USRs mark the boundary between the cautious zone and the healthy zone. If this number has not been established, the health of the stock can’t be determined. This means managers must make decisions with no benchmark for maintaining or rebuilding stocks to a healthy state.
A 2016 Auditor General’s report found that reference points were missing for more than half the stocks examined. Based on these findings, the Auditor General made several recommendations, which DFO has agreed to implement. This includes developing a work plan with priorities, targets and timelines for establishing reference points for key stocks.
Now, for the first time, DFO has developed a work plan that includes establishing USRs for 10 stocks. This work includes several species with stocks in the critical zone, such as northern shrimp and Pacific herring.
On the legislative front, the House of Commons passed revisions in June that will strengthen the Fisheries Act, including direction on rebuilding depleted stocks. If it becomes law and is supported by strong regulations, this could signal a turning point in the health of Canada’s fisheries.
If this work plan is completed, the percentage of stocks with USRs would increase from 46.4 per cent to 58.2 per cent. Although that is a significant improvement, it is concerning that this fiscal-year work plan indicates only one of the new USRs will be developed by the end of March 2020.
Good decision making depends on good data. DFO’s Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) is responsible for reviewing and publishing the scientific information that underpins fisheries management in Canada.
In the past year, only 9.2 per cent of documents were published within CSAS policy timelines. A third were published late.6 Meanwhile, less than half of the documents that should have been published were in fact available by the end of the year.
To its credit, DFO initiated its own internal evaluation of the CSAS process between March 2018 and January 2019. It identified several opportunities for improvement, including developing new national, standardized procedures by December 2020.
Oceana Canada has made nine recommendations for improving the timeliness of scientific information — such as allocating enough funds for translation services, filling vacant CSAS staff positions and creating a public listserv that provides monthly email updates listing new publications.
For a complete list of these recommendations, visit oceana.ca/FisheryAudit2019.
6 Late documents from 2017 and 2018 meetings were published on average 163 days (minimum 1 day; maximum 690 days; median 113 days) after the policy timelines indicated they should be publicly available.
Credit: Oceana Canada/Evermaven