Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary

Fishing, Hunting and Trapping

NAICS 1141; 1142

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in harvesting fish and other wild animals from their natural habitats. It is composed of commercial inland and salted water fishing (excluding aquaculture which is part of the agriculture industry), as well as commercial hunting and trapping, including the exploitation and management of game preserves. Fishing is by far the predominant economic activity, accounting for almost all of the industry’s production and employment. While direct exports represent a small portion of total revenues, the fishing industry relies heavily on sales from the seafood product preparation and packaging industry which exports about 75% of its production. Main export markets are the United States (53% of exports in 2021) and China (29%). The industry employed 17,000 workers in 2021, mostly concentrated in the Atlantic Provinces (78%) and British Columbia (11%). The workforce is characterized by a high proportion of men (81%) and self-employed (55%). The industry also shows the highest unemployment rate (average of 25% over the past 10 years) across the 42 industries covered by COPS, largely reflecting the seasonal nature of its activities. Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:

  • Fisherman/women (8262)
  • Fishing vessel deckhands (8441)
  • Fishing masters and officers (8261)
  • Trappers and hunters (8442)

The performance of the industry is largely determined by the availability of fish stocks . Supply constraints resulting from various quotas and moratorium imposed on different fish species in Canada accounted for some of the biggest challenges the industry has faced over the past decades. These restrictions were in response to overfishing and environmental factors that led to significant decreases of several fish stocks, most notably ground fish (such as cod and haddock) on the East coast and salmon on the West coast. Stimulated by surging demand from Asian markets, shellfish (lobsters, crabs, shrimps and scallops) have become the main species harvested on the Atlantic coast, filling some of the void left by the 1992 cod fishing moratorium. However, shellfish have also come under pressures over time due to increased predation, resulting in additional restrictions, notably for northern shrimps. At the same time, the salmon fishery is facing warmer environmental conditions in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, resulting in below average survival, smaller body sizes and declining stocks for most salmon species. Supply constraints have been a major drag on the industry, which saw its output falling continuously since 2015, with the exception of a substantial increase in 2021 when the industry recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic after a sharp contraction in exports in 2020. This resulted in an average annual decline of 0.9% in real GDP over the period 2012-2021. The decline in production was accompanied by notable improvements in productivity (+0.8% per year), leading to significant job losses in the industry, with employment falling by 1.7% annually. While advanced vessel and better fish detection equipment have boosted landings and the cost-effectiveness of fishing operations, limited fish and seafood stocks diverted workers from less-efficient fisheries to other industries.

Supply constraints are expected to continue to exert pressures on output in the Canadian fishing industry over the projection period. With foreign demand accounting for 90% of total lobster catch, production will be supported by robust demand from the United States and the growing middle class in China and other Asian countries. Canada’s free trade agreements with the European Union and the ten countries in the Asia-Pacific region are good news for the industry, as all tariffs imposed on Canadian fish and seafood products will be removed in these markets over the next decade. This development should be bolstered by an anticipated increase in lobster landings, as warming oceanic temperatures are expected to prompt lobster population to concentrate in more northern areas where water is colder. On the other hand, growth in most other fisheries will continue to be constrained by supply challenges. According to statistics released by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans about the status of key Canadian fish stocks in 2020, only 31% of the stocks were in the healthy zone (in terms of biological reproduction capacity). Nearly 60% of the British Columbia’s salmon fishery was shut during the summer of 2021 due to low stock levels, which could take years to recover. It was also recently announced that most of the pacific herring fishery along the west coast will also be shut due to low stocks (the pacific herring are an important food source for salmon and other fish). The sharp reduction of shrimp quotas on the Atlantic coast, which is expected to persist through the short term, will continue to restrain growth in the industry, while the removal of the cod moratorium is not anticipated any time soon, given the uncertainty surrounding when or if the stock will ever rebound.

Changes made to the Fisheries Act in 2019 represents either a downside or upside risk to the outlook, as fish supply may be restricted by rigorous regulations, although the restoration of fish stocks and fish habitat is certainly a positive outcome for the industry in the long term. Stricter quotas imposed on different species stemming from limited fish stocks and environmental concerns are expected to erase the gains resulting from seafood exports. As a result, real GDP and employment are projected to keep declining over the period 2022-2031, but at a slower annual rate of 0.5% and 0.8% respectively. Further declines in employment reflect additional growth in productivity, which is also expected to decelerate relative to the past ten years (+0.3% annually). The emphasis on technical advances is expected to shift toward more efficient and more appropriate fishing gears in order to reduce the negative impacts on the ecological system. Youth out-migration from coastal communities, unfavourable working conditions and the growing number of fishermen in their retirement years will also continue to exert pressures on the industry’s workforce.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Fishing, Hunting and Trapping

Figure showing the annual average growth rates of real GDP and employment over the periods 2012-2021 and 2022-2031 for the industry of fishing, hunting and trapping. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2022 COPS industrial projections.

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Fishing, Hunting and Trapping (%, annual average)
  Real GDP Employment
2012-2021 -0.9 -1.7
2022-2031 -0.5 -0.8

Sources: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2022 COPS industrial projections.

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