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March 30, 2016

CEO Note: Fighting for Transparency in Canada


The release of Canada’s federal budget last week marks an important milestone in Oceana’s mission to restore fisheries around the world. For too long, a lack of critical information has contributed to the decline of Canada’s ocean resources. The new federal budget builds on public commitments by the Prime Minister by allocating significant funding dedicated to ocean science, conservation and open data initiatives. It is encouraging to see that the early actions of new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are setting the stage to rebuild Canada’s depleted fisheries.
Our partners at Oceana Canada have been at the forefront of the fight for transparency, and will be working hard to ensure that these early signs of promise yield action and results for Canada’s oceans. In light of this recent news, I wanted to share a note from Josh Laughren, Executive Director of Oceana Canada, on this issue. I’ve included his message below.

I recently visited Ottawa with Josh to meet with lawmakers and support efforts to improve fisheries management transparency and accountability in the Canadian government. After launching just last year, the Oceana Canada team has already made significant strides and we are proud of their work.

In the U.S. and Europe, it is a simple thing to check the status of a fishery. The U.S. has a “Status of U.S. Fisheries” website with reports, updates and historical data. The EU provides similar resources. In contrast, incredibly, the Canadian government has never released a comprehensive review of the state of our fisheries. In many cases, it has not even set targets for rebuilding them when needed. The standards for transparency in Canada fall well below those of other leading a fishing nations, and Oceana Canada is fighting to change that.

Although we can find information on the number of major stocks that are considered “healthy,” “cautious” and “critical,” no comprehensive summary is available about which fisheries fall into each of these categories, how these conclusions are reached, or what the government plans to do about those that are in decline.

What little information we do have is discouraging: fishery production is at an all-time low; Canada’s global ranking of wild fishery production has plummeted from fourth to 16th place. The future of the seafood industry, and the economically vulnerable coastal communities that depend on it, is uncertain. Less than 50 percent of Canada’s fish populations are considered healthy, well below the levels of many other developed countries. Many key species, such as cod and other groundfish, have still not recovered from serious overfishing in the 1980s and 1990s.

To address the depleted state of our fisheries, Oceana Canada has called on the government to commit to protecting the health of our ocean ecosystems and to use scientific evidence to make transparent management decisions. There are many examples of successfully rebuilt fisheries around the world, and in virtually every case, the process starts with following the science, setting goals and timelines, and reporting publicly on progress and results. Only then can we hope to rebuild Canada’s oceans and ensure they become sustainable resources for future generations. Fortunately, we are seeing signs of progress toward these goals under the new government – progress that now must be turned into results.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s mandate letter to his Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard calls for a commitment “to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in government.” Trudeau writes that “Government and its information should be open by default. If we want Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians.”

And last week, the government has demonstrated its intention to make good on these promises. The federal budget released on March 22 commits almost $200 million over five years to better oceans and freshwater management, and increased investments in science and transparency.

The process of restoring Canada’s wild fisheries is just beginning. In the years to ahead, Oceana Canada will continue to push for increased transparency so we can clearly see the work that remains and monitor the progress we have made. Canada’s fisheries have the potential to strengthen our seafood industry and local economies even as we protect habitat and improve biodiversity. I am confident that with a strong commitment to science and transparency, we can help save the oceans and feed the world.

– Josh Laughren, Executive Director of Oceana Canada

For the oceans,
Andrew Sharpless