A new report by World Wildlife Fund Canada has rated Haida Gwaii’s Pacific herring fishery and 26 other small-fish fisheries in Canada on criteria such as stock status, monitoring, and environmental drivers as in need of more information.
From Newfoundland mackerel to Haida Gwaii herring, the report found none of the 27 fisheries sufficiently account for small-fish predators such as rockfish or Chinook and coho salmon.
Most of the fisheries, including all of those in B.C., also lacked data on stock status for small fish.
“We’re not conservative enough in their management because we’re not fully including their role in the ecosystem, their dependent predators, or fully understanding the way they fluctuate naturally,” Aurelie Cosandey-Godin, a post-doctoral researcher and senior oceans specialist for the conservation group, said.
Called “Food for All,” the WWF-Canada report notes that, around the world, twice as many small fish stocks — such as herring and capelin — have collapsed compared with the big fish that eat them, such as tuna or Atlantic cod.
One reason is that herring, capelin and other forage fish collect in large shoals that are easy to catch even when the local stocks are declining.
Recent DFO reports show Haida Gwaii’s herring stocks fell significantly from 2013 to 2014, and further declines were predicted for 2015.
Last year, the Haida Nation won a Federal Court injunction to keep the fishery closed — a judge found the fisheries minister of the time had ignored DFO scientists who found no evidence yet of a sustained recovery.
Haida Gwaii’s herring fishery scored just 50 per cent based on the nine criteria used by WWF-Canada.
Several of the criteria are based on a 2012 study by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force, which was published by 13 forage-fish experts from around the world.
“They were really highlighting the fact that in general these fisheries are overlooked,” Cosandey-Godin said.
While Fisheries and Oceans Canada has adopted some similar criteria and is in the midst of an ocean modelling review, a lot more work is needed, particularly on mapping where forage-fish predators and feeding, and how much they need to thrive.
Along with sustainability, understanding that relationship could boost fisheries’ bottom line — the WFF report found that while catching herring directly only has a direct value of $68 per square kilometre fished, their big-fish predators are valued at $508 over the same area.
Cosandey-Godin said there is much work underway on establishing better management of Haida Gwaii herring.
One upcoming project that WFF-Canada is involved with is trying to develop an alternative to using herring and other forage fish as bait for crab and lobster fishing.
Baits that rely on leftover fish from fish processing are already on the market in B.C. and Norway, said Cosandey-Godin, but they need to be priced the same as forage-fish bait before they are widely adopted.
“That’s the main issue, when it comes down to it—right now it’s more expensive,” she said.