An Oceana Canada audit of Canadian fish stocks reveals a growing number with critical populations, calling on Fisheries and Oceans Canada to enact existing commitments. (File photo)

An Oceana Canada audit of Canadian fish stocks reveals a growing number with critical populations, calling on Fisheries and Oceans Canada to enact existing commitments. (File photo)

B.C.’s declining fisheries the result of poor DFO management: audit

Oceana Canada calls for follow through on government commitments

Pacific fisheries are following a national downward trend of fewer healthy stocks, emphasizing an urgent need to diversify fisheries and for the federal government to follow through on neglected commitments to protect and restore critical populations, an independent audit shows.

Compiled by Oceana Canada using Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) data, the audit notes the federal government has invested heavily in fisheries science, monitoring and management, including a modernized Fisheries Act, but it has not translated into action on the water.

“Out of 33 critical stocks, only six have rebuilding plans. A lot more are scheduled for the coming years, but at the rate we’re going it’s going to take 37 years to get through those plans, and that’s assuming no more stocks get into the critical zone,” Robert Rangeley, Oceana’s director of science said.

The audit focused on marine finfish, shellfish and other invertebrates but not fish that spend all or part of their life in freshwater, including salmon.

READ MORE: Anger growing among B.C. salmon anglers shut out of public fishery

Among the key findings, Oceana found only one-quarter of Canadian stocks are healthy, down 10 per cent since its first audit in 2017. Stocks of caution have risen from 16 to 19 per cent, while stocks in critical states have increased from 13.4 per cent to 17 per cent in the same time period.

The health of roughly one-third remains uncertain due to insufficient data, such as mortality estimates, which have been applied to only 20 per cent of stocks.

“We know why we have such poor fishing mortality estimates, because we do such poor fisheries monitoring,” Rangeley said. “If you don’t’ know the sources of the mortality, and you don’t know the extent of the mortality, you really can’t tell whether you should be backing off a fishery or not.”

Along B.C.’s coast the audit highlighted troubling decreases in crustaceans, the backbone of Canadian fisheries, and small forage fish that other commercially important fish prey upon.

“Herring, oolichan and other forage fish are so critically important to the ecosystem, as our Pacific First Nations know intimately well. But when we manage those stocks for commercial fishing … there’s no accountability for the stock’s role in the ecosystem,” Rangeley said. “So when quotas are set, they’re not set at a level that allows sufficient biomass to be left in the water for the other species that depend on them.

“Forage fish are worth twice as much in the water than they are in the net.”

In its recommendations, Oceana is now calling on the government to complete regulations that bring new Fisheries Act provisions into force, address inconsistencies in catch monitoring by implementing the national Fishery Monitoring Policy introduced in November 2019 and develop the remaining rebuilding plans.

Rangeley commended the government for several achievements in this year’s audit, including a rebuilding plan underway for critical Pacific herring stocks in the Haida Gwaii area, but cautioned completion of these plans is too often delayed or suspended.

No new rebuilding plans for critical stocks were released in 2020.

READ MORE: Open-net salmon farms on their way out of B.C. waters

An emailed statement from the office of Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan stated DFO welcomes the Oceana audit and will be reviewing the recommendations, but argued rebuilding plans are already a priority for the government.

“In 2018, our government modernized the Fisheries Act to restore protections to fish and fish habitat, and make fish stock rebuilding plans mandatory. Since then, DFO has completed rebuilding plans for six of nineteen selected stocks, and a further two have improved to the point where they are no longer in the critical zone. For the remaining priority stocks, DFO has specific fishery management measures in place, based on the best available science.”

The audit shows yelloweye rockfish of Vancouver Island jumped from critical status to healthy status in 2020, following an evaluation of rebuilding strategies.

The minister’s office added the government has taken consistent action, backed by targeted investments, to protect and restore species at risk and their habitats through many initiatives, including the Canada Nature Fund, the Ocean Protections Plan, the Coastal Baseline Fund, and the BC Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund.

Rangeley praised DFO’s transparency and commitments but stressed the need for swifter follow through.

Oceana communicated with the department and elected officials to compile the audit, and shared the results before making them public.

“They’ve already validated it because they’ve gone over it with a fine-tooth comb,” Rangeley said. “There’s no argument about this audit, it’s the single-most important source for getting information on the status of our stocks and how we’re managing them. So give them credit for their transparency, and for making commitments. They know they’re falling short and they want to do better.”

He added the audit highlights the need to better diversify the species that are harvested, not just for better economic security of fishing communities, but also the government’s Blue Economy strategy, which will suffer without the backbone of sustainable wild fisheries.



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The 11th annual Christmas Stocking Drive hosted by Royal LePage runs now until Dec. 11. (David Sucsy, Getty Images via Metro Creative Graphics)
Chilliwack Realtors asking people to help fill Christmas stockings for kids, seniors

Donations of cash, items needed for Christmas Stocking Drive hosted by Royal LePage

The BC Court of Appeal in Vancouver.
BC Court of Appeal hearing Barry Neufeld’s arguments why defamation suit should go ahead

BC Supreme Court tossed out lawsuit against Glen Hansman a year ago following anti-SLAPP legislation

A new ‘soft reporting’ room is opening inside the Ann Davis Transition Society offices on Dec. 1, 2020 which is thought to be the first of its kind in B.C. (Ann Davis Transitional Society/ Facebook)
First ‘trauma-informed’ reporting room of its kind in B.C. opening in Chilliwack

The ‘Willow Room’ is for reporting domestic violence, sexual, or gender-based violence to police

Trustees Barry Neufeld (left) and Darrell Furgason at a Jan. 29, 2019 meeting. (File photo/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack teachers respond to trustee’s ableist slurs

Teachers’ association calling for Neufeld to resign, board to censure Furgason

Meaghan Esmeijer delivers fully packed diaper backs to the maternity floor of Chilliwack General Hospital as part of the Southside Church ‘Love them Both’ program. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack’s Southside Church spreads Christmas cheer with ‘All is Bright’ day

The fifth annual community outreach event happens Nov. 28 with activities throughout Chilliwack

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

File photo
Surrey RCMP investigating death threat against Surrey councillor

‘On Monday morning I received a threat on messenger that basically said to put a bullet in me,’ Councillor Jack Hundial told the Now-Leader

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

Barrels pictured outside Oliver winery, Quinta Ferreira, in May. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
B.C. Master of Wine reflects on industry’s teetering economic state

Pandemic, for some wine makers, has been a blessing in disguise. For others, not so much.

Most Read