New DFO regulations ensure tougher approach to rebuilding fish stocks

Canada is putting into law a requirement that it rebuild depleted commercial fish stocks, starting with 17 stocks that include Atlantic cod off Newfoundland, spring spawning herring in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and three Pacific salmon stocks.

They account for more than half the 30 major commercial stocks identified for specific protection in amended Fisheries Act regulations published Jan. 2.

“The proposed regulations would result in the increased transparency and accountability that accompanies regulatory oversight as compared with policy approaches,” the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a document accompanying the regulations.

In five years, most major commercial fish stocks would be listed under regulations that require a plan for rebuilding depleted stocks, said the department.

Past efforts criticized

Current DFO policy calls for plans to rebuild stocks that are in trouble, but the department has been frequently criticized by environmentalists for not delivering on that requirement.

The proposed regulations would require a rebuilding plan that identifies why the stock is in trouble and how it will be rebuilt, in addition to a timeline to achieve the objective and a mandatory review to ensure compliance.

DFO would have up to three years to come up with a rebuilding plan once a stock has reached what is known as the “lower reference point” — the point where a population is undergoing serious, ongoing harm.

“We know from the years of having that policy guidance not being followed that a stronger legal tool is needed. So the regulations, I think, overall are good,” said Susanna Fuller, vice-president of operations at Oceans North, a conservation organization based in Halifax.

“These timelines and regulations they have to adhere to just puts more transparency and a bit more of, you know, fire under the department to actually move and make sure we get these plans done.”

First batch of stocks

The first stocks to be included in the new regulations were identified through DFO’s annual survey of 177 commercially fished stocks.

The first batch in the critical zone also includes Atlantic mackerel, winter flounder, American plaice and white hake in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Atlantic cod in the gulf and off Cape Breton, as well as Northern shrimp in an area off northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador.

On the West Coast, DFO identified two chinook salmon stocks and one coho salmon stock based on their home river. Also listed for rebuilding are yelloweye and bocaccio rockfish, as well as Pacific herring off Haida Gwaii.

Of the 30 commercial stocks put into regulation, 13 are either considered healthy or are raising some concerns. Those include major moneymakers like Atlantic halibut and snow crab in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

N.L. cod rebuilding plan

In late December, DFO quietly published its rebuilding plan for cod off Newfoundland in a fishing zone known as 2J3KL. 

The union representing fish plant workers in the province objected to the plan’s assumption that low levels of fishing will continue for years.

Fuller said the plan does not say how long it will take to rebuild the stock, something that will be required for plans developed as part of the new federal regulations.

“There are targets there, not the best targets, but there’s no timeline. Whereas in these new regulations, they require a timeline to be stated,” she said.

Fuller said getting cod into regulation will force DFO to revisit its rebuilding plan to ensure it adheres to the new requirements.

“I think what the department is doing is giving itself time to strengthen those and see just how much progress they can make,” she said.

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