Canada is failing fisheries: Fewer than one-third considered healthy

Prime Minister Trudeau and new Fisheries Minister Murray have a real opportunity to rewrite the future for Canada’s depleted wild fish and create a thriving ocean economy

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, Nov. 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, Oceana Canada released its fifth annual Fishery Audit, showing that despite significant government commitments and investments, the health of Canada’s wild fish has not improved in the last five years. Fewer than one-third of Canada’s fisheries are considered healthy (30.4 per cent, compared to 34.5 in 2017). Sixteen per cent are in the cautious zone and 17 per cent are in the critical zone. Of the latter, nearly 80 per cent lack the rebuilding plans required under Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) policy that should outline when, how and what is needed to build them back to healthy levels.

In the last half-decade, the federal government has improved transparency in fisheries management, provided new funding for ocean science, completed new national standards for fisheries monitoring and passed an updated Fisheries Act that makes creating rebuilding plans for depleted fisheries the law. Unfortunately, Oceana Canada’s latest Audit shows that DFO has come up short on implementing its policy commitments, and investments have so far yielded few measurable results or major changes in the indicators of good fisheries management.

“Modernized laws, political commitments and much-needed investments are only as good as the government’s ability to successfully implement them, which, in the case of Canadian fisheries management, has demonstrably fallen short,” said Josh Laughren, Executive Director, Oceana Canada. “Prime Minister Trudeau and Fisheries Minister Murray have a rare opportunity to undo the damage done by overfishing, restore abundance to our oceans and drive our post-pandemic economic recovery. This starts with passing strong Fisheries Act rebuilding regulations and ensuring DFO delivers on its long-held policy commitments.”

Changing the trajectory of DFO’s management performance and the health of wild fish populations is more urgent than ever. Fisheries today face increasing pressure from climate change, pollution, habitat destruction and overfishing.

“We can’t afford another five years of the status quo. It is not too late, and we have the tools: global best practices to restore abundance to our oceans already exist. Other countries have implemented progressive measures and are seeing the benefits through healthier populations and higher catches. Canada must do the same,” said Dr. Robert Rangeley, Science Director, Oceana Canada. “The steps needed to do this may sometimes be difficult, but they are clear. Rebuilding wild fish populations, providing lasting support for coastal communities and helping feed future generations, can be part of this government’s legacy.”

One case in point: Since 2000, the U.S. government has rebuilt a reported 47 depleted stocks,i thanks to strong rebuilding requirements in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Twenty-six of them were rebuilt between 2010–2020 with an estimated combined landed value of approximately $240 million CAD in 2020.ii

Oceana Canada is urging Prime Minister Trudeau and Fisheries Minister Murray to address the most critical gaps in Canada’s marine fisheries management regime in the next five years by prioritizing the following actions:

  1. Rebuild depleted fisheries by passing strong rebuilding regulations.
  2. Count everything that is caught for better, science-based decision-making.
  3. Adopt stronger precautionary measures for forage fish and address the vulnerability of species to climate change.

To read the full Audit, and to add your name to Oceana Canada’s urgent call to rebuild Canada’s fish populations, visit

Oceana Canada was established as an independent charity in 2015 and is part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana Canada has successfully campaigned to end the shark fin trade, make rebuilding depleted fish populations the law, improve the way fisheries are managed and protect marine habitat. We work with civil society, academics, fishers, Indigenous Peoples and the federal government to return Canada’s formerly vibrant oceans to health and abundance. By restoring Canada’s oceans, we can strengthen our communities, reap greater economic and nutritional benefits and protect our future.

Contacts: Tammy Thorne, Oceana Canada,, 437-247-0954 and Kathleen Munro, Pilot PMR,, 902-789-3165. Media assets available here.

ii Approximate value of 2020 reported landings (USD) of each rebuilt U.S. population, based on species and National Marine Fisheries Service regions as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Available at Value is approximate as U.S. Fishery Council areas used in the NOAA landed value reporting tool do not always align with stock areas. Also, note Pacific salmon stocks declared rebuilt in 2011-13 are excluded as most have been declared overfished again and included in new rebuilding plans. 

Photos accompanying this announcement are available at

EN Audit Report cover Oceana Audit 2021 Health Status Chart East Coast Fishing Boat Preparing Atlantic cod