On June 21, 2019, amendments that modernized the Fisheries Act became law, setting the stage for rebuilding fish abundance in Canada’s oceans. For the first time ever, rebuilding plans are now required for all fish populations in the critical zone, with the target of rebuilding them to sustainable levels.
There’s just one issue. These new provisions on rebuilding apply to all major stocks as outlined in regulations — regulations that have not been finalized. Therefore, the rebuilding provisions in the new Act do not yet apply to any fish stocks.
DFO has indicated that stocks will be listed in regulations in batches over the next five years, starting in 2020 when the first set is expected to be finalized. The content and pace of development of these regulations will determine whether the Act signals a turning point in the health of Canadian fisheries or a continuation of the status quo.
Global experience shows that legally binding requirements to rebuild fish stocks work, increasing revenue and jobs in coastal communities and supporting the overall health of the ocean. The U.S. has some of the most stringent and effective legislation in the world that mandates fisheries rebuilding. It has successfully rebuilt a total of 45 fish stocks,9 creating more resilient ecosystems and greater economic opportunities.
In addition to benefiting critically depleted stocks, the new rebuilding provisions in the Act should help prevent them from becoming depleted in the first place. It should also help ensure that stocks like redfish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, once depleted but now on the rebound, are allowed to return to healthy status before fishing effort is renewed.
In addition, the Act’s amendments also:
Ultimately, the Act will only be as effective as its implementation. At a minimum, the rebuilding regulations must include a timeline in which rebuilding should occur and a target level in the healthy zone, with progress indicators to allow managers to change course if objectives are not being met.
9 2018 Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries, available online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/2018-report-congress-status-us-fisheries
Just days after the government passed the amended Fisheries Act, DFO released its annual quota for critically depleted northern cod, allowing catch levels of up to 12,350 tonnes on a critical stock under a moratorium on commercial fishing. This is a 30 per cent increase over 2018 levels and does not include the unknown number of cod caught in Newfoundland’s recreational fishery.
This decision undermines the amended Act and the government’s own policy to keep all sources of fishing mortality on depleted stocks at the lowest possible level.
It also makes bad economic sense. According to Oceana Canada’s 2019 report Economic and Social Benefits of Fisheries Rebuilding, reducing fishing pressure today could support 16 times more jobs than current levels and five times more economic value in little more than a decade.
To download Economic and Social Benefits of Fisheries Rebuilding, visit oceana.ca/EconomicCaseforCod
Credit: Jason van Bruggen