For more than a decade, scientists and environmental groups called on the federal government to invest in basic operations tasked to the Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced on May 31 that the federal government is reinvesting about $1.35 billion into those operations. This funding will help cover fisheries stock assessment (e.g., counting fish) and enforcement (e.g., hiring fisheries officers to enforce the Fisheries Act). We're still waiting for more details, and a lot of this money will also be allocated to basic infrastructure needs like ships and radar stations, but we were encouraged to hear that essential Fisheries and Oceans functions will be restored.
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Without "boots on the ground" (or "boots on the water") we lack the eyes, ears and enforcement necessary to achieve even the most fundamental requirements of fisheries management or environmental protection. For example, sustainable fisheries require that we know how many fish are in the water or on the spawning grounds. As of 2016, these functions were severely underfunded, undermining fisheries management and compromising the ability of Canadian fisheries to achieve sustainability certifications, such as MSC certifications for B.C.'s pink and chum salmon fisheries.
The focus of yesterday's announcement was the Oceans Protection Plan. It's still unclear how this $1.5 billion strategy will support some of the most critical ocean conservation measures such as marine planning and protection. Minister LeBlanc did announce a smaller five-year, $75 million national Coastal Restoration Fund to support marine habitat restoration and address threats to marine species.
We are cautiously optimistic that a $1.35 billion investment in these basic functions, to be approved in the current federal budget, will ensure stock assessment and enforcement capacity are restored to levels necessary to effectively conduct fisheries and conserve marine and freshwater ecosystems and species. We will work with the federal government to see that resources are allocated effectively, but will remain strong advocates to ensure the resources are sufficient where needed and are supported by policies, such as an effectively implemented Pacific Wild Salmon Policy and a modern Fisheries Act. While funding alone can't guarantee that Canada's lakes, rivers, coastlines and oceans are protected, it's a step in the right direction.