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Retired DFO senior manager says science advice often not ‘adequate’ for fishery management

Morley Knight, a Newfoundlander who retired 5 years ago as DFO’s assistant deputy minister for fisheries policy in Ottawa, breaks down the problems into four categories: lack of results; science programs/scientists married to theoretical processes and models; reliance on only science source information (not fishermen on the water); and poor communications.

Morley Knight presented earlier this month to a study of DFO science by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Knight, a Newfoundlander, retired five years ago as assistant deputy minister, fisheries policy with DFO in Ottawa.

Knight says DFO may have some of the best fish scientists in the world, "yet DFO science is often unable to produce science advice adequate for the management fo the fishery."

I don't think I've ever heard a bigger condemnation of DFO management — besides from the union representing DFO scientists, of course.

Here's a further breakdown of Morley's four main points:

No. 1: Lack of results.

Surveys don't get done, and continuous problems with research ships breaking down or being redeployed when surveys need to be completed. Results don’t always get analyzed on a timely basis, making the data incomplete/outdated by the time it is used.

No. 2: Science programs/scientists married to theoretical processes and models

"The models are not always right."

Theoretical processes and models "fall apart" when a survey doesn’t get completed or when the models aren’t producing the results consistent with a glaring body of evidence. "Models use data such as abundance, size at age, maturity, natural mortality etc. as well as some judgements by scientists, but can never account for all the variables."

NO. 3: Reliance on only science-source information

Logbook and observer data isn't alway included in the models. "There is not enough emphasis on getting harvesters to collect data and samples. Stock status reports are produced without due consideration of anecdotal information from fish harvesters and indigenous groups about the health of the stock."

No. 4 poor communications.

Science needs to spend more time communicating with fish harvesters and spending time with them on the water. "This would help diminish the gap between the views of fish harvesters and science and likely improve scene over time and undoubtedly increase the confidence in science advice."


NO. 1:

"Practical approaches that can use available information in a given year or cycle that aren’t hamstrung if some pieces of the puzzle don’t fall into place such as a trawl survey not getting done."

NO. 2

"More reliance on partnerships with fish harvesters and the fishing industry to gather information for science."

No. 3:

"Better use of information and advice from harvesters in developing science and less emphasis on trawl surveys and computer models."

No. 4:

"Less prescriptive advice and attempting to provide a precise biomass estimate, and more emphasis on general advice on which direction a stock is moving in and what measures might improve the health of a stock such as measures to protect juvenile fish or spawning fish."


DFO management should be held accountable for making sure that science programs get done.

Science programs must be more inclusive to include all available data, including information from fish harvesters.

Leadership capacity needs to be improved so that "science programs are properly led in the direction that they need to go."

And finally, improved communications with the fishing industry, indigenous groups and other stakeholders are a must.

The standing committee's study of DFO science began hearings in late April, with a report/recommendations expected before Christmas.

Ryan Cleary,

Executive Director, SEA-NL

Seaward Enterprises Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (SEA-NL) is a professional, non-profit organization serving as the distinct voice for licensed, independent owner-operator inshore fish harvesters. You can read more about SEA-NL, and join us here.

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