Some Canadians may remember the collapse of the cod and groundfish fisheries in 1992, which resulted in 30,000 lost jobs and cost $4 billion dollars. As we approach the 25th anniversary of this cautionary event, we are finally seeing early signs of a fragile but broad-based cod recovery. This is a key moment in time to reflect on some critical questions: Are we prepared to address recovery differently this time? What is the overall state of Canada's ocean resources? How are we managing this world-class resource?
We set out to find the answers.
Oceana Canada commissioned scientists to assess the state of Canada's fisheries. The resulting report -- Canada's Marine Fisheries: Status, Recovery Potential and Pathways to Success by Dr. Julia Baum and Dr. Susanna Fuller -- represents the most comprehensive and up-to-date public analysis of Canada's fish stocks. The findings were very troubling.
First, less than a quarter of Canada's fish stocks can be confidently considered healthy. The status of a whopping 45 per cent couldn't be determined due to an absence of basic or up-to-date information.
Second, although most shellfish populations are in good shape, the state of many "finfish" populations remains grim, particularly for species like cod, mackerel and redfish.
It turns out that in the wake of the groundfish collapse, rather than try to rebuild, we instead relied on a handful of shellfish species to prop up the industry: lobster, crab, shrimp and scallops. This went unnoticed, because the industry was still making money - in fact, the fishing industry in Canada is worth more than ever, based on the high price-per-pound for these shellfish.
What's the problem, then? Prices are volatile and so are individual fisheries. Shellfish in Atlantic Canada alone make up 77 per cent of the value of all fisheries in Canada. If the price of shellfish were to collapse, or if lobster populations were to crash due to a pathogen or a change in environmental conditions, which happens from time to time, the impact on the fishing industry and coastal communities would be devastating - much worse than the Atlantic groundfish collapse. A sustainable, resilient fishing industry depends on a broad base of healthy stocks.
Third, determining how our commercial fish populations are doing has proven to be an extremely difficult task. As a common resource belonging to all Canadians, and supporting a multi-billion dollar industry, you might expect that information would be publicly and freely available and understandable. In the United States and the European Union, for example, a few clicks online allow any interested citizen to understand the state of fish and fisheries, including what's working and what's not.
This is not the case in Canada. The report authors spent months tracking down basic data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), often from individual scientists. Far too frequently, the information wasn't available. Without it, Canada cannot manage fish stocks properly or assess the health of our oceans. Nor can we judge the effectiveness of management and rebuilding efforts.
Here's the good news: this is fixable. There are many examples around the world, and here in Canada, of how stocks can rebound, often incredibly quickly, if we create the right conditions. But it's not going to happen by accident.
The foundations are in place. Canada has a government that has committed to transparency, and is reinvesting in science. We have an institutional and legal framework to build on, and we have a wealth of fisheries expertise.
What is needed is a clear, honest assessment of our fish populations and a transparent approach to making fisheries decisions based on science. We need to catch up to the rest of the developed world by strengthening Canada's laws and regulations to prevent overfishing and mandate rebuilding depleted stocks. Most of all, we need the political will to implement the policies and rules already on the books.
As we approach the 25th anniversary of the cod collapse, we have a rare chance to rewrite history. The great abundance of Canada's oceans was lost in one lifetime. It can also be rebuilt within our lifetime. The choice is ours.
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With fish stocks rapidly depleting in the oceans, the industry of fish farming has continued to grow in response. In 2006, Americans ate an average of 16.5 pounds of fish per person, surpassed only by Japan and China. That same year, fish farming accounted for 47% of the world’s fish food supply.
Large-scale fish farm operations force fish to live in conditions much more crowded than they would in the wild, sometimes leaving each fish less room than an average bathtub. The excess of fish waste and unconsumed feed pollutes the surrounding waters. Additionally, living in such close proximity gives rise to increased disease and infection, which is usually responded to withc antibiotics, further polluting the surrounding environment.
Many of the chemicals banned in the US are still used in international fish farms for disease and parasite control. Due to a lack of regulation, these chemicals make their way to our dinner table through the large amount of fish we import from other countries.
Many fish farms operate with netpens in open waters. These systems are extremely susceptible to being ripped open from predators or storms. When the fish escape, they cause irreparable harm to the local ecosystems, corrupting gene pools, competing for food sources and breeding territories, and spreading disease.
Tilapia are one of the most environmentally friendly fish to farm. They are herbivores, so they don’t require the mass amounts of fish byproduct that carnivores do. In addition, they can be farmed in large tanks rather than outdoor pools, making them much more accessible for aquaculture.
Shrimp farming is one of the most destructive types of aquaculture. Mangrove forests protect coastlines, provide food and shelter to countless wildlife, and supply multiple resources to impoverished coastal people who rely on them for daily sustenance. Unfortunately, they also occupy many ideal locations for shrimp farming, and are uprooted and destroyed as a result. In addition, shrimp farmers are often quick to abandon the locations and move to new ones for better production results, destroying more mangroves along the way. Shrimp farms also raise the salinity of surrounding water and soil, ruining the land for agriculture.
Some carnivorous species, like salmon, can be very high maintenance to farm, requiring much more food than they produce. For every 1 lb. of farmed salmon, 2 to 5 lbs. of smaller fish are needed to feed it.
Bivalves, such as oysters and mussels, rank highest when it comes to environmentally friendly aquaculture. Because they are filter feeders, they actually make the water in their ecosystem cleaner, and due to their lack of mobility, they are much easier to contain than fish.
Recirculating Aquaculture Systems are the most eco-friendly. The ultimate water use is minimal, and they have the least environmentally hazardous waste removal methods. Developing aquaculture farming systems in tandem with agriculture is becoming a more popular environmentally-friendly option, as well. When done right, the systems produce very little waste, as they benefit from each other’s byproducts. Fish waste fertilizes the plants, which can in turn filter the water and provide needed nutrients back to the fish. Rice farmers in Asia have long farmed fish alongside their crops, using certain species of fish to fight pests that harm their rice paddies.
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