An expert panel investigating the state of Canadian marine biodiversity has concluded that the federal government is falling short of its obligations to protect the country’s oceans, leaving marine life threatened and the nation’s ocean species at risk.

The panel was commissioned by the Royal Society of Canada in 2009 to review the effects of climate change, fishing and aquaculture on the ability of Canada’s oceans to sustain and restore marine populations. Their published findings were released Thur., Feb. 2, 2012, in the report Sustaining Canadian Marine BIiodiversity, a 315-page comprehensive review.

Announcing the panel’s findings in Vancouver on Thursday, Prof. Jeffrey Hutchings, chair of the expert panel, said the government had failed to meet national and international commitments to sustain marine biodiversity over many years.

“Twenty years after the collapse of the northern cod fishery, we don’t have a target for a recovery. How is that possibly consistent with responsible management of our oceans? “It doesn’t stand up nationally, it doesn’t stand up internationally — but that is where we are, 20 years later,” he said.

The panel found the foundation of Canada’s ocean legislation, the 1868 Fisheries Act, to be outdated and discovered that the 1996 Oceans Act, designed to help Canada move towards sustainable ocean management, has not been implemented.

“It leaves huge discretionary powers to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who is given no science-based guidelines, targets or principles, ” the report said. “The panel found not lack of knowledge or lack of sound policy, but a consistent, disheartening lack of action on well-established knowledge and best-practice and policies, some of which have been around for years.”

Among the species the panel lists at risk of extinction is the Chinook salmon, which it claims is threatened by the effect of climate change on mountain streams, no longer a habitable environment for the juvenile fish. The report also highlights the potential of fish farming to accelerate the spread of parasites and diseases and undermine wild species through interbreeding.

To download a PDF of the entire 315-page report click here. (Note: it is approximately 10 Mb so may take a minute or two to complete the download.)