With the longest coastline in the world and 7.1 million square kilometres of ocean area, it is not surprising that Canada has hundreds of different fisheries located within our national boundaries. There is a mind-boggling diversity of species and a wide range of techniques used to capture them.
The David Suzuki Foundation is actively involved in the management of these fisheries through our participation on government established advisory boards that oversee these fisheries. Most of Canada's largest fisheries have established advisory boards that are comprised of individuals representing a wide range interests pertaining to the fishery.
DSF represents environmental interests on several fishery boards on the Pacific coast including those for salmon, groundfish, herring, sardines, and tuna. On the Atlantic coast, we participate as observers in the Atlantic Large Pelagics Advisory Committee which oversees the management of the pelagic longline fishery for swordfish and tuna.
The wild Pacific salmon fishery has shaped communities across Western Canada and is an important part of the economy of many coastal communities. It supports commercial and sport fishers as well as First Nations.
Intensive mixed-stock fishing and production-scale hatcheries have contributed to the loss of distinct salmon populations. Attempts to improve fisheries management have been inconsistent, slow to implement and lacking in adequate financial and political support to ensure the protection of salmon.
To provide the greatest opportunity for salmon to thrive, fisheries must protect salmon diversity, be precautionary and allow salmon to support their ecosystems.
Salmon diversity protects salmon from changing environmental conditions, including human impacts such as climate change and habitat loss. To preserve diversity, endangered salmon stocks must be protected and restored.
The diversity of salmon and their habitat makes it very difficult to predict their abundance and behaviour. As a result, fisheries must be precautionary to make sure they don't over-harvest any salmon stocks.
Last but not least, salmon are critical components of their ecosystems, providing a key marine-derived resource to inland animals and plants while also feeding whales, seals and other fish in the ocean. Fisheries must ensure enough salmon escape the fishery to continue playing this role.
Canada's Pacific groundfish fisheries involving nearly 1,000 fishing licenses targeting a vast array of species using longlines, bottom trawls, and trolling gear. Species under this umbrella include halibut, sablefish, Pacific hake, spiny dogfish, and rockfish. Collectively this is British Columbia's largest fishery in term of tonnes of fish landed. There are also several conservation concerns associated with this fishery. For several years the David Suzuki Foundation has advocated for the creation of an advisory board where conservation interests can be fairly represented. An advisory board has just recently been formed and will take effect in April of 2010.
The groundfish fishery despite some ongoing conservation concerns, has implemented several progressive management reforms over the course of the last five years. This includes a comprehensive at-sea monitoring system, catch limits on most species, and a suite of closed areas to protect rockfish.
Remaining concerns include the deepsea bottom trawl fishery for thornyheads and outdated stock assessments for many species. As well, many rockfish populations are still experiencing low abundance despite reductions in catch.
Canada's Atlantic pelagic (i.e. open ocean) longline fishery for swordfish and other tunas remains a fishery with severe conservation concerns. For every 100 kg of swordfish or other marketable species brought to the dock, 71 kg of other marine animals are discarded overboard. This includes endangered leatherback and loggerhead turtles, several species of overfished pelagic shark, depleted tunas, marlins, and seabirds. While an unknown percentage of these animals survive release, many do not. For a fishery of this nature to remain operating in Canadian waters, a much higher level of conservation, accountability, and transparency must underpin the management of the fishery.
Extracting sustainable amounts of swordfish does not need to come at the peril of other species. Several management models and alternative fishing gears exist in Canada and in other jurisdictions that demonstrate that swordfish fishing can be executed without causing excessive harm to other aspects of the marine ecosystem.
The David Suzuki Foundation and the Ecology Action Centre tabled a proposal for changes to the Atlantic longline fishery at the February 2009 Atlantic Large Pelagics Advisory Committee (ALPAC) meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Proposed changes to this fishery include interaction limits on sensitive species (e.g. turtles and sharks), improved at-sea monitoring, and modification of fishing gear and behavior. Two steps have been agreed to as a result of this proposal: a multi-interest bycatch committee is to be reconvened under the ALPAC and DFO has agreed to solicit proposals for a video monitoring pilot project. Click here for a copy of the proposal.
Soon after the tabling of our proposal the swordfish fishery announced its intention to seek an ecolabel certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). We strongly oppose the certification of this fishery under current management conditions. The impact on endangered loggerhead turtles is of particular concern.