Canada’s DFO accused of using shoddy science by group of academics

Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray.

Critics are calling for change at Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) as the agency is facing accusations of disseminating unreliable science.

The DFO was recently in the crosshairs of a parliamentary committee that analyzed the agency’s scientific practices and how they affect policy.

Following testimony from commercial fishermen, industry groups, scientists, and former DFO staff, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO) tabled a report in Parliament with 48 recommendations addressing issues such as poor stock assessments, a lack of transparency, cash-deprived departments within the DFO, and deficiencies in data collection.

“DFO has excellent scientists, but how [the department] organizes the science, how they process the information, and how they actually deliver information to the minister is all suspect in my view,” Committee Member Liberal MP Ken Hardie told Canada’s National Observer.

The committee report follows a controversial study issued by the DFO and The Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) earlier this year that downplayed established links between sea lice at British Columbian salmon farms and wild salmon populations, which have plummeted in recent years.

In response, a group of 16 academic scientists from major Canadian universities put their signatures on a 45-page open letter to Canadian Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard Joyce Murray, in which they highlighted the report’s “serious scientific failings.”

Among other concerns, the scientists said the report ignored over 30 peer-reviewed publications on the subject of sea lice and its effects on wild salmon.

Stan Proboszcz, a senior scientist with the British Columbia-based Watershed Watch Salmon Society who provided testimony to the parliamentary committee, told SeafoodSource he's concerned with how the DFO is incroporating the wider scientific community's research in its regulatory approach.

“There's been a number of concerns with DFO science, particularly around aquaculture science over the last several years," Proboszcz said.

Regarding the sea lice study, he said it is representative of the type of science typically produced by the DFO.

“I think the details of the major criticisms of it were quite well-outlined in the 16 scientists’ letter,” Proboszcz told SeafoodSource. “But the one that really stands out to me is that they typically tend to forget or ignore the large body of science that's been conducted outside of DFO.”

While applauding the recommendations in the FOPO report, Fisheries Council of Canada President Paul Lansbergen said the government failed to follow through with support for efforts to improve fisheries science in a federal budget tabled by Canadian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland late March.

“The Canadian fisheries industry has long been a cornerstone of the national economy, supporting thousands in rural, coastal, and Indigenous communities,”  Lansbergen said. “In order to reach its full potential as the largest ocean-based jobs provider and foundation of a healthy Blue Economy, the industry needs dedication from the federal government to fund sufficient fisheries science.”

Focus is now shifting to an ...

Photo courtesy of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans

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