1.17 Fisheries

Canada’s most conspicuous environmental and economic tragedy has been the collapse of our wild fisheries. We thought that the sea would give us unlimited fish forever. That erroneous belief led to the 1990s collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery after decades of year-round over-fishing by domestic and foreign fleets of large trawlers. This ecological disaster, the result of federal government mismanagement, resulted in the loss of 30 000 jobs. During the same period (1990 to 2002), British Columbia’s salmon catch fell by 66% from 96 000 to 33 000 tonnes ($263.4 million to $51.6 million). The 2009 crisis of the missing eight million returning sockeye salmon in the B.C. wild fishery underscores how little progress has been made towards sustainable fisheries. The historically large return of B.C. sockeye in 2010 is equally mysterious. While undeniably good news, it does not answer the long-standing questions about how we sustainably manage Canadian fisheries.

Over the last few decades, the fishing industry has installed large, powerful gear on ships equipped with sophisticated navigation and fish-finding technology. This has caused serious depletion of cod, haddock, bluefin tuna, and other species, leading to the collapse of local economies and loss of important biodiversity from ocean to ocean to ocean. To save our gravely-depleted fish stocks, something must go: either the high-yield fishing technology or the excessive number of licenses to fish.

To make a dire situation worse, fisheries face other serious problems besides over-fishing: habitat destruction, and a lack of scientific knowledge of the status of marine resources and how oceanic food chains operate. Federal government policies allow the over-fishing of critical food chain species such as Pacific coast herring, ground fish, and Atlantic coast capelin. Current laws do not adequately protect marine habitat from a range of destructive forces, including the devastating practice of bottom-trawling, bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals that flow into the sea from various land practices, and spillage from oil and gas exploration. The coming years will see new threats to fisheries from ocean changes caused by acidification from increased CO2 in the atmosphere and increased water temperatures and shifted ocean currents due to climate change. We must do the right thing today to protect our fisheries for tomorrow.

The harvesting capacity of our fishing fleets has far outdistanced our fisheries regulations, management skills, and the ability of fish populations to recover. But we believe that Canada can restore its wild fish populations and protect Canadian fishermen with strictly enforced regulations governing gear types, fishing practices, and catch limits.

All evidence points to the need to ban bottom-trawling. Yet the only major instance of the current Conservative government differing from that of former U.S. President George W. Bush was its refusal to support international efforts to ban bottom-trawling. Because fish cross international boundaries, we must lead efforts for a global ban on harmful open-ocean fishing practices as part of a renewed commitment to sustainable fisheries management. This requires reforming the federal government’s administrative and research priorities.

To protect precious fish habitat, we must restore the habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act, destroyed in omnibus budget bill C-38, passed in spring 2012. We must also place a permanent legislated moratorium on oil and gas exploration and development in ecologically sensitive areas, particularly the west coast of British Columbia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Fishermen must be allowed to have a greater role in managing fisheries through co-management provisions yet to be activated through the Oceans Act. We oppose the current approach that favours fish farms and presumes that aquaculture can make up for dwindling wild stocks.

Green Party MPs will work to:

  • Sign and ratify the global treaty to ban bottom-trawling;

  • Repeal changes to the federal Fisheries Act found in spring 2012’s omnibus budget bill C-38.

  • Strengthen the Fisheries Act to:

    1. Require evaluation of threats to fish stocks and include provisions to protect fish stocks and the marine environment;

    2. Make protection of critical stocks and habitat mandatory;

    3. Require that the management and conservation of wild fisheries take precedence over aquaculture, wherever there are conflicts;

    4. Increase penalties for contravening the Fisheries Act;

    5. Improve public participation in decision making, under the principles of the Oceans Act, in particular engaging coastal communities in local fisheries management.

  • Restructure Fisheries and Oceans Canada into three separate branches: Management, Monitoring and Enforcement, and Research;

  • Strengthen legislation that protects fish habitats and fish stocks from over-fishing and pollution;

  • Implement measures to quickly phase out open-ocean net-cage fish farms and ensure that this aquaculture industry does not continue to harm wild fisheries;

  • Give funding priority to small-scale projects to restore and enhance wild fish stocks, especially with Aboriginal peoples and traditional fishing communities using traditional technologies;

  • Enforce sustainable harvesting technologies such as long lines, cod traps, or significantly modified mobile gear to reduce by-catch of untargeted and threatened species and monitor results to ensure the return of healthy stocks and stop the loss of biodiversity;

  • Shift from interception fisheries management practices to selective terminal fisheries;

  • Ban bottom-trawling in domestic waters and work internationally to institute a global ban;

  • Appraise and support development of different kinds of fishing gear that make a profit, while minimizing by-catch and habitat impact;

  • Support development of more sustainable ways of harvesting marine resources, including value-added processing, and developing environmentally-friendly biochemical and pharmaceutical products;

  • Support Research and Development of ecotourism as a non-consumptive use of marine biodiversity;

  • Provide funding and support to ecological research to discover what factors have enabled natural marine ecosystems to work so well in the past with the objective of restoring abundant stocks and rehabilitating degraded systems;

  • Establish an Independent Review Commission made up of marine biologists, ecologists, and resource economists to investigate (with input from fishermen, fishing communities and indigenous peoples) the causes of the enormous decline in Canada’s fisheries resources, and recommend policies and programs to restore offshore and inshore fisheries;

  • Repeal the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Act and the Canada Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Act and adjust regional agreements to give fisheries greater protection from petroleum exploration and development;

  • Extend permanent bans on oil and gas exploration and development in ecologically-sensitive areas, particularly the coast of British Columbia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence;

  • Encourage a greater role for fishermen and Aboriginal peoples in managing fisheries through co-management provisions in the Oceans Act;

  • Ensure that lighthouses remain staffed to perform the essential safety and security work they perform;

  • Work with provincial governments to eliminate aquaculture practices that damage the marine environment and threaten human health and seek:

    1. A moratorium on new open-ocean net-pen salmon farms and a phase-out of existing farms within ten years;

    2. In the meantime, the fallowing of sea pens during wild-hatch salmon runs.