Freshwater Fisheries in Canada: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on the Resources and Their Management

Chapter 20: On the Future of Freshwater Fisheries Science, Management, and Policy in Canada

Michael R. Donaldson, Shannon Landovskis, Gabrielle S. Deveau, Erika J. Eliason, Ken M. Jeffries, Mark S. Poesch, D. Andrew R. Drake, Douglas C. Braun, Vivian M. Nguyen, Graham D. Raby, Robert J. Lennox, Heidi Swanson, Brett Favaro, Shannon D. Bower, Nick W. Lapointe, Caleb T. Hasler, and Steven J. Cooke


Canada is a country privileged with water. From the earliest days of Indigenous Peoples using water for transportation and sustenance to routes for European explorers and settlers to colonize these lands, freshwater has formed an essential part of Canada’s national identity. Over time, Canada’s dependence on its freshwater has become even greater; it is at the core of our largest cities, facilitates the ebb and flow of mills and industries, offers water to drink, irrigates fields, and increasingly, helps provide much of our electricity. For all that freshwater provides to Canadians, among its greatest gifts is that of fish and fisheries. Watershed characteristics, including landscape (geology, climate), hydrological function, soils, and many other factors, all play essential roles in the function of aquatic ecosystems and highlight the delicate balance between land and water.

Canadians place great value on fish and fisheries. The internationally recognized advances that have come from Canadian fisheries science and policy have led to a better understanding of fish, ecosystems, and fisheries (see Fisheries Exploitation section; Hasler et al. 2019; Castañeda et al. 2020). Yet, Canadian freshwater fisheries have been fraught with challenges since their earliest days (see Pearse 1988). Even the best intentions can have unexpected, irreparable outcomes, including species introductions, fisheries overexploitation, and pollution. In the face of global change, difficult decisions will need to be made about the future of freshwater fisheries in Canada. Fisheries face an array of new and old threats (reviewed in Reid et al. 2019), including climate change, invasive species, habitat degradation, regulated rivers and water demands, and fisheries overexploitation, all of which have the potential to influence the viability of future freshwater fish populations and fisheries. With such uncertainty on the horizon, there is great value in engaging with diverse knowledge holders, and taking a philosophical view and reflecting on the future of freshwater fisheries in Canada. This is not the first time this has been done; Peter Pearse was commissioned by the Canadian Wildlife Federation to review the state of freshwater fisheries and their management in Canada. The so-called “Pearse Report” provided recommendations for improving the management and sustainability of inland fisheries resources (see Pearse 1988). Many of the recommendations in the Pearse Report have been addressed, remain relevant, or are no longer salient today, so the ideas presented here advance and expand on the ideas shared by Pearse.

The contributors to this chapter reflect the perspectives from a diverse team of fisheries scientists in Canada. We discuss our perspectives and prognostications on a range of challenges in an effort to provide an outlook for the future (Table 1) of freshwater fisheries science, management, and policy in Canada.