Fish Science Cut By Millions

The fisheries department cut funding for scientific research by as much as 18 percent in the past decade, new accounts show.  Cuts included reductions in programs on fisheries protection and management.

“That’s serious, and it reduced their capacity,” said MP Kennedy Stewart, New Democrat science critic. “There really are no better teams of scientists anywhere in the world than people who work in fisheries, yet the department is not funding these people to do basic research.”

“It is really strange,” said Stewart, MP for Burnaby South, B.C. “I think this deserves clarification from the Minister.”

Financial records tabled in Parliament at Stewart’s request indicate the department’s funding for “fundamental research” fell from $317 million a year in 2007 to as little as $259 million by 2013. Funding last year was $272 million. Major cuts included the 2014 closure of Nova Scotia’s Mersey Biodiversity Facility, and New Brunswick’s St. Andrews Biological Station, the nation’s first federal marine research centre dating from 1899.

Other reductions included a $7.6 million cut to research on integrated fisheries management; $4.7 million to oceans management; $4.1 million to hydrographic products and services; $3.9 million to fisheries protection; and $3 million to the department’s sustainable aquaculture program.

“The cuts to science have been huge,” said Dr. Susanna Fuller of the Ecology Action Centre. “One of the impacts we have seen in the Atlantic region is the move to multi-year assessments.”

“Instead of a stock assessment every year there is a stock assessment every five years,” Fuller said. “That means you can’t do adaptive management, and you can’t look at stock on a year-to-year basis. There is no way to make science-based decisions on that basis.”

Other cuts included $373,000 to research on aquatic animal health; $275,000 in reduced funding for biotechnology; and $245,000 less for management of species at risk.

“I think a big piece is the complete lack of inclusion of climate change science into fisheries stock assessments,” Fuller said. “In Canada, we have no integration of impacts of climate change or ocean acidification on our fish stocks – whereas south of the border, in New England and Washington State, they have had commissions on ocean acidification and the impact on fisheries. They have a plan.”

The fisheries department, asked in Parliament whether it would restore all funding to previous levels, replied in an Inquiry Of Ministry: “Not yet determined.”

By Kaven Baker-Voakes

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