A new federal audit report warns another fish species collapse could happen again under the watch of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
"From my perspective, we are still at risk of having another stock potentially go into collapse, similar to what happened to the [Northern] cod," said Julie Gelfand, federal commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, who released the audit this week.
Working on behalf of the federal auditor general, the commissioner looked at the management of wild fisheries in Canada between 2013 and 2016 and concluded DFO lacked the key information it needed to manage major fish stocks.
Among the findings:
Of 15 depleted stocks deemed "critical" because continued fishing poses a threat, the audit found only three had required rebuilding plans.
Of the 154 major stocks, 44 were missing required integrated fish management plans, or those plans were out of date.
The department failed to carry out planned scientific surveys due in part to mechanical problems on board coast guard vessels.
There are "systemic" problems with fishery observer programs — a vital source of information on catches at sea.
Case study: Fisheries Observer failures
The audit followed up on changes in the DFO made by the previous Conservative government.
One was a 2013 change that required fishing companies — not DFO — to hire third party observers. That left the department little leverage when observers fail to comply with program requirements.
The only recourse was to revoke their designation, which in turn would disrupt access to catch data. As a result, no revocation has ever happened despite complaints.
The department is also struggling with the potential for conflict of interest in dockside monitoring companies. There is a policy that fisheries observer companies can have fewer than half of board members with ties to the fishing industry.
However the audit reported, "For at least four dockside monitoring companies, the Department was aware of a serious potential conflict of interest, but took no action to ensure it had been mitigated."