Drowning: Canada's Fishing Industry and Adaptive Management as a Life Raft

by jballard on November 10, 2017 - 6:03pm

With the longest coastline in the world, Canada’s fishing industry has long been a source of food, culture and jobs for the country, with approximately 600 communities economically dependent on the industry (Johnson, 2016). However, current data is pointing to a major collapse in as many as 15 major stocks, and according to the Environment and Sustainable Development commissioner – Julie Gelfand – 12 of these stocks have no government mitigation plans in place (Johnson, 2016). In fact, since budget cuts made during the Harper era, resources for catch monitor programs and other fishing data have been so minimal that most data is inadequate or incomplete (Johnson, 2016). Gefland’s report highlights the possibility of collapse, the importance of proper data and addresses the Department of Fisheries and Oceans directly in their delay of management.

It is apparent that this situation requires immediate action from those in the fishing industry and the Canadian government. At this point, the most effective mitigation efforts would be delivered through a passive adaptive management plan. The article makes it clear that plans for these stocks should have been underway years ago, which entails that the focus must now be on management outcomes, such as creating fish populations that are sustainable. The most efficient way to conserve populations while maintaining a profitable industry is to implement a single policy with a result-based goal. Therefore, it seems imperative that enforceable sustainable catch limits be put in place for these 12 unmonitored stocks as soon as possible. In order for this to occur the decisions need to be science-based which requires proper data – something the current Department of Fisheries and Oceans does not have. Government support in terms of funding must be input in order to obtain physical numbers on various fish stocks and from there, sustainable catch limits can be established.

When making management decisions in regards to fisheries uncertainties must be taken into account, a factor that this article fails to point out. Fish stocks are a natural flow resource and are dependent on biophysical conditions, of which we don’t have a perfect understanding. Despite advances in science, biological interactions, such as fry survival rates or natural disasters, are phenomena that cannot always be predicted. Therefore, when establishing catch quotas this uncertainty must be accounted for in order to ensure continued sustainability. Another factor in effective adaptive management is enforcement. Passive adaptive management is focused on results and in order to achieve these results, actions must be regulated. Catch quotas must be imposed on fishermen with fines or harsh repercussions as the consequence for not abiding. Enforcement could further be aided by knowledge to influence buy-in by fishermen and other industry components. A key factor in the success of these policies has to do with individuals having a willingness to act and create a change. If more information is provided to reiterate the fact that less profit now equates to more profit long term, then the management plan is more likely to succeed.

Essentially, policy must be developed with a resilience mindset, overfishing in Canadian waters is an illness that we have caused and management must be used as a treatment.


Johnson, K. 2016. “Canada’s fishing industry at risk of major stock collapse.” The Tyee October 5. Retrieved November 4, 2017. (https://thetyee.ca/News/2016/10/05/Canadian-Fishing-Industry-Collapse-Risk/)