimates that account for sources of natural mortality, which helps with long-term rebuilding goals. At the same time, many of this year’s key fishing decisions ignored scientific advice and lacked transparency. For example, DFO delayed announcing quotas on Atlantic forage fish on which coastal communities rely with no explanation and rolled over previous quota levels for capelin contrary to new data, scientific advice and overwhelming public support for a closure. To illustrate the community-level impact of egregious decisions like continuing to overfish capelin, please watch Oceana Canada’s latest video: Rebuilding Capelin: Everybody’s Fish, Everybody’s Responsibility.

“The continuing poor health of Canada’s fisheries demonstrates that we’re failing to manage them for success and we’re getting a dismal return – both ecological and societal — on investments,” said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Science Director, Oceana Canada. “Despite the modernized Fisheries Act rebuilding regulations, Canada is continuing to fall behind. Today, DFO has yet to implement the Fisheries Act in a way that will translate to more fish in the water.”

In the light of these challenges, Oceana Canada and ocean advocates are calling on Prime Minister Trudeau and Fisheries and Oceans Minister Lebouthillier to address the most critical gaps in Canada’s marine fisheries management by prioritizing the following actions:

  1. List all remaining stocks in the critical and cautious zones under the Fisheries Act and make management decisions that are consistent with the rebuilding regulations.
  2. Manage fisheries based on the best available science and Indigenous Knowledge Systems by revising the suite of policies under the Sustainable Fisheries Framework to meaningfully implement “Two-Eyed Seeing” approaches, including through collaborative agreements.
  3. Account for climate change effects on marine ecosystems by implementing climate-adaptive approaches in fisheries management and prioritizing rebuilding depleted forage fish.
  4. Count everything caught in a fishery — including for recreational and bait purposes — and make decisions that account for all sources of fishing mortality.

To read the full Fishery Audit, and to add your name to Oceana Canada’s urgent call to rebuild Canada’s fish populations, visit https://oceana.ca/en/our-campaigns/rebuild-ocean-abundance/

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Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana Canada has successfully campaigned to ban single-use plastics, end the shark fin trade, make rebuilding depleted fish populations the law, improve the way fisheries are managed and protect marine habitat. We work with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits and protect our future. Find out more at www.oceana.ca.

Media contacts: Vaishali Dassani, Oceana Canada, vdassani@oceana.ca, 647-294-3335;
Angela Pinzon, Pilot PMR, angela.pinzon@pilotpmr.com, 647-295-0517. Media assets are available here.

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