VANCOUVER — For decades, British Columbia environmentalists have clashed with the groundfish bottom trawl fishing industry, but the two have come together to find common ground, and fragile ocean habitat is the big winner. The two groups have developed innovative measures to conserve corals, sponges and deep-sea habitats.
These new management measures have been implemented through Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Groundfish Integrated Fisheries Management Plan. Both the environmentalists and the industry representatives agree that these unique measures represent significant progress in the management of this fishery.
The David Suzuki Foundation and Living Oceans Society have been working closely with B.C.’s groundfish bottom trawling industry to develop new measures that are meant to reduce and manage the fishery’s impacts on fragile ocean habitats. The management changes include:
· defined boundaries for the fishery
· individual limits on coral and sponge bycatch
· a procedure to alert skippers if a bycatch in excess of 20 kg of coral or sponge occurs
· a joint habitat conservation review committee composed of representatives from industry, environmental groups, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada
“It’s the first time anywhere that individual bycatch limits have been used to manage habitat impacts,” said Scott Wallace of the David Suzuki Foundation. “The B.C. groundfish bottom trawl industry should be congratulated for taking on this new level of individual accountability.”
Both sides are quick to point out the important achievement of the formation of a long-term collaborative relationship
through a formal habitat conservation committee. This will allow both sides to work together to address habitat concerns going into the future and ensure that the measures are achieving the expected results.
“The development of the habitat committee is a major step forward by itself,” said John Driscoll of Living Oceans Society. “When you view it alongside all of the other changes that are being put into place as a result of this effort, it’s clear that this fishery is changing in some very real and exciting ways.”
For the industry, the economic rationale is clear: “Our markets are increasingly demanding evidence that fisheries are well managed, employ sustainable practices and address ecosystem impacts,” said Brian Mose, a fifth generation fisherman and member of the Canadian Groundfish Research and Conservation Society. “We know that in order to maintain and expand market opportunities, we need to provide assurances to environmental organizations, retailers, and consumers that we are serious about managing and reducing our impacts on ocean ecosystems.”
“It is important to address these habitat conservation issues, because we recognize that our industry’s future is reliant on a healthy ecosystem,” said Bruce Turris of the Canadian Groundfish Research and Conservation Society. “Our partnership with the environmental organizations has allowed us to come up with an innovative solution that works for our industry and conservationists.”
For the environmental groups, the conservation improvements are significant. Deep sea corals form forests far b
elow the surface of Canada’s Pacific Ocean, supplying places for juvenile fish to hide from predators and for many organisms to feed. British Columbia environmental groups have long singled out the bottom trawl fishery for its impacts on these marine habitats. Rather than publicly disputing the criticism, industry opened up lines of communication with the environmental groups that continued for more than three years, leading to this precedent setting effort to work together to change the fishery for the better.
Both industry and the conservation organizations are grateful for the support provided by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Pacific Region staff who were instrumental in providing data analysis and showing management leadership.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada Sensitive Benthic Area Policy available at:
Pacific Region Cold-Water Coral and Sponge Conservation Strategy available at:
Photo credit: Living Oceans Society