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Royal Society of Canada expert panel releases final report

Dr. Ian Fleming


By Kelly Foss

The Royal Society of Canada (RSC) expert panel looking into Canada's marine biodiversity has released their final report.

The report Sustaining Canada's Marine Biodiversity: Responding to the Challenges Posed by Climate Change, Fisheries, and Aquaculture, was released in Vancouver, B.C., recently. Dr. Ian Fleming of the Ocean Sciences Centre was one of 10 experts chosen to sit on that committee.

"The focus of the panel was on these three major challenges, although there are others that impact marine biodiversity," explained Dr. Fleming. "I think what I found most striking during my time on the panel is that Canada has signed up to a number of international and national commitments to sustain biodiversity and has agreed to associated targets. What becomes evident in this report is that we've fallen quite short on meeting those commitments."

Dr. Fleming says the panel discovered Canada is far behind other developed countries in managing the country's marine resources.

"Unless we do something, the danger is we will continue to lose valuable Canadian assets," he said. "Canada has one of the largest, if not the largest, coastline in the world. We would presumably have some sort of responsibility for that. But it seems to be one aspect of our environmental wealth that we continue to take for granted."

Key recommendations for government include making oceans stewardship and biodiversity conservation a top priority and to resolve regulatory conflicts of interest which prevent the country from fulfilling sustainability obligations. The panel suggested government should reduce the discretionary power in fisheries management decisions exercised by the minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) should rapidly increase its rate of statutory and policy implementation.

They also recommended Canada implement statutory renewal to help fulfill national and international commitments to sustain marine biodiversity; establish national operational objectives, indicators, and targets; and establish strategic research initiatives to strengthen scientific advice in the area.

Dr. Fleming says aquaculture continues to be an increasingly important player in our use of marine resources.

"There are associated problems, but the issues tend to be more local in nature," he said. "There are concerns about diseases, escapes and introductions of non-native species on both coasts."

To date, the panel has received numerous responses to their report, but nothing official from DFO.

"The science being done at DFO is recognized as outstanding," said Dr. Fleming. "Canada remains one of the leading nations on the study of marine systems, marine fisheries and marine biodiversity. Our real concern is about the failure to implement findings and fulfill the commitments to the things we said we would do."

Meetings with House of Commons' standing committees related to various components of the panel's report are ongoing. Dr. Fleming appeared before the Fisheries and Oceans Standing Committee, together with Dr. Jeffrey Hutchings, the panel chair, to talk about aquaculture – particularly closed containment aquaculture – on March 12.