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Science Advice on Guidance for Limit Reference Points under the Fish Stocks Provisions

National Peer Review – National Capital Region

June 21-23 and 28-29 2022
Virtual Meeting

Chairpersons: Hugues Benoit & Lisa Setterington


Among the 2019 amendments to the Fisheries Act are the Fish Stocks provisions (FSP) that introduce legal requirements to promote sustainability, avoid stocks falling below their Limit Reference Point (LRP) and implement rebuilding plans for depleted stocks below their LRP within prescribed time periods, all while considering biology and environmental conditions. According to the Precautionary Approach Policy (DFO 2009), the LRP represents the stock status below which serious harm (e.g., impaired productivity; Shelton and Rice 2002) may occur to the stock and where there may also be resultant impacts to the ecosystem, associated species and/or a long-term loss of fishing opportunities.

The FSP will apply to stocks prescribed under regulation. Furthermore, when a prescribed major fish stock has declined to or below its LRP, a requirement for a rebuilding plan is triggered (FSP s 6.2), highlighting the importance of estimating stock status relative to the LRP. In order to comply with the legislation, stocks need to be prescribed such that there is one LRP and one status determination per stock. In some cases, this may require ‘disaggregation’ of a single stock with multiple LRPs into multiple stocks with one LRP each, or a single LRP that would apply to a composite of subunits. LRPs and stock statuses will also need to be estimated for stocks that currently lack them in order to enable their prescription.

The Science Sector has identified a need to provide guidance to address scenarios that presently do not meet the “one stock, one LRP” requirement or for which there is insufficient knowledge of status relative to the LRP. There is also a more general need for guidance on methods to determine and report both LRP and stock status across the data and knowledge spectrum. Guidance will take into account international practices and be supported by Canadian case studies where applicable. This advisory process will assist the Department in the prescription of major fish stocks by regulation by accelerating the development of LRPs and determination of stock status; and also contribute to operational guidelines for the Science Sector. The Science guidelines are being developed to support fisheries science practitioners in the provision of a nationally consistent approach to providing scientific advice to support sustainable management of Canada’s fish stocks.


  1. Define the terms “stock”, “status” and “LRP” and the implications of the interpretation that there is one LRP for each prescribed major fish stock. The choice of LRP for a given stock needs to be feasible (can be operationalized by science advice and appropriate management measures), defensible (consistent with best practices), reliably estimated, and in line with the guidance and intent of the Precautionary Approach Policy regarding the role of LRPs as components of sustainable fisheries management objectives to avoid serious harm (DFO 2009).
  2. Identify issues, and provide guidance and recommendations for methods to estimate and report both LRP and stock status across the data spectrum, including data-limited scenarios, in situations of high uncertainty or variability, and possible criteria by which to determine whether a LRP, or stock status, can be determined reliably.
  3. Define and review the potential consequences of scale mismatch in fisheries (situations where the stock structure assumed in the assessment and management systems does not correspond to the biological stock). Provide guidance and recommendations for methods to evaluate assumptions around stock structure in fisheries science advice, and for options to consider when these assumptions are not well supported. Provide current best practices for the identification of a single LRP and metric of stock status for stocks with complex or aggregate stock structure, and for scenarios where the understanding of stock structure and/or spatial or temporal distribution changes in the future.
  4. Provide guidance and recommendations to support the estimation and reporting of both LRP and stock status relative to the LRP for stocks with single “best model” assessments and for those with multiple operating models (e.g., Management Strategy Evaluations or ensemble model approaches).
  5. Provide advice for scenarios where understanding or perception of stock status changes between assessments due to acquisition of new or previously unavailable data, a change in analytical methods, or a change in the choice of reference points. This can include the risk of a “false positive” indication of a LRP breach.
  6. Identify key knowledge gaps related to these objectives that should be considered for further research.

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