In what was the culmination of six months of collaboration across disciplines and geographic divides, a group of students in the Canadian Fisheries Research Network (CFRN) unveiled their work to advance a framework for broad evaluation of fisheries at a project meeting in St. Andrews, New Brunswick.  The framework articulates ecological, socio-economic and institutional elements that are important to consider when making fisheries management decisions, and includes indicators to assess how well these elements are being accounted for.  The indicators can be tailored to specific fisheries. 

The framework and related research is helping to prepare Canadian fisheries to be more sustainable.  There is increasing demand both in Canada and internationally for fisheries management to be based not only on ecosystem considerations, but social and economic considerations as well.  Some of the drivers behind this movement are consumer demand and market pressure for sustainability certification, and a need to include fish harvesters in the decision-making process of fisheries management.    

First row (left-to-right): Mike Hawkshaw, Danielle Edwards, Courtenay Parlee, Andrea Haas, Aaron Greenberg. Second row (left-to-right): Allan Debertin, Robin Messenger, Eric Angel, Catarina Wor, Dan Mombourquette. Absent: Sarah Hawkshaw (photo: Susan Thompson)

While much has been done by Fisheries and Oceans Canada on indicators for ecological objectives, the list of objectives is growing and they have not yet been applied to all fisheries. Furthermore, social, economic and institutional objectives (and related performance indicators) have generally not been articulated for fisheries.  There has been significant interest in Canada for a structured framework to assess the sustainability of fisheries based on the full suite of objectives.

This need was acknowledged by the CFRN's Project 1.1, Enhanced Fisheries Knowledge for an Evolving Management Regime. It was one of several projects under the umbrella of the CFRN, which is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada for a five year period. The project has assembled a diverse team of academics from natural and social science disciplines, and fishing industry and government representatives to study the emerging need for a framework for sustainability in Canada's fisheries. 

Between 2010 (when the CFRN was launched) and February 2014, the project team developed several iterations of the fisheries evaluation framework based on a broad suite of needs and requirements gleaned from Canadian and international policy and legislation.  A student working group then took hold of the reins of the framework and incorporated elements from case studies in the CFRN to extend the scope, introduce greater detail, and provide additional structure. 

The working group included students from three projects in the CFRN: Project 1.1, Project 1.4 (“Guelph Node”), and Project 3.3 (Management Strategy Evaluation).  The students held weekly and sometimes bi-weekly calls over a six-month period.  They established a process for how they would work together and make decisions as a group.  In September 2014, they presented a revised draft of the framework at a Project 1.1 meeting and facilitated discussions with project members and invited guests from as far away as Australia.

Industry, academic and government representatives at the meeting were very impressed by their work.  The students took the framework to another level, producing a high quality draft through an open and transparent process.  It is a remarkable example of leadership, good process, and collaboration across projects and disciplines in the CFRN.

The framework could have a wide range of uses. For instance, it could be a tool for managers for discussing trade-offs in decision making.  Industry might use it when engaging in policy discussions and articulating the types of participatory processes they envision.  For communities and regions where fishing is important, the framework could help shape dialogue around the aspects of a fishery that should be monitored at the local level.

The students hope to see all of the case studies in the CFRN mapped onto the framework, as a way of testing out its usefulness and also reporting on what the CFRN has accomplished as a whole in advancing fisheries sustainability in Canada.