Many stocks are still not being managed in compliance with DFO’s own policies and commitments.
The numbers tell the story. Yet, global best practices and DFO’s own policies are clear about what is needed to rebuild stocks and ensure healthy fisheries for generations to come:
Canada’s performance is assessed using indicators of good fisheries management developed from globally accepted best practices and from DFO’s policy framework based on data from 194 index stocks† published on DFO websites. For full details of the methodology and analysis, visit oceana.ca/FisheryAudit2020.
The health of Canada’s fisheries is getting worse. In 2020, Oceana Canada’s assessment revealed that just over a quarter (26.8 per cent) of them could be considered healthy, a drop of almost eight percentage points since 2017. There has been no improvement in the status of the most precarious fisheries—33 stocks remain critically depleted, unchanged from last year and up from 26 in 2017.
There have also been troubling changes in the composition of critically depleted stocks over the last four years. An increasing number of invertebrate stocks in both the Atlantic and Pacific are now in the critical zone. In the Atlantic, the number of critically depleted forage fish stocks (stocks that serve as food for other fish) rose to four, and there are no longer any healthy forage fish stocks in the Pacific Ocean. This will have serious repercussions throughout the ecosystem, given the complex food web that is dependent on these species.
Canada continues to allow commercial fishing on critically depleted populations — including some cod stocks, a shrimp and a snow crab stock and several forage fish. Meanwhile, data is missing for more than a third of stocks, making it difficult to assess their health or evaluate fishery management decisions. That means DFO, industry and other stakeholders are making decisions about 72 stocks without adequate information or reference points.
DFO has three categories of fish stock health. They are defined relative to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY): the largest amount of fish that can be theoretically harvested without reducing the size of the stock over the long term.
A stock is considered healthy if its biomass is greater than 80 per cent of MSY. When a stock is in this zone, fisheries management decisions are designed to keep it healthy.
A stock falls in the cautious zone if its biomass is between 40 and 80 per cent of MSY. If a stock falls into this zone, harvesting rates should be reduced in order to avoid seriously depleting the stock and to promote rebuilding to the healthy zone.
A stock falls in the critical zone if its biomass is less than 40 per cent of MSY. If a stock moves into the critical zone, serious harm is occurring and conservation actions become crucial.
† The Fishery Audit index stock list (194 stocks) was created for the 2017 Fishery Audit and is based on marine fish and invertebrate stocks included in Oceana Canada’s report, Canada's Marine Fisheries: Status, Recovery Potential and Pathways to Success, combined with those included in the first public release of the DFO’s Sustainability Survey for Fisheries and any stocks with newly available information from government reports that year. Further details are available at oceana.ca/FisheryAudit2020.
‡ (i.e., Haida Gwaii razor clams)
§ The yelloweye rockfish outside (of Vancouver Island) population recently underwent a science advisory process evaluating potential rebuilding strategies. All the operating model scenarios assessed in this process implied that the stock is currently above 40 per cent of the maximum sustainable yield coast-wide, even though the spawning stock biomass declined rapidly by 49–71% in the north and by 57–79% in the south over the past two generations.