Climate change and oil economics threaten Canadian fisheries industry

In its July 2019 report, the Expert Panel on Climate Change Risks and Adaptation Potential identified fisheries as one of the top “domains” at risk from  climate change between 2020 to 2040 in Canada.  The experts recognized the complexity of the issue, stating: “the economic, social, and cultural context varies across Canada’s fisheries, and the choice of adaptation measures should be informed by the local situation …. Adaptation can be particularly challenging for communities that rely heavily on a single fishery, and can have widespread economic and social consequences…. A combination of approaches, including catch quotas, community management, regulations on fishing gear, ocean zoning, and economic incentives, can help manage and restore marine fisheries and ecosystems.”

ocean law developmentsOcean Law Developments in Canada 2015-2019  , published at the end of August, summarizes the significant legal progress that has been made in four relevant areas of regulation: ocean governance, protection, marine protection, and marine spills . Improvements noted in the report: the G7 Ocean Plastics Charter; Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean; the Coastal First Nations Fisheries Resources Reconciliation Agreement; creation of eight new Marine Protected Areas; Bill C-55,which amended the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act; the new Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, passed in June 2019; orders issued under the Species at Risk Act to protect the critical habitat of orcas, Right whales, bottlenose whales, belugas, leatherback turtles, abalone and seals; a series of measures to protect orcas on the West Coast, and rolling fisheries closures and seasonal speed restrictions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to reduce industrial pressure on North Atlantic Right whales;  new Fisheries Act, which among other things, includes prohibitions on habitat alteration, damage and destruction (HADD). The report was published by SeaBlue Canada , an alliance of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Ecology Action Centre, Oceans North, West Coast Environmental Law, and WWF-Canada, dedicated to protection of the oceans.

Will these changes be sufficient for the scale of the problems faced by Canadian fisheries industry?  While general reaction to the legislative changes has been favourable, as reviewed in this May article from the National Observer, many problems remain.

Fish or Oil for Newfoundland?

offshore oil rigOn September 5, CBC News reported on a press conference from Atlantic Canada, with the headline: “FFAW vows to stop oil and gas exploration in crab fishing area”.  The Fish, Food and Allied Workers union ( FFAW), a division of Unifor,  claims that oil interests were again put ahead of the interests of the fishery,  when the regulator, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board , opened bids by  oil companies for offshore areas in August.  The union is demanding that the bidding process be halted, claiming that it was not consulted, even though the call threatens prime fishing areas on which their livelihoods depend.  In November 2018 FFAW also protested when the C-NLOPB approved five successful bids by the oil and gas industry which, in two cases, allowed oil and gas exploration in marine refuge areas where fishing activity was restricted.

In August, the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters of Newfoundland and Labrador (FISH-NL), which represents independent inland fishers, supported a call for an independent authority to oversee the environment in the province’s offshore oil and gas industry.  In spite of the C-NLOPB statement   that “Offshore safety and environmental protection are paramount in all Board decisions. “, the Sea Harvesters concern  seems understandable, given the recent history of oil spills from the Hibernia offshore oil platform in August, just days after it had resumed production following a spill in mid-July, and after the largest oil spill in Newfoundland’s history in November 2018.  The Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters have also protested the damage done by the seismic testing related to oil exploration, as described by iPolitics in “Seismic testing concerns ignored in oil ‘obsessed’ NFLD and Labrador: union”   in April 2018.

West Coast salmon fishery and First Nations communities face “the worst commercial fishery in 50 years”

On the West Coast, the State of Canadian Pacific Salmon 2019: Responses to changing climate was published by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, summarizing a 2018 workshop of scientists which discussed the impacts of marine heatwaves, changes to marine food webs, warmer freshwater conditions, more extreme rain and drought, and various human activities. It concludes that “No single factor can explain all of the recent observed patterns in salmon abundances. Along with ecosystem changes, fisheries, hatcheries, disease, and contaminants can also affect salmon.”  On September 6, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced $15 million in additional annual funding to support wild Pacific salmon research and management, but meanwhile, 2019 has been reported as the worst commercial fishing season in 50 years, in  “Advocates sound alarm on unfolding disaster in B.C. salmon fishing industry” (CBC, Sept. 9)  and  the Globe and Mail published  “Labour and First Nations groups call for federal disaster relief for West Coast Fishery” (Sept. 9)  which states:  “As well as wanting immediate relief for struggling workers, the groups called on the federal government to develop a long-term strategy to conserve wild salmon in the face of climate change, which they described as a dire and growing threat to the species.”

Some of the “other factors” at play in the salmon crisis in 2019:  a massive obstruction of the Fraser River, caused by a rockslide ; sea lice infestation from farmed salmon (see “Sea Lice Plagues Return and Threat to Wild Salmon Increases” in The Tyee (June 11);  and shipping dangers, described in “Fraser River Chinook jeopardized by shipping terminal’s expansion” (July 29  ) in the National Observer.

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