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La management of fish stocks by DFO singled out

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Oceana Canada judges that DFO must take action greater precautionary measures for fish whose health status is unknown.

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The state of wild fish stocks in Canada continues to deteriorate, according to the organization Oceana Canada. The environmental group points the finger at the responsibility of the federal government in the situation.

According to Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) data verified by the group, 28% of wild fish are considered healthy, compared to 36% five years ago when Oceana Canada began conducting its audits.

Twenty-eight species of fish, such as northern cod, northern shrimp and Atlantic mackerel, are endangered.

Only six have a recovery plan for the species and none of them are of high quality, according to the audit published Tuesday. The group assures that they do not meet the criteria established by the Fisheries Act.

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Northern shrimp stocks are facing a historic decline. (File photo)

None have been released this year yet. However, DFO has a legal obligation to publish thirteen of them by next April. The group is campaigning for all threatened species to have rigorous recovery plans.

Rapid action is needed to halt the decline in the health of our stocks and bring them back to abundance, continue the authors of the report.

Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development recently denounced in a report submitted to the House of Commons the lack of data collected by DFO on maritime catches.

Without reliable and timely data on catches, the ministry […] is therefore exposed to the risk that fish stocks are overexploited, we can read.

In its review, Oceana Canada makes the same observation. The environmental group points to the fact that nearly 40% of fisheries are managed with information that is not precise enough to assign them a health status, so they are classified as uncertain. Four new species joined this group this year.

This uncertainty makes them vulnerable. They do not benefit from the strictest measures and risk being fished at levels that are not sustainable, explains Rebecca Schijns, marine science and fisheries specialist at Oceana Canada.

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Capelin is one of the endangered species. During the summer, scientists called for a moratorium on fishing for this fish.

The scientist assures that, when the information is partial, it is necessary to opt for precautionary measures to avoid overfishing, but often, we rather sees the opposite effect. She judges that the quotas for these species whose state of health is uncertain are set in the dark.

In an email, DFO assures that it is committed to adopting a prudent and sustainable approach to fishing that protects our marine ecosystems.

The current situation of fish stocks is the consequence of a combination of factors, according to the researcher. She mentions historic overfishing – particularly in the Atlantic Ocean where stocks have not been able to rebuild properly and are still exploited – as well as climate change.

Oceana Canada deplores that these are not sufficiently taken into account in inventory management. According to their audit, only 16.5% of DFO scientific and management documents fully integrate aspects related to climate change which would impact 91% of stocks.

This year, oceans around the world reached the highest average temperatures ever recorded.

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Moratoriums on fishing are solutions of last resort, according to the scientist, but she judges that they are the solution which rebuilds stocks the most quickly. (Archive photo)

If Rebecca Schijns recognizes that significant efforts and investments have been made by Ottawa in recent years, she judges that they did not lead to significant changes on the water.

According to her, the DFO shows a lack of political will to put in place the policies necessary to protect the stocks. She hopes that the arrival of the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Diane Lebouthillier, appointed last July, will change the situation.

Fisheries and Oceans says it will study Oceana Canada's recommendations and will continue to work to improve [its] scientific research and the management of Canada's fisheries.

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