Study: Canada’s small fish stocks at risk, major commercial fisheries affected

Published on
August 3, 2016

Canadian forage fish stocks – vitally important for the recovery of commercial fisheries such as northern cod and bluefin tuna, as well as whales and seabirds – are in trouble, finds a new assessment conducted by WWF-Canada.

The conservation group’s report, “Food for all: Small fish with big influence,” assessed 27 fisheries against nine criteria and determined that three fisheries are in critical condition in Atlantic Canada: two herring stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Atlantic mackerel. Another fishery of concern is the herring in Southwest Nova Scotia/Bay of Fundy.

In 75 percent of the fisheries assessed, the stock status was unknown, including all capelin fisheries, and all the fisheries in British Columbia (B.C.). The report also said that in all cases, fisheries management does not sufficiently account for predator needs. Furthermore, the effects of the environment and climate change on forage fish were largely unknown.

“Populations of large predators like humpback whales, along with seabirds and commercial species such as cod, will never recover if they don’t have enough food to eat. It’s shocking that many of these fisheries are being managed without adequate information about the stocks. WWF Canada’s report demonstrates that there is a lot of work to be done, protecting the forage fish that underpin the health of our ocean ecosystems,” said David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada.

The report determines that the direct catch value of forage fish in Northern B.C. is CAD 67.58 (USD 51.58, EUR 45.96) per sq. km, CAD 31.80 (USD 24.27, EUR 21.63) per sq. km in the Northern Gulf and CAD 4.33 (USD 3.31, EUR 2.95) per sq. km in Newfoundland.

In terms of these fisheries supportive value to other commercial fish dependent upon them, the NGO found that for Northern B.C. it was CAD 507.80 (USD 387.64, EUR 345.38) per sq. km, and for the Northern Gulf and Newfoundland it was CAD 193.47 (USD 147.69, EUR 131.59) and CAD 13.43 (USD 10.25, EUR 9.13) per sq. km, respectively.

WWF-Canada’s recommendations include the implementation of a modern, ecosystem-based approach that considers the needs of multiple species as opposed to a single stock to ensure the long-term viability of forage fish stocks and dependent predators.

It also wants issues addressed related to unrecorded landings in the recreational and bait fisheries, specifically for the Atlantic mackerel fishery in Atlantic Canada, and a precautionary principle applied by setting reference points and pre-agreed harvest control rules (HCRs) to ensure both the sustainability of the target species and the food supply for predators.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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