Fishing stocks to extinction
Just when you think it can't get any worse DFO manages to out do itself. This was in the Globe and Mail today. Read em and weep boys.
Fishing the fish stocks to extinction
Article Comments (13) JEFFREY SIMPSON
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
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November 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM EST
HALIFAX — Earlier this year, scientists in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans again told minister Loyola Hearn that cod were disappearing fast in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Their findings were posted on the department's website. "The stock is headed to extinction," they warned. If the minister allowed a catch of 2,000 tonnes a year, the stock would be gone in 20 years.
As a result, the fishery was closed. But not for long. The fishery was reopened for a 2,000-tonne catch, exactly the size of catch that the scientists had warned would extinguish the stock.
We have seen this movie before. It's called the tragedy of the commons, wherein a common resource gets fished to extinction because no one owns it except the Crown, whose minister is pushed and pulled by vested interests and individual fishermen, and who is, therefore, prone to put short-term employment first and conservation second.
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The northern cod stock off Newfoundland produced 800,000 tonnes of fish a year in the 1960s. Today, it produces next to nothing, and should actually produce nothing at all.
The only reason fishing is allowed stems from political pressure to let some fishermen have at the dilapidated remains of a once-great stock. A moratorium was imposed on commercial fishing in 1992. Ever since, various groups have agitated for this or that part of the fishery to be reopened, especially close to shore.
Scientists consistently warned that any cod caught inshore might jeopardize recovery farther away from the coast. They also warned that the inshore fishery was fragile in the extreme. When the minister reopened a small inshore fishery in 1998, it had to be closed again in 2003, because catch rates were so small. A food and recreational fishery, opened in response to political pressures, had to be closed. And now, once again, another fishery has been reopened for a 7,000-tonne catch, without any target for rebuilding the stock.
Why does this happen? Why do fisheries ministers make decisions directly contrary to the scientific advice they receive? Why do they take decisions that imperil stocks, even to the point of extinction?
There are many answers, but one stands out: We use a common property resource ownership for many fisheries, a system over which the minister has considerable discretion and who is thus constantly pressed to put access to fish first and conservation second.
Fishermen, fishing companies and, quite often, provincial governments advocate for greater access to the stock. They want income, jobs, tax revenues. Provinces have licensed too many fish-processing plants. Those plants desperately need fish to process, so employees can get enough work to qualify for unemployment insurance.
Two fundamental changes would help. The country could accept the emerging international evidence that the common property regime actually imperils conservation and switch to individually owned quota shares, as in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Iceland. More important, Canada needs to overhaul the legislation that gives so much discretion to the minister.
Jeff Hutchings of Dalhousie University recently delivered a wonderful overview of Canada's fisheries failures in a lecture titled Lament for a Nation's Oceans. "The Fisheries Act has failed to provide for and protect fisheries," he argued. "It's been under the auspices of the Fisheries Act that fishery declines took place."
Under the act, he continued, the fisheries minister has "arguably the greatest discretionary power of any minister of the Crown." The department exists both to promote the industry and to conserve the resource. The objectives are often in conflict.
Prof. Hutchings and many other fisheries scientists prefer the U.S. approach. There, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the government must establish targets and reference points to rebuild stocks. There's no discretion, no caving in to local interests. Conserving and rebuilding the stocks come first, last and always.
Unless conservation becomes the basis of Canadian legislation, so ministers are always obligated to put the long-term health of the fish stocks ahead of the short-term gains of local interests, stocks will remain fragile, and some of them, as has happened and is happening, will be fished to extinction.
That is a devastatingly accurate article in regards the terms of reference and the mandate of the DFO.
The only possible way to strategize for conservation of stocks would be to have Parliament rethink the objectives of the Ministry , WHICH may occur but the defining factor is WHEN ?