Canada’s Fisheries: Shark friends or foes?

Guest post by Scott Wallace, Senior Research Scientist at the David Suzuki Foundation. This blog was originally posted on the David Suzuki Foundation’s website, found here.

Sharks are usually associated with tropical waters, so few people know Canada has sharks and shark fisheries. This Shark Week, we’re asking: Just how shark-friendly are Canadian fisheries?

Canada’s three oceans have 28 shark species, ranging from the diminutive cat shark to the giant basking shark. While they’re caught both intentionally and as bycatch in nearly all habitats and by almost all fishing gear, some fisheries and regions do a much better job.


The pelagic longline swordfish fishery has been one of the most damaging, catching up to five sharks for every swordfish, and accounting for 99 per cent of blue, 70 per cent of shortfin mako and 58 per cent of porbeagle shark caught in Atlantic Canada. Less than five per cent of the fishery is monitored at sea and there are no scientifically based catch limits for blue or shortfin mako sharks. Fishery proponents and the Canadian government reject international proposals by countries such as the U.S. that require sharks’ fins remain naturally attached — increasing the likelihood of the wasteful, illegal practice of finning, where only the fin is taken and the rest discarded. On the plus side, Canada ended the endangered porbeagle shark fishery, although those caught by accident can still be kept.

Verdict? Canada’s Atlantic fisheries are not shark-friendly.

This Atlantic blue shark is sad about the way Canada is treating sharks in its area. (Credit: Mark Conlin/NMFS via Wikimedia)


Spiny dogfish are the only Canadian Pacific coast sharks targeted for catching and selling. All other species — including bluntnosed sixgill, sleeper, blue and salmon sharks — are bycatch. West coast groundfish fisheries are the mostly likely to encounter sharks. With full video and observer monitoring, shark catch and populations are well-recorded. Several Pacific sharks have specific management plans under the Species at Risk Act. Unlike the east coast, there are no pelagic longline fisheries damaging to sharks that aren’t bottom dwellers and landed sharks must retain their fins. A black eye: the historic culling of basking sharks.

Verdict? Canada’s Pacific fisheries are shark-friendly.

This Pacific blue shark is happy about the way Canada is treating sharks in its area. (Credit: Mark Conlin/NMFS via Wikimedia)


The Greenland halibut fishery has the Arctic’s biggest shark bycatch concerns, catching a lot of Greenland shark using bottom trawl, longline and gillnet gear. While little is known about this large bottom-dweller, all indications suggest it is long-lived and slow to reproduce. It has no protection and insufficient fisheries monitoring and could be severely affected by unsustainable fishing practices.

Verdict? Canada’s Arctic fisheries are not shark-friendly.

This Greenland shark refused to give a comment. (Credit: NOAA Ocean Explorer)

Over the past decade, Canada has improved shark management and bycatch policies. COSEWIC now recognizes many species as endangered, threatened or of special concern. However, species regularly caught as bycatch — porbeagle (endangered), shortfin mako (threatened) and blue shark (special concern) — have not been given needed protection under the Species at Risk Act.

Verdict? Canada is not shark-friendly.

Photo: Canada's fisheries: shark friends or foes?

This basking shark is shocked. (Credit: NOAA Fisheries Service. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)

More information on Canada’s shark conservation and management:

Scott is a marine ecologist employed by the David Suzuki Foundation whose work focuses on marine conservation issues throughout Canada. There is nothing he enjoys more than being in British Columbia’s coastal wilderness.


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