May 11, 2022
CEO Note: New legal safeguards in Canada can rebuild depleted fish populations
BY: Andy Sharpless
At Oceana, our goal is to save the oceans and feed the world. If we can restore ocean abundance, we could feed 1 billion people a healthy seafood meal every day, forever. New legal requirements in Canada bring us one step closer to achieving that goal.
Thanks to campaigning by Oceana and our allies, the rules governing fisheries in Canada have changed. Amendments to Canada’s Fisheries Act passed in 2019 direct the government to rebuild depleted fish populations, and these newly released rules outline the actions they must take to accomplish this. Now, for the first time in Canadian history, rebuilding depleted fisheries is the law.
Fish are important in Canada, which has the world’s longest coastline and a long history of fishing. Wild fish are a mainstay of the culture and economy of coastal communities – Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. Despite their importance, the Canadian government has mismanaged fisheries over time, in large part because the laws were insufficient.
Until 2019, Canada’s fisheries law was silent on the need to sustainably manage the world-class abundance of fish, providing Fisheries Ministers with absolute discretion. Time after time, this resulted in too many fish being taken from the ocean, leading to populations being depleted, and decisions by the government to intervene were either taken too late or not at all.
A legal requirement to rebuild is greatly needed, as less than 1/3 of Canada’s fisheries are currently considered healthy due to past and current overfishing. These depleted fisheries hurt communities, cost jobs, and deprive the world of a sustainable and healthy source of protein: wild fish.
Oceana was instrumental in ensuring that these legal safeguards made it across the finish line. Thirty stocks are listed in the new rules, and 16 of those are in the “critical zone.” The requirements set a target, timeline, and course of action for stock rebuilding, contributing to more sustainable fisheries, healthy coastal communities, and a more abundant ocean. Oceana campaigned to government decision-makers, including five different Ministers of Fisheries and Oceans over the years, and developed reports and presentations demonstrating the urgency of rebuilding fish populations. Our campaign was crucially supported by our online community, which sent thousands of emails and posted on social media.
Winning a strong fisheries law in Canada was Oceana’s top priority for this country. Now that we have it, we’ll continue to fight to ensure the intent of the law and new requirements are followed. That means strong plans for critically depleted populations that are designed to bring them back to health. It means decisions on fishing quotas that support abundant fish and sustainable fishing, that do not harm the population, and that decisions and plans must be public and transparent so we can track progress and hold the government to account.
This is a landmark moment in ocean conservation in Canada and an important contribution to Prime Minister Trudeau’s continued commitment to ocean conservation. It’s important we celebrate the progress made possible by thousands of ocean supporters across Canada. It is also a testament to Oceana’s approach: strong science and policy campaigns can bring about change. There is still work ahead of us, but this new law provides the hope and expectation that we can succeed in rebuilding abundance in our oceans.