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Fishery Monitoring Policy

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Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has led the development of a Fishery Monitoring Policy to set out the direction for fishery monitoring in Canada’s federally-managed wild capture fisheries. This policy statement identifies the policy objectives and principles and, together with a companion document on the procedural steps, describes the decision-making approach to guide the establishment of fishery monitoring in individual fisheries.

This policy is part of the Department’s Sustainable Fisheries Framework (SFF) suite of policies. Dependable, timely and accessible fishery data are essential to effectively apply the SFF policies on the precautionary approach, bycatch, forage species and sensitive benthic areas, and thus for the sustainable management of fisheries.

Further, Canada has participated in the development of international instruments that describe the need to establish effective fishery monitoring and catch reporting. These instruments include the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (1995) and the United Nations (UN) Resolution 68/71 on Sustainable Fisheries (December 2013). Canada is also a signatory to international agreements that create obligations in this regard, either directly or through the conservation and management measures of the relevant Regional Fisheries Organization established under these agreements Footnote 1.

Fishery monitoring activities

The following provides an overview of common fishery monitoring approaches used in Canada. It is not intended to be exhaustive, nor will all methods described be appropriate in all fisheries. Fishery monitoring encompasses the set of field and desktop activities that allow regulators and others to collect information on a fishery and its catches. Fishery monitoring may also be conducted across fisheries, for example, to estimate the catch of a bycatch species that is intercepted by multiple fisheries. Fishery monitoring is separate from science surveys that are independent from the fishery.

Fishery monitoring activities in Canada generally fall under two categories. Consult Annex 1 for examples:

Fishery monitoring activities may also include the auditing of collected data for accuracy and completeness, biological sampling requirements, summarizing and analyzing catch data and other fisheries data, and communicating catch estimates and other information within Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), to harvesters and to the public.

Information from fishery monitoring may include catch data, such as:

Information may also include non-catch aspects of fishing activity, such as:

The policy considers Indigenous knowledge an important component of fishery monitoring in Canada. Furthermore, it is important to recognize fishery monitoring activities currently undertaken by Indigenous groups in their fisheries as important contributions to fishery monitoring in Canada.

The importance of fishery monitoring

Robust fishery monitoring information is essential for stock assessment and to effectively implement management measures such as target and bycatch limits, quotas and closed areas. Fishery monitoring information is also needed to support the long-term sustainable use of fish resources for Food, Social, and Ceremonial and other Indigenous fisheries, commercial fisheries, recreational fisheries, and to support market access for Canadian fish products.

Nationally and internationally there is an increased focus on improving fishery monitoring to support the implementation of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

Effective fishery monitoring is necessary to meet the Department’s policy objectives, including the Policy on Managing Bycatch (2013), and Fishery Decision-Making Framework Incorporating the Precautionary Approach (2009). Both of these policies require monitoring of all fisheries catching or intercepting a stock / population in order to account for total fishing removals.


The policy applies to all wild capture Canadian fisheries and marine mammal harvests managed under the Fisheries Act in Canadian waters. It also applies to new and emerging fisheries as well as to fisheries managed by DFO that operate outside of Canada’s exclusive economic zone.

Decisions flowing from the application of this policy will be subject to the Fisheries Act and its regulations as well as other Departmental policies. These decisions will be made in consultation with legislated co-management partners, Indigenous groups, and participants in commercial and recreational fisheries, referred to hereafter as “Indigenous groups and stakeholders”Footnote 2.


This policy is guided by the legal and policy framework designed to deliver the management of Canada’s fisheries and oceans resources, including the Fisheries Act, the Oceans Act, the Species at Risk Act and associated regulations. The legislation and regulations provide the authority to apply this policy.

Section 61 of the Fisheries Act provides, among other provisions, that the Minister may require harvesters to submit any document or other information for the purpose of conducting research, creating an inventory of data, establishing objectives, or reporting on the state of fisheries. This information must be provided within the time and in the manner specified by the Minister. Furthermore, the Minister may require the person to keep the required information, together with calculations, measurements and other data on which they are based, and may also specify where, how and how long they are to be kept, which is not to exceed five years.

Section 39 of the Fishery (General) Regulations gives the Minister the authority to designate observers. Section 46-47 of the Fishery (General) Regulations stipulates a vessel master’s responsibilities to assist observers.

Requirements to report specific information related to catch, fishing activity and monitoring, which are identified through application of this policy, will be set out in license conditions imposed pursuant to the authorities under section 22 of the Fishery (General) Regulations and under the Marine Mammal Regulations.

Policy objectives

The policy has three objectives:

To achieve these policy objectives, fishery monitoring programs must have monitoring objectives tied to specific fishery- or stock/population-level objectives, aimed at collecting the required data with an acceptable level of dependability, timeliness, and accessibility. These terms are defined below.


Dependability is the ability of each monitoring tool to achieve the objectives for which it was intended. These objectives may relate to a measurement, such as estimating catch to within a desired level of statistical quality. The objectives may otherwise relate to compliance with a limit, such as determining the probability of the catch exceeding a catch limit. In both cases, a monitoring program may be considered dependable if the estimate it produces is of sufficient quality, defined by levels of accuracy and precision, to meet a specific objective.


Timely means that data from fishery monitoring programs is made available within the timelines agreed upon by Indigenous groups and stakeholdersFootnote 2 and DFO, who require the data for various purposes such as stock assessments and annual, seasonal or topical analyses of monitoring coverage. Respecting timelines is important as the information needs to be available in time to support decisions. For quota decisions, for example, timeliness can mean minimizing the time lag between the collection and analysis of data and the fishing period, so that quota decisions are based on recent data.

Accessibility of data and necessary restrictions

Accessible means the data is readily available to those who require the data, subject to restrictions including safeguards to protect sensitive information. The data should be in a consistent, standardized form so that it can be integrated and analyzed at the fishery, stock / population, regional, and national level. DFO will aim to make the information it collects from fishery monitoring programs available to data providers, subject to requirements under the Privacy Act, the Access to Information Act, the Fisheries Act, and internal guidelines on the informal release of information. These requirements include the Indigenous knowledge confidentiality and disclosure provisions provided in s. 61.2 of the Fisheries Act.

Policy principles

Fishery monitoring in all fisheries shall be guided by the following four principles.

Principle 1: Respecting Indigenous and Treaty rights

DFO seeks to manage fisheries, including decisions flowing from the application of this policy, in a manner consistent with the constitutional protection provided to Aboriginal and Treaty rights by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Principle 2: Monitoring requirements should respond to the degree of risk associated with the fishery and the complexity of the fishery

An objective of this policy is to establish monitoring requirements which include methods, coverage levels, and coverage frequency, in a consistent manner across fisheries.  This does not mean that monitoring requirements will be the same in individual fisheries.  Monitoring requirements will depend on a number of factors such as the fishery’s unique characteristics, its monitoring objectives, its complexity, the conservation risks the fishery poses to stocks / populations, and the required quality of the data.

In general, a complex fishery with multiple conservation and compliance objectives should have methods and levels of monitoring that allow estimates of higher quality to be made from the data collected via the fishery monitoring program. Conversely, a fishery that is less complex and has a low risk to the catch components may require a lower level and frequency of monitoring and catch estimates of lower quality.

To put in place fishery monitoring that is adequate to conserve fish stocks / populations and manage fishery removals sustainably, we must understand the conservation risk an individual fishery poses to a stock/population and the risk from all fisheries that interact with the stock/population. Thus, the monitoring program in a fishery should be adequate to meet the fishery-specific objectives. In addition, the monitoring programs in all fisheries targeting or intercepting a stock/population should be sufficient to meet the stock/population level objectives.

Principle 3: A fishery monitoring program should be designed to achieve the fishery and policy objectives, and take into account cost-effectiveness and practicality of implementation

Fishery monitoring programs should ensure that the information required to achieve the policy and fishery objectives are obtained as cost-effectively as possible. A fishery monitoring program should balance rigour, affordability and practicality of implementation without sacrificing the quality of the information needed for management purposes. In cases where monitoring needed to meet a fishery’s objectives and the policy objectives are not considered affordable, a more conservative harvest regime may be required to adequately manage the risks. To manage risks, these actions could include controlling area, time, effort or gear type, or other measures.

To promote cost‐effective fishery monitoring, the policy encourages the use of new technologies, where appropriate, for collecting fisheries data such as electronic reporting, electronic monitoring, and video monitoring systems, which may be able to reduce monitoring costs over the long term in some fisheries.

Principle 4: Shared accountability and responsibility

Assessing fishery monitoring programs and developing monitoring objectives and requirements is a shared responsibility between DFO and Indigenous groups and stakeholdersFootnote 2. All parties must be held accountable for successful implementation of the policy. These efforts will build on the existing advisory processes and operational relationships with harvesters. Everyone involved in fishery monitoring must be committed to providing dependable, timely and accessible fisheries information.

Full engagement and collaboration will give harvesters an opportunity to better understand their responsibilities for complying with monitoring requirements, and will give DFO an opportunity to better understand the diverse needs of Indigenous groups and stakeholdersFootnote 2.

Fishery monitoring program costs and responsibilities

The responsibility to pay for catch reporting and monitoring is shared between DFO and fish harvesters. This is in accordance with established cost sharing arrangements which will not change without consulting affected groups.

DFO is responsible for the oversight of fishery monitoring programs. Specifically, with respect to departmental costs, DFO is currently responsible for:

In addition to the above cost responsibilities, collecting, analyzing, storing and sharing fishery information will require DFO to maintain robust information management systems for fishery monitoring and catch reporting. This will complement the investments made in catch reporting and monitoring by resource users. Finally, DFO is also responsible for ensuring that fishery monitoring programs only collect data that is necessary to meet the objectives of the programs.

Fish harvester costs and responsibilities

DFO acknowledges the time, effort and costs incurred by fish harvesters in documenting, reviewing, and submitting required data. These activities will be required to implement adjustments to monitoring programs or to pilot new monitoring programs. DFO also acknowledges that capacity constraints facing subsistence fisheries in remote areas may hinder their ability to establish comprehensive monitoring and reporting.

Food, Social, and Ceremonial and other Indigenous fisheries

Through DFO’s Indigenous programs, including the Aboriginal Fisheries Strategy, Indigenous groups continue to access funding to build long-term capacity to participate in fisheries management, including to undertake catch monitoring activities. DFO continues to look for opportunities to strengthen capacity and resources for Indigenous harvesters to participate in fishery management activities to support sustainable fisheries.

Commercial fisheries

The commercial sector is responsible for the majority of costs associated with the catch reporting and monitoring requirements to support their monitoring programs, including dockside monitoring and at-sea observer programs, as well as:

Service providers are generally responsible for:

Recreational fisheries

DFO covers some of the costs associated with the collection of information on the catch and release of fish and the monitoring of recreational fisheries. DFO will continue to provide this support to the extent it is able. Going forward, in cases where additional investments are needed in reporting and monitoring in a recreational fishery beyond the status quo, DFO may explore means by which the recreational sector can contribute.

Implementation of the Policy

To implement the policy, DFO will develop and implement fishery monitoring work plans that outline priority actions and associated timelines to apply the policy. These work plans will be updated regularly with new priorities, and should reflect input from Indigenous groups and stakeholdersFootnote 2 including, where appropriate, Indigenous knowledge. This policy will be implemented through the Integrated Fisheries Management Planning process, legislated co-governance structures, or other fishery planning processes.

Implementation must also recognize that, in some instances, Indigenous harvesters and their organizations already carry out fishery monitoring activities. Partnering with Indigenous groups to explore best practices and to build capacity for fisheries monitoring represents for DFO an opportunity to determine how the fishery knowledge and information maintained by Indigenous communities can inform better decision-making.

The accompanying document, “Introduction to the procedural steps to implement the Fishery Monitoring Policy, outlines the steps to follow to help ensure that a consistent method is used to determine the monitoring needs in a fishery. DFO will work closely with Indigenous groups throughout the implementation process to respect their Treaty and Indigenous rights, and also to support their aspirations with respect to increased capacity for fishery management.

Consistency with existing operational fishery monitoring policies

DFO will implement this policy consistent with the National Dockside Monitoring Program policies and procedures and the At-Sea Observer Program Corporation designation policies. These policies serve to operationalize at-sea observer and dockside monitoring requirements and outline the designation process and other requirements of these programs. Other existing fishery monitoring policies, such as the “National Standard for the Development of Electronic Logbook Client Applications”, will be considered where appropriate.

Catch information collected by harvester or community organizations who are not designated service providers is an important component of fishery monitoring however, depending on their level of independence, undesignated parties may not be suitable replacements for designated observers if required by licence conditions.

Performance measurement

As part of the IFMP post-season review process, DFO will evaluate monitoring programs against fishery objectives and the associated monitoring objectives. Where there is evidence that monitoring objectives are not being achieved in a fishery, a plan will be established in collaboration with the fishery participants to take corrective action.

Over the longer term, and in collaboration with fishery participants, DFO will track and evaluate progress to achieve the policy objectives and report on progress. This evaluation may examine factors such as whether the quality of the catch information collected from a fishery has been assessed, whether risks have been assessed, and whether the quality of the information is adequate to achieve the objectives for the fishery and objectives related to collective risks to stocks / populations.


At-Sea Observer Program Corporation designation policy and National Dockside Monitoring Program Policy: The fishery monitoring policy ensures a standard approach to establishing reporting requirements and fishery monitoring levels in all fisheries managed by the Department. However, the administration of the At-Sea Observer and the National Dockside Monitoring programs is conducted by DFO’s Conservation and Protection branch. Canada's At-Sea Observer Program places designated private-sector observers aboard fishing vessels to monitor fishing activities, collect catch data and other fisheries data, and to monitor industry compliance with fishing regulations and licence conditions. The Department has standards in place to designate individual at-sea observers and corporations seeking to provide at-sea observer services. The Dockside Monitoring Program provides accurate, timely, third-party verification of fish landings. It is the primary and, in some areas, the only source of landings data.


A) retained catch that includes species, and specimens of the target species, such as specimens of a particular sex, size or condition, that the harvester is not licensed to direct for but may or must retain; and,

B) all non-retained catch, including catch released from gear and entanglements, whether alive, injured or dead, and whether of the target species or the non-target species (DFO, 2013).

Catch: Catch can be divided into two categories: retained catch, which is the portion of the catch that is retained for use, and non-retained catch, which is the portion of the catch that is returned to the water. The retained catch includes landed catch as well as catch that is used in some way but not landed, such as bait. Non-retained catch includes catch released from the gear before being hauled on board the vessel, such as catch slipped from a purse seine, and catch that becomes visibly entangled in the fishing gear, such as entangled whales, birds and sea turtles. Further details are provided by “Guidance on Implementation of the Policy on Managing Bycatch”. (DFO, 2013)

Catch data: Catch data is collected at time of harvest, by fish harvesters, at-sea observers, or via electronic monitoring, and can include the following kinds of data:

Information needed for stock assessments, species life history characteristics, fishery objectives, and other considerations will dictate what catch data are relevant to the management of a fishery. Fisheries specific requirements for catch data are set out in licence conditions and in procedural documents, such as IFMPs or conservation harvesting plans. This definition of catch data does not include effort data, such as vessel counts, gear inventories, or vessel location data. This type of data may also be collected as part of a monitoring program and paired with catch data, for example, recording where catches occurred in a fishing area.

Commercial, in relation to a fishery: Fish is harvested under the authority of a license for the purpose of sale, trade, or barter. (Fisheries Act, Subsection 2(1))

Complexity, in relation to a fishery: Certain management regimes such as the individual transferable quota (ITQ) system may be considered “highly complex”, in that these systems typically require more timely monitoring.  Other fishery characteristics that increase complexity include but are not limited to the number of stocks or species targeted and intercepted by the fishery, trip length, fishery location, and at-sea processing.

Conservation: The protection, maintenance, and rehabilitation of genetic diversity, species, and ecosystems to sustain biodiversity and the continuance of evolutionary and natural production processes (DFO, 2005).

Electronic Monitoring: Technology installed on a vessel to monitor compliance of fishing operations. This includes technology such as the Vessel Monitoring System and Video Monitoring. Objectives for the use of electronic monitoring include substituting the presence of at-sea fisheries observers to reduce operating cost), and/or improving the dependability of the data.

Ecosystem approach to fisheries management: An ecosystem approach requires that fisheries management decisions consider the impact of the fishery not only on the target species, but also on non-target species, seafloor habitats, and the ecosystems of which these species are a part. This approach also requires that management decisions consider changes in the ecosystem which may affect the species being fished. This includes the effects of weather and climate, and the interactions of target fish stocks with predators, competitors, and prey species.

Fishery: This is a broad term that can be defined by fleet (such as inshore or offshore), sector (such as commercial or recreational), target species, species groups (such as finfish and shellfish), methods (including mobile gear, fixed gear), timing (including opening date and fall fishery), or by location (such as the area where a fishing appliance is used). The policy requires participants to assess monitoring programs based on a unit of assessment, i.e. a fishery or fishery sub-unit. Existing advisory processes may have already established the most appropriate or practical units for discussing management issues like fisheries monitoring, for example, harvesters with particular licenses fishing in defined areas using the same gear.

Fishing effort: The amount of fishing gear of a specific type used on the fishing grounds over a given unit of time, for example hours trawled per day, number of hooks set per day or number of hauls of a beach seine per day. When two or more kinds of gear are used, the respective efforts must be adjusted to some standard type before being added. (FAO, 1997)

Independent Verification: Verification and Validation are procedures used to check that a system meets the specifications and requirements to fulfill its intended purpose. Independent Verification means that verification and validation are performed by a party that is free of any real or potential conflicts of interest. In catch reporting there are often incentives to under-report, for example, to hide catches in excess of legal quotas, or to over-report, for example, in anticipation of allocation decisions based on past catches. DFO may designate observer corporations for the collection of catch data, ensuring they do not have a conflict of interest with the harvesters. These organizations must be designated by DFO and have a quality management system in place.

There may be ways to validate catch information without using designated observer corporations. Combining two unconnected monitoring tools, such as cross referencing self-reported data against data from a video monitoring system, is one example.

Precautionary Approach (PA): The Precautionary Approach in fisheries management is about being cautious when scientific information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate and not using the absence of adequate scientific information as a reason to postpone or fail to take action to avoid serious harm to the resource (DFO 2009).

Quality:  In this policy, this term refers to statistical data quality, which measures the degree to which an estimate, such as a catch estimate, approximates the true value, such as the actual catch. It is measured in terms of bias and variability or their opposites, accuracy and precision.

Risk:  is the effect of uncertainty on fishery objectives, measured in terms of the consequences of an event and the likelihood of their occurrence. In the context of the Fishery Monitoring Policy, the two main risks considered are the failure to achieve conservation or compliance objectives, and the failure to achieve the associated monitoring objectives.

Sustainable Use: The use of resources in a way and at a rate that does not lead to their long-term decline, thereby maintaining the potential for future generations to meet their needs and aspirations. Sustainable use refers to consumptive uses of biological resources. (DFO, 2005)

Target catch: retained catch that consists of the species that the harvester is licensed to direct for, in other words, the target species of the fishery. In a multispecies fishery, this includes any species that the license holder is licensed to direct for on a given fishing trip regardless of whether the license holder did so or not. (DFO, 2013).


Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Strategic Framework for Fishery Monitoring and Catch Reporting in the Pacific Fisheries. 2012.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Canada’s Policy for Conservation of Canada’s Wild Pacific Salmon. 2005.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Policy on Managing Bycatch and Discards. 2013.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Guidance on Implementation of the Policy on Managing Bycatch. 2013.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Fishery Decision-Making Framework Incorporating the Precautionary Approach. 2009.

Stanley, R.D., Karim, T., Koolman, J., and McElderry, H. 2015. Design and implementation of electronic monitoring in the British Columbia groundfish hook and line fishery: a retrospective view of the ingredients of success. ICES Journal of Marine Science 72:1230-1236

Treasury Board Secretariat. Open Data 101. 2016.

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. 1995.

United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries. No. 4. Rome, FAO. 82p. 1997.

United Nations General Assembly. Convention on the Law of the Sea. 1982.

United Nations General Assembly. Agreement for the implementation of the provisions of the United Nations convention on the law of the sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks. 1995.

United Nations General Assembly. Sustainable fisheries, including through the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and related instruments. 2013.

Annex 1: Examples of fishery monitoring data collection methods

Annex 1: Examples of fishery monitoring data collection methods

Long description

Annex 1 is a chart outlining the different types of fishery monitoring measures used in Canada. Measures are first split up by where the data collection occurs, either at sea or at a dock. Then the measures are separated based on whether the information is collected by harvesters (fisher-dependent) or by arms-length means such as third-party companies (fisher-independent). In addition, each of the four categories of monitoring present Technology Options that utilize newer technology being implemented for catch reporting and monitoring.

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