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A seminal report by Peter H. Pearse (1988; Rising to the Challenge: A New Policy for Canada’s Freshwater Fisheries, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Ottawa) outlined 62 policy recommendations focused on the management of Canada’s inland fisheries. Over three decades later, freshwater ecosystems and inland fisheries in Canada are still facing similar challenges with many emerging ones that could not have been foreseen. Here, we reflect on the contemporary relevance of the Pearse Report and propose recommendations that policy makers should consider. Broadly, our recommendations are: (1) manage fishes, fisheries, and habitat using a holistic co-management framework, with clearly defined fishery jurisdictions and partnerships with Indigenous governments; (2) engage in transparent, inclusive, and agile research to support decision-making; (3) facilitate knowledge co-production, involving interdisciplinary projects with diverse groups of actors and sectors including Indigenous Peoples, anglers, policy makers, scientists/researchers, governments, and the public; (4) embrace technological advances to support freshwater fisheries stock assessment and management; and (5) align policy and management activities in Canada with global initiatives related to increasing the sustainability of inland fisheries. We advocate for an updated comprehensive report such as the Pearse Report to ensure that we embrace robust, inclusive, and sustainable management strategies and policies for Canada’s inland fisheries for the next 30 years. It is time to again rise to the challenge.


Canada’s two million lakes (Downing et al. 2006) and expansive network of rivers support freshwater fish populations and the fisheries sectors that depend on them (Casteneda et al. 2020). Ensuring the sustainability of inland fisheries resources comes with challenges because fisheries are managed at various scales ranging from local to provincial/territorial to national. Fisheries are also used by multiple sectors (i.e., Indigenous, commercial, recreational) simultaneously who use a diverse suite of capture techniques and practices (e.g., dipnets, seines, gillnets, rod and reel) across highly varied landscapes (e.g., ponds, montane rivers, the Laurentian Great Lakes; Cooke and Murchie 2015). The Indigenous, commercial, and recreational fisheries sectors provide a myriad of cultural value, socio-economic benefits, and sources of food to Canada (Brownscombe et al. 2014Castenada et al. 2020). Despite the many governments (including Indigenous governments), stakeholders and rightsholders involved in managing Canada’s inland freshwater fisheries, these resources remain jeopardized by local and broadscale threats that are challenging to mitigate. Further, the North American model of wildlife management hinges on information (e.g., stock assessments or research) to support decision-making processes or policies (Organ et al. 2012Cooke and Murchie 2015; although the model is imperfect—see Artelle et al. 2018). Despite research output in science and technology generally increasing in Canada, it has decreased in the fisheries realm (Canadian Council of Academics 2012), jeopardizing effective management. User conflicts, low social priority, insufficient funding and research, and widespread habitat degradation are persistent problems in freshwater fisheries of the developed world (Arlinghaus et al. 2002), and freshwater fisheries face challenges related to their lack of visibility more broadly (Cooke et al. 2016a). Geographic and biological variability are additional challenges that constrain fundamental activities such as stock assessment (Lorenzen et al. 2016). Canada is not exempt from this and faces added challenges due to the geographic vastness of its freshwater fisheries (Cooke and Murchie 2015). Yet, many of Canada’s freshwater fisheries are managed sustainably and while Canada is exemplary in many aspects of inland fisheries, persistent challenges (e.g., geographic vastness, lack of priority) create a tall task for even the most capable management systems (Stephenson et al. 2019). Because of its size, most inland fisheries in Canada are assessed and managed at a regional or provincial/territorial level and there tends to be a lack of coordinated data collection, information management systems, and analysis across jurisdictions (Post et al. 2016Casteneda et al. 2020).

Fisheries management is complex, multifaceted, and typically focused on three domains: habitat, fishes, and the actors involved (Nielsen 1993). Thus, diverse policy and management tools are required for successful management (Lapointe et al. 2014). The vastness of Canada and its fresh waters result in impracticalities for detailed biological assessments on all waterbodies (Lorenzen et al. 2016), leaving fisheries to be typically managed at the landscape scale (Lester et al. 2003), despite facing differential localized environmental and harvest pressures. Further, freshwater ecosystems are particularly vulnerable because when fresh water is extracted, diverted, contaminated, or contained for human use, its value as habitat for organisms becomes compromised (Geist 2011). Additionally, inland systems are vulnerable to overexploitation (Allan et al. 2005). For example, Post et al. (2002) detailed the invisible collapse of a number of high-profile recreational fisheries across Canada as the result of overharvest that went unnoticed due to challenges with monitoring diffuse resources.

Further complicating management success are conflicts among resource-use sectors and various management authorities (Lynch et al. 2017). Issues are further amplified by complex and interacting external stressors, such as climate change, habitat alteration (arising from e.g., urbanization, hydropower development, agriculture, resource extraction), and pollution (Minns 2015Reid et al. 2019World Wildlife Fund 2020). Freshwater fisheries are affected by almost all land-use changes (Hynes 1975), such that discussions about fisheries cannot easily be decoupled from integrated water resource and watershed management (Nguyen et al. 2016). At a North American scale, the “grand challenges” for the management of inland fisheries have been articulated (see Lynch et al. 2017) and emphasize the work that is still needed to achieve sustainable inland fisheries (Cooke and Murchie, 2015). With many pressures facing Canada’s inland ecosystems (Minns 2015Gutowsky et al. 2019Pérez-Jvostov et al. 2020Desforges et al. 2021), there is a need for evidence-based management strategies and policies to keep pace with constantly evolving anthropogenic stressors and changing socio-economic contexts to enable sustainable fisheries for today and tomorrow (Lapointe et al. 2014Arlinghaus et al. 2015).

Over three decades ago, the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF; a nongovernmental organization dedicated to wildlife conservation) recognized the complexities associated with managing freshwater fisheries in Canada. They first commissioned Dr. Bill Beamish (a professor at the University of Guelph) to scientifically assess the status of freshwater resources and identify stressors and threats facing recreational fisheries (Phase I; Beamish et al. 1986). Beamish et al. (1986) determined that in more populated regions intense and widespread human impacts were associated with increased settlement and exploitation, causing species-specific population declines. Threats identified by Beamish regarding Canada’s freshwater fisheries included habitat degradation, overexploitation, and an overreliance on stocking (Phase I; Beamish et al. 1986). Next, CWF commissioned Dr. Peter Pearse (at the time a professor at the University of British Columbia) to prepare a report on the management of freshwater fisheries (Phase II; Pearse 1988Fig. 1). Pearse’s objectives were to assess the situation, identify solutions, and draw the attention of the fishing community, management agencies, and the public to the need for action. The resulting Pearse Report has been used by the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries in discussions of the future of freshwater fisheries in the North (The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries 2002), referenced by the Auditor General of Canada while reviewing water resources in Canada (Auditor General of Canada 2010Canadian Council of Academics 2012), and has been referred to during hearings of the Parliamentary Fisheries Committee while deliberating on the state of recreational fisheries in Canada in 2015 (see openparliament.ca/committees/fisheries/41-2/45/dr-darryl-smith-1/only/). Furthermore, the Pearse Report was foundational in developing and refining freshwater fisheries management practices in a variety of jurisdictions in Canada including Alberta (A Fish Conservation Strategy for Alberta 1998).

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