The Path Forward for Marine Species-At-Risk in Canada: Watch our Online Science Roundtable

codcircleby the Ecology Action Centre.

On July 13th, the Ecology Action Centre was joined by experts from across the country in a live science roundtable on Canada’s marine species-at-risk, now available for viewing at any time. We discussed what happens (or doesn’t happen) with marine species that are at risk of extinction in Canada and where government could seize opportunities to do more for depleted species.

We also looked more closely at the case of the Atlantic bluefin tuna, a species assessed as Endangered but recently denied formal listing under Canadian law through the Species At Risk Act. Below we present a summary of the main points and the recommendations that emerged from the discussion.

The experts:

  •  Julia Baum • Associate Professor of Biology, University of Victoria
  • Alan Sinclair • Co-chair of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada Marine Fishes Species Specialist Subcommittee Fisheries Scientist (Retired, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
  • Andre Boustany • Research Scientist, Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab, Duke University and Nereus Principle Investigator, Fisheries, Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Katie Schleit • Senior Marine Campaign Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre


Watch the livestream here


Notable points from presentation

  • Many marine fish species end up in Species At Risk Act (SARA) “limbo” wherein they’ve been assessed by COSEWIC as being at-risk but no decision has made whether or not to list them on SARA. It takes an average of 3 ¼ years to make a SARA decision after an at-risk assessment. Of all marine fish assessed as at-risk, fewer than 20% been listed on SARA. Species at lower risk are more likely to be listed than those at higher risk; ¾ of endangered species have been denied listing on SARA.
  • There is a tendency for marine species not to be listed because of socio-economic impact assessments that only consider the short term economic losses of shutting down directed fisheries for these species, but do not consider the potential long-term economic losses of the species suffering further depletion, or the potential economic gains of allowing the species to recover.
  • There are a suite of management tools in Canada, through Fishery and Oceans Canada (DFO)’s sustainable fisheries framework, that could be used to effectively manage marine resource in Canada in addition to SARA, but are not currently not being implemented to their fullest extent.
  • Marine fish typically do have the capacity to recover when fishing pressure is reduced, but the longer decision makers wait to reduce fishing pressure the longer it takes to recover and the probability of eventual recovery declines.
  • There has been some recent progress in the SARA process with a decision on 15 marine species, 13 of which are now listed, and some recovery plans have been completed.
  • bluefinOn Western Atlantic bluefin tuna:
    • They were assessed by COSWEIC as endangered in 2011 and the government made the decision not to list in 2017. There were changes to the status of the stock and to domestic policy in the intervening years.
    • There was a dramatic decline starting in the 1970s that bottomed out in the 80s and then bounced around at low levels. The last few assessments, due to some conservation measures and a single, strong year class, showed a slight uptick in the population.
    • There is a lot of biology we don’t understand and there are challenges with how we assess the populations which leads to a lot of uncertainty.
    • Decision makers can recover bluefin tuna if fishing pressures is reduced
    • A new policy was enacted in 2013 by DFO called the “Species at Risk Act Listing Policy”. It states that if a species isn’t going to be listed, the government needs to present a clear rationale and what additional measures will be taken instead of SARA. Atlantic bluefin tuna is the first case study for this policy.

Recommendations and the path forward
Below are some of the recommendations to DFO that came from this discussion:

  • speciesatriskInclude COSWEIC criteria in DFO’s Precautionary Approach (PA) framework for managing fish in order to ensure that any species that meet COSEWIC criteria for Threatened or Endangered are in the DFO Critical zone. This is similar to what is being done by DFO for Wild Pacific Salmon
  • Change the socio-economic assessments that influence listing decisions to include costs and benefits in the short and long term. These assessments should:
    • Take into account permitting for listing species
    • Account for what the economic benefits might be if the species were able to recover
    • Go through an independent, outside peer-review process
  • Increase transparency in decision-making
    • Make all DFO stock assessments publicly accessible
    • Include civil society, environmental organizations and Indigenous Peoples in decision making, previously open to industry only.
  • implement the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi target 6 to rebuild marine fish within safe biological limits by 2020.
  • Make the timelines for SARA listing decisions legally binding
    • Listing decisions need to be made in a timely fashion;
    • Conservation measures need to be put in place even before listing decisions to prevent further declines
    • Management measures should be periodically evaluated to see if they are succeeding at rebuilding depleted populations.
  • Specific to the case of bluefin tuna:
    • Commit to precautionary management of bluefin in line with the Sustainable Fisheries Framework, which means making decisions that minimize the risk of further depletion of Atlantic bluefin tuna
    • Be a global leader on the adoption of modern best practices in fishery management
    • Consider the ecosystem approach when making bluefin management decisions
    • Improve on-the-water monitoring

For more information on the Ecology Action Centre’s marine work, click here.


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