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 recently finished $4.3-million taxiway extension at the Victoria International Airport (not pictured) is unusable because of a blind spot. (Black Press Media file photo)
Blind spot leaves Victoria airport’s new $4.3-million taxiway extension unusable

Solution has been put on hold by COVID-19 pandemic, says airport authority

Police say missing man Daniel Fortin, 55, is high-risk. (Courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Daniel Fortin, 55, last seen in Victoria March 1

Anyone who sees Fortin asked to call 911

Walkers ascend Mount Douglas Park on Sunday, Feb. 7. Visits to Saanich Parks are up 46 per cent compared to pre-pandemic statistics this time last year. (Darrell Wick Photo)
Oak Bay, Saanich parks peak in popularity during pandemic

Oak Bay spent an extra $5,000 on park toilet paper in 2020

This male Dungeness can safely be harvested after passing muster. An official with Fisheries and Oceans Canada says it is not clear how well locals on the Saanich Peninsula are complying with crabbing regulations, but her comments suggest that any problems might be of a minor nature. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans/Submitted)
Sidney and Sooke record 57 crabbing violations in 2020

While recreational crab fishery has ‘compliance issues,’ no evidence of ‘large scale poaching’

Cleanup happens after an overnight flood Monday damaged areas of the Oaklands Community Centre. (Facebook/Oaklands Community Association)
Greater Victorians offer flood of support to Oaklands Community Centre

Blown hot water tank Monday night leaves staff cleaning up soggy mess

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of March 2

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: How’s your butter?

Recent reports have some Canadians giving a second look to one of… Continue reading

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

The City of Duncan will implement a new pilot project targeting vandalism this spring. (File photo)
Graffiti trouble? Duncan will give you the brush and the paint to remove it

Initiative based on a successful project to protect Port Alberni from unwanted spray paint

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

The first of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s long-range maritime patrol aircraft—the Dash-8—becomes operational. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s new De Havilland Dash-8-100 long-range surveillance air craft is capable of staying aloft for eight to 10 hours for a variety of missions up and down the B.C. coast. (Photo supplied by PAL Aerospace)
New plane will double DFO’s surveillance capacity in B.C.

The Dash-8 will fly out of Campbell River for enforcement, conservation missions

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

Most Read