Are Canada Fisheries Officials Failing to Protect their Most Iconic Fish?

Fisheries are vanishing quickly, yet no one is managing the store
Giant bluefin tuna
Giant bluefins are the cornerstone of Canada fishing. Courtesy IGFA

In an Oct. 4 report to Canada’s House of Commons by Jerry DeMarco, commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development, it was stated that Fisheries and Oceans Canada (FOC) doesn’t properly safeguard the country’s aquatic species.

“Measures have been in place to protect Canada’s wildlife for over 100 years, and legislation to protect and recover species at risk for nearly 20 years,” the Globe and Mail reported DeMarco said. “But preserving what remains of this country’s biodiversity will require more than just words on paper.”

DeMarco also said that FOC has a preference for not adequately protecting fish species of commercial value.

“We found that the rationale was inconsistent,” he said. “For species that didn’t have commercial value, (FOC) didn’t hesitate to talk about the importance of protecting the species from an ecological point of view.

“But when the species had commercial value, you saw the calculus change and, unfortunately, more of an emphasis on short-term economic values as opposed to ecological ones.”

DeMarco wants FOC to change direction regarding protecting fish.

“I think the department needs to take a much longer-term view and realize that it’s in everyone’s interest to protect fish stocks at a healthy level,” he said.

DeMarco’s report studied a dozen Canadian fish species that included cod, steelhead trout, Chinook salmon and Atlantic bluefin tuna. But the report details that FOC did not always recommend adequately protecting over-harvesting of fish of commercial value. The report stated that FOC recommendations were “not always clearly supported by scientific information.”

This, he said, demonstrates favoritism against protecting commercial fish species.

“In our view, there shouldn’t be such a bias, because if you take a longer-term view, the economic interest and the environmental interest in terms of protecting biodiversity should coincide,” DeMarco said in a news conference.

“Unfortunately, short-term economic concerns can trump the need for long-term measures to protect a species.”

The Globe and Mail received a statement from FOC that explained, “it takes time to complete the required processes and to analyze all the information to identify a course of action.” They added that the Canadian “Species At Risk Act” was only one of several legislative tools it uses in managing fish.