The implementation gap in Canadian fishery policy: Fisheries rebuilding and sustainability at risk


  • Canada has policies to include the Precautionary Approach in fisheries management.
  • Seven years later a federal audit found policy implementation was incomplete.
  • Work plans were developed to fully implement the Sustainable Fisheries Framework.
  • This study found most components outlined in the work plans remain delayed.
  • This policy implementation gap puts fisheries rebuilding and sustainability at risk.


Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) established the Sustainable Fisheries Framework (SFF) in 2009 to help meet Canada’s international commitments towards sustainable fisheries management. The SFF is a suite of policies and tools intended to ensure the precautionary approach (PA) is incorporated into fisheries management. Seven years later (2016) a federal government audit by the Canadian Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (CESD) found that although DFO had identified key components necessary for successful fisheries management in the SFF, it had failed to put these components in place for many stocks and did not always apply them even when they were in place. The DFO response to the CESD audit included a commitment to develop work plans with deliverables outlining priorities and timelines for implementing key aspects of the SFF: reference points, harvest control rules, management plans and rebuilding plans for critically depleted stocks. The present study evaluated progress towards meeting this commitment and found that only 38% of the expected products were completed, 14% are in progress, 40% have progress delayed and are not proceeding as anticipated, while the remaining 8% were suspended. This weak performance highlights a larger trend of inadequate and slow implementation of legislative and policy tools in the management of Canada’s fisheries and oceans. With declining health status of Canadian stocks and less than half of critical stocks with rebuilding plans, these failures are having a significant impact on the ability of good policy to promote the long-term health of Canada’s fisheries and fishing communities.