Canada proposes 62 fish stocks for sustainability protection

Under the federal fisheries proposal, officials would be obliged to protect herring stocks off southern Nova Scotia, and other designated species, if their numbers fall below an established level.  (Department of Fisheries and Oceans - image credit)
Under the federal fisheries proposal, officials would be obliged to protect herring stocks off southern Nova Scotia, and other designated species, if their numbers fall below an established level. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans - image credit)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has proposed adding 62 stocks to a regulatory list that binds the minister to rebuild them if they become depleted.

Regulations that went into effect earlier this year as part of the Fisheries Act created a list of so-called prescribed fish stocks.

In April the first batch of 30 was added.

On Oct. 19 the department released a second batch of 62 stocks for public consultation. Comments close Dec. 19.

Most stocks in the second batch are considered healthy, but candidates also include three stocks in trouble: cod and herring off southern Nova Scotia and yellowtail flounder in the Gulf of St Lawrence.

The proposal also contains a number of stocks where the health status is uncertain, including capelin in Newfoundland.

"It's significant that they're batched in because that drives a two-year time frame to develop a rebuilding plan," says Bob Rangeley, scientific director of the marine conservation group Oceana.

He says adding a stock whose status is uncertain will drive research to determine whether a recovery plan is needed.

Paul Daly/The Canadian Press
Paul Daly/The Canadian Press

"We're so excited about getting movement on that capelin decision, because they're the lifeblood of so many other species, northern cod, whales, seabirds, everything. So as a forage fish, that was a good, good decision," says Rangeley.

What a listing means

The fish stocks provision in the new regulations oblige the minister of Fisheries and Oceans to ensure healthy stocks stay that way and create a rebuilding plan if they fall below what is called the "limit reference point" — where there is a high probability that its productivity will be so impaired that serious harm is occurring.

The minister will have up to three years to produce a rebuilding plan once the stock has hit that point.

The publicly posted plans must describe why the stock is in trouble, measurable objectives, and timelines for rebuilding and how it is to be achieved.

If a stock cannot be rebuilt, the minister must publicly explain why.

DFO minister committed

Speaking to an Oceana conference on restoring fish populations in Ottawa last week Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray pledged to work toward that goal.

"The research shows that if you do it right, you end up with more fish over the long run than you do if you're fishing the really vulnerable stocks and you basically fish down the curve and then they may never recover," she said.

"I am unequivocally committed to delivering high quality rebuilding plans," she said.

The hard part  

DFO has taken some difficult — and for industry — painful decisions in 2022 to protect depleted stocks.

The department imposed an Atlantic wide moratorium on the commercial mackerel fishery — a major source of bait in the lucrative lobster fishery.

The department also closed the spring fishery for herring in the Gulf of St Lawrence and a cut of one-third to the herring fishery off southern Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Rangeley says the next step is to see what the federal government does with its list of prescribed stocks and the "hard work" to decide a target and how to get there.

"We don't want paper plans out there. We actually want decisions made to the point where we're rebuilding those stocks to a healthy level,"Rangeley said.

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