Friday, April 08, 2011

An Open Letter to the Minister of Fisheries

If you are at all concerned about the future state of our oceans, I have written a letter to Gail Shea (our Fisheries Minister).  Feel free to copy this letter, sign it, and mail it to her.  If you need a refresher as to why this matters, read my Lament for Canada's Oceans.  With an election forthcoming, now is the time to let our government know that we care about the future of our fisheries.  I must cite the work of Dr. Jeff Hutchings as the inspiration for much of this letter.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

April 7 2011

Dear Minister Shea,

I am writing to you as a Canadian citizen concerned about the future of Canada’s fish stocks.  According to the Supreme Court of Canada (1997), Canada’s fisheries are a common property resource belonging to all of the people of Canada.  The Fisheries Minister’s duty is to conserve and develop the fisheries on behalf of our public interest.  It is my belief that an over-emphasis on development has led to an under-valuing of conservation, such that the future of our fisheries (and hence their development) is under threat.  The loss of any fishery is certainly not in the best interest of the public. 

First, I am concerned about our implementation of the Precautionary Approach.  The United Nations Fish Stock Agreement of 1995 stated that, to implement the Precautionary Approach, stock-specific Limit Reference Points needed to be established, and action taken if those Reference Points were exceeded.  Canada affirmed its resolve to follow the Precautionary Approach in the Oceans Act of 1996, and the Privy Council further affirmed this in 2003.  The FAO’s Guidelines for implementing UN fish stock agreements (1995) recommended that Limit Reference Points be established to define overfishing, Target Reference Points be established to guide recovery plans, and harvest control rules be established based on these Reference Points.  And yet, Canada has not followed through on this.

Recent data published in the Journal Science (2009) and the 2009 Cod CSAS Science Advisory Reports show that, on average, Canada’s fisheries are heavily overfished, and not a single one of our fisheries (with perhaps the exception of shrimp) are sustainable.  This is in direct contrast with the fisheries of Australia/New Zealand, Europe and the western and eastern coasts of the United States.  These other nations have established Reference Points, and are reaping the rewards.  So why has Canada been unwilling to do this?  As a Canadian citizen, I do not want to see the further collapse of any of our fisheries.  My generation bears the burden of the single greatest numerical loss of a vertebrate in Canadian history; what steps are we taking to ensure that it does not happen again?  Although I applaud our willingness to adopt the Precautionary Approach, it is meaningless if we fail to implement it.

I wish to see the following implemented by the Canadian government:
1. The establishment of science-determined Target and Limit Reference Points
2. The establishment of fishery rebuilding timelines
3. The implementation of Harvest Control Rules

Secondly, I am concerned with the labelling of marine products in the stores.  Europe and America require that fish be labelled with their name, geographic location of the population, their origin (wild-caught or farmed) and the manner in which they were caught.  I am unable to find any details beyond the name of the fish in Canadian grocery stores.  This has actively prohibited me from purchasing any fish products, as I refuse to spend money on unsustainable fisheries.  What steps are being taken to catch Canada up with the system used by the rest of the developed world?  Why are our fisheries, for the most part, not participating with the Marine Stewardship Council?  Is it because our fisheries would not meet their criteria?

Thirdly, I am concerned by Canada’s lack of Marine Protected Areas.  In 1992 Canada promised to protect its coastal ecosystems through MPAs, yet now, in 2011, we have protected less than 1%.  Although I commend this initiative, last year it was revealed that fishing occurs in 99% of Canada’s MPAs.  I would like to see the following:

1. 20% of Canada’s waters established as MPAs.
2. Regulations put in place and enforced to ensure that these sites remain unexploited.

This is especially important in the north, where melting sea ice will open up new fisheries.

Finally, I am concerned by the Canadian government’s refusal to provide endangered species status to economically valuable fish.  The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (2004) recommended to the government that, under SARA, the porbeagle shark be designated as ‘endangered’.  This was due to a 90% reduction in the species since the 1960s.  The Canadian government rejected this recommendation, citing recent stability in the population and the economic value of the porbeagle to two fishermen in Nova Scotia.  Why was population stability used as a marker for its well-being, when that ‘stability’ is at 90% of what it once was?  And why does economic value factor into designating a species as ‘endangered’?  It does not seem to me that this fish is being protected on behalf of the public interest.

I am deeply concerned that, in my generation, Canada will lose many of its fish resources.  This is very much an election issue for me.  Please, let me know what the government is doing to protect the property of the Canadian public.

Respectfully yours,


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