Strategic Framework for Fishery Monitoring and Catch Reporting in the Pacific Fisheries

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Key drivers for change

In recent years, developments at the regional, national and international levels have required the need for better monitoring and reporting:

Sustainability and public confidence – Canadians expect their fisheries to be managed in a precautionary way that conserves the resource and allows sustainable use.  They are demanding more transparency and accountability in resource decision-making.  Public confidence is increasingly important for the Pacific fisheries, providing a social license to operate in the marine environment where there are many competing uses (Gislason 2007).  Building that confidence requires clear evidence, through sound catch reporting data, confirming that fisheries are indeed environmentally, socially and economically responsible.

Co-management – Globally over the past decade, new models of fisheries governance have emerged that recognize local stewardship and shared responsibility for resource decisions.  Co-management[1] with First Nations and other fishing interests is a major component of Pacific fisheries reform and DFO is pursuing collaborative strategies through its harvest advisory processes, Aboriginal fisheries initiatives and integrated oceans management (DFO in prep (a)).  To succeed, co-management must be backed by high-quality fisheries information that can support greater confidence and mutual trust among harvesters and other participants in decision-making.

Aboriginal rights, treaties and other agreements – The First Nations Food, Social, Ceremonial (FSC) fishery is unique, having developed over many years through a blend of legislation, case law and negotiation.  FSC fisheries have priority access to the resource, second only to conservation needs.  Evolving Aboriginal rights require accurate and comprehensive monitoring of fisheries to ensure that these rights are respected.  Some FSC fisheries are actively changing as the harvesting interests and capacities of First Nations evolve over time.   In some cases this contributes to a shift in management risk(s) requiring greater attention to the management and monitoring of these fisheries.  Existing and future First Nations Treaties and other domestic and international obligations, such as the Pacific Salmon Treaty and various UN agreements (e.g., UNEP Convention on Biological Diversity, Straddling Fish Stocks, Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, Maximum Sustainable Yield),[2] also necessitate higher standards of fishery monitoring and catch reporting.

An ecosystem perspective – International commitments (i.e., Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations General Assembly, The Convention on Biological Diversity), along with the domestic Oceans Act and Species at Risk Act (SARA), compel the Department to adopt a broader ecosystem-based approach to resource management, of which catch accountability is a significant component.  An ecosystem approach to fisheries management looks beyond a single species, sector or activity to examine the cumulative impacts of all human actions on the ecosystem.  This means managing fisheries, not just for stock productivity, but also for biodiversity and habitat integrity (DFO 2009a). The global push for integrated ecosystem-based management is expanding the scope and complexity of monitoring systems.  Aside from basic catch and biological sampling data on the target stock, information requirements now encompass bycatch of non-targeted fish, seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals; regulated releases and discards of target and non-target species; encounters with species that are not captured; and impacts of the fishing operation on habitats.

Share-based fisheries – To remain viable at a time of increased competition, an increasing number of commercial fisheries around the world are being managed by defined shares or established quotas.  In DFO Pacific Region, quota systems have been implemented for the commercial groundfish and roe herring fisheries as well as for several shellfish fisheries (e.g., geoducks).

These management regimes are dependent upon timely and verifiable fisheries data to confirm harvests against catch limits.  Indeed, one of the benefits of share-based systems is that they require greater accountability of fisheries through enhanced monitoring and catch reporting enabling greater public confidence and achievement of catch limits and eco-certification standards.  Evidence for the Pacific fisheries suggests that, better monitoring and management has contributed to compliance with total catch levels, fleet rationalization and improved economic performance, as well as greater sustainability and conservation (Gislason 2007; Fraser 2008).

Selective fishing - Selective fishing techniques (e.g., fish wheels, traps, weirs, dip-nets) can be used to harvest target fish stocks or species while protecting less productive stocks and/or species of concern.  These selective fisheries typically incorporate more intensive monitoring, to determine effectiveness and compliance, bycatch levels and specific release rates.    Similarly, mark-selective fisheries allow fishing opportunities for hatchery-raised salmon when a fishery might otherwise be closed to protect wild salmon. These opportunities also have specific information requirements related to rates of coded wire tags (CWT) retrieval and other related information.

Market demands for proof of seafood sustainability and demands for traceability – A changing world marketplace has growing expectations for enhanced accountability on the part of fisheries and seafood suppliers.  In particular, retailers, consumer and ENGO demands for proof, in the form of third-party ecocertification or positive assessments by ENGOs,  that seafood products come from sustainable fisheries, and the demands for traceability programs to provide assurance about the origin of a product both require more rigorous monitoring and reporting procedures (traceability programs may be developed for various reasons including providing assurance that a product comes from a safe source,  from a certified fishery or a legal fishery).

The Pacific halibut, sablefish, hake, dogfish, sockeye and pink salmon, and albacore tuna fisheries have all been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  MSC certification of several fisheries (including Pacific sockeye salmon) remains conditional upon demonstrated improvements of catch reporting for both retained and discarded catch.  These certification and traceability requirements, in turn, can increase market access and add value for Pacific fishery products.


[1] defined as “a process or arrangement whereby the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for sustainable fisheries and resource management are shared between DFO, First Nations, other levels of government and stakeholders”.

[2] In particular, a series of international agreements have enshrined the use of a precautionary, ecosystem approach to fishery management, including the 1992 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, 1995 Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, and 2002 Johannesburg commitment to achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2015.