Improving stock health, and increasing the overall abundance of the ocean, requires three basic ingredients. Sound science makes it possible to assess stock health and project how populations will grow or shrink under different conditions. Effective monitoring reveals how many fish are being harvested or discarded each year. Good management uses science and monitoring data to make informed decisions about who can fish, where and when, how much they can catch and what methods and gear they use — ensuring there are enough fish to support a healthy marine ecosystem today and plentiful harvests for years to come.
This report assesses Canada’s performance using indicators of good fisheries management developed from globally accepted best practices and from DFO’s policy framework. To create it, Oceana Canada analyzed data from 194 stocks3 published on DFO websites, referred to in this report as Oceana Canada’s index stocks. For full details of the methodology and analysis, visit the appendices.
In 2019, less than a third (29.4 per cent) of Canada’s marine stocks can confidently be considered healthy — fewer than in 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, the number of critically depleted stocks has increased to 17 per cent. Most of these are Atlantic groundfish, although there was also an increase in critically depleted crustaceans, especially on the Pacific coast, and two species of forage fish, which are important contributors to the overall health of the ecosystem.
Oceana Canada found that DFO did not have sufficient data to assess the status of 38.1 per cent of stocks — indicating an increase in the number of stocks with an uncertain status from previous years. This means fisheries are being managed with incomplete information for more than a third of Canada’s fish stocks. It is impossible to assess or verify the appropriateness of fishery management decisions in the absence of key data or reference points.
DFO has three categories of fish stock status to indicate the health of the population: healthy, cautious or critical. They are defined relative to the maximum sustainable yield: the largest amount of fish that can be theoretically harvested without reducing the size of the stock over the long term.
A stock is considered healthy if its biomass is greater than 80 per cent of the amount that can support the maximum sustainable yield. When a stock is in this zone, fisheries management decisions are designed to keep it healthy.
A stock falls in the cautious zone if its biomass is between 40 and 80 per cent of the amount that supports the maximum sustainable yield. If a stock falls into this zone, harvesting rates should be reduced in order to avoid seriously depleting the stock and to promote rebuilding to the healthy zone.
A stock falls in the critical zone if its biomass is less than 40 per cent of the amount that supports the maximum sustainable yield. If a stock moves into the critical zone, serious harm is occurring and conservation actions become crucial.
3 The Fishery Audit index stock list (194 stocks) was created for the 2017 Fishery Audit and is based on marine fish and invertebrate stocks included in Oceana Canada’s report, Canada's Marine Fisheries: Status, Recovery Potential and Pathways to Success, combined with those included in the first public release of the Sustainability Survey for Fisheries and any stocks with newly available information from government reports that year. To make annual comparisons, we use the index stock list but continue to add stocks that appear in newly published government reports each year to our larger dataset. Further details are available in the appendices.
4 The change in status for Pacific halibut was a result of clearer documentation of the LRP and USR equivalents for this Canada-U.S. jointly managed stock, rather than increased biomass levels (although the stock has grown from 40 per cent to 43 per cent of unfished levels).