Status of major fish stocks

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Of 159 major fish stocks assessed in 2015:

  • 78 stocks (49%) were classified as Healthy;
  • 31 stocks (19%) were classified as Cautious;
  • 19 stocks (12%) were classified as Critical;
  • 31 stocks (19%) were uncertain.Footnote1

Changes in stock status happen slowly. It may take many years for biological systems to respond to changes in management. Environmental changes such as shifts in climate and ocean currents may also cause some stocks to reproduce more slowly. There has been little change in the overall status of stocks since 2011, as expected over a short time frame.

Status of major fish stocks, Canada, 2011 to 2015
Column chart shows the % of major fish stocks in each stock status zone - Long description below.
Long description

The column chart shows the percentage of major fish stocks in each stock status zone (Critical; Cautious; Healthy; and Status uncertain), grouped by year from 2011 to 2015. The number of stocks in each zone is indicated in parenthesis above each column. The total number of stocks varies by year.

Data for this chart
Status of major fish stocks, Canada, 2011 to 2015
Year Critical zone (number of stocks) Cautious zone (number of stocks) Healthy zone (number of stocks) Status uncertain (number of stocks) Total
2011 17 31 72 35 155
2012 15 37 75 28 155
2013 16 41 74 24 155
2014 15 40 75 24 154
2015 19 31 78 31 159

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.09 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Labels refer to the number of stocks in each category. Fish stocks are classified by comparing the size of stocks to reference points, which are established based on the productivity of the stock. See the Data Sources and Methods document for details. Stocks include a variety of harvested marine animal species, not only finfish. Comparisons between years should be made with caution as some changes to the list of major stocks were made in 2014 and 2015.
Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2016) Sustainability Survey for Fisheries.

Assessing the state of fish stocks is essential for conservation and to maintain prosperous commercial fisheries. Fisheries and Oceans Canada uses a variety of scientific methods to assess fish stock levels, and assigns one of three stock classifications (Healthy, Cautious or Critical) by comparing the size of the stocks to reference points. Harvest rates are adjusted to help rebuild stocks that are not in the Healthy zone. The results of the stock assessments for major stocks are peer-reviewed and published on-line.Footnote2 The stock status is reported as part of the Sustainability Survey for Fisheries, which is a key planning and monitoring tool.

Status of major fish stocks, by stock group

The status of different groups varies due to differences in population productivity, historical exploitation and resilience, among other factors. Environmental conditions also affect different groups in different ways.

Groundfish stocks (e.g., cod, halibut and haddock) have the highest proportion of stocks in the Critical zone, in part due to historical harvest patterns and unfavourable environmental conditions in the 1990's. Recent improvements in some groundfish stocks may be attributable to warmer conditions that are favourable for them and the fact that harvest levels have been kept low.

Crustacean stocks (e.g., crab, lobster and shrimp) have the highest proportion of stocks in the Healthy zone, due to factors such as favourable environmental conditions in the 2000's and low predation rates, as well as effective stock management. However, unfavorable warmer conditions in recent years have negatively impacted many stocks of shrimp and Snow Crab.  

Status of major fish stocks, by stock group, Canada, 2015
Stacked column chart organized by stock group - long description below.
Long description

The stacked column chart is organized by stock group (marine mammals; groundfish; small pelagics; large pelagics; salmonids; crustaceans; molluscs; and others). Each column is a stacked graph of number of stocks in each stock status zone (Critical zone; Cautious zone; Healthy zone; and Status uncertain).

Data for this chart
Status of major fish stocks, by stock group, Canada, 2015
Stock group Species included Critical zone (number of stocks) Cautious zone (number of stocks) Healthy zone (number of stocks) Status uncertain (number of stocks)
Marine mammals Whale, walrus 1 3 6 1
Groundfish Halibut, rockfish, cod, flounder, hake, redfish, dogfish, haddock, lingcod, perch, plaice, pollock, sablefish, skate, thornyhead 14 10 18 8
Small pelagics Herring, mackerel, whitefish, capelin, sardine, striped bass, gaspereau, eulachon 2 5 7 8
Large pelagics Tuna, swordfish 0 1 2 0
Salmonids Salmon, char, trout 1 5 9 2
Crustaceans Crab, lobster, shrimp, prawn, krill 0 4 25 6
Molluscs Clam, scallop, whelk, geoduck 1 1 8 6
Others Sea cucumber, sea urchin, eel and elver 0 2 3 0
Total   19 31 78 31

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.42 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: The species in each stock group are listed in the figure's data table. Pelagic fish live in midwater or close to the surface, in contrast to groundfish, which are usually caught near the ocean bottom. Crustaceans are shelled animals with joints, such as lobster, crab and shrimp. Molluscs include bivalve shellfish species such as clams, oysters and mussels, which we commonly think of as shellfish.
Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2016) Sustainability Survey for Fisheries.

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