Environment commissioner warns Canada fails to protect commercially valuable fish

The federal government is biased against listing commercially valuable fish as species at risk and in need of protection, Environmental Commissioner Jerry DeMarco said in a new audit released Tuesday.

The audit of Canada’s efforts to protect endangered aquatic species was one of six new environmental reports introduced in the House of Commons.

It found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada was too slow to act when the national committee responsible for assessing whether species need protection says a particular aquatic plant or creature is endangered.

And when that assessment relates to a fish with significant commercial value, the department’s noncompliance appears to be against listing the fish as needing special protection.

That includes the Newfoundland and Labrador stock of Atlantic cod.

Overfishing led to a moratorium on commercial fishing for Newfoundland cod in 1992, and twice since then the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has assessed it as “endangered,” meaning it faces an endangered imminent extinction.

Once that assessment is done, Fisheries and Oceans Canada must review the assessment and decide whether to list the species for special protection under the Species at Risk Act. Listing the species as endangered would prevent it from being killed, harmed, harassed, or captured.

The first assessment on Newfoundland cod came in 2003, and it took Fisheries and Oceans three years to review the finding. In 2006, the federal department decided not to add it to the Species at Risk Act list and allowed coastal fishing and indigenous harvesting to continue.

In 2010, the committee assessed the Newfoundland cod as endangered for the second time. Twelve years later, Fisheries and Oceans has yet to complete a review to determine what to do with that assessment.

DeMarco’s audit looked at nine fish, two mussels and a sea turtle that the endangered wildlife committee assessed as needing protection. Five of the fish were marine species with significant commercial value, and in all five cases, the department chose not to include them on the list of species at risk.

That includes Newfoundland cod, rainbow trout, the Okanagan stock of Chinook salmon, yellowmouth rockfish and Atlantic bluefin tuna.

The other four fish, both mussels and loggerhead sea turtles, were deemed to have no significant commercial value, and it was recommended that Fisheries and Oceans list all seven as species at risk.

DeMarco also found that the department took too long to conduct its own reviews.

He said Fisheries and Oceans hasn’t finished its review of half of the 230 aquatic species the wildlife committee has recommended for an at-risk designation since the Species at Risk Act took effect in 2004.

In addition, the department was found to have large gaps in what it knows about the species in need of protection and is understaffed to enforce the protections when they are implemented.

“A bias against the protection of commercially valuable species under the Species at Risk Law, significant delays in listing species for protection, gaps in knowledge about the species, and limited enforcement capacity have adverse effects on ecosystems and communities. communities,” DeMarco said in a written statement. .

The commissioner’s fall audits also looked at policies for managing low- and intermediate-risk radioactive waste, which accounts for 99.5 percent of all radioactive waste in Canada.

DeMarco said that Natural Resources Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Atomic Energy of Canada were doing a good job managing the waste.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 4, 2022.

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