Sustainable fish harvest

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Harvest limits for wild fish and other marine animals protect these stocks for the future. Of the 159 major stocks assessed in 2015, 152 (96%) were harvested at levels considered to be sustainable. Seven stocks (4%) were harvested above approved levels.

There are two methods for setting fish harvest levels. For 78 stocks (49%), there is sufficient information to set the level using the mathematically based Removal reference, while the harvest levels for an additional 81 stocks (51%) were set using other scientific approaches. The proportion of fish stocks harvested within approved levels has improved since 2011, when 10% of stocks were overharvested. From 2012 to 2015, the proportion of overharvested stocks has remained below 5%. Small changes in the number of overharvested stocks among years should be expected and the rate of overharvest is considered stable since 2012.The improvement is in large part due to the implementation of the Sustainable Fisheries Framework Policies.Footnote1

Harvest of major stocks relative to approved levels, Canada, 2011 to 2015

column chart shows the proportion of major wild fish stocks - long description below
Long description

The column chart shows the proportion of major wild fish stocks in each of three categories (At or below removal reference; At or below other approved levels; and Above removal reference or other approved levels) from 2011 to 2015.

Data for this chart
Harvest of major stocks relative to approved levels, Canada, 2011 to 2015
Year At or below removal reference (number of stocks) At or below other approved levels (number of stocks) Above removal references or other approved levelsFootnoteA (number of stocks) Total
2011 68 71 16 155
2012 64 84 7 155
2013 64 87 4 155
2014 66 86 2 154
2015 71 81 7 159

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.27 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Labels are the number of stocks in each category. The removal reference is a harvest rate that is estimated to be biologically sustainable, based on an analytical assessment of historical stock productivity data. When removal references are not available, other approved levels are established. 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.

The key decisions in fisheries management are how much of a stock should be harvested and by whom. Harvest rates include all removals of fish (i.e., targeted fishing and bycatch mortality), by all types of fishing. OverharvestingFootnote2 sometimes occurs when fishers compete for a share of the total allowable catch, or when fish are caught as bycatchFootnote3 in another fishery, or if fishers exceed their quota. For the seven stocks over-harvested in 2015, management responses from the federal government include quota reconciliation, meaning that the amount overharvested in 2015 will be deducted from the harvest limit in 2016.

Limits are determined using a precautionary approach.Footnote4 When scientific information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate, decisions must still be taken and the absence of adequate scientific information should not be used as a reason to postpone or fail to take action to avoid serious harm to the resource. "The precautionary approach to fisheries recognizes that changes in fisheries systems are only slowly reversible, difficult to control, not well understood, and subject to changing environment and human values."Footnote5

Harvest rates are reported against the Removal reference baseline in cases where a Removal reference is known. The Removal reference is an approach for determining the maximum acceptable removal rate for the stock when there is sufficient historical data on stock productivity to allow the level to be estimated analytically. As Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to implement the precautionary approach, Removal reference levels are established for more stocks.

Sustainable fish harvest, by stock group

Canada's major fish stocks have been grouped into eight categories based on similar biology. Of the eight stock groups, four contain stocks that were all harvested within limits.

Number of major stocks harvested relative to approved levels, by stock group, Canada, 2015

stacked column chart shows the number of stocks by harvest rate - long description below
Long description

The stacked column chart shows the number of stocks by harvest rate (Above removal reference or other approved levels; At or below other approved levels; At or below removal reference) for each stock group (marine mammals; groundfish; small pelagics; large pelagics; salmonids; crustaceans; molluscs; and others).

Data for this chart
Number of major stocks harvested relative to approved levels, by stock group, Canada, 2015
Stock group Species included At or below removal reference (number of stocks) At or below other approved levels (number of stocks) Above removal references or other approved levels (number of stocks)
Marine Mammals Whale, walrus 11 0 0
Groundfish Halibut, rockfish, cod, flounder, hake, redfish, dogfish, haddock, lingcod, perch, plaice, pollock, sablefish, skate, thornyhead 24 23 3
Small pelagics Herring, mackerel, whitefish, capelin, sardine, striped bass, gaspereau, eulachon 3 18 1
Large pelagics Tuna, swordfish 2 1 0
Salmonids Salmon, char, trout 12 4 1
Crustaceans Crab, lobster, shrimp, prawn, krill 13 20 2
Molluscs Clam, scallop, whelk, geoduck 6 10 0
Others Sea cucumber, sea urchin, eel and elver 0 5 0
Total - 71 81 7

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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