Leadership in Fisheries Science and Management

Dr. Sean Cox, Sablefish Science Advisor

Sean Cox is an Associate Professorat Simon Fraser University’s School of  Resource and Environmental Management.  As a fisheries scientist focusing on aquatic conservation and management of human impacts on aquatic ecosystems, Sean’s research develops quantitative fisheries stock assessment methods and field research to address issues in fisheries management such as (i) design and evaluation of management procedures for commercial groundfish, herring, and salmon fisheries; (ii) evaluating impacts of bottom-fishing gear on benthic marine ecosystems; and (iii) the role of spatial processes in fish population dynamics, fisheries, and monitoring programs.  All theme areas involve the extensive use of mathematical and statistical modelling techniques.

Sean frequently provides fishery assessment and management advice to Canadian federal and provincial fisheries agencies as well as several fishing industry associations, conservation groups, and eco-certification bodies.

First contracted in 2005 by the Canadian Sablefish Association (CSA) to conduct an independent review of the sablefish science program, Dr. Cox has been instrumental in leading the CSA in our pursuit of a sustainable yet profitable fishery. He brought a fresh perspective on how fisheries science and management are integrated to create the management system, and how objectives were necessary in order to evaluate the system. Recognizing his quality science and shared philosophy, the CSA invited Dr. Cox to serve as the CSA’s science advisor.

Over the next five years Dr. Cox led an intense process which engaged both the CSA and DFO on a new path to develop fishery objectives and management procedures which evolved into the leading edge management strategy evaluation (MSE) process we have today. The MSE science-based management system for sablefish enables us to meet or exceed DFO sustainable fisheries policies as well as stand up to the scrutiny of ENGO’s and stakeholders. This effort has also earned us the endorsement of major sustainability programs like Sea Choice, Ocean Wise and Seafood Watch.  The BC Sablefish fishery has also enjoyed recognition for being at the forefront of fisheries science and management at several academic and industry conferences in recent years.

Since 2012 Dr. Cox has spearheaded bottom contact research that will map the ocean floor giving us the tools we need to properly assess the impacts of fishing. This new initiative reinforces the CSA’s commitment to sustainability and allows us to pro-actively address rising worldwide attention on fishing gear impacts on ocean habitats.

Dr. Sean Cox on the Canadian Sablefish fishery:

Maintaining healthy and productive fish stocks means putting long-term conservation ahead of short-term economic gains. This sounds nice in theory but it can be difficult to achieve in practice because it’s not always clear when to choose conservation over economics. Our knowledge of the abundance, productivity, and conservation status of fish stocks can only be gained over time by intensive data gathering and analysis.  In the meantime, we will always be uncertain about the consequences of harvesting decisions. Although such uncertainty is common to all fisheries, the unsustainable ones use it as justification for inaction or a business-as-usual approach. Sustainable fisheries, on the other hand, carefully consider the risks and consequences of alternative actions so that errors due to our ignorance do not leave the stock in unhealthy and unproductive states.

In developing the BC sablefish management system, we focus on sustainability as a process, not a product. Natural ecosystems like the northeast Pacific Ocean are highly dynamic, so we recognize that sustainability – as a product – is a moving target that we will likely never hit. On the other hand, a fishery management process that takes uncertainty into account with a primary goal of maintaining healthy and productive stocks will remain sustainable regardless of the ups and downs that are characteristic of natural systems.

For BC’s sablefish fishery and the CSA, defining sustainability is not about putting words on a website. Instead, concrete investments and actions put the CSA among the world leaders in sustainable fisheries management.