Note to readers: This blog is run by the Marine team at the Ecology Action Centre, a non-profit in Halifax, NS. When we started this blog we intended to use the space specifically to tell the stories of small-scale Atlantic Canadian fishermen. As our work has changed and evolved, we have been increasingly looking to use these space to talk about a broader range of ocean conservation and fisheries issues. As such, we are planning to transition this blog into a space where we can share more of our work. This will hopefully mean more regular updates to the blog. This won’t mean that we are abandoning our work to highlight the importance of the small, low impact, owner-operators that are so important to our coastal communities. We hope to be able to continue to share their stories and talk about the issues that impact them, while also talking about a whole other range of issues that impact our fisheries, seafood consumers and ocean health, as well as keeping you all more updated on the work we’re doing here. Consider the following blog as a first step in this slightly new direction.
by Katie Schleit
On March 22, the Government of Canada, under the newly-elected Liberal majority, will unveil the budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The budget will show where the rubber hits the road in terms of campaign promises becoming financial and practical realities for government departments.
Our eyes will be on the budget allocated to the Department of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. They’ve faced some hefty budget cuts that have greatly limited the work of the Department to manage and assess our shared fisheries and oceans wealth. The mandate letter for the Department, made public for the first time this year, included commitments to restoring the cuts to fisheries science and monitoring. In Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign platform, this had a $40 million price tag associated with it. The mandate letter also includes a number of other priorities, including increasing the proportion of Canada’s marine and coastal areas that are protected to 10% by 2020, using scientific evidence and the precautionary principle as well as taking into account climate change when making decisions affecting fish stocks and ecosystem management, and working with stakeholders on co-management.
But money is also needed just for the basic functioning of the Department to fulfill meet existing laws and policies.
While most government departments faced precipitous cuts over the last 8 years, the Department of Fisheries Oceans fared particularly badly. All told, the Department faced more than $150 million in cuts in annual budgets, according to a report accessed by the National Observer. The previous government, the report notes, also cut annual spending on management of fisheries and ecosystems by $87 million or 17.7% and cut annual spending used to manage ecosystems and oceans science by $39.5 million or 16.3 %. These cuts also resulted in the loss of 1900 staff members across the country.
The budget slashing not only reduced the capacity of the department in fisheries management day-to-day but also meant some substantial cuts in the ability to do the necessary science. Stock assessments, important for determining the health of our fisheries, went from annual to multi-annual, at best. The report accessed by the National Observer remarked that “core fisheries and oceanographic monitoring resources have atrophied. Our challenges with storing and managing data are growing.”
Fish species have also lost a lot through these budget cuts. Environment Canada assessed that less half (48%) of our fish stocks are in the “healthy zone”, where fish stock status is good, and fisheries management decisions and harvest strategies are in place. Furthermore, there have been no new species listed to the Species at Risk Act since 2013. There is a need to prioritize management of these species under the Fisheries Act, but currently there lacks funding to properly asses and rebuild these species or manage their status.
The Ecology Action Centre, as one of the 16 ENGOs members of the Green Budget Coalition has been advocating for more money for Fisheries and Oceans for years. The GBC has met with senior decision makers in Ottawa. We articulated the amount of money that we believe the government will need to fulfill its commitments on protected areas, but also how much money is needed to restore the basic functioning of the department for sustainable fisheries management and species recovery.
Sustainable fisheries management and ecosystem science are more than words on a page. Fulfilling the ministerial mandate and Canada’s previous commitments and policies must be backed up with real dollars. We will be watching on March 22, with the health of our fisheries and ocean at stake.
Katie Schleit is a Marine Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. She thinks that more money in federal budgets should be placed into supporting our collective environment that allows us to breath, eat and live. You can read all of the recommendations from the Green Budget Coalition from this and past year’s here.