Lack of Progress on Fossil Fuel Subsidies Reform Undermines Historical Progress Made by Recent Fisheries Act Amendments in Canada

  • July 04, 2019
  • Carissa Wong


Canada’s subsidies of fossil fuels (particularly diesel) support over-fishing by industrial fleets, and undermine the progress of recent amendments to the Fisheries Act to rebuild devastated marine fish and shark populations. More attention and concrete action through World Trade Organization law reform is needed to transition Canada out of fuel subsidies and ultimately enhance fish and shark stocks.    


Today in Canada, “only 34 per cent of fish populations are healthy,” and “more than 13 per cent are critically depleted.”[1]  Reports show that the fishing intensity in all of the world’s oceans has increased steadily to the present, and that since the 1950s, has “increased in power by an average of 10-fold (25-fold in Asia)."[2]  This is supported by recent research showing that that the mean distance travelled by industrial fleets of the 20 largest fishing countries between their home territory and the location where catches are taking place is rapidly, largely and continuously expanding.[3]  

Canada has until now been the “largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia, with 160,000 kilograms imported in 2018 alone.”[4] Shark finning, the inhumane practice of removing a shark’s fins while still alive and discarding the shark to die of bleeding and suffocation, continues to be a by-product of global over-fishing. For example, although sharks are not directly targeted in the Northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, US logbooks record a decline in population of 90 per cent for Great Hammerheads, which suffer a 93.8 per cent mortality rate from by-catch in several fisheries.[5] Similarly, the Scalloped Hammerhead sharks suffer a 91.4 per cent mortality rate from incidental capture.[6] Off the coast of Mauritania, from 2001-2005, Hammerhead sharks represented 42 per cent of total by-catch from European industrial freezing trawlers targeting sardine, sardinella, and horse mackerel.[7] Unlike many fish populations, sharks, like humans, are slow to reproduce. For example, Scalloped Hammerhead female sharks reach sexual maturity at the age of 15 years, and gestate for 9-12 months.[8]  

Canada’s Fisheries Act Amendments

This summer is a high point for fisheries conservation and management in Canada. Early last year, Parliament introduced Bill C-68 “An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence” and during this past spring, opened it for public comment.