Oceana: Government goes against its own policy, fails to support the recovery of another cod stock

Article originally posted at oceana.ca.

Yesterday, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced that they will close the directed Atlantic cod fishery on the Scotian Shelf/Bay of Fundy but will maintain the existing harvest levels of 825 tonnes as bycatch. This goes against DFO’s own policy to keep all sources of fishing mortality to the lowest possible level.

“With this announcement, the government is choosing not to give this stock a chance to recover,” says Robert Rangeley, Director of Science, Oceana Canada. “This decision means a critically depleted stock could decline further because the issues under our control, how to effectively measure and decrease all sources of fishing mortality and manage bycatch, are not being addressed.”

Rangeley adds that DFO has failed to follow the precautionary framework and take adequate action despite identifying these problems in a recovery potential assessment in 2011. For example, there is likely a significant amount of cod caught in the lobster fishery. Despite knowing this, the rebuilding plan states that cod bycatch will not be accurately estimated and included in assessments until 2023.

“Most of our 26 critically depleted stocks don’t have rebuilding plans because Canada doesn’t have a law that requires rebuilding plans for depleted fish stocks,” says Rangeley. “Those that do have plans, like Scotian Shelf/Bay of Fundy cod, do not meet globally recognized best practices. This is bad for the marine ecosystem and represents hundreds of millions of dollars in lost seafood revenue.”

Scotian Shelf/Bay of Fundy cod is bycatch in many fisheries including the lucrative halibut, haddock, lobster and scallop fisheries. This stock has been in the critical zone for more than a decade and DFO still has no reliable estimates of cod bycatch, discards and sources of natural mortality, no program to address monitoring deficiencies and no mandatory bycatch reduction measures, such as the use of separator trawls.

For centuries, Atlantic cod supported massive fisheries, drove economies and fed millions. During the 1990s, most cod stocks collapsed in Atlantic Canada. Today, most of the remaining populations, including Scotian Shelf/Bay of Fundy cod, are deep in the critical zone and are listed as endangered.  These fish populations are less resilient to factors such as climate change and predation by seals.

“We need to do everything possible to give Scotian Shelf/Bay of Fundy cod the best chance of survival. If we don’t act now, this stock could become so depleted that it will follow the same path as cod in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is on the verge of local extinction,” says Rangeley.

Since its inception, Oceana Canada has been advocating for policy and legislative changes to address the long-term decline in Canada’s fish stocks. In February, Oceana Canada submitted recommendations to Fisheries and Oceans Canada calling for the closure of the directed fishery and the implementation of bycatch reduction measures and proper monitoring to support the recovery of Scotian Shelf/Bay of Fundy cod.

There are upcoming policy solutions that can improve fisheries management and help rebuild Canadian fish stocks. This month, the new Fisheries Act, Bill C-68, is before the Senate. This Bill sets an expectation that stocks must be managed to healthy levels, creating a legal obligation to develop rebuilding plans for depleted fish populations. If supported by strong regulations, it could set Canada’s fisheries on a path to abundance. In addition, a new National Fishery Monitoring Policy that aims to standardize fisheries monitoring is in development, but serious gaps have yet to be addressed. Oceana Canada continues to advocate for strengthening of the Fisheries Act and the National Fishery Monitoring Policy to support the recovery of Canada’s fish stocks.

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