For the first time since its Fisheries Act was enacted in 1868, Canada is required to manage fish stocks sustainably and put rebuilding plans in place for those that are depleted, standard practice in this country.
Despite having the longest coastline in the world, Canada has had a loosely regulated fishery that operated at the discretion of the fisheries minister.
There were no provisions in the legislation to prevent overfishing or mandate action on troubled stocks.
Of 26 critically depleted stocks, only five have rebuilding plans. Only 34 percent of fish populations are rated as healthy and around 13 percent are critically depleted.
When it comes to addressing the challenges facing global fisheries, Canada is now at the forefront, according to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.
It would now ensure decision-making was based on science and evidence.
“These kinds of things should have been done a long time ago.”
The new Act restores protections for fish habitats, increases requirements for monitoring and reporting, requires indigenous knowledge to be incorporated into decisions and mandates a review every five years.
However, rather than being in the lead, it’s more that Canada is now in the conversation, according to advocacy group Oceana Canada executive director Josh Laughren.
He says New Zealand, Chile, Japan, the European Union and the US have long had legal restrictions and requirements limiting fisheries managers’ discretion.
If this Act had been in place in the 1980s and implemented as written, Canada could have avoided the collapse of the northern cod fishery in the early 1990s, Laughren said.
“The history of Atlantic Canada would be different,” he was quoted in Hakai magazine.
A moratorium on fishing depleted cod stocks was implemented in 1992 and remains in place.
Canada’s belated reforms still do not match the legal obligations in the US under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which mandates annual stock reports to Congress.
The US has 45 rebuilt stocks since that law was put in place in 1976.
In this country, the annual Fish Stock Status Report from Fisheries New Zealand has confirmed our fish stocks are in good shape, thanks to the Quota Management System that sets sustainable maximum catches.
The 2019 report said 95 percent of fish landed in New Zealand is from sustainable stocks and “a near record of tonnage of landings of scientifically evaluated stocks has no sustainability issues”.
However, overfishing continues in the northeast Atlantic, according to the New Economics Foundation.
Sweden is the worst offender, exceeding its agreed Total Allowable Catch by 52 percent, equivalent to 17,369 tonnes.
But the UK takes the biggest excess tonnage – 107,000 tonnes – equivalent to a 24 percent exceeding of its quota.
Then follows Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal in descending order, all exceeding their share of the TAC.
Climate change and pollution are seen as the major threats facing the world’s oceans but illegal and overfishing remains a serious concern.
Globally, despite developed countries improving their fisheries management, overfished stocks continue to rise.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, which monitors global fish stocks, 69 percent are maximally sustainably fished or underfished and 31 percent are overfished.
The FAO says unless the countries that are doing the right thing, such as New Zealand, assist those countries still struggling with the pursuit of sustainability, the UN goal of zero overfishing by 2020 will not be met.
A 2016 study of New Zealand’s QMS by the US-based The Nature Conservancy found it “offers lessons relevant to many countries that are contemplating fishery reform efforts”.