FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - May 3rd, 2017
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Today, the Canadian government made an important announcement on the future of Atlantic bluefin tuna. The Canada Gazette published the final decision not to list the Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) along with a rationale and the steps they intend to take in lieu of listing. The Atlantic bluefin was assessed as endangered in 2011 by an expert group of Canadian scientists. The Western population of Atlantic bluefin tuna has shown signs of increase since then but is still below levels from the 1970s, a time when the population was already severely depleted.
Had the Atlantic bluefin been listed under the Act, the species would have become formally protected under Canadian law. For commercial fisheries, listing under SARA would prohibit directed fisheries, and any harm to the listed species must be given special permission under the Act. When a species is listed under SARA a recovery strategy must also be developed that identifies what needs to be done to stop or reverse the decline of that species. The rationale identified by the government for not listing is largely socio-economic, as a SARA listing would mean shutting down the directed tuna fishery.
“This species has been waiting in limbo for six years for a decision,” says Katie Schleit, Senior Marine Conservation Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. “But even by deciding not to list, the government is still obligated to take additional action. Work to conserve and recover the species is still far from done.”
The decision to not list Atlantic bluefin tuna under SARA triggers Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) 2013 Listing Policy and Directive for “Do Not List” Advice which includes a set of instructions for what DFO must do under the Fisheries Act in the absence of listing, with regards to specific actions to recover the stock. This will be the first time since inception of DFO’s listing policy that a decision to not list has been made.
“The case of the Atlantic bluefin will be a real test for DFO to show how seriously it takes the implementation of this policy,” says Schleit. “All eyes will be on them to show that a SARA listing decision is not the end of the line for at-risk species, but just one of several paths to sustainable and effective management of species that have experienced significant declines.”
The EAC recommends that DFO take specific and immediate next steps to show that it is serious about taking responsibility for bluefin tuna recovery. These steps should include at a minimum: following precautionary scientific advice that will help further rebuild the stock with a high probability, adopting a management strategy for bluefin tuna that includes target and limit reference points, as well as potential harvest control rules, and increasing monitoring in all fisheries that catch Bluefin tuna including through human observers and electronic video monitoring.
The Canada Gazette published the final decision not to list bluefin tuna on the Species at Risk Act on May 3, 2017.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans released recommendations to list or not list 12 aquatic species in the Canada Gazette on August, 26, 2016 which included a recommendation not to list bluefin tuna.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada assessed the population of Atlantic bluefin tuna that swims in Canadian waters as endangered in 2011 based on a 69% decline over three generations.
The Ecology Action Centre and University of Victoria paper on DFO management practices for Species at Risk can be found here.
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