Canada’s derelict branch of government

In ten years, seven different cabinet ministers have led Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The department has been a dumping ground or holding area for out-of-favour or inept politicians. Little wonder the organization wallows in failure.

  • Keith Ashfield, Conservative, Frederickton (NB), Minister: May 18, 2011 – July 15, 2013
  • Gail Shea, Conservative, Egmont (PE), Minister: July 15, 2013 – November 4, 2015
  • Hunter Tootoo, Liberal, Nunavut, Minister: November 4, 2015 – May 31, 2016
  • Dominic Leblanc, Liberal, Beauséjour (NB), Minister: May 31, 2016 – July 18, 2018
  • Jonathan Wilkinson, Liberal, North Vancouver (BC), Minister: July 18, 2018 – November 19, 2019
  • Bernadette Jordan, Liberal, South Shore—St. Margarets (NS), Minister: November 20, 2019 – October 26, 2021
  • Joyce Murray, Liberal, Vancouver Quadra (BC), Minister: October 26, 2021 ——>

DFO bills itself as responsible for “safeguarding our waters and managing Canada’s fisheries and ocean resources.” It promises to ensure healthy and sustainable ecosystems through habitat protection and science.

For these tasks, DFO’s funding in 2021 was $3.5 billion. In the five years 2017 to 2021, government funding and transfers totalled $15.3 billion.

Compare that to the $4.5 billion Trudeau Liberals paid Kinder Morgan for the ancient Trans Mountain pipeline and the $21.4 billion government is spending to expand the oil transporter. The smaller budget allocation is to protect the Earth, the larger is to damage the Earth. Governments working at cross-purposes guarantee failures.

While DFO promises to safeguard our waters and ocean resources, it seems less interested in safeguarding people who work in fisheries. From Canadian Occupational Safety:

Fishing has long been seen as one of Canada’s most dangerous occupations – and a slew of statistics can be found to back that claim up.

Health and safety consultancy Arinite analysed recent data available on occupational fatalities from the International Labour Organization (ILO), National Security Council (NSC) and Elsevier to paint a picture of occupational fatalities around the globe.

The data revealed fishing to be the most dangerous occupation in the world, with an average fatality rate of 15.96 deaths per 100,000 workers – and worryingly fishing is the most dangerous in Canada.

Industy’s high death rate ‘unacceptable’ and ‘preventable’

Oceana Canada, part of the largest international advocacy group dedicated solely to ocean conservation, illustrates continuing failures of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Partly it is a question of inadequate funding, partly it is a question of inertia after years of de-emphasizing science. Underlying all actions is the belief by some in DFO that wild fisheries cannot be saved and the department should focus its attention on promoting ocean based aquaculture.

Year after year, Oceana Canada’s assessments reveal the government’s failure to significantly improve how Canada’s fisheries are managed. As a result, we haven’t seen measurable improvements in the health of wild fisheries.

Modernized laws, political commitments and much-needed investments are only as good as the government’s ability to successfully implement them, which, in the case of Canadian fisheries management, has demonstrably fallen short over the past half-decade...

Canada’s seafood feeds millions of people here and around the world. It’s fundamental to the culture and livelihoods of coastal Indigenous Peoples. And it’s the largest contributor to the country’s massive marine sector GDP, a renewable source of food and income that will play a key role in Canada’s pandemic recovery. Without thriving wild fish, there is no thriving ocean-based economy.,,

2021 Fishery Audit

Sadly, only 30% of Canadian fish stocks are known to be healthy. That number may be higher but DFO lacks the data to form a conclusion. Where there is knowledge, there is often no plan to protect the resource. Since much of DFO’s budget is spent in Ottawa, it is not surprising to learn the west coast is particularly poorly served by DFO. Here Oceana indicates the status of stock rebuilding plans. the X means no plan exists.

Decades ago, I lived beside the tidal flat where Wolfson (now Lang) Creek emptied into the Pacific ocean, eight miles southwest of Powell River. In those days, there was no salmon centre or fish hatchery but in late summer, the salmon returning to spawn made it look as if a raft was barely submerged in the river.

In days of warm weather, my brother and I often fished the ocean from our eight-foot punt. Almost always, we returned with fish to feed the family and our neighbours. By the 1980s, the likelihood of catching salmon in those same waters was so low, I could not interest my own children is fishing.

My memories and childhood experiences cause me to be indignant about Canada’s failures to protect and manage ocean resources. It also increases my empathy for Indigenous people. Destructions of lands and natural resources are insults to the first people of North America. But on Canada’s west coast, there may be no larger abuse than the devastation of salmon, which “have long been the symbol and lifeblood of the people who call the Pacific Northwest home.”

Categories: Environment, Fishery

4 replies »

  1. Yes it has been very sad, but the irony for me is that the people of
    BC love to identify with the salmon species but really don’t seem to
    care enough to end the wild stocks march toward extinction by foreign
    corporations operating on the west coast with the blessing of DFO.

    Alex Morton’s 30+ years fights says it all.

    The link provided is last year and the ‘Not on my Watch’ book should be
    read by everyone. Available at the library or purchased at most book stores.

    BCer’s own this one. A real travesty. A side note ..if you buy farmed
    salmon you are part of the problem.


    This is a real bad one for me. All we have to do is get out of their way
    but capitalism will not allow that to happen…..off my soap box now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Like you Norm, I used to fish off Lang Creek when I was a child in the 60s & 70s. If it floated, we used it for fishing. Fish were everywhere. My fondest memories are buzz bomb fishing. It seemed every 4-5 cast you had a salmon on the line.

    Like you said Norm, those days are well behind us and it is a real tragedy. Today you are more likely to catch a cold than a fish. We only have ourselves to blame.

    I have read a bit on Alaska’s approach to managing their salmon populations and I think BC could learn a lot by studying and adopting some of their policies.
    – Alaska does not allow deep sea salmon fishing inside their waters. The salmon are left alone.
    – When the salmon return to their spawning streams their is no fishing allowed until a healthy population has made it safely up to the spawning grounds. Only then does Alaska fisheries allow commercial fishboat to go to work.

    As a comparison, last year the Alaska Bristol Bay salmon run exceeded 65 million fish (10 million more than expected). Meanwhile the Fraser River sockeye run has collapsed from just under 30 million in 2010 to around 2-3 million today. Talk about mismanagement.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is undeniable DFO is a grossly broken, inept and utterly incompetent federal department. It comes nowhere close to actually conserving the wild fish stocks that it should. This sad state of the department’s status possibly began when it was aligned with the aquaculture industry from the start, which has always posed a suspect marriage.

    Furthermore, whether it’s the increasingly political nature of our fish stocks in Canada and the huge industry pressures put upon the department because of this, but time and time again this would appear to lead to really questionable decisions made by the department and worse, negligent actions undertaken.

    Having spent some time in the department, I always like to say, DFO couldn’t save a salmon in a paper bag. And this is extremely concerning, when Canada’s national fisheries department should be at the forefront of fish conservation now, considering the state of the world’s oceans today and worse, the state of the ever-dwindling wild fish species populations everywhere.

    The federal Liberal government of Jean Chretien gutted Environment Canada during its tenure, unfortunately. When, what it should have done is reduce the bureaucratic ineptitude of DFO, and expanded Environment Canada, a department that was doing good work in the 1990’s. Environment Canada is still a much reduced department, a shadow of its former self where it remains today, a small and seemingly irrelevant department.

    Assuredly, there is much wrong today with both our fisheries and our environment departments, departments whose mandates are more critical and vital than ever as we move further into this century of climate crisis, species collapses on every front, and an ocean beleaguered with over-exploitation and pollution.

    Liked by 1 person

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