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Research Document 2021/062

Promoting Sustainability in the context of the Fish Stocks Provisions and the Fisheries Decision-Making Framework Incorporating the Precautionary Approach

By Marentette, J.R., Kronlund, A.R., Healey, B., Forrest, R., and Holt, C.


Canada’s Fisheries Act was revised on June 21, 2019, resulting in new Considerations and Fish Stocks provisions (FSP) that relate to the management of fisheries. The FSP (Section 6) contains new terminology: 1) a requirement to implement measures to maintain major fish stocks “at or above the level necessary to promote the sustainability of the stock” (s 6.1(1)); and 2) if those management measures are unfeasible due to cultural or socio-economic impacts, to maintain stocks above the limit reference point or LRP (s 6.1(2)), which is a biological threshold to serious harm.

Definitions of sustainability recognize both time and the need for equitable access to benefits across generations of resource users. Most jurisdictions recognize multiple axes of sustainability including ecological, socio-economic and institutional axes, but prioritize them differently. Consideration of all axes is necessary to operationalize fisheries management to support sustainable use, and science alone cannot advise on all of them. A pragmatic definition of sustainability in fisheries is that it is the process that conveys the ability to maintain a specified level of practical and effective use of a fisheries resource over the long term, where practical and effective reflects value-based measureable objectives related to biological, socio-economic and cultural outcomes. In the same vein, a level necessary to promote sustainability of the stock can be defined as “a threshold representing a specified level of practical and effective resource use over the long term.” In the absence of clearly-defined value-based objectives for resource use or tolerance for risk to the stock, the threshold cannot be defined more specifically. Thresholds and other levels fulfilling s 6.1(1) or s 6.1(2) differ with respect to trade-offs among biological, socio-economic, and/or cultural objectives but both sections imply the stock be maintained above the LRP.

Limits, other thresholds and target reference points play important roles in constraining which stock states are considered sustainable internationally. Review of Canada’s PA Policy suggests that fisheries sustainability could be evaluated, in part, by considering whether stock status exceeds the LRP and whether fishing mortality is less than the removal reference rate. The question of sustainability can also be assessed by evaluating whether management measures are expected to perform acceptably with respect to stated limits and targets over specified time frames.

The multiple axes of sustainability imply there is a role for multiple sectors in defining and promoting stock and fisheries sustainability. The Science Sector sets LRPs, evaluates stock status against reference points, and may contribute by evaluating other elements of the ecological axis of sustainability such as age or size composition of the stock, habitat, trophic level and other ecosystem considerations in relation to objectives. Setting targets, other thresholds, time frames and determining acceptable risks are value-based choices and cannot be established via scientific means alone.

All Sectors may benefit from Departmental guidance as to how s 6.1(1) and s 6.1(2) differ in implementation, particularly with respect to the use of PA Policy reference points in management objectives, and implications for management measures including harvest control rules.

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