The Proposal

This 25-page policy paper presents a challenging analysis of Canada’s fishery policy framework and a pragmatic proposal for a new paradigm. Comments and feedback will be welcomed; please see Contact page.


The ongoing crisis in our east coast fishery highlights the urgent need to better address economic issues as well as environmental and social ones. In this context, Changing Course – A New Direction for Canadian Fisheries presents a proposal for radically changing our fishery management system, particularly in regard to harvesting. It makes the case for a change to effort-based management (EBM), outlines the major practical aspects of implementation, and invites active in-depth discussion to resolve the issues it raises.

Clearly, a move to bring about such a major change will raise many questions and present many challenges that require full consideration by everyone involved in the fishery. It would be premature to try to anticipate and respond to all of them in this initial paper, but a few of the obvious ones are noted below.

Quota-based management (QBM) has been in place for so long and is used so widely that a proposal to replace it will not be easily accepted. Because the fishery is now structured around a decades-old QBM system, quotas are treated as a core element of the current regulatory, financial, institutional and physical structures governing our fisheries. Harvesters depend on their quotas when they seek financing; processors plan their production and capacity according to the rules associated with the quota system.

Altering these established practices will inevitably be as challenging as it is necessary. In
implementing the shift away from QBM to EBM, it will be important to keep in mind the concept of a “just transition”, the labour movement’s term for recognizing and mitigating temporary problems that may arise from technological or environmental change. It will also be important to integrate indigenous and traditional fishery knowledge into our understandings so as to complement and enhance the science that we currently
rely on so heavily.

Recent scientific and technological advances have changed fishery management in many ways, and rapid change is now the norm. But regardless of such advances, marine ecosystems are by their very nature too complex and affected by too many other interacting factors to enable the predictability required for quota-based management. The fact remains that under the quota system we are catching much less of the harvestable biomass than we could safely catch if we managed input rather than output – EBM instead of QBM. Moreover, QBM actually fosters fishing practices that are unsustainable and environmentally
destructive as well as economically dubious.

The existing process for arriving at fish management decisions is highly flawed, influenced far too heavily by political considerations, corporate lobbying, competing regional and sectoral interests (eg. processors, plant workers and harvesters), etc. The compromises arrived at are rarely in the interests of either the independent harvesters, coastal communities, or the fish. However, once we recognize the potential economic and other benefits that EBM would offer us, many of the sticking points and some of the
conflicts could be eliminated, resulting in a much improved decision-making process.

No system is perfect, of course, but some approaches to fishery management are better than others. While this paper emphasizes the advantages of EBM for major species like cod, other groundfish, and crab, it may be less easily applicable for some other species, and such differences must be taken into account. Implementing the shift to EBM will necessarily take place over time, perhaps starting in 2J3KL.

The coming decade will be a crucial time for our fisheries. As we enter the 2020s, we have the chance to trade the current year-to-year crisis management mode for a long-term approach that will benefit harvesters, coastal communities, and the nation in terms of both economics and sustainability.

Making this proposal in no way implies ignoring or dismissing the questions and challenges it will surely stimulate. On the contrary, it represents an invitation to all involved to engage, to grapple with the issues with the shared goal of resolving them. I look forward to your input and comments.