Canada’s Biggest Eco Embarrassments

Green Living performed a reality check on the nation’s environmental record—and the results weren’t pretty

Embarrassment #5: Fisheries

Five centuries ago you could scoop the cod out of the sea with a bucket. Now, what was once one of the most productive fisheries on the planet is gone, and stands little chance of ever coming back. “This is the number one embarrassment for us in the past 50 years,” says Steven Hazell, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.

“Canadians truly should be ashamed that we allowed this to happen on our watch, that we allowed our politicians to fidget and ignore the science,” concurs Cox of Greenpeace Canada. “We like to blame Portugal and Spain, but the fact was that this amazing resource was ours and we squandered it.”

Sad news for Newfoundlanders, and the 30,000 fishermen who were put out of work when the moratorium was declared in 1993. Nor is it just humans who are missing out: whales, sharks, and other ocean predators are missing out, and the effects are felt up and down the food web.

And it seems that we haven’t learned our lesson. Sockeye salmon are now vanishing on our west coast on a scale few expected to see: Only 1.6 million salmon returned to the Fraser River this year, just 10 percent of what was expected. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans continues to shy from imposing fishing restrictions.

“The slow motion destruction of fisheries of salmon on the west coast is happening right before our eyes, even though we already watched the cod disappear,” says Hazell.

And our overfishing habits continue in the deep ocean, with global consequences: Canada is one of few nations opposed to a UN moratorium on bottom trawling, an incredibly destructive fishing practice where industrial fishing boats drag huge nets along the ocean floor with concrete weights to scoop up bottom-dwelling fish (and which destroys ocean floor habitats like deep sea corals).