In recent years, there have been a growing number of reports of scientific interference at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), including undue modification to work, and the publishing of incomplete or misleading reports. (Head to the first post in our Perspectives on Scientific Integrity in 2023 series for other events related to scientific integrity.) These reports bring into question whether scientists in this federal department are able to freely conduct and communicate their work, and whether reliable science is reaching the hands of decision makers.
To help inform the science and research community, Evidence for Democracy has prepared a primer blog post about science at DFO, including a summary of witness testimony provided during the study of DFO science by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, and an analysis of the Government of Canada’s response to recommendations from the Standing Committee.
On 26 April 2022, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans started its study of science at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. As per the motion adopted by the Committee, this study intended to:
“examine how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans prioritizes, resources and develops scientific studies and advice for the department, how the results of scientific study are communicated to the Minister and Canadians, and how the minister applies data and advice provided by the department and other government departments to ministerial decisions.”
Below, you can find a summary of what we overheard at the Standing Committee throughout its study of science, with a focus on issues related to scientific integrity.
On March 9, 2023, the Standing Committee released an 88-page report, titled Science At The Department Of Fisheries And Oceans. Drawing on expert witness testimony, the Committee put forth a total of 48 recommendations, including recommendations to incorporate harvesters’ and Indigenous traditional knowledge into DFO scientific activities, improve the transparency of DFO data and research, and for the Chief Science Advisor to assess the viability of establishing an independent science advice body to directly advise DFO decision-makers.
In response, the Government of Canada presented a 8-page response on June 20, 2023 with six themes.
As we read the government responses, we had two questions. First, to what extent do the responses from the Government of Canada address the recommendations proposed in the study by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans? Second, which recommendations remain outstanding?
Today, we are pleased to share our analysis of the Government of Canada’s responses to the 48 recommendations outlined in the Standing Committee’s report about DFO science. To clarify the full scope of these recommendations, as well as the Government’s past, current, and proposed actions, we have prepared a detailed summary table (see below).
The status of each recommendation has been sorted into the following categories: resolved (i.e., the government has implemented a plan to address the recommendation), in progress (i.e., the government is developing or implementing a plan to address the recommendation), or unresolved (i.e., there is no plan to address the recommendation). We have also identified which of the recommendations that are in progress have had a low response to date (i.e., limited progress in developing or implementing a plan to address the recommendation).
Our analysis of the 48 recommendations found that 23 recommendations are in progress, and 25 remain unresolved. Of the 23 recommendations in progress, one-third have had a low response to date. There were no resolved recommendations.
The Government of Canada has a lot of work ahead if it wants to rebuild public confidence in its science advisory process at DFO, and its use of best available evidence in decision-making related to fisheries and oceans. An independent fisheries science advisory body may be the right place to start. In the last entry in our Perspectives on Scientific Integrity in 2023 blog series, Dr. Gideon Mordecai, an academic researcher, reflects on how an independent science advisory body at DFO may be key to addressing the department’s long-standing scientific integrity issues.