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

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A Look Back at Pacific Fishery Monitoring Programs

Commercial sector: In 1951, catch reporting began for the commercial salmon fisheries with the submission of sales slips generated at time of landing showing the quantity, value and species of the catch. As fisheries developed, this approach became increasingly flawed due to its failure to account for releases/discards, time lags between fishing and catch deliveries, non-compliance and other problems. In 1998, as part of A New Direction for Canada’s Pacific Salmon Fisheries, logbooks and on-board observers were introduced to address some of these deficiencies. Harvesters record their kept and released catch and report the results by telephone and mail. In addition to fisher-supplied data, for most commercial salmon fisheries trained observers collect detailed data on the harvest and bycatch as well as biological samples (e.g., lengths, weights, tissue for DNA analysis). The use of at-sea observers in the groundfish fisheries dates back to the late 1980s. Mandatory 100% observer coverage was implemented for the groundfish trawl fleet in 1996. By 1994, most of the fleet also had compulsory dockside monitoring in place, where DFO-approved monitors documented the harvest at designated landing sites. While all groundfish fisheries now require 100% dockside monitoring, this approach is used only periodically in the salmon fisheries, e.g., for the commercial salmon demonstration projects and the lower Fraser River pilot sales fishery.

Other techniques including on-ground hails, charter patrols and aerial over-flights have also been used to provide gear counts, location and timing of fishing and additional information. The recent emergence of video monitoring and electronic vessel tracking systems offers potential cost efficiencies and more timely data reporting.

Recreational sector: From the mid-1950s through the 1970s, DFO estimates of catch and effort in the sport fishery relied on subjective assessments by fishery officers and small-scale creel surveys. The need for greater rigour and consistency led to the launch in 1980 of a major creel survey program focused on salmon for the Strait of Georgia. Since then, creel surveys have been added for other coastal areas and in some freshwater systems, as the scope of recreational fishing has expanded geographically and to include other species. To conduct these surveys, aerial over-flights estimate effort and fishery technicians visit marinas, boat ramps and river locations to interview anglers about their catch and take biological samples where needed.

A risk-based strategic framework

In July 2007, a five-year Pacific Integrated Commercial Fishery Initiative (PICFI) was announced to support environmentally sustainable and economically viable commercial fisheries.  Among the PICFI elements were Co-management and Enhanced Accountability Measures to strengthen fishery monitoring, catch reporting and enforcement.  This second element promised consistent, transparent standards for monitoring and reporting in the commercial sector, with the proviso that enhanced information requirements would also be needed in the recreational and FSC fisheries (DFO 2007).

Arising from the Integrated Salmon Dialogue Forum, a multi-stakeholder Monitoring and Compliance (M&C) Panel was formed in 2008 to examine ways to improve monitoring, catch reporting and compliance in the salmon fisheries.  This independent panel of representatives from First Nations, commercial, recreational and conservation interests has been working with DFO to “map a better pathway for monitoring and compliance.” (Integrated Salmon Dialogue Forum 2011)[1]

Under the PICFI Enhanced Accountability work plan, DFO and the M&C Panel have collaborated on the development of a strategic framework for fishery monitoring and catch reporting.  During this time, the Department also prepared some draft interim standards for monitoring and reporting in the commercial salmon fisheries, as well as a discussion paper on First Nation FSC catch monitoring.[2]  In addition, work proceeded to define internal accountabilities for fishery monitoring and reporting and to prepare the infrastructure for the better provision and accessing of fisheries data.[3]

The strategic framework outlined below is meant to develop an improved monitoring and reporting system that balances the biological (ecosystem) risks and management requirements for Pacific fisheries. In keeping with the 2002 policy guidance on catch monitoring and reporting, it applies consistent risk assessment criteria to each fishery, but allows for final monitoring and reporting requirements that reflect the fishery’s unique characteristics (see Figure 1).

Chart: Figure 1. Approach for Monitoring and Reporting Standards

Figure 1.

Approach for Monitoring and Reporting Standards

2.  Goal and Guiding Principles

DFO has consolidated its efforts on current initiatives and emerging trends to support sustainable fisheries across Canada.  This consolidation initiative, Fisheries Renewal, has put in place new policies, tools and mechanisms to support a robust and diverse fisheries sector.  Fisheries Renewal is being implemented through policy and process guidance that support DFO’s vision of prosperous fisheries based on credible, science-based, and cost-effective fisheries management programs. Improvements in fishery monitoring and catch reporting contribute significantly to Fisheries Renewal objectives.

Long-term sustainability – A comprehensive risk-based monitoring and catch reporting program is essential for evaluating and reporting on a fishery’s progress towards long-term sustainability.  Broadening the scope of information collected to include discards, bycatch, sensitive habitat and other environmental impacts supports the continued application of an ecosystem-based management approach to fisheries.

Economic prosperity – By providing the data needed to demonstrate fisheries are managed sustainably , comprehensive monitoring and reporting systems can help to maintain or improve access to fishing opportunities and specialty markets and the resulting benefits for harvesters, coastal communities and other stakeholders. 

Long-term planning and a stable approach to decision-making – a new management approach based on longer term planning and strategies including use of “evergreen” (multi-year) IFMPs, stable allocations and development of strategic business plans in the fishing industry that includes an enhanced role for harvesters in assuming the responsibilities and costs for fishery monitoring and reporting.  

DFO’s vision is for a monitoring and catch reporting system across all Pacific fisheries that inspires increased confidence, fosters collaborative management and supports an ecosystem approach. 


To have accurate, timely and accessible fisheries data, such that there is sufficient information and public confidence for all Pacific fisheries to be managed sustainably and to meet other reporting obligations and objectives.

An effective fisheries management regime requires “close collaboration with resource users and stakeholders based on shared stewardship.”  For that collaboration to happen, Resource Managers, harvesters, First Nations and other stakeholders must all be satisfactorily assured on the amount, depth and quality of fishery monitoring and catch reporting data.  The public, in turn, is more likely to have confidence in management decisions and their successful implementation if there is a broad-based understanding and acceptance of the information behind these decisions.

In addition to serving the needs of sustainable management, monitoring programs must be adequate to meet the provisions of domestic and international agreements, First Nations treaties, harvest allocation arrangements, fishery certification requirements and any other reporting obligations.


[1] Integrated Salmon Dialogue Forum M&C Panel.  The Forum itself was created as a means to bring together various fishing interests to work towards a sustainable salmon fishery. [2] See DFO (2008), Interim Fishery Monitoring and Catch Reporting Standards for Commercial Salmon Fisheries (Draft for Discussion); and Lightly and Masson (2009), First Nation FSC Catch Monitoring and Reporting: Preliminary Considerations, Standards and Recommendations (Draft for Discussion).  The draft interim commercial salmon fishery standards were developed for discussion purposes and were never applied; instead, some ad hoc improvements were made through commercial demonstration salmon fisheries, as noted above.  The FSC fisheries discussion paper will inform upcoming consultations with First Nations.  [3] See further under Sections 3 and 4