Fisheries and Oceans Canada is failing British Columbia’s salmon

Canada’s Pacific salmon fishery is forced to withdraw from a renowned eco-certification to avoid failing its upcoming audit.

VANCOUVER – Canada’s Pacific salmon fishery is losing its coveted eco-certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) because the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), despite repeated commitments, failed to address the issues identified with outstanding conditions in previous independent fishery audits. The industry has chosen to pre-emptively withdraw from the international certification to avoid failing its upcoming audit.

“This is an indictment of Ottawa’s management of B.C.’s salmon,” says Greg Taylor, a fisheries consultant and former industry executive. “The loss of MSC certification will be particularly noted in major European markets where many retailers require it. It will also mean programs like Ocean Wise and Seafood Watch will no longer be able to recommend B.C. as a sustainable source of wild-caught salmon.”

MSC re-certified B.C.’s commercial salmon fishery in 2017, subject to DFO addressing outstanding conditions where the fishery does not meet the MSC standard. These conditions required improvements to fishery monitoring, better stock assessments, and reducing impacts on wild salmon populations from harvest of hatchery-raised salmon. An independent 2018 audit reported 9 of 22 of these conditions were behind target.

“MSC sets a very low bar for the sustainability of wild salmon,” says Aaron Hill, Watershed Watch Salmon Society executive director.

“MSC only certifies whether the management system provides for a sustained harvest. It does not certify whether the fishery meets the needs of ecosystems, bears, whales, other wildlife, or whether it is sustainable in the face of climate change,” says Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program Director for Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

“We can’t fish responsibly if we don’t know how many fish are making it back to their streams to spawn,” says Greg Knox from SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, highlighting the erosion of monitoring of B.C.’s salmon populations over the past decade – one of the key problems identified by the MSC. “The only real surprise is it took MSC this long to determine DFO’s management system did not meet its requirements for a sustainable fishery.”

“A benefit of the MSC certification is that it requires the fishery to address key gaps, including lack of monitoring, dealing with the risks of hatcheries, and protecting salmon biodiversity,” says Jeffery Young, Senior Science and Policy Analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation. “Despite having close to a decade to act, the government has failed to deliver on its promises to help the B.C. fishery meet certification requirements.”