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

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports 16 new COVID-19 cases

423 cases remain active in the region

Mascot Super Saver Sam sends a socially-distanced high-five to all Kootenay Savings community partners. As part of Kootenay Savings ongoing commitment to giving back to the Kootenays, through good times and challenging times, the credit union has teamed up with their community-minded employees to distribute $9,500 in donations to 17 non profits.Photo: Kootenay Savings
Kootenay Savings gives a boost to non-profits

Employees at each branch picked a non-profit for a $500 gift

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

A pillar of the Trail community, stonemason Bill Di Domenico recently passed away just shy of his 104th birthday. Here are people walking along the stone bleachers he helped construct at Gyro Park. (date unknown) Photos: Submitted
Paying homage to a cherished Trail stonemason

Guglielmo “Bill” Di Domenico recently passed away just months shy of his 104th birthday

Andy Yoon of Abbotsford receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 24, 2020. As of Feb. 22, 2021, Fraser Health had still not laid out a rollout plan to vaccinate people over 80. (Photo courtesy of Fraser Health)
OPINION: Daughter of 97-year-old Chilliwack man is asking when her father will get vaccinated

While 94% of those over 70 in the UK have had the COVID jab, the nonagenarian from England must wait

Older rental apartments are prime candidates for renovations, and could result in lost affordable housing stock. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
B.C.’s renoviction overhaul a good start, but won’t preserve affordable stock, lawyer says

And still no protection for people who can’t pay rent due to COVID-19

(Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)
B.C. WHL teams to hit the ice with Kelowna, Kamloops hub cities

Kelowna, Kamloops centres chosen to host B.C. WHL teams for 24-game regular season

The machines are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. (CANADIAN PRESS)
Feds dole out $3.5M for ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer opioids in B.C.

The machines are located in four cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Victoria

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a suspect who smashed the window of an adult toy store and made off with more than $1,200 in merchandise. (File photo)
Vancouver Island sex shop out $1,200 in merchandise after suspect steals ‘colossal’ product

Suspect smashed window of Nanaimo store, cutting himself in the process

Most Read