- The Canadian fisheries industry provided $7.5 billion to the Canadian economy and employed 70,000 people in the last year.
- There are tremendous opportunities for innovation and the application of new technologies to increase the productivity of the fisheries and seafood industry.
- There is a 10:1 return on investment in sustainable protein from the oceans.
The Prime Minister of Canada should recognize the Canadian fish and seafood sector as a critical part of the Canadian economy. Canada has a sustainable seafood supply, vast coastal environments and tremendous potential to grow the blue ocean economy. There should be a department focused on the economic development of the fish and seafood sector.
How would you characterize Canada’s fisheries industry? What are our strengths and weaknesses?
Canada’s seafood industry is certainly a significant contributor to the Canadian economy. Last year alone the value of the industry was about $7.5 billion. The fish and seafood sector overall employs over 70,000 people from coast-to-coast-to-coast across Canada, in rural Indigenous communities as well. In many respects, the fisheries are an anchor tenant for a lot of rural, coastal and Indigenous communities throughout the country and they have direct impacts and indirect benefits on these communities, which are quite substantial.
“Good, crisp, cold Canadian seafood has a good reputation abroad.”
In terms of the strengths, the sector has a really good reputation from a food safety standpoint, and it has strong labour standards. Good, crisp, cold Canadian seafood has a good reputation abroad.
Another key attribute of the Canadian seafood sector is its tremendous reputation and image around sustainable fisheries management. Right now, well over 80% of our seafood is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified, which is a global third party certification standard. We have good science and good sustainable management measures in place.
Like any sector, there are challenges. Labour is an emerging challenge as we have an aging population and some aspects of our industry are seasonal, so retaining labour is an issue. Productivity has been a challenge if you compare fisheries to other food producing sectors in Canada. The productivity in the Canadian seafood sector has lagged in some respects. Part of that is related to the seasonality of the industry as well as the challenges associated with innovation and modernization. Those are some barriers we need to overcome in the years ahead.
What do we feel we have to focus on or build upon to improve the fisheries industry?
One of the key things we need to think about to improve the fish and seafood sector in Canada is innovation. There is tremendous potential to modernize and innovate the Canadian seafood sector to improve our performance in the years ahead. It is very difficult for us as a sector to compete with low cost production coming out of Asia, and many other western jurisdictions have strongly innovated. We do not want to be caught in the middle of that sort of situation, so it is critically important that we innovate, modernize, and focus more on value versus volume as a key metric for success in the industry. Innovation will be a key component of that.
“There is tremendous potential to modernize and innovate the Canadian seafood sector to improve our performance in the years ahead.”
Another key factor which will be critically important for the Canadian seafood sector going forward is market diversification. Obviously, our key market is the United States because of its proximity, population, and appetite for seafood. But it is critical for us to be looking at diversifying into Europe, taking advantage of the relatively new Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), and diversifying into Asia. We have had some good success in China in recent years, but it is important to continue to diversify so that we are not overly dependent on one particular market.
Another key priority is stability of access to our marine resources. It is really an underpinning of the seafood sector and of the entire value chain so that we can invest in technology and innovation, expand our businesses, and create new opportunities. We need to have comfort in knowing that the access we have today will be there for years to come, subject to resource constraints. That is also an important consideration in this sector for general stability.
What are your thoughts on the Government of Canada’s commitment to the Blue Strategy Development?
We are very excited about the Government of Canada’s launch of its blue economy strategy; we see tremendous opportunities for the fish and seafood sector. Both the Fisheries Council of Canada and the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Association (CAIA) have been partnering very closely and working with government on a response to that. There have been a number of publications certainly in recent years; there is the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy that identified enormous leveraging opportunities and return on investment through sustainable fisheries. As an example, there will be a 10:1 return on investment in sustainable protein from the oceans in the years to come, and that is a great opportunity for us. We look at the strategy and approach by government as a balance between the importance of biodiversity protection and sustainable fisheries as well as the economic opportunities afforded by the fisheries. This will be critical as we go forward.
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How can Canada improve on the sustainable harvesting of our fisheries resource and what actions must be taken to ensure this happens?
The global reputation and brand of Canadian seafood is very strong when it comes to sustainable harvesting and sustainable fisheries, period. Well over 80% of all wild captured Canadian fish and seafood is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council third party certification standard, which is the blue logo that most of your viewers and listeners would see on products in retail stores. The global average right now is about 15%, so we are doing extremely well as a country. There have been significant investments in science and science programming by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), which has been a positive development.
“The global reputation and brand of Canadian seafood is very strong when it comes to sustainable harvesting and sustainable fisheries.”
There are a couple of opportunities where we can make improvements. I would hone our investments in fundamental science and fisheries stock assessment, which is an underpinning of sustainable fisheries management in Canada and globally. As a sector, we would love to see a little more focus in that area, which would be valuable.
The other area is the need for innovation and technology adoption. As we go through fleet renewals, we are always looking to lessen our carbon footprint with more energy efficient operations, sustainable gear technology and integrating technology and innovation into the entire process. We see a lot of opportunities for further advancement there.
The story has been very positive overall, and like anything, there is room to grow and we see some opportunities to advance in those areas in years to come.
What are your three main priorities as FCC Chair in the coming year? What do you hope to see happen in your industry during your term?
There are certainly a number of priorities that come to mind in terms of my role within the Fisheries Council of Canada over the next year. I have taken on this role in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. First and foremost, there will be some of the challenges related to COVID-19. We have done an exceptional job as an industry thus far managing our way through the pandemic and sharing best practices. The key now is to not get complacent—that is one of the most important things. COVID-19 is going to be around for a period of time, and we need to continue to be diligent and make sure that we are revisiting our protocols; looking at new best practices that are out there; and making sure that we can keep COVID-19 out of our operations so we can continue to provide sustainable protein to the country and to the world. That is probably one of the most critical priorities.
“We have done an exceptional job as an industry thus far managing our way through the pandemic and sharing best practices.”
The second priority is working closely with the Government of Canada on a couple of its key objectives. They have marine biodiversity targets and protected areas targets that they are looking to meet over the next five to 10 years. We want to work closely with the government to ensure those targets are identified, set and advanced in a balanced way that considers both sustainable fisheries management and economic impact. Intertwined with that is the Blue Growth Strategy and efforts of Fisheries Council of Canada and CAIA in partnership to ensure that the interests of those sectors are considered and balanced, so this strategy is actually achieved. That would be another priority area.
The final priority is the continued focus on the maintenance of stability of access for the sector, which is obviously an ongoing and critically important item for the industry. We need to ensure stability, investment, and that we meet some of the targets that we want to achieve in the years to come in terms of growing this sector.
If you had 30 seconds to pitch to someone to strengthen and improve Canada’s fisheries industry, who would you pitch and what would you urge them to do?
I would pitch the Prime Minister of Canada for recognition of the Canadian fish and seafood sector as a critical area of national importance to the Canadian economy. The industry last year was worth well over $7.5 billion, and we see tremendous potential to expand upon that in the years to come.
“We have sustainable seafood; we have vast coastal environments and tremendous potential to build upon to create that blue ocean economy.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that global demand for fish and seafood is going to rise significantly leading into 2030—well over 200 million metric tons of seafood—and demand consumption is expected to rise by over 20%. We have sustainable seafood; we have vast coastal environments and tremendous potential to build upon to create that blue ocean economy. In particular, we would love to see a department focused on the economic development of the fish and seafood sector to really unlock the potential for years to come.