A Fishery Decision-Making Framework Incorporating the Precautionary Approach

The “Fishery Decision-Making Framework Incorporating the Precautionary Approach” applies to key harvested fish stocks managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada; that is, the fish stocks that are the specific and intended targets of a commercial, recreational, or subsistence fishery. It may be applied more broadly to other stocks, if necessary or as circumstances warrant.

The Framework requires that a harvest strategy be incorporated into respective fisheries management plans to keep the removal rate moderate when the stock status is healthy, to promote rebuilding when stock status is low, and to ensure a low risk of serious or irreversible harm to the stock. It also requires a rebuilding plan when a stock reaches low levels.

In general, the precautionary approach in fisheries management is about being cautious when scientific knowledge is uncertain, and not using the absence of adequate scientific information as a reason to postpone action or failure to take action to avoid serious harm to fish stocks or their ecosystem. This approach is widely accepted as an essential part of sustainable fisheries management.

Applying the precautionary approach to fisheries management decisions entails establishing a harvest strategy that:

The upper stock reference point marks the boundary between the healthy and cautious zones. When a fish stock level falls below this point, the removal rate at which the fish are harvested must be progressively reduced in order to avoid serious harm to the stock. The upper stock reference point is also a target reference point that is determined by productivity objectives for the stock, broader biological considerations, and social and economic objectives for the fishery.

The limit reference point marks the boundary between the cautious and critical zones. When a fish stock level falls below this point, there is a high probability that its productivity will be so impaired that serious harm will occur. The limit reference point is established based on the best available scientific information.

The removal reference establishes the maximum removal rate of fish stocks in each of the zones; progressively decreasing from the healthy to the critical zones. The removal reference is less than or equal to the maximum sustainable yield at which a fish stock can be harvested. This harvest rate must include removals of the stock from all methods (i.e., target, by-catch and other incidental mortality in other fisheries).

Pre-agreed, risk-based actions guide management decisions on harvest rates under various stock status conditions. In the healthy zone, the fish stock status is good, and fisheries management decisions and harvest strategies are designed to maintain fish stocks within this zone. In the cautious zone, decisions and strategies promote stock rebuilding to the healthy zone. In the critical zone, stock growth is promoted and removals are kept to the lowest possible level.

Why is the precautionary approach being incorporated into fisheries management?

There are many reasons why Fisheries and Oceans Canada is incorporating the precautionary approach into its fisheries management decisions.

Most importantly, Canada has domestic and international commitments to implement this approach into its decision-making framework for fisheries. Domestically, these commitments include the 2003 guiding principles for the application of precaution to science-based decision making in the federal government (PDF), the 2004 Atlantic Fisheries Policy Review. Internationally, this includes the United Nations Fish Agreement, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing and the FAO associated guidelines on applying the precautionary approach in fisheries.

The application of the precautionary approach is also directly linked to the competitiveness of Canada’s fishing industry. Applying the precautionary approach is widely accepted as an essential component of a sustainably harvested fishery, which is used in eco-certification processes that have been established to meet increasing consumer demand for sustainable seafood products.

How is this framework being implemented in Canada’s fisheries?

Progress has already been made to implement the precautionary approach within the management plans for a number of fisheries in Canada. This is the result of work that has been underway for several years. The elements of this decision-making framework will be incorporated into fisheries management plans over time, beginning in 2009.

Full implementation will not happen overnight. It will be done in a phased and progressive manner over a number of years based on regional priorities established by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in consultation with fishery groups and other fishery interests.

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