Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture | Ecology Action Centre

Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture

We advocate for fishing and aquaculture policies and practices that minimize harmful impacts on the marine ecosystem. Fishermen, scientists and marine conservationists agree that habitat destruction and overfishing are two of the greatest threats to our marine ecosystem. We seek the recovery of depleted species and protection of habitat, and advocate for fisheries regulation and management that allows for the long-term, sustainable harvest of commercial species without putting the future of those species, or the people whose livelihoods and culture depend on them, at risk. We advocate for national and international fisheries laws, policies and regulations that are science-based, transparent and enforceable, and that are guided by a precautionary approach which considers the entire ecosystem when making management decisions.



Making forage fish count

Small forage fish, which, in Atlantic Canada, includes species like herring and mackerel, are crucial to the marine ecosystem and the fisheries which depend on it. They provide food for charismatic species like sharks and whales, as well as commercially important species such as tuna, halibut and cod. These species are also an important source of bait for many Atlantic Canadian fisheries. In 2016, we launched a new fisheries campaign, aimed at protecting and rebuilding the important fish species which sustain the ecosystem. We have published a report, entitled "Making Forage Fish Count: Recommendations to Improve Management in Canada", outlining some of the specific issues facing forage fish in Atlantic Canada, and more specific recommendations on how to improve science and management for these stocks.

Recovering Atlantic bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna are an important part of eastern Canada’s history, culture and economy, and play an important role as a top predator in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the western population is less than the levels of the 1970s when they were already depleted. It was assessed as endangered in Canada in 2011 but not listed on the Species At Risk Act. While rebuilding may require short-term moderation, it is critical that Canada demonstrate its commitment to using a precautionary, science-based approach to Atlantic bluefin tuna management to ensure the long-term health of the western population and all that depend on it.

The Ecology Action Centre started working on bluefin tuna conservation in 2013. We participate as members of the Atlantic Large Pelagics Advisory Committee and are the first and only Canadian NGO to attend the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) meetings.

To learn more about Atlantic bluefin tuna, read our report here. (PDF)

Safeguarding Canada's sharks

Globally, many sharks and rays are at risk of extinction due to overfishing through targeted or incidental catches that are often not regulated. The Ecology Action Centre began working on shark conservation to address high levels of bycatch in Atlantic Canada’s surface longline swordfish fishery. This fishery catches 100,000 sharks (including the at-risk porbeagle, shortin mako as well as blue sharks) and 1,400 sea turtles each year, and has the highest bycatch (unintended catch) ratio of any fishery in Canada.

Shark finning—the practice of slicing off a sharks’ valuable fins and discarding the body at sea—remains a threat to shark species throughout their range. Canada banned shark finning in 1994 and adopted the best practice to enforce this band, requiring that sharks are landed with their fins attached to their bodies. However, many countries have yet to properly address this threat.

We work to ensure that sharks are being caught at sustainable levels and strive to mitigate the current threats. Because sharks are highly migratory, we also work with other organizations around the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to protect sharks throughout this range.

Follow our friend, Hector the Blue Shark on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date on our shark work. 

Sustaining Canadian groundfish

The groundfish fishery remains a vital fishery in Atlantic Canada, with several species continuing to be caught using various gear-types across the region. This fishery continues to be challenged by the failure of some species, notably cod to recover, with other depleted species impacted through incidental catch. Many species are considered at risk by COSEWIC and do not have any rebuilding plans. We advocate for the use of low impact fishing gear, protection of fish habitat, and we are currently working to improve measures to improve data collection and monitoring particularly for at risk species. We also advocate for precautionary quotas, in line with science advice. We attend and actively participate in fisheries advisory committee meetings as well as fishery framework and science assessment meetings at the regional and national level.

Protecting species-at-risk

As of 2017, 42 populations of Atlantic Canada’s marine fish species are considered at-risk by the Committee on Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). We work to rebuild these populations primarily through advocating for fisheries management measures that, if implemented, could either stall further decline or promote recovery. We participate in specific fisheries advisory committees and science processes in Atlantic Canada to further this work. We are members of the national Species at Risk Advisory Committee and are active participants in public consultations on at risk marine fish.

Read the report: Missing the Safety Net: Lack of Protection of Canada's Marine Fish Species-at-Risk

Transitioning away from open net-pen aquaculture

The Ecology Action Centre advocates for a more sustainable Canadian aquaculture industry. To that end, we are calling for a full transition away from open net-pen aquaculture in all Canadian waters. After years of effort on regulatory reform in Nova Scotia, it is clear today that the problems of escaped salmon, sea lice, disease, waste buildup and eutrophication plaguing the salmon farming industry cannot be fixed through regulation. To protect marine ecosystems and debilitated wild salmon populations, our only choice is to move salmon farming out of the water. 

With the Government of Canada committed to such an effort in the Pacific, we now urge similar action on the East Coast, where we face the same ecological problems and others. As a supplement to this critical environmental action, we are also calling for (1) a just transition for workers at open net-pen salmon sites; (2) greater support for sustainable shellfish aquaculture at scales appropriate for our bays; and (3) market incentives towards responsible closed containment and land based finfish aquaculture technology. In Nova Scotia, we believe the aquaculture industry should be guided by a plan for long-term, sustainable jobs that do not degrade habitats, fisheries or tourism opportunities in coastal communities. Most importantly, after years of community opposition falling on deaf ears, the industry and the Government of Nova Scotia must do more to ensure that aquaculture sites are developed with community support and social licence at the local scale. 

While the EAC has worked on aquaculture for more than a decade in Atlantic Canada, today we are focused on two primary campaigns. The first is in collaboration with the Healthy Bays Network, a community-led organization dedicated to a transition away from open net-pen aquaculture across Nova Scotia. The second is our Aquaculture Act campaign, where we are working with dozens of ENGOs across Canada to ensure that Canada’s first ever Aquaculture Act will enhance protections for aquatic ecosystems, among other important outcomes. Learn more about our work on the Aquaculture Act here.

Electronic fisheries monitoring technology

We promote the use of electronic video monitoring (EVM) as a technology with significant potential to improve data collection and monitoring of fisheries catches and activities. This technology is fully implemented in various fisheries elsewhere, but this technology has not yet been integrated in Atlantic Canada. We have been working over the past two years to increase awareness and understanding of this technology, through cooperation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, service providers such as Ecotrust Canada, Archipelago Marine Research and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, as well as fishing industry. We are working towards the integration of this technology in Atlantic Canadian fisheries to improve data collection, monitoring and compliance of fisheries catches, while also providing a potentially cost effective alternative to fishermen from current monitoring options. For more information on our past and present work on EVM, please visit our video monitoring page

Modernizing the Fisheries Act

In 2012, the Canadian government made significant changes to the Fisheries Act, removing aspects of protection for fish and fish habitat. In 2015, a new government committed to restoring these lost protections and adding modern safeguards to a new Fisheries Act. We have worked collaboratively with organizations across Canada to prioritize changes to the Act, which included restoring habitat protection provisions, ensuring that the Fisheries Act included key provisions that could lead to reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, and adding modern fisheries management principles as well as a legal obligation to recover depleted fish stocks. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans made 31 recommendations for revising the act and we expect a new act to be tabled in the fall of 2017. 

Read our submissions: Submission from the Ecology Action Centre on the Review of the Fisheries Act & Presentation to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. For more info on our Fisheries Act work, visit the dedicated page.

Implementing the Sustainable Fisheries Framework

Over the past decade, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has built a policy suite that contains many elements of modern fisheries management. The Sustainable Fisheries Framework provides guidance for fisheries management measures to reduce the impacts of fisheries on bycatch, sensitive benthic areas including deep water corals and sponges, rebuild depleted fish populations as well as guidance on applying the precautionary approach. We work to ensure that the Sustainable Fisheries Framework is implemented in a meaningful and sensible manner, largely through our work at fisheries management advisory committees. We successfully advocated for the public release of the National Fisheries Checklist, together with the David Suzuki Foundation and Oceana Canada.

Advocating for a National Catch Monitoring Policy

As part of the Ecology Action Centre’s work on sustainable fisheries, we are working closely with the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as the fishing industry where possible, to ensure the successful development of National Catch Monitoring Policy as part of the Sustainable Fisheries Framework. We are advocating for this policy to provide national direction for catch monitoring across all Canadian fleets as well as suggest appropriate new measures and tools for improved management of fisheries across Canada. This policy, which will identify fisheries which are responsible for significant bycatch, is set to be released late 2017/early 2018 and connects to our work on species at risk and sustainable fisheries. Our work on electronic video monitoring is closely linked to the development of a National Catch Monitoring Policy. 

Supporting independent fisheries

Small-scale, independent fishermen are akin to small-scale farmers; they are the people who provide the fabric of renewable rural economies, particularly in Atlantic Canada. As we are interested in restoring the resilience of the natural ecosystem, we are similarly concerned with the resilience of coastal communities. Implementing a true ecosystem approach to fisheries management will have to include fishermen who own and operate their vessels and with knowledge of the natural history of the sea and play an important role as ecosystem stewards. With a rising global demand for sustainable seafood, we want to ensure that Canada’s small-scale, sustainable fisheries are able to take maximum advantage of local, regional and global markets and are incentivised to protect the resources upon which they depend.

Read the report: Small Scale, Big Value: Creating a Value Chain to Support Atlantic Canada's Sustainable Fisheries.

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