Marine Conservation Biology Institute Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Protecting Marine Ecosystems

How We Fish Matters:
Addressing the Ecological Impacts of Canadian Fishing

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Ranked list

The ecological impacts of fishing gear on seafloor habitat and the incidental catch of non-target marine species should play a significant role in fisheries management. Nevertheless, as of 2008 Canadian fisheries managers seldom consider habitat impacts in management decisions, and only selected fisheries are managed with bycatch quota or with bycatch mitigation measures for non-target species. As a result, significant unrecorded discarding of marine species and damage to marine habitat are ongoing problems in a number of Canadian fisheries.

Within this context, MCBI collaborated with Ecology Action Centre (EAC) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Living Oceans Society (LOS) in Sointula, British Columbia, and Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee at Memorial University, Newfoundland on a research project to assess the ecological impacts of a wide range of fishing gears, from bottom-tending gears to mid-water nets to pelagic fishing methods.

The assessment culminated in 2008 following an extensive review of fisheries statistics and scientific literature on fishing impacts; an experts’ workshop, where fisheries professionals, including fishermen, scientists and conservationists rated fishing impacts; and a survey to rank fishing methods according to their impacts.


The key findings are:

  • Bottom trawl, bottom gillnet, dredge, and bottom longline are the gears that cause the greatest impacts on habitat and discarded bycatch. 
  • Harpoon, dive, and hook and line are the fishing methods that result in the least impacts on habitat and discarded bycatch.
  • Despite the frequently contentious nature of fisheries management decisions, the study found that stakeholders share similar judgments regarding the impacts of fishing gear on habitat and the amount of discarded bycatch. This provides a common place from which to begin building a new vision for Canada’s fisheries.
  • The primary concern of survey respondents was the impacts of fishing gear on habitat damage.
  • There are significant data gaps in many Canadian fisheries with regards to habitat damage and bycatch. Government data collection and public access to data were often found to be in need of improvement.


  • Fisheries managers should immediately implement ecologically risk averse strategies to minimize the impacts of fishing gear on habitat and bycatch.
  • Adequate monitoring and research on fishing gear impacts to habitat and non-target species must be undertaken, and made publicly available, to support ecosystem and spatial management practices.
  • Implement, inform and develop policies and management practices that prioritize the minimization of habitat destruction and incidental catch and discarding of target and non-target species.


For More Information:





Download the Report
- How We Fish Matters

Visit the How We Fish Matters official website


Visit the Partners:
Living Oceans Society

Ecology Action Centre

Marine Conservation Biology Institute